World of Velvet

Velvet - May 1981

World of Velvet
(May 1981)

Originally Published: May 1981

Alice Cooper

The Grand Ghoul of Theater Rock

Author: Anthony Mora

VINCENT DAMON FURNIER, better known to rock fans as Alice Cooper, has been playing his own bizarre brand of horror-theater rock for over my 15 years. The Alice Cooper band began with an uneasy anger that made most early audiences uncomfortable, if not outright sick. In the early days, Alice was seen as a joke. People would go to an Alice Cooper club date for a laugh, or join the ever-growing walk-out-on-Alice fan club.

That was in the late 60s. Since then Alice Cooper has gone on to become one of the most successful rock acts of his time and the grand ghoul of theater rock and roll. In his private life, Vincent Furnier is as multidimensional as the carnival creature he takes on the road. VELVET met him in his Beverly Hills home to find out what it is that makes this American phenomenon tick.

VELVET: Who really is Alice Cooper?

COOPER: Alice is an American phenomenon - an American tradition, like apple pie, like baseball. Groucho Marx called Alice the last chance for American vaudeville, which is exactly what I wanted. I'm such a fuckin' nationalist it's ridiculous.

VELVET: Are you Alice?

COOPER: No, I'm Vince - Vincent Damon Furnier to be exact. Alice only exists for about 90 minutes while I'm on stage. I almost had to kill myself before I could realize that.

VELVET: What do you mean?

COOPER: Well, in the early days, Alice Cooper's main draw was that the act was bizarre, aggressive and violent and I began to believe I had to be that way all the time, on and off stage. Those were the early days in L.A. when I was hanging out a lot with Jim Morrison of the Doors. I liked the guy but Jim had a tendency to be the same character off stage that he was on stage. He believed you had to live the role at all times, and I started to pick that up. I began going out as Alice dressed in my black leather and I did outrageous things. I'd get into bar fights, start scenes - all the things that I thought Alice should do.

VELVET: It sounds as if you got into a real Jekyll-and-Hyde situation.

COOPER: Right. As Alice Cooper became more successful, Vince the person began to live, more and more, in the shadow of this monster. Before I knew it, I was being Alice 24 hours a day. That's when I began drinking seriously. After a while it got to the point where I never went anywhere without a bottle. Before I knew it, that fuckin' drink had become my best friend.

VELVET: Do you consider yourself an alcoholic?

COOPER: I got as far into it as a person can and still stay alive. I was dying. I never ate. When I finally committed myself, it was a simple act of self-preservation. It came to the point where it was either the bottle or me. One of us had to go. So I put myself into a rehabilitation hospital in New York and went through the program. Now it's over and I don't drink anymore. I can't: It's like taking poison. Now I realize that I'm only Alice for 90 minutes and the rest of the time I'm Vince. Not being able to realize that almost killed me.

VELVET: Did you still have a drinking problem when you married Sheryl?

COOPER: Yeah, that was in 1978. We had just returned from Mexico where we had been married by both of our fathers; they're both ministers. It was then that I knew it was time: Either the bottle or me; one of us had to go. It was the acid test of our marriage. If we could make it through that, we could make it through anything. So, I committed myself. It was during this period that thefilm Sgt. Pepper was being shot. I was given a three day leave from the hospital to shoot my scene, and then I went back. It was difficult and a bit scary but I knew that I had to go through it if I wanted to survive. As you see, both I and my marriage are still going strong.

VELVET: It's a safe bet that Budweiser wasn't too happy when you decided to stop drinking.

COOPER: They probably cried. I mean, I was great publicity. For a while, when you said Bud, you said Alice Cooper. I think that when I stopped drinking their stock shot down. But that's how my whole drinking thing first started. It was a part of my image. You know, beer, the all-American thing. It started out as a prop but ended up as a crutch.

VELVET: When you become Alice Cooper, do you feel a change take place?

COOPER: It's a complete change. When I prepare for the show, everyone has to leave the dressing room while Vince becomes Alice, who has different habits. I walk, act and even speak differently. I feel different, but it's something I really can't explain. And to be honest, I don't want to. I don't care how it works. It just works.

VELVET: Did you always feel this ability to change?

