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Kerby’s Exclusive Interview with Metal Icon Alice Cooper

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Thursday, September 22, 2005 @ 1:08 PM

A Conversation With An Americ

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When considering metal luminaries who manage to outshine even the most intense light cast by legend, Alice Cooper indisputably stands as a beacon to all who love music. Face it, one could easily put him right alongside such influential frenetic vocalists as Ozzy or Dio and say, “hard rock wouldn’t have been the same without him.” When Vincent Furnier first created the persona of Alice Cooper, there was nothing like him. The make up, bloody guillotine and sense of vaudevillian humor he introduced was revolutionary enough, but…let’s face it, theatricality minus the quality music is basically Mudvayne or Slipknot. The component that has set him apart and has given Cooper the greatest staying power has indisputably been the memorable songs. Without classic tracks like “Billion Dollar Babies”, “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen”, Alice would have quickly been relegated to the status of mere gimmick, and if that had been the case, he certainly wouldn’t still be releasing records as consistent as Dirty Diamonds or managing to tour the country at venues most bands who accept limping through their latter stages couldn’t even begin to hope to fill.

Where Vince ends and Alice Cooper begins though is anyone’s guess and by his own admission, the vocalist has stated that there were times during his career where even he didn’t know where his alter ego ended and his true self actually began. Although those days have long since come and gone, it is important to note that Furnier continues to maintain that “Alice is still my favorite rock and roll star.” Anyone who has seen AC during the current tour can attest to the fact that Cooper’s live show is just as energetic and engaging as ever, and the standards are all well represented in the set as is Alice’s penchant for entertaining the adoring throngs. His current perspective regarding retirement appears to be that if the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney can continue making music while in their mid sixties, then that prospect should easily be within reach for him as he is only five years away from the milestone himself. Unlike others who have watched as their credibility waned with an uncaring public, Cooper has maintained his standing as the bad boy of the genre even as Vince the person hits Scottsdale to play golf or runs his restaurant, Cooperstown, in Phoenix. When any fan who gets the opportunity to see him belting out future standards from Dirty Diamonds like “You Make Me Wanna” and “Sunset Babies”, it’ll be easy for each and every one of them to sense that the character of Alice is as appropriately sick and as twisted as ever…and feel that the world is a better place because of it.

KNAC.COM: There has been something that I have been wanting to ask you for a while---how was the idea of doing the Muppet Show first presented to you?

ALICE: I think that maybe I was the most notorious character in the world at that time, but the Muppet people never saw it like that. They had just had Vincent Price on and John Cleese and Peter Sellers on the show. They thought, “what about Alice Cooper?” I was like--absolutely. First of all, the Muppets never offended anyone because they were blue and green. You could say anything about anybody and get away with it. The hardest part though was that Ms. Piggy would not take her paws off of me. I had hoof prints everywhere.

KNAC.COM: Basically she was all over you like all the other females at the time?

ALICE: Yeah, but the problem was that Kermit was really starting to get an attitude about it.

KNAC.COM: You could have taken him though--don’t you think?

ALICE: Well yeah, but it just made it real awkward for the entire week. I finally had to sit him down and just tell him, “look, it was all her--she’s a pig.”

KNAC.COM: Was Animal as good of a drummer as everyone said he was?

ALICE: Animal was based on Ginger Baker, so yeah, he definitely was. I got along with Sam The Eagle too because he was all American. (This statement was followed by numerous flawless Muppet impersonations.) I liked that guy. I loved doing that show too, but the craziest part was that the characters just had so much personality. When you rehearsed, you were kind of like on a bench like at a basketball game because the puppeteers were down under you holding the puppet up. I might be sitting there doing a song with Ms. Piggy, and I’d go, “you know, it would be funny if you’d put your head on my shoulder right here.” Then, I realized…I was talking to his hand. When I said that though, Ms. Piggy would turn her head around at the time and go, “that was a great idea.” After that, I would look down at the puppeteer to suggest something, and the guy is like, “no no--that’s alright. Talk to the pig.” You do find yourself talking to the characters while you’re rehearsing. It was the weirdest thing. Kermit would say, “maybe you should turn a little bit this way, and it would be funnier if the arrow just misses me.” I was like, “oh yeah, that’s a great idea.” Then I realized, of course, that I was talking to this green sock.

