Alice Cooper Interview

ECR 9/17/09 Cover Feature

Alice Cooper Interview
Unedited Transcript
Conducted from The Desk at the Clemens Estate to York, Penn. 9/17/09

Alice Cooper ThenAlice Cooper – Hey James.

jc: How’s it going Alice?

How ya doin’?

All right. I’ll dispense with the pretense and get right into it.

Okay, great.

I’m doing a little legacy piece here, so I have a few questions to ask along those lines.

Sure. I’ll see if I remember anything. (laughs)

Well, it’s mostly philosophical in nature, really. Have you ever considered Alice’s lineage going all the way back in American pop culture to Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp? When you see Chaplin as an icon today he’s always portrayed in posters or statues as the Tramp character. And also, thinking about that in terms of the times; how Chaplin created this hobo character, which mocked the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, the way Alice certainly lampooned the excesses of the Seventies, as both its villain and victim.

Right, yeah, Alice was a definitely a created American character, and I think he started out being a victim, because I was a victim, I was an alcoholic at the time. You know, when I invented Alice I guess it was subconsciously. I knew I was a victim of alcoholism, and just never recognized it, but here’s Alice whose always stooped over, whose always getting killed, is always sort of, you know, the press was not real favorable. For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner at all, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter – he was suddenly…different posture, different attitude. So there were two Alices, two incarnations of Alice. But yeah, I always look at Alice as someone a hundred years from now…I don’t see why there shouldn’t be somebody playing Alice, or somebody playing Captain Hook. I kind of look at him as an American character. (laughs)

It’s always interesting to hear you refer to Alice in the third person, as you’re doing now, and that sort of lends itself to the idea that you can be possessed by whatever Alice you want for the short term to make certain social comments or present ironies.

Oh, yeah, I think so. I think really he was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain. I mean, there needs to be heroes, villains and victims, and Alice needed to be a visual villain. There wasn’t one personified villain in rock and roll, so I said, “Well, I will gladly be that!” And the great thing about being the villain is usually the villain has a great sense of humor.

That brings me to your many imitators over the years, in almost every musical genre, and it seems – to me – that they’ve failed to display a sense of humor, irony or a satirical twist that Alice brought to light. Marilyn Manson, for instance, seems an overly serious rebellious figure, but without the necessary tongue-and-cheek quality that makes it more entertainment than manifesto.

Yeah, I think I kept waiting for the punch line. (laughs)

Most of the modern rebels are missing that spark of Mark Twain.

With a lot of guys. Yeah. Now a guy who’s got a good sense of humor is Rob Zombie. Rob is like a tattoo parlor coming to life. His stuff is so animated. He has as much reverence for Bela Lugosi as he does The Munsters; the scary and the absurd. He’s like my brother. We have exactly the same sense of humor. Zappa was like that. Zappa had a real sense of absurdity, for the right reasons. He understood absurdity. It cannot be explained. You look at it and it’s purely absurd for the sake of being absurd. (laughs)

This British rock journalist told me years ago that especially in the rock and roll world, if it had that “What the hell is this?” quality, it’s likely to be something worth listening to or watching out for. I would say that’s somewhat the Alice Cooper mission statement.

For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner at all, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter – he was suddenly…different posture, different attitude. .”

Yeah, I think so. And you, know, we were lucky enough to be artists and journalists, that’s kind of how we started in high school, before there was the Beatles and the band. We were all art students and journalists. We were both verbal and had a certain way of looking at things as artists, so when we put a band together all of a sudden it all came together. Maybe because of this we got the joke sooner than anybody else. I mean we were very serious about playing in a rock band and making great music and being as good as anybody else, but I think I always saw the absurdity of it and capitalized on it. I liked the idea that it should be absurd. I remember the first time I read a Kurt Vonnegut novel and went, “What is that? There’s something very funny about this, but I don’t know what it is…but I like it. You know, the first time you see Monty Python and it upsets the entire boat and your laughing and just really inspired by it. When the Beatles first came along I was like everybody else, I looked at them and said, “What is that?” (laughs)

Sure. I guess that’s where us Seventies kids have so many moments where Alice Cooper shocked and inspired us. Funnily enough, I put in the lead to this piece a story of when I was kid, I was grounded in my bedroom listening to “Years Ago/ Steven” from Welcome To My Nightmare in my bedroom on a gloomy autumn day, and forced to actually dust my dresser and to this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting that chill up my spine…

(sinister chuckle) (laughs) Yeah, how creepy it made me feel, how it jacked my imagination. (laughing harder now) How odd is that? No, I understand that. There was a certain sexual side to my life…Every time when I was a kid, every time I went into a public bathroom and smelled those little urinal cakes…when everything gave you a hard-on? Remember?

Yeah, I think I can remember that far back. (laughs) That brings me to the music. For me, the finest anthems of the rock genre are “My Generation” and “School’s Out”, both having two of the greatest lines; “Hope I die before I get old” and “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.”

Right!

Now, I’ve not had the privilege to ask Pete Townshend about the former, but if you could tell me when you wrote that or sang it or listened to it back did you think, “What a fucking great line that is!”

