Originally Published: June 15, 1994
Author: Peter Howell
Even a shock rocker has his limits, and for mayhem master Alice Cooper it came at the end of a street punk's gun in a Los Angeles diner.
"We consider guns normal now in America, and they shouldn't be normal," Cooper, 46, said during a visit to Toronto this week to talk up a new album.
"There are points where even Alice says, 'Wait, a minute.' I was in a restaurant in Los Angeles with my guitar player, and all of a sudden three guys come in and start shooting it up.
"Fifteen shots, over my shoulder. They didn't know who I was. They would have killed anybody for five bucks. And it was so weird to be a victim, because normally we're sheltered from that kind of thing." (Cooper and the other patrons escaped injury.)
It will come as no shock to people who have followed Cooper's antics over the past 25 years, but he's seriously worried about the state of the universe.
The man who made his name ghoulishly enacting hangings, beheadings and horror movie scenes to the sound of hard rock says there's nothing he can do on stage that's as scary as real life.
He refuses even to speak of Alice Cooper in the first person. It's strictly a stage creation, he said, and his friends all know him as "Coop."
"We've gotten to the point now where things I used to do on stage as fantasy are now fact," Cooper said, his long black hair framing a face way friendlier than his mascara-dripping stage persona.
"It's very hard for Alice to be about shock rock anymore, because I can't compete with CNN. CNN is much more shocking than anything Alice Cooper could do. I don't think anybody is shocking anymore. I don't think Madonna going on David Letterman and swearing is very shocking. So what? Everybody uses those words every day anyway."
The only recent event that knocked the Coop for a loop was the suicide of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, an admired fellow songwriter, "and that was almost predictable," he said.
The two never met, but they had something in common in that both were addicts (Cobain's drug was heroin, Cooper's a reformed alcoholic) and both attempted to leaven their nihilistic songs with humour.
"I think the difference between us is I never took it seriously," Cooper said of Cobain. "I always viewed Alice as satire. I never believed anything I said up there on stage, certainly about death. I always made fun of death."
Cooper is so concerned about societal decay he has addressed the issue in his new album, The Last Temptation, a morality play in which the fiendish Alice attempts (and fails) to corrupt Cooper's other alter-ego, the innocent youth known simply as Steven.
The album is a classic Cooper record, harking back to his mid-'70s hit Welcome To My Nightmare, which also featured both Alice and Steven.
But the messages in The Last Temptation are direct and very moral, and they're exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a middle-aged guy with three kids - Cooper's are 13, 9 and 2.
The Last Temptation warns kids to watch out for guns, drugs, AIDS and violence, and more important, to do somthing good with their lives. It helps that the preaching comes with the punding of rock written in part by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, one of the most popular newer rock bands.
"I don't think it's because I have kids that I'm saying these things," Cooper said. "It's just that every once in a while you get to the point where you want to say something on an album.
"I don't particularly believe that Generation X is a write-off, and that's basically what they've been told for so long now, by so many people. I don't believe it. And this album is saying, 'No, you're not a write-off.' I'm standing up for them on a certain level here."
Cooper knows what it's like to be considered a write-off. Before he swore off booze forever 11 years ago, his career at times slipped off the rails, and he is among the hardy breed of veteran rockers whom cynics say should have retired long ago.
But Cooper has a whole new and youthful audience, thanks to a surprising assist from Torontonian Mike Myer's original Waynes World movie. In it metalheads Wayne Campbell (Myers) and sidekick Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) bow and scrape before Cooper, proclaiming "We're not worthy" to be in the rock icon's presence.
"I can't believe what the movie did for me," Cooper said, laughing. "It made me 20 years old again, as far as the kids are concerned.
"The 'I'm not worthy' thing is with me forever. No matter where I go - airports, resaurants, basketball games, I don't care where it is - that will be with me. That was bestowed upon me by Michael Myers."
At home, Cooper's kids prefer to listen to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons, much to his amusement. But he vows to keep at it, as long as he can keep Alice Cooper looking fearsome abnd being smart, and as long as the quality of the music remains high.
"I've always said, if I get fat, lose all my hair and get stupid, then please don't buy my albums," Cooper said.
"But if I can still say something that intrigues you, then please do."