KNAC.COM: That was a credit to Jim Henson and the crew though—all of the characters had such distinct personalities.

ALICE: Yeah, you were honestly taken into it.

KNAC.COM: I’m sure, and how many people have you met in your life who have had eighty percent less personality than any one of the Muppets?

ALICE: They were more animated and had more personality--by far--than most rock stars.

KNAC.COM: Uh…yep. You do know though, you make this all sound really funny now, but “Welcome To My Nightmare” scared the hell out of me even with the presence of all the colored puppets. It just seemed like such an odd juxtaposition.

ALICE: The whole idea of the Faustian selling your soul to the devil concept--

KNAC.COM: That was a heady trip for a seven year old!

ALICE: It was, but to us it was really light and silly, but I can see to a little kid how scary that would be.

KNAC.COM: Just think, that was my introduction to you.

ALICE: (Laughs) To this day, you know, I had immediate credibility with my two year old. I was on The Muppets.

KNAC.COM: Wouldn’t that make you a legend even if you hadn’t done anything else afterwards? I mean, you were on The Muppet Show!

ALICE: Yeah, and I went on right after Peter Sellers. To me, if you are in the same building with Peter Sellers or John Cleese, or any of those guys and holding your own making other people laugh, that’s a compliment.

KNAC.COM: How do you manage in a career as illustrious as yours has been to not get trapped in that “oh no, this was a climactic moment--I’ll never be able to top this!” kind of mindset?

ALICE: It is probably the same as it is with The Stones or The Who. For me, I’ve never lost my thrill of rock and roll. If you write a great rock song, and the chords are right and it has a great opening with the drums coming in just right…it is something amazing. I’m listening to the new Stones record right now, and those guys are about five or six years older than us, and “Rough Justice” could be “Street Fighting Man“ or any of the songs from that era. They haven‘t lost one bit of their edge. I am left to sit there and just go, “I guess it really has nothing to do with your age.” It has everything to do with your attitude in rock and roll. I get onstage now with more attitude at fifty-seven than I had when I was twenty. When I was twenty, my attitude was kind of like, “yeah, yeah…I’m a big rock star.” Now, when I get onstage, I go up there, and I am the Moriarty of rock. I am the consummate villain. I am the Hannibal Lector of rock, and I play it like that. Alice just seems like an arrogant bastard or villain who is making the audience feel as though they are lucky to be there when in reality that is exactly the opposite of my personality. With Alice though…it is great to play him or portray him as an Alan Rickman type character who is very condescending. That’s what makes him fun to watch--he’s Captain Hook.

KNAC.COM: There had to have been times when maybe even you were a little blurry on the distinction as well.

ALICE: In the early days when I was drinking, that was like yeah, I had a very blurry line about where those two were.

KNAC.COM: That’s what I would have figured. I’m sure though that people have confused the person with the persona throughout your career.

ALICE: Yeah, but I mean, that happens when you drink twenty-two hours a day. I would just sit and drink. I didn’t know whether or not I was supposed to be Alice when I went out for dinner and was a little lit. Then there was the question about whether or not I should wear the make up because I didn’t really want to disappoint anyone. Was I supposed to get into trouble? Was I supposed to get arrested that night? All of those questions went through my mind. You have to remember though who my older brothers and sisters were though--guys like Jim Morrison and Keith Moon and all the people who were living that life. After they all died, I just sat there and went, “if one generation is going to learn from the next the truth is going to have to be that you don’t have to die to be your character.” I figured then that I had better be able to separate the two. When I go onstage as Alice to this day, I play Alice to the hilt--I play him for everything he is worth, but when I’m offstage, I never think about Alice Cooper. He never occurs to me.

KNAC.COM: That had to be such a long process to be able to get to that point.

ALICE: Yeah, but the second I put on the makeup or the second I put on the clothes and I could be talking to the band about a 7:20 tee time in the morning, but the second the music starts and I turn to the audience, I become Alice. It’s a different posture, and it’s a different attitude. It is a different body language and a whole different outlook of who I am. The band can look at me and they don’t know who I am at that point. Then I’m this other guy. The second I walk off stage though and I turn away from the audience, I go back to being me again. Whenever I see an audience, that’s when I turn into Alice. If there was no audience there, there would be no reason to be Alice.

