ALICE COOPER INTERVIEW – TRANSCRIPT
From Phoenix, Arizona to The Desk at the Clemens Estate.
Alice: Hey, James
jc: Hey, Alice, how are you?
I’m doing good. How ‘bout you guys?
We’re doing well here. This is our third time around. I’m the one who is tabbed for all The Coop interviews, and I love it.
(chuckles) Thank you.
Well, let’s start off with the show. Each time we’ve spoken you’ve done a different kind of show and a specifically themed tour – doing double bills with Motley Crue or Marilyn Manson; what can the fans expect this time around?
Well, this one…when you have twenty-eight albums, you have to play all the hits. I think the audience wants to hear all the hits. When I go to see The Who or the Rolling Stones, I want to hear the hits. That’s just as a fan. And I realize that.
First off, I’ve got the best band I think ever played with. This band is unbelievable. With Orianthi (Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Carlos Santana) playing lead guitar. She’s unbelievable; fits right into the band too. She’s great.
So, the first third of the show is “Glam” Alice; it’s all the hits: “No More Mister Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, “Hello Hooray:; it’s full-out glam. Then it goes right to the “Nightmare” Alice, where we’re more into those songs: “Welcome to my Nightmare” and “Go to Hell”. And then they take me into the graveyard, where we do a tribute to all my dead drunk friends. So we’re in a graveyard and it’s Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Keith Moon and Jim Morrison. We do a song for each one of them. Then we finish out the show with “I’m Eighteen”, “School’s Out”, “Poison”; all the big hits. You go through three different changes in the show, and, like I said, it is with the best band I ever worked with. So, musically, it’s a killer show.
That is quite a retrospective of your career. You and I spoke the last time about how there are all these different Alice characters, but since your sobriety, in particular, the Alice character has evolved from the victim to more of a dominant figure on stage; how your posture, vocal attack and overall demeanor has changed with your sobriety. So, now, with these different arcs of Alice playing out on stage, do you try to physically embody each incarnation of Alice?
You know, I don’t really go to the point…well, you know, when you’re doing the straightjacket, “The Ballad of Dwight Frye”, that’s always that era; when Alice is suddenly the victim. He’s in the straightjacket. The nurse is the villain at this point, but it doesn’t last long, because when he gets out of the straightjacket, he kills the nurse in front of the audience – at least he thinks he does – she retaliates and the next thing you know he’s getting his head cut off.
But, you know, you do it to music, so it all works. It’s choreographed and the audience is following along, almost like a play. The audience has to follow the story.
But that’s the way that we’ve always done it. It’s always been a hard rock, guitar rock band, and I make sure the theatrics flow with that, that it all makes sense and that it tells a story.
And it seems part of this story is steeped in your background with the Hollywood Vampires; your exploits drinking with Lennon and Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr and Keith Moon in L.A. I know Alice fans are acquainted with this. It is a notoriously fascinating back story to your career.
Right. Actually I’m doing an album right now, and I’ve never done a covers album, but this will be my first covers album. Bob Ezrin is producing, and we went right to that era. And I said, “Let’s just do an album that’s a tribute to all my dead, drunk friends. It’s amazing the array of songs you can do from that era; with T-Rex, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix. There are so many great songs to go to. It’s really fun. Doing this album has really been fun. But it really is dedicated to those specific people.
I know you met Jim Morrison in the early days of the Alice Cooper group when you were playing places like the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip, but your time with Moon and Lennon and Harry Nilsson came a few years later when you were a star and living in L.A., right?
How did that all come about? How did you guys meet? Did Keith Moon stop over to borrow some sugar or what?
We met every night at the Rainbow. The Rainbow club was the lair of the Vampires. Every night we’d get there at around ten o’clock and it was a last-man-standing sort of thing. But, always, we could not wait to see what Keith Moon was gonna wear.
One night he comes in a full Hitler outfit. The next night he’d be the Queen of England.
When Keith got there the party started, ‘cause he was the party. I mean, along with being the greatest drummer of all time, he was just amazingly entertaining. (laughs). But there was no off button with Keith. He would wear you out. He’d come over and stay at my house for a week and then he’d stay at Harry’s for a week and then go to Ringo’s for a week. And everybody loved him! I loved having him at the house for a week. It’s just that after that week, you’d have to go on vacation, because he would just wear you out.
(laughs) It’s amazing to digest all of the madness throughout your career, pushing the limits of your “drunk dead, friends”, so I would imagine you look back and say, ‘Hey, I’m a survivor!”
