Vancouver - February 1987

(February 1987)

Originally Published: February 1987

Cooper Among Chickens

The man who showed the metal generation how to do it is showing them again.

Author: Les Wiseman

He was the Yankee-Doodle dandy in a gold Rolls-Royce. He wore lace and he wore black leather. He was the all-American transvestite returned from the dead. And Alice Cooper was my hero during the early and mid-1970s. When he faded from the limelight, about two dozen of us kept buying those great funny albums like From The Inside, Zipper Catches Skin, Lace And Whiskey, Special Forces and DaDa. The Coop was washed up, his glimmer in the footlights was over.

In 1985, Mr. American Beat, Bob Greene, wrote in Esquire the article Alice Doesn't Live There Anymore, in which he followed up on his 1975, height-of-the-hysteria bio, Billion Dollar Baby. In the later dispatch, he painted Cooper as a mild-mannered, reformed-alcoholic house husband who moved to Chicago to protect his children and wife, Sheryl, from the deviates of L.A. and who spent his time bemoaning lost celebrity status, watching videos of his heyday and asserting that daddy was once a rock star.

I had long wanted to guzzle a Budweiser with Alice. I knew that was no longer to be, but just to gab with the dude for a few minutes would be great. He was always cool; I knew he always would be. So when Jason, the Camp Blood machete mangier came back in Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, soundtracked by Auntie Alice, I got on the phone to MCA Records and blathered, "He's back; I've gotta talk to him; my life is not complete. . ." Gulp¬ing coffee at 6:30 a.m. soon after, I was waiting for The Coop to call from Boston where his first tour in nigh on a decade was gathering steam.


"Mr. Cooper?"

"Les, Howya doin?"

I dithered for almost a minute, expounding on the significance of this conversation. To Cooper's bashful thanks, we got down to work, starting with the Greene piece. Cooper took umbrage at the column's accuracy: "He [Greene] wanted me to be the reformed rock star, which is very untrue. I stopped drinking, but I didn't stop thinking. Alice is absolutely more dis¬turbing now than he ever was. This new show is totally over the top. There's so much blood and guts in this new show that it's ridiculous.

"I wasn't depressed like Greene wanted me to be, I was just waiting to figure out what I was going to do next. I knew I was going to do another album, but I didn't know I was going to tour until I met Kane Roberts, my guitarist, who is a total metalhead. This album, Constrictor, was the hardest rock album I'd ever done, and I figured it needed to be onstage. That was all the nudge in the direction of the stage that I needed."

For the current show, Cooper avoided new concepts and returned to gimmicks that had served well at his Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare peak. "We're doing some of the classic theater pieces from that period," he said. "We're doing the guillotine. In 1975 that was scary, now it's anatomically correct, so when the head comes off, it has a little pulse to it, and it spits blood. It's very splatteresque.

"The show is definitely steeped in a black sense of humor. You'll never get rid of that from me. I have a woman executioner who's seven-foot-two, and when she cuts the head off, she holds it out to the audience, then she kisses it and it spits blood all over her face as one last act of defiance. People laugh and yet they're horrified at the same time. And that's exactly the reaction I want. I love scaring people, but at the same time I want them to know that what Alice does is produced show business, and it came out of somebody's brain. What I'd be worried about is whose brain."

Cooper's alcohol problems have been well documented. His 1978 masterpiece, From The Inside, pro¬duced by local shlockmeister David Foster, documented his first attempt at wrestling John Barleycorn and included the throat-lumping ballad, How You Gonna See Me Now? "I really hadn't decided to stop drinking then," said Cooper. "I was just taking a vacation."

He stopped imbibing four years ago and likes to brag that, at his current "fighting weight" of 135 pounds, he is in better shape than a decade ago. Of his ordeal with the flask, "I had a choice: either stop or die. Before I could go to a place to really quit, I had to go to a regular hospital. I had drank myself into bed. I had gastritis and I hadn't eaten in 20 days. It wasn't fun; it wasn't hip; it wasn't anything other than an addiction I couldn't cope with.

"I don't miss it at all. I've got a totally addictive personality. Now I've addicted myself to being straight and I've addicted myself to NutraSweet and splatter movies. So I don't know which is worse; I might have been better off watching Mary Tyler Moore and drinking whisky."

Today's perversities? "I'm very big into [the TV show] Divorce Court; it's on about six times a day around here. That and splatter movies. I go to video stores in every town. Every once in a while you run into three or four you've never seen before, and if you're really lucky they're Filipino or really bad ones from Mexico.'' Cooper recently starred in his own slice'n'dice epic, Monster Dog. "I always wanted to do a really cheap splatter movie - one that would make me really big in somewhere like Pakistan. Then five years from now I'd like to be able to rent this movie for 79 cents. That's the level I wanted this to be on.

"They gave me a lot of money for it - it must have been half the budget - and we did it in Spain. A lot of the people who worked on it were people who worked on the original Alien, and I was going, 'Gee, I hope this isn't too good.' But it ended up being just as bad as I thought. I get to kill like eight people in it, and I turn into a giant dog... so it's good."

With so many projects ongoing, was The Coop still hitting the links, I wondered. After all, here was the depraved rock star who had golfed along with Gerald Ford, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Characteristically schizophrenic, he replied, "I made a deal with Alice. Alice said, 'If you go back on tour you gotta promise me you won't do no more golf. It's much too straight - unless you can drive a golf ball through an old lady's head or something.' I said, 'Okay'."

For all his pretense of depravity, Alice Cooper is foremost a creation of Vincent Furnier, master showman, father of daughter Calico, five, and son Dashiell, one. He is the son and son-in-law of church ministers. "Just because Alice is into horror and rock doesn't mean we're into this Satanism thing. Never have been; never will be. To me that's just a cheap catchall vehicle for every heavy band that wants to be controversial. That's the last thing I want to be in-volved in. Alice Cooper is Halloween. I want Alice to be every great nightmare you've ever had and had fun with."

Such talk naturally led to the Parents Music Resource Center. "They wanted me to put my lyrics on the cover of the album, and I insisted on it. I think the PMRC did a great service to rock'n'roll. They gave rock'n'roll back its outlaw image; for a long while it was very respectable. I like the idea that we're dangerous again; we're not supposed to be accountants."

So he back and he b-a-a-a-d, right into a territory where the heavy metal bands that borrowed so much from the original Cooper rule the arenas. There would be no Twisted Sister, Motley Crue or W.A.S.P. had The Coop not blazed the trail. Asked how the older, wiser and rustier pappy of them all would cope with the competition, he chuckled deviously, "I'm throwing down a gauntlet in front of them, putting on a stage show that they couldn't do.

"The kid is back in town, and my idea is to blow them all off the stage. They know how to play- kind of - and they know how to look good. Their attitude is good, but they don't know how to take a song and dissect it and put it on stage and make it all work. That's Alice's power. The stage show is deadly serious with me, and the idea is to make the audience forget they've ever seen anyone else."

Just then Alice's goons told him he had to go create carnage on a Boston stage. Signing off, he rationalized it all: "I'm doing exactly what Edgar Allan Poe would be doing if he were alive today. Just because it's rock'n'roll doesn't mean it isn't a classical piece of theater."

Now a hero to a whole new generation, The Coop remains an American classic to me.