KNAC.COM: Aren’t there a lot of people out there though who have this insatiable need and desire to believe that Alice is a living, breathing being out wreaking havoc twenty-four hours a day?

ALICE: I’ve tried to believe it myself even though I don’t believe it about Marilyn Manson. The guys in Slipknot look like they work at The Gap when they aren’t in Slipknot. I was more stunned than anyone on that one. They all came and sat down after the show, and they were all wearing these Gap shirts with little short haircuts. It was like…”so the guys in Slipknot are where? Where are the guys in Slipknot?” I was like, “really?” So that was funny to me, but I totally get it. If I tried to be Alice Cooper all the time--

KNAC.COM: You wouldn’t be around, would you?

ALICE: I’d either be in an insane asylum or in jail or dead. Alice is just too intense, and you just can’t be Alice all the time. Jim Morrison couldn’t be Jim Morrison, so he died. Jimi Hendrix couldn’t be Jimi Hendrix, so he died. That’s really what killed Janis Joplin, Keith Moon and all the way down the line. They were all animated characters who couldn’t live up to their lifestyle, so I said that I needed to be able to separate the two--that’s why I’m still here.

KNAC.COM: I’m sure that thinking about why you’re here is something you have devoted a lot of thought to--I mean, you were such a contrast to the other musicians on The Metal Years. When you said something to the effect that “we aren’t here by accident” it was so much different than many of the others who were either preoccupied with looking for sex or were too inebriated to really respond to anything thoughtfully. Did you feel out of sorts saying something like that at the time?

ALICE: No, no because I always felt like Alice filled the bill. I looked around at rock and roll as an art form, and I looked at it in the big picture as if it were a big play or a big movie. During that time, I saw all of these great heroes, but no villains. I saw a lot of Peter Pan’s, but I saw no Captain Hook. I thought, “I will gladly be that Captain Hook.” I mean, there were guys who were dangerous like Jim Morrison or Mick Jaggar, but no one was defined by the villain persona. No one gave you chills when you were to look at them. I said, “that’s what I was built to do.” I always thought that was my purpose. I wanted to be the guy that when you walked into a room full of rock stars whether it be the Beatles or the Stones or anybody, that when Alice walked in the room there would be that kind of muffled, “he’s here” thing going on. Even though I’m the nicest guy in the world I loved that notoriety thing. I might have been the nicest guy in the room, but I wanted the image to scare people--I wanted a dangerous image.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but you had that sense of humor too--that’s what the rockers who intended to copy you missed out on.

ALICE: Sure, and also a sense of romance. Alice was a romantic. The songs like “Only Women Bleed” and “You and Me” and “I Never Cry”---some of the biggest hits were romantic. I think there was a certain amount of Zoro in Alice as well. In other words, Alice would be onstage, and if a girl would pull her top off, Alice would find that rude. He’s too much of a gentleman for that. Sure, he might slit your throat, but he is too much of a gentleman to find that behavior anything but crude. He would probably give the girl a good talking to as well like, “you really shouldn’t be cheapening yourself that way.” Yes, he may be a gentleman villain, but he is more vicious than anyone out there.

KNAC.COM: Why is it that when a musician or group sets out to emulate you that they seem to only get one dimension right whether it is the violence or the blood? Why do you think it is so hard to replicate the whole package?

ALICE: A long time ago, Frank Zappa said something that made so much sense to me. He said, “look, you either get it or you don’t get it. I’m never going to make someone get it.” Of course, he was talking about himself. People used to go, “what is Frank Zappa? Is it jazz? Well, it’s rock, and it’s funny. Sometimes it also might be stupid, sexy or dirty. What is it?” Frank Zappa would just be like, “you either get it or you don’t.” I sort of developed that attitude. I always thought that if people just liked the music, then that would be great because we write great records and songs. If they just get the horror part, I figured that would be great too. If they get the comedy and the horror part, I figured that would be even better. I always thought though that if they could assimilate all three parts, then that would be terrific. If they just went there and had a good time and let the show be the show and walk away going, “that was the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen” then that’s the goal. The first time I saw Cirque Du Soleil, I didn’t know how to describe it. It was like a nightmare that was just so great to watch--it was just so indescribable. I always wanted the Alice Cooper show to be like that, but of course Cirque came much later, but that’s always what we were shooting for. I wanted us to be a surrealistic painting, but it always had to come with the premise that the music was the cake. The show has to be the icing. Without the great songs, then you’re just a puppet show. One thing about the bands now whether it be the Slipknots or the Mudvayne’s is that they don’t have the music to back it up, and if that’s true, then you aren’t going to be around very long. It may be exciting and this and that, but will it be around for thirty-five to forty years? No.