Yeah, you know, there was always a moment for me when even though I drank all day, I was never a drunk. I was on a golden buzz all the time. I wasn’t the kind of drinker where you had to carry me out of the place or I couldn’t remember what I did the night before or anything like that. I was just sort of the Dean Martin. I was on that golden buzz at all times, but it did catch up with me to the point where I’d get up one morning and I started throwing up blood. (clears throat) That’s when you get to the hospital and you realize that party is over.
Now I maintained friendships with all those guys still. But I watched them all drop off one by one and one of the reasons was they were all trying to live up to their image. You know, Jim Morrison wanted to be Jim Morrison all the time. Well, in order to do that you have got to put an awful lot of drugs and an awful lot of alcohol in your system to wake up every morning and become Jim Morrison. Whereas I learned how to be myself and then that night play the character. That way I started respecting the character more. I started understanding, “Olay,. Yeah, look, I’m Alice tonight, so I’ve gotta get ready for that. I gotta make sure I rest here and do that and that, because tonight the audience doesn’t want to see me, they want to see Alice.
So if those guys could have treated their careers like that, where Keith is going, “Okay, I’ve gotta take this, this, this, but tonight I’ve gotta be Keith Moon!” Then I think they would have lived a lot longer.
Well, that is a personalization point of what we spoke about in an earlier discussion. I likened it to your Tramp character, like Charlie Chaplin. You could take off the costume, and literally and physically strip yourself of the Tramp. There is an actual duality there.
That was it. You know that happens with a lot of comedians; John Candy, Chris Farley; those guys didn’t know when to turn off. They felt since they were big, fat guys, and that they had to be funny all the time.
And in order to do that you have to push the envelope of drugs and alcohol in order to fuel that. Sam Kinneson; it seems like there were guys where you just wanted to say, “Stop! You don’t have to be funny all the time.
Speaking of your character, Alice; he always struck me as a composite of the American experience – especially the Alice Cooper group. There is a quote from an interview you did in 1971, very early on in the band’s career, which always resonated with me. You said something to the point that you guys reflected the American experience, and it perplexed you that people would be shocked by it. This was a country at war in Viet Nam at the time, coming off the violent upheavals and assassinations in the Sixties, and here you guys come satirizing that, making a grotesque spectacle of it; your stages were always festooned with fast food wrappers and garter belts and road signs and pop culture gibberish. Alice was, in many ways, a composite character for his times; a reflection of the American experience in all its glorious madness.
It really was. I used to say we were an American Frankenstein.
Because we weren’t just horror movies; we were West Side Story.
We were Guys & Dolls. We were The Twilight Zone. Everything that we grew up with found its way into our music. Even James Bond themes. We all loved going to James Bond movies, and all that music wound up finding its way into our stage show. I think that was really it.
You know, we hold a mirror up; Alice Cooper is the extreme Americanism. And, you know, a lot times people said, “Wow, if that’s where America is going…” I remember in Russia there was a thing in Taft’s magazine in the Seventies saying. “Alice Cooper will never come to Russia, because they are the worst example of Americanism; of what Western rock and roll will turn people into.” Now, they did kind of miss the comedy. Since then we’ve played Russia ten times. It was just at the time we were considered to be the worst examples of what America could be. (laughs)
Right. Well, I always look at Alice Cooper as the Seventies kids’ Elvis. You know, “Elvis is shaking his ass on the Ed Sullivan show and the very foundation of Western civilization is going to crumble in its wake!” And how ridiculous that was, and then here come Miley Cyrus a few weeks ago shaking her ass on MTV and the level of outrage was patently silly. So, of course, I thought of you, and while breaking it down, I came to the conclusion that whereas Elvis was organic and this latest thing was more fabricated, neither carried the shock value or the humor and social commentary of Alice Cooper. There was a tongue-in-cheek quality to the Alice Cooper thing that said, “Look how silly this all is!”, as it was happening.
Yeah, and you know, even looking at what they were doing, and more specifically Miley Cyrus, I think, every year somebody steals the VMA’s.
One year it’s Britney kissing Madonna. One year its Lady GaGa wearing a meat dress. Well, this was Miley Cyrus deciding I’m going to totally destroy my old image in front of the world and, you know what? She succeeded!
She sure did.
She stole the whole thing. But, what you were getting, though, was fake shock. You know, all of us sitting there going, “Oh, how shocking.” Really? Any dance club; there are two hundred girls doing that dance.
I told Lady GaGa, “You didn’t take it far enough with the meat dress.” I said, “You should have had them put you on a spit and barbecue you, and have the audience come up and eat the dress off.”
There you go! With Alice Cooper, there’s some commentary there.
In our show, that’s what would have happened. (laughs)
(laughs) The humor is never ignored. I know when we last spoke you talked about how important the sense of humor is in the shock value of a performance and that with someone like Marilyn Manson, who I know you recently shared a tour with, it was “Okay, I get your shocking, but where’s the punch line?”