Yeah, it really was one of those coloring out of the lines…”We got no class, we got no principles, we got no innocence, we can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” Because I couldn’t! (laughs) I could not think of a word that rhymed with principles, and I went…”Okay then, I cannot think of a word that rhymes!” And it turns out to be perfect for that character to say that. It perfectly illustrated his dumbness. (laughs) What was his name, the guy who produced…Paul Rothschild…

The Doors.

Yeah, the Doors and Paul Butterfield and Love, we tried so hard to get him to produce us and he told me when School’s Out came on he was driving in his Porsche and he pulled over and he remembered saying, “That’s the greatest line I’ve ever heard.” (laughs) Well, if nothing else, it captures the entire “Who cares?” bit. It just fit in. It was the last piece of the puzzle on that song. It’s like the stuttering in “My Generation” was what I loved.

Right.

Alice Cooper TodayAnd that line, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes” was kind of the capper on that one. What do you think was your best idea in your stage show? Well, everyone asks, “What’s your best stage song?” And I always answer “The Ballad oF Dwight Frye”. Only because it puts Alice in a straightjacket under a cold blue light and he’s singing about being in a mental institution and you can feel the claustrophobia, you can feel him trying to get out. You can feel it on the record. When he’s going, “I got to get out of here…I gotta get out of here…I gotta get out of here!” And when he breaks out there’s this almost orgasm with the audience, because they’re feeling as claustrophobic as Alice is letting them feel. You can feel the veins in his neck popping and when he finally breaks out of that thing, they all break out of it too. You can breathe again. For me, that song was the best use of theatrics and song.

Hell, you can feel it on the record.

I actually recorded it in a straightjacket. I told Bob Ezrin (legendary producer of many Alice Cooper classic albums, as well as Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Kiss) this song should be done in a straight jacket, and he said, “Let’s record it that way then. And so when I recorded it I put myself in a straight jacket and you can really tell…(straining as if to escape)…in the voice of…trying…to…get…that…thing off.

That brings to mind another strange memory I have of Alice, when I went to general admission show in a large club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1981 and I remember being jammed in the front, and you were doing that song, which was so mesmerizing for us, having grown up with that song, and imagined Alice so many times straining to escape, and here we were jammed in our own confined herd in the front row and loving every minute of it, but relating to also being trapped, and you were screaming for us, in a way. (laughs)

It was a real theatrical experience the audience had not gotten before. With all of the great bigness of the show, with explosions and this and that and everything’s going on, and then for that one second, that one guy in a straight jacket in a cold blue light, struggling to get out, it brought it all down to a pin-point on stage. And then when he gets out of it, of course, it explodes with the color and light and everything again. It’s a real release for the audience.

Two last quickies. Are you comfortable being lumped in, and I mean this in the best way, with that whole Metal crowd, the hard rock crowd, because I’d always considered you even way back with the Alice Cooper Band through your solo career, as more of a cabaret performer with electric guitars.

I think there’ll always be an audience for Alice. So it will take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life.”

I look at it this way; we always wanted to be the Yardbirds. We wanted to be as good as the Yardbirds ands as good as the Stones and as good as those bands, so we were really, truly a hard rock band. We were never a Metal band. We were a hard rock band, and we wanted to be as good a rock band as anybody out there. We wanted the swagger. We wanted the snottiness. We wanted to have that kind of…I guess swagger is the word. Guns & Roses had it. Just to get up there and be a snotty rock and roll band, but to be a really good one. The Stones had it. It was built in. And I wanted that to be part of Alice Cooper. The theatrics then overtook that, but in my heart we were just a snotty rock and roll band.

Could you ever foresee shedding Alice? Obviously it has to happen eventually, you clip off the hair, get out the golf clubs and say, “Thank you very much, I’m done.” You ever see that happening, and would you miss the old boy?

I guess I could see that. I’ve always said the only time that’s ever going to happen, honestly, is if I physically can’t go on stage and do it, or if nobody shows up. (laughs) Then I know it’s over. You know then there’s no more reason to do it, if nobody’s going to show up to see it. But so far that hasn’t happened. I think there’ll always be an audience for Alice. So it will take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. (laughs) So I don’t see any end to what’s going on right now. It’s the hardest show we’ve maybe ever done physically and I’ve never been in better shape, so I feel great about it.

It could come full circle for you. I remember you once telling a story about one of your first gigs, when you cleared the joint. (laughs)

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We went from absolutely horrible…We were a lot of times…I don’t mind admitting we were a horrible band, but we worked harder than anybody to be a great band, and now that’s the way I look at it. I only work with the best musicians now, because I want them to be as good as the songs are. Bob Ezrin had a lot to do with making us good songwriters and hopefully the next couple of albums I’ll be working with Bob again.

That’s great news.

Yeah.

I know you’ve got to get going. Thank for the short amount of time.

Well thank you. And you know what? The best questions I’ve had in the last ten years.

No, shit.

So thank you.

Hey, you know, sir, thank you for giving us kids back in the seventies a voice and opening our imagination.

Well, thank you. You’re going to really love this new show. This new show is so crazy. Every night I can’t wait to do it, because it’s so insane. (laughs)

You stay healthy, hit ’em straight and God bless The Coop.

Okay, man.

Peace.

Bye-bye.

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