COOPER: Yeah, ever since I was a kid. I always knew that I was going to be a star. I had to be; I couldn't hold a job. I mean, how am I going to hold a job? I can't do anything besides this. I'm a Walter Mitty.

VELVET: We don't want to rehash old shit, but we'd like to ask one question: What made you go into such a theatrical and bizarre form of rock?

COOPER: Well for one thing, being as strange as we were in the early days made it hard for anyone to ignore us. That was the 60s when everyone was into nature and peace and love. We were never into any of that shit. We were an outrageous, aggressive, screaming band. I mean, in those days people would go to see pretty sounding bands and we'd open the show wearing spiked high heels, dresses, make-up, black leather, and our music was even stranger. It became "in" to walk out on Alice Cooper in those days, but before anyone could walk out they had to pay to get in.

VELVET: At that time the band was put down a lot for the music it played. Did you think that your music was as shitty as some people say?

COOPER: No one gave our music a chance in those days, and I was working with some great musicians. Everyone figured that since our act was so crazed our music just had to be shitty, but it wasn't. It was different, a bit strange, but it was good.

VELVET: But what about the theatrics?

COOPER: I always thought that rock should be that way. As long as a band can play, why shouldn't it be visual too? My concept was theatrical from the start. I think that Frank Zappa wanted to work with us after he saw this band literally drive hundreds of people out of a club. He told me that what we were doing on stage and the music we were playing were so illogical, that not even his band could play it. We were so off-the-wall and ridiculous that no act wanted to follow us. But that's what made people notice us.

VELVET: What do you think was the strangest part of an Alice Cooper show?

COOPER: Hell, we've done so many strange things that it would be really hard to pick just one. I mean at one time or another, we've used mops, doors, boas, guillotines, hangmen, dancing spiders, chickens, Nixon look-alikes - you name it, we've probably used it. For example, the Billion Dollar Baby tour required around $600,000 worth of stage and sound equipment. I mean, for our show a roadie doesn't just have to worry if a tube is working or not. He's got to be sure that a noose is going to work or that a prop is in the right place at the right time. We tried using a huge cannon once. Alice was to be shot from the cannon onto the stage. It flopped though. We finally sold it. Jagger was going to buy it but I don't think he did.

VELVET: You just gave it up?

COOPER: Yeah. How much can you do with a cannon? It just wasn't exciting enough. It has to be exciting or we get rid of it. An Alice Cooper concert is like Halloween, or the circus coming to town. When people go to see John Denver, they have to wear tumble-weeds; with Alice you get to wear costumes, like a carnival. See, with our show we can tour without an album.

VELVET: Alice does some pretty violent things on stage. Are you basically an angry person?

COOPER: I'm only angry when I get on stage and then watch out! I save it for that time. I'm not exactly sure what happens, but like I said, Alice is a different person than I am. We even have a rule that if you stand too close to Alice, you have to sign a release form, because no one ever knows what Alice is going to do.

VELVET: But why is Alice so violent?

COOPER: I'm not sure. Vince isn't violent but I know that Alice can be. But there are also a lot of things that Alice was supposed to have done that he never did. Take that chicken thing for instance: In those early days, I'd use anything in the act that got thrown onto the stage. So, there were these chickens, right? Hey, I'm from Detroit, what do I know of chickens? They're birds; they've got wings, and I figured they could fly. So I threw this chicken up, and plop! It fell down. But I sure didn't tear up that poor bird; the audience did. Of course, I never denied tearing it up. I never deny anything. I'd never do anything like that, but then Alice might.

VELVET: It was the press coverage of your antics, real and imagined, that first got you going, right?

COOPER: Sure! We were loud, bizarre, outrageous. That was, and still is, our trademark. Early on in Kansas, for example, the cops climbed on stage and stopped the show because of the noise. That put us on the map. Alice was a martyr. I loved that.

VELVET: Do you find being on stage a sexual thing?

COOPER: Sure. On stage rock 'n' roll is extremely sexual. You know, it's like you take, seduce, an entire audience. It's an incredible feeling. There's nothing like it.

VELVET: What about sex off stage. Has the groupie thing changed at all?

COOPER: I'm married you know!

VELVET: Yes, we do and your wife is a very sexy, attractive woman, but has the groupie thing changed much in the past few years?