Yeah, well I have to say, that now that I’ve met him, there is a punch line.
There is? Okay, good.
A very subtle punch line.
Honestly, when you get to know him, it becomes much more obvious that he gets the humor behind it. I don’t think he lets the audience in on it enough. But Marilyn and I got along really well. It was one of those things that once I met him, and once the ground rules were laid, we really got along well. He came up every night on “Eighteen” and I’d throw him the crutch and we’d do the song together and the audience would go crazy, because they never thought they’d see Marilyn and Alice on stage together. We did have our words at the very beginning; me being a Christian guy and him tearing up the Bible every night. I couldn’t let that go without saying something. But in the end, we ended up being pretty good friends. In fact, we’ll probably tour again together.
That’s great. Wanted to ask you about Bob Ezrin, and maybe we can have more time with this, because I’m working on a book now that features Bob and the theatrical music of the Seventies, and there is quite a bit about you, of course…
When I spoke with Bob, I came to conclusions about your thematic approach to your music and stage personas. Throughout that time, and even all the way up to Along Came A Spider, the Alice Cooper albums were precursors to the show; as if they acted as soundtracks or librettos to a higher art, the performance art. Each album had an arc and each one presented a new Alice that could unleash on audiences; the victim, the killer, the delinquent, the showman; all of these are clearly depicted in the music, the lyrics, the albums’ overall presentation. It literally was a theatrical experience. And as I thought about all this, I realized that you may have been not only the first to do this, but the only one.
I always thought that if I wasn’t doing this, I would have been writing for Broadway. I think visually, When I’m writing a song, I might cheat the lyrics just so I could use a certain prop on stage. Whereas, I’d be doing the lyrics as if they were the script for what happens on stage. So there might be a moment there where I say one word that’s going to allow me to do something else on stage. So, yeah, I’m thinking on it, thinking as, “How is it going to look on stage? Oh, if I said this, then we can do that!” So I’m kind of thinking the way a Broadway writer would think. But, yeah, mostly, I am really proud that the albums are real Detroit rock albums. I will never water it down.
Bob is great, because you talk about somebody that gets the joke…
Bob Ezrin is so much fun to work with, because when we’re doing something, I’ll sit there and say, “Hey, Bob, Guys & Dolls”, and he’ll know exactly what I mean. “This one passage here; let’s go in that direction.” And he gets it immediately. “Let’s go into a Broadway-ish, background vocals on this.” And I’d go, “Yes, because that is so Alice to do that!” So Bob is really the other half of Alice Cooper. He’s the only other guy, when I bring in lyrics and he’d go, “Nah, I don’t know if Alice would say that.” You know, because we treat Alice in the third person.
And I’d go, “Yeah, I know it’s pushing his boundaries a little bit, but it’s worth it if we can get this.” So when we talk about Alice, we talk about Alice as another person. I write songs for that character. And he understands that if I write something, he is free to go, “Nope I don’t think Alice would go there.” And I totally get what he means!
And he has a vast theatrical background. Bob told me that was where everything he does originates from. I learned so much about his early career from Allan Macmillan and a lot of the guys over at Nimbus 9.
Absolutely. In fact, Bob right now, we’re working on this cover’s album and we’re specially doing the Hollywood Vampires, but at the same time, when we’re in the studio, I have such a great time with Ezrin, because I know he totally understands the character. Nobody else does as much as him.
Not sure if you’re going to see him anytime soon…
I’m actually going to be inducting him into the Canadian Hall of Fame coming up at the end of September, I think. He’s getting the walk of fame, I guess. It’s going to be funny, because everybody else is going to be serious and we’re gonna really take it apart.
I sent him my novel and he says he’s getting a kick out of it; and in the inscription I thanked him and you for inspiring its bizarre themes and sparking my imagination as a kid. Your influence is in there.
Oh, thank you, I’m really happy to be a part of your influence.
Well, bringing it all back to the show again; it seems this one is a tribute to the theatrical evolution of Alice Cooper.
It is really fun to do. First of all, the band is really good. It’s unbelievable. The reviews are so amazing about how good the band is with Orianthi and Brian Roxy and everybody in the band. They just gel like crazy together up there. And the fact that it goes glam, nightmare, tribute to my dead, drunk friends, and then the finale. And the show every night just works like a charm.
Looking forward to it. I really want to see you this time around. The last couple of times I had other commitments.
You gotta come down.
Definitely one of these shows in Jersey, Alice.
Oh, thank you.
Be safe out there.
All right, I’ll see you at the show!