Mr.Halloween Himself – Interview with Alice Cooper
Stale candy corn, leaves beneath the trees, and pumpkins are all reminders of the Halloween holiday which is upon us. As children get out their pillow cases to prepare for the attack on homes with “trick or treats,” we all can recognize one fact: if any one person signifies what Halloween is all about, it is Alice Cooper.
Lucky for San Diego, Alice Cooper’s Tour Terror will stop in our city on the very day that defines him, Halloween. This Saturday, October 31st, 2009 Alice Cooper will be performing his legendary theatrical show at Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort.
The Entertainer spoke with Alice on his exciting tour stop in San Diego and what’s next for the artist whose fans are tirelessly trying to induct him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and rightfully so.
Alice Cooper has been bringing shock rock to the masses for almost 50 years. Many do not realize that Alice Cooper originally was the name of the band — made of members vocalist Alice Cooper (Vincent Furnier), lead guitarist Glen Buxton, rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith who Alice met in high school. Despite the composition of the band, many identify Alice Cooper’s music with just one man: Alice.
Initially, as the band played gigs at clubs, they came upon a night where their not-so-well-received show caught the eye of music manager Shep Gordon. As legend has it, Shep Gordon felt that their version of rock could land them a deal with industry exec Frank Zappa. Zappa was looking to sign an offbeat band to his label Straight Records and offered the band a three album deal, which they took.
On their deal with Straight, they released three records: Pretties For You (1969), Easy Action (1970), Love It To Death (1971). In the process of releasing and performing their first albums they pioneered another genre of rock known as shock rock.
Alice Cooper’s stage shows were not your typical four guys with instruments and a vocalist; it was a shock rock experience and still is today. The members would wear outlandish tight sequined costumes – which arguably inspired rockers like KISS, Guns N’ Roses, and the NY Dolls. The show would paint the music as a picture involving mock fights, portraying Alice as a villain, with eventual execution via electric chair.
Despite the concerned views of 1970’s politicians who felt Alice Cooper’s shock rock was bad for youth, they persevered to release Killer (1971), School’s Out (1972), Billion Dollar Babies and Muscle of Love (1973).
Soon the bandmates fell tired of the grueling tours and began to have disagreements on Alice’s vision of the shows’ focus. Consequently, the original band lineup dismembered with Muscle of Love, their last album to date.
Despite the bands’ break up, Alice Cooper (Vincent Furnier) has continued his solo career under the bands’ name ever since. Alice has released over 25 studio albums, made hundreds of televised appearances and is a well respected Hollywood figure. For using the name commercially, Alice pays royalties to the original bandmates which reportedly fairs well for them.
Alice is known for his kind demeanor and level head, which you may not expect from all the face paint and dark musical themes. He lends his fatherly concern to some of today’s top rockers who struggle with the same substance abuse he faced in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Alice Cooper has separated himself from the stage character and credits that fact, and golf, to what’s kept him sane and sober for over 20 years.
As the healthy 61 year old stays busy with his Tour Terror, he also hosts his own radio show Nights With Alice Cooper, which is very popular and syndicated internationally. Alice Cooper, “the family man,” lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and three children.
Here’s what Alice had to say about “Alice Cooper” in our Entertainer exclusive:
What are the influences that drove your music initially?
“I was at the perfect age, I was 16 when The Beatles came out.When The Beatles came out it changed everything – The Rolling Stones and the Kinks and The Yardbirds; all these great bands from England. It basically gave us something new to do. All of sudden everyone wanted to be in a band because we realized we could actually learn to play some of these songs. So we just started out in a band to get girls really. We got to grow our hair long and be rebels. And eventually we got better and better and better and pretty soon, there it was.
I saw an opening. There were a lot of rock heroes and no rock villains. It was like there were a million little Peter Pans and no Captain Hook. I said rock and roll is already exciting, why don’t we make it more exciting and add the visuals to it? We already do the music; let’s spend most of our time on the music but what happens if we put theatrics to it?”
Did the music inspire the theatrics or was that just an idea for your shows?
“I think once you’re writing music and songs, you know it’s like “Welcome To My Nightmare.” I would sit back and think, why don’t we just give them the nightmare? Let’s get off our buts and not just be a band, let’s be a band and a visual act at the same time. At the time it was pretty brave to do because nobody had ever done it.”
And still, it’s interesting. Because you don’t see many shock rockers.
“Which is amazing to me. To me rock and roll is the most visual music we really have. When you think of opera, that’s all visual. So why wouldn’t rock and roll be visual?”
When you put on your visual show do you have to get into the Alice Cooper persona or is it natural?
“I’ve learned to become the character Alice Cooper. Probably the same way Anthony Hopkins becomes Hannibal Lecter. It’s sort of like a character that I created, so I am probably the only one that really knows Alice’s sense of humor.
