Time Off

Originally Published: September 1997

A Man Called Alice

When Alice Cooper visited Sydney's Hard Rock Cafe during a promotional tour for his last album, The Last Temptation, seating wasn't a problem. He was the star of the night, after all. But eerily, he eased himself into a position directly underneath a framed jacket that belonged to the original Australian rock'n'roll powderkeg, Johnny O'Keefe. Call it fate or mutual animal magnetism.

Two decades after Cooper hung up (pardon the executionist pun) his private turn blue excesses, the great man has released the second live album of his career, A Fistful Of Alice, which contains enough teen rebellion rock'n'roll anthems to feed the most demanding of jukeboxes.

"We hadn't done a live album in 20 years so it was really important, I think, to let the audience know what you sound like live," Cooper says. "I think it was also a message to the audience that Alice hasn't slowed down, Alice hasn't gotten soft on you."

The album was recorded at Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina in Mexico rather than amid a blizzard of customised dollar bills and chicken feathers at Madison Square Garden.

"I wanted to do it in a small place because my favourite live album of all time is Five Live Yardbirds. It was recorded in a small club, the Marquee Club, I think, in London, before about 300 people. You can literally hear the pick hit the strings and that's the kind of live sound I wanted, something direct, right in your face. That's why Fistful of Alice is kind of like saying 'this is right in your face'."

Guests on the album include Hagar himself, as well as Slash and Rob Zombie. Thankfully, the usual live album show-ups like say, Julian Lennon, er... couldn't make it.

"Rob's great, he's got a great sense of humour. His show is definitely not the same kind of music. I call them industrial tattoo rock because the whole sound of their show is sort of like a tattoo coming to life," he laughs. "And having Slash on the album is great because he's just a pure rocker."

A Fistful Of Alice is, of course, the aural side of the Alice Cooper experience. In September, the full complement of da Coop's show is coming to town for a third visit.

"This is by far the highest energy show we've done. You know, you get to a certain point and there's at least 10 or 11 songs that you have to do in the show in order to satisfy the audience. We know that we have to do 'Billion Dollar Babies' and 'School's Out' and 'Eighteen' and 'Only Women Bleed' and 'Poison' so those songs have got to fit into the show. Then we have to wrap new songs around it and we have to put sort of old new songs, songs that we haven't done in a long time. We actually are throwing in a couple of songs just for Australia. We're doing (Rolf Harris') 'Sun Arise' and we haven't done that song since Love It To Death came out in 1970," he laughs.

Cooper is not quite so full of enthusiasm when it comes to the recent book by original Alice Cooper band guitarist, Michael Bruce called No More Mr Nice Guy.

"I think it's a wonderful piece of fiction. Some of the memories about who wrote what songs are a little out of whack - like 90%. I had a friend of mine read me exerts from the book and he'd got through about half of it and I'd go, 'What! Are you out of your mind!'. I just laughed about it."

With or without Bruce's memories and observations, the chances of a reunion of the original Alice Cooper band - who had such phenomenal success in the first half of the 70s - are slight, to say the least.

"About as much as me moving this hotel to the left about four feet," chuckles Cooper. "The funny thing is I like everybody in the band, everybody likes everybody. I don't have anything against Mike Bruce. I don't have anything against (guitarist) Glen (Buxton). (Drummer) Neal Smith and (bassist) Dennis (Dunaway) and I are the best of friends. It's just that putting the band together would not be like putting Kiss together. Kiss had a whole different thing. (With) our band, there were problems that were almost insurmountable musically. I haven't seen Mike Bruce in a long, long time but I'm sure we'd have a good laugh."

Not that Cooper needs any fresh doses of respect. Salvador Dali raved about him, Bon Jovi, in an ultimate act of tribute, wrote the 'Ballad of Alice Cooper' for him (but to this day the Coop is still too bashful to sing it). Hell, the man once played on a bill in Detroit that included The Stooges, The MC5 and Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes. However, that circle of respect and influence over the years has extended beyond just the musical realm.

"Groucho used to call up at like two in the morning because he couldn't sleep. He'd say, 'Come on over, let's watch TV'. He'd be propped up in his bed and he'd have a six pack of Budweiser for me and we'd watch old movies. He'd tell me, 'see that guy over that that's playing the cop?. Well, he was gay and he was doing that guy over there and see that girl there? All of us got her.' All the background stories of all these people in the movies. After three or four hours, I'd look over and he'd be asleep so I'd put his cigar out and leave. Somebody brought him to one of the shows and one of the greatest compliments I ever got was he said 'Alice Cooper is the last chance at burlesque and vaudeville'."

Alice Cooper plays the Brisbane Entertainment Centre next Wednesday, September 10.