Times, The

Originally Published: July 27, 1997

The Trashcan Sinatra tees off

Author: Des Burkinshaw

Rest assured, Alice Cooper, rock's favourite cartoon monster, is still a guy who likes to play a round

When a man's drinking buddies have included Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendix, Elvis Presley, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, it is only polite to ask. "How did you survlve?.

Ask that question - of Alice Cooper and he adopts an I'm-still-counting my blessings look.

"In their deaths they kind of taught me something" says Cooper, a scuffed-at-the-corners but still fit-looking 49, "Every one of those people tried to live their persona off-stage. People like Hendrix, they lived and partied hard. That's a choice you make, if you think you can take that."

"There is a definite deathwish involved in it, Sometimes rock stars hit their peak and they think `I can't get any bigger. I don't want to face my decline, so I might as well burn out while l'm up here'."

Cooper, once plain Vincent Furnier from Phoenix, Arizona ditched his death wish years ago. The snake wielding, whip-cracking schlock-and-roll star, whose live act still ends with the beheading of its star by guillotine, gave up the juice for good in 1982. At that time he was drinking a quart of whisky a day and indulging in extensive lager breakfasts.

"There are four whole albums that I dont remember one single moment of writlng, singing, recording or touring." says Cooper, now a father of two and longtime golf fanatic. Golf became his new addiction. He was a regular on Hollywood's golf courses and made friends with the likes of Groucho Marx, Bob Hope and Fred Astaire. The height of showbiz respectability. Strange, then, to recaIl the Cooper who disembowelled female dummies on stage, was reputed to bite the heads off chickens ("untrue") and splattered his audience with fake gore.

"Alice Cooper has always been choreographed violence," he says. "You know who's going to win and lose. Anybody who has ever seen a real street fight will know it's not funny at all, it's pretty sickening. But if you see us live on our current tour you can see it's all totally put together, like the West Side Story's gang fight. It's nothing you don't see on every station on television every day."

The publicity certainly helped Cooper to become an icon, He has a dozen Top 40 UK singles hits to his name, beginning with 'School's Out', a No 1 in 1972, and ending, so far, with 'Poison', which went to No 2 in 1989.

"Alice was an American Frankenstein - everything that's bad about America wrapped up into one. The British public was fascinated by this character," Cooper says, in an attempt to pin down the secret of his "lovable villain". "What created this character was America. I was the one who absorbed all the the insanity and said `OK, this character's going to he a rockstar'."

Though he quit drinking and can reasonably claim to be in better shape than he was at 19, the long years of alcoholism are etched across his face. It it not a pretty sight, but it gives his onstage Alice leer the benefit of a debauched authenticity.

So there is dissappointment and relief in equal parts to discover that the man behind the persona of Alice Cooper is, in fact, quiet articulate and, frankly, a bit of a softie. And surprisingly, as the man who helped to inspire punk, he is keen to be seen as a serious artist. He writes short stories, has acted in several films and is now working on a screenplay.

Ol' black mascara eyes desire to be seen as more than a semi-theatrical rock novelty is never more apparent than when discussing that most unlikely of Cooper cover artist, Ol' Blue Eyes. "The coolest thing that's ever happened to me was Frank Sinatra covering You and Me. I just sat there at the Hollywood Bowl going `Wow' It makes you feel like a songwriter."

"I went backstage to meet him," says the star-struck Cooper. "It was just such a privilege. I mean, Sinatra invented the rock concert when he paid a hundred girls a dollar apiece to scream when he performed in the 1940s."