I refer to Alice in the third person, because I mean I play him. I don’t have to live the Alice Cooper image because I play him at night. He stands a different way than I do, different posture, different voice and he has a different way of looking at the audience even. When I write songs I don’t write songs for me, I write songs for Alice.
You get to be somebody that is totally opposite of you. You know how much fun it is to play a character? I am probably the most approachable, nicest guy in the business and yet Alice is probably the most disturbing.”
It’s probably nice not having to take that (persona) home with you.
“I am still in the theory that is what killed Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They all had it in their head that “I gotta be Janis Joplin so I better be carrying a bottle of Southern Comfort in my purse.” And the same with Jim Morrison, “I gotta be Jim Morrison all the time so I better be high and I better be crazy”. And pretty soon you realize that if you live that image offstage it’s going to kill you. You don’t want to disappoint anybody. They see you and all of a sudden you’re not being “Jim Morrison.”
And I got to that point when there was a little gray area when I was drinking. I didn’t know where I stopped and when Alice started. So when I quit drinking I made a clear cut between the two personalities. I went look, “I’m married and I have been married 33 years I’ve never cheated on my wife, I have three great kids that have never been in trouble, you know I go to church, I coach Little League. I do all these things that any dad in America would do. Except at night I play Alice Cooper.”
I look forward to being this guy in a character. You know, Alice will always be my favorite rockstar.”
San Diego is excited to have you here on Halloween, what should we be prepared for? A little extra trick or treat for the special occasion?
“You guys got the Halloween date this year, so I am expecting the audience to come here in full Halloween dress. I see it as one big trick or treat because in the first few rows you don’t really have a choice. You’re in the show. I involve the audience a lot in the show.
It is sort of like a warped rock and roll broadway. I kind of like that – that it can be scary and funny at the same time; and it can be romantic and scary at the same time. There are moments in the show when I look up in the audience and I see girls crying because it’s a romantic sort of touching moment. Then there are other times when I see people laughing hysterically.”
“If you are going to be in the first 10 rows at the show, don’t wear your best clothes. I would just say that our psychotic nurse kind of looks for people wearing white because red looks so good against white.”
We want readers to hear your new single “Keeping Halloween Alive.”
“I kept thinking, what is the ultimate Halloween song? I couldn’t really think of one. Maybe Monster Mash or something. That was even about Halloween so I said, ‘I am going to write a song that is about Halloween.’ And make Halloween my own.”
Is Halloween your favorite holiday?
“When I was a kid in Detroit, Halloween was about wearing some cool outfit. For kids on my block in Detroit, if you didn’t have three shopping bags by the end of the night, you were really not trying! It’s all about that. It’s all about dressing up, running around at night, getting candy and that’s it. A lot of people try to make Halloween into something that it’s not. It’s just a stupid, fun holiday. I know that there’s always going to be some extremists who say “it’s from the devil.” Definitely not the way I look at it.”
What’s next for you? When can we expect the 26th studio album?
“Oh yeah, we’re writing it right now. I see absolutely no retirement in the future. I’m in better shape at 60 than I was at 30. At 30 I was a mess; when I was 30 I was 60. So stopping alcohol really helped me a lot.”
[What’s the in stores date, we’re too excited] “Well, probably going into the studio January and February- something like that. But we’ll be touring all next year, we do 100 cities every year. Through Russia, through Europe, I mean all over the world.
The American tour ends actually in San Diego. Yeah, it will be the end of Halloween; then we start up again two weeks later, I believe in Czechoslovakia.”
How is it recording your radio show, Nights With Alice Cooper while you’re on the road?
“It’s a syndicated show. So I tape the show and you’re able to do just about anything now with ProTools. I can do my entire show in my radio room with nothing more than a few computers. I try to do one or two shows to keep ahead of the schedule. Then at least I am nine days a head. I basically do it where ever I am going to be. I’ve done them from Moscow, China; I mean everywhere.”
Anything you’d like to say to San Diegan’s?
“Just that if you are going to be in the first 10 rows at the show, don’t wear your best clothes. I would just say that our psychotic nurse kind of looks for people wearing white because red looks so good against white.”
There you have it. The legend who invented shock rock and still impresses today is also super nice guy. Alice Cooper is who you have to watch out for!
Don’t Miss It! Tour Terror Details
“The King of Theater Rock is making history once again, this time with an ALL NEW THEATER OF DEATH SHOW! Alice Cooper’s performance will bring more unbelievable thrills and chills, as the man who revolutionized and reinvented the “rock concert” takes you on a journey that you’ll not soon forget!”
You may purchase your tickets here.
Happy Halloween from San Diego Entertainer!