COOPER: Well, now that I'm a married man, I'm not that much into it. I mean, I still see them all the time and they still look the same, but it's not as heavy as it used to be. The plaster-caster stuff and that whole thing is all over. It's now very sophisticated. Now you walk into a room and you realize that you can sleep with anyone you want. It's more subtle now. Quieter.

VELVET: Did you ever get turned down when trying to score?

COOPER: Never, but you have to remember that during those days I was "His Majesty," which was one of the bad things because there was no challenge in it. You could have anything you wanted. You could set up any kind of scene that you wanted to set up. It got to be like being a kid with a thousand dollars in a candy store. Finally you just get tired of it.

VELVET: Many of our readers will find that difficult to believe: that it gets boring. In the early days did you and the band try to top every experience with the next, like with your act?

COOPER: Oh, sure, for a while, especially at the beginning. Remember, it's great for the ego when you're a new band on your first tour and you find that you're big enough to draw groupies. It's a sign that you're really making it. Then you get into comparing groupies. For example, if the four you were with last night were with Jimi Hendrix the night before, it actually made you a bigger, more important band.

VELVET: So, bands do compare groupies and experiences?

COOPER: Sure. And I'm sure that groupies compare bands. Groupies are a society unto themselves and they don't bullshit. I mean, I kind of admire them. They're there for one reason and they let you know what they want and that's that.

VELVET: Did you compare sexual experiences with your band members?

COOPER: I remember on some of our earlier tours, when we'd get on the plane the day after a concert, we'd do the "Ball scores." One of the guys would get up and say things like: "Roadies 15, Alice Cooper 7; altogether it's Alice Cooper 35, Tulsa nothing!" Sometimes it would get really funny 'cause everyone would find out who was fooling around with whom. There'd be a lot of red faces and people sliding under seats during that period.

VELVET: Would the roadies usually score more than the band members?

COOPER: I think that roadies always score. I don't know how they manage it but you can be in Nowhere, USA, where the town goes to sleep at 8 o'clock and the roadies will manage to find a place open at 4 a.m. and get laid on top of that. Roadies use the two-bag theory. They put one bag over their heads and one over the girls', just in case one of the bags rolls off. Roadies aren't like other people. If they don't get laid regularly the stuff starts to back up and make them crazy. I admire them but they are strange people. They too are a society unto themselves... a lot like bikers. They go out together, wear their colors, speak their own lingo. And they always manage to get laid.

VELVET: If you were single, would you still be into groupies?

COOPER: I'm a romantic at heart. Eventually it gets odd, waking up and not knowing who the chick is next to you. It actually does get you kind of sick after a while. I once had a doctor write a note stating I had some strange disease - that I was violent when I woke up - so I'd tell a chick that it was okay if she slept with me but she couldn't be there in the morning.

VELVET: Is the Alice Cooper of the 80's different from the 70's Alice?

COOPER: Both my look and sound are a change for the 80's. A change back to a simpler, cleaner, even starker image. The 70's were overproduced in every way. I think that people are sick of that and ready for a change.

VELVET: What do you feel about the music of the 80's? Do you enjoy the new music?

COOPER: I don't think that I've really heard much that's new. I rarely listen to records or the radio. Sometimes I'll put on Burt Bacharach or something like that. I think that Lena Lovich is great. Mostly I watch TV. I have a TV set on all the time... and I mean all the time. When it goes off it feels as if my heart has stopped.

VELVET: You're right, you are American. Are you ever afraid of being viewed as too middle-of-the-road? You've been on the Tonight Show, on Hollywood Squares, at golf classics and other establishment functions. Are you afraid of hurting your image as a rebel and a rocker?

COOPER: Never. Mothers still hide their kids from me and the rumors are still hot and heavy. People remember that I'm the reason that these creeps are hanging around now. I'm still the best around and that's why I keep going. Remember, Alice Cooper isn't just another rock band; we're more like a circus. Alice Cooper is an event.

VELVET: Any last words?

COOPER: (Pauses, gets up and walks towards the door.) Hey, how about shooting at toy soldiers with BB guns?

VELVET: You got two rifles?

COOPER: Yeah, let's go.