KNAC.COM: But would you really want it to be? The music doesn’t exactly lend itself to stepping outside the genre. When many people attend the show, it doesn’t really look celebratory in any way--it’s more like a gathering of collective group misery.

ALICE: Well, if you go to one of Marilyn Manson’s shows, it’s very well done. I don’t agree with anything he says theologically or the promotion of drugs, and certainly the Satanic thing bothers me with me being a Christian, but the show is really disturbing. I can say that in that particular respect it’s very well done. He obviously has spent the time, money, ideas and put them all together to make it all work. Will it be around in thirty-five years? No. He will probably be a filmmaker or an actor or something like that. When I think about it though, I don’t see any songs that are going to be like “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “School’s Out” or “I’m Eighteen”. I’m talking about songs that will live on for fifty years or so and will still be getting played.

KNAC.COM: At this stage of a musician’s career--especially one with the type of prolific run that you’ve had, what more could anyone want of you? You have a strong new record, and the Alice Cooper live show is as entertaining as it has ever been--what more could a fan want?

ALICE: I read this one article once about Bob Dylan who I really admire, and when I was looking at it, it said that he had worked two hundred and fifty days that year. Keep in mind that this is guy who could have retired thirty years ago on the songs he wrote. When they asked him why he still did it, he just said, “This is what I do. Money has nothing to do with it. I write songs. I record songs, and I perform songs. It’s as simple as that. What else would you have me do?”

KNAC.COM: Why do people have to assign an ulterior motive in cases like that?

ALICE: I took a year off one time, and I really missed performing. Either I have got to get a movie to do or go to Broadway. I’m a natural performer. I would feel more at home on stage than I do off stage. When people ask me when I’m finally going to hang it up, I just go, “I guess when I walk out and there’s nobody in the audience.” They’re probably going to have to pry the microphone out of my dead hands.

KNAC.COM: You’re a sports fan--you’ve seen cases where people want to say that a legend is hanging on too long whether it be Brett Favre, Jerry Rice or Michael Jordan.

ALICE: Once they stop producing, they have to go, “look, I can’t throw the ball fifty yards anymore. I can’t hit my receiver.” With the Stones, they are sixty-five and still rocking and making great records--Paul McCartney is too. I don’t think there is an expiration date as long as you keep writing great songs. In other words, if I gained a hundred pounds and lost my hair, or got fat and stupid, I’d have to retire because I couldn’t be Alice. I couldn’t play Alice. Alice is slim. He’s sleek. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s funny. He’s scary. If I can’t perform those things, then I can’t be Alice. If any of those things ever happen to me, then I’ll let somebody else play Alice. He is the kind of character that when I go to Spencer’s and see a Dracula outfit or a Ronald McDonald outfit, I may see an Alice Cooper costume right next to it, and it’s at that time that I go, “you know, a hundred years from now, some one might be playing Alice.” I hope so. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: What does that realization do for you?

ALICE: I think it’s great. I have created an Americana character. It is as much a piece of Americana as Johnny Appleseed or the Headless Horseman. To me, that will be my legacy--that the Alice Cooper character will be one of the greatest villains of all time. I think it was all built on the songs though.

KNAC.COM: You can’t sell a gimmick for thirty-five years, right?

ALICE: I always said that if you get twenty rebounds a game, then you can have leopard skin hair. You can be Dennis Rodman as long as you produce, but the minute you can’t shoot any more or can’t get down the court, then you have to realize that you probably can’t be wearing a wedding dress anymore either.

KNAC.COM: And how many musicians’ careers have become derailed because they lost sight of the fact that their privileges were based on songs and that without the tunes, it is a quick drop to obscurity?

ALICE: I think that is true of a lot of them. I think a lot of them start telling themselves that they can’t rock and roll forever so they start doing this or they start doing that or they start a restaurant. By the way, I have nothing to do with the actual running of my restaurant other than I insist they not have wet t-shirt competitions. The food there is great though, and I enjoy the mix of rock and sports. I would be the worst person to run a restaurant though because I would give it all away. I decided mostly to be a part of it because it is a place for young bands to play. We’ve had a lot of great young bands come through, and the food is simple and good. There are no French sauces or anything. We have tuna noodle casserole, ribs and a great cheeseburger. I don’t want to get any more complex than that. Believe me though--that isn’t where I make my money. I mostly just go there to hang out or if there is a party or a band in town playing at America West, and they are rehearsing in the afternoon, I will send over ten bags of ribs just because I know what it’s like to be on the road. I’ve been out there for forty years, and I know what kind of crap they eat and the roadies are starving. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: How much are you enjoying doing your radio show right now?

ALICE: When they came to me about doing this, they said, “nobody listens to radio at night anymore from seven to midnight.” I said, “that’s because you’re playing the same forty songs, and everyone is sick of “Pretty Woman” by Van Halen and “Dirty Deeds” by AC/DC. Everyone has just absolutely had it with “Smoke on the Water”. I’ll take the show, but only if you let me control the writing--I’ll get a couple of writers I know from New York--yeah, it will be irreverent, but only irreverent to rock stars.” They are so revered, so what’s wrong with nailing them? They’re all my friends. I can call Bono the anti-Christ if I want to--he knows I’m kidding. I can say to Styx that I think “Come Sail Away” is the gayest song ever written.

KNAC.COM: C’mon!!

ALICE: No, no. Let them come on the show and argue with me because we’ll all be laughing anyway. I think all the guys I make fun of have a sense of humor.

KNAC.COM: Did you find that you were naturally an expert at the art of interviewing given that you have been the subject of about fifteen thousand of them?

ALICE: Oh yeah, I’ve done that many at least. Johnny Carson used to have me on because he said, “Alice, you’re the only one that can talk. You‘re the only rock star that can talk and actually make people laugh.”

KNAC.COM: You do run into your occasional inarticulate droolers though, don’t you?

ALICE: Yeah, well I would always go on there with about four or five good stories, and he would be like, “come back whenever you want. It’s great that you do what you do and can make people laugh.”

KNAC.COM: And you can have a good person on one end of some discussion and as conversational and engaging as that person may be, it still might not work. It could be the drool or the involuntary noises, but for some reason it just doesn’t click. I’m sure you’ve had that experience many times.

ALICE: Yeah, I can tell in the first ten seconds what it is that I’m dealing with--if it’s like that, I just decide that I am going to take over the interview. From that point on, I decide that I am pretty much going to lead this guy wherever I want him to go and make him ask the things I want him to ask me. He could say to me, “what color are your eyes?” and I would go, “the reason we recorded that was…”

KNAC.COM: And you are no longer listening to the questions whatsoever. (laughs)

ALICE: Wait a minute! I make him sound like a genius--you know, he sounds like he’s asking me all the right questions.

KNAC.COM: Yep! I’m sure no one would ever give me any credit for it, but I’m completely positive I’ve made at least a couple of subjects sound way smarter than they would be if you ran into them at the mall.

ALICE: You are so right. Now that I’ve started interviewing musicians--I just did one today--it was with someone that I really admire too. It was like talking to a box of rocks. I was like, “….ok. There is just so much to talk about…you know, you guys have written so many songs.” Then they just go, “….yeah…” I’m not even talking about average songs here. These guys produced some of the greats, and they are just like, “…yeah.”

KNAC.COM: And there is absolutely nothing there! (laughs) Isn’t it a downer?

ALICE: Yeah, but then there are other ones that are great. There are certain guys that you get on there like Rob Zombie who is great to talk to or Bill Wyman from the Stones or Ron Wood even though you don’t understand a word he says--basically just guys who can talk.

KNAC.COM: You can figure out pretty quickly how they got to the point where they are at too because it becomes obvious real quick that they would probably be successful in whatever venture they pursued.

ALICE: Definitely, and you can tell that they’re quick and they’re thinking on their feet. You might throw something at them, and they might throw something back at you even better. That’s when you go, “ok, that guy is good. This guy not only picked up on what I was saying, but he threw something back that was even better. If you ever want a perfect one, get Ted Nugent on and say, “Iraq.” You can go eat a sandwich, take a shower and an hour later, he’s still going.

KNAC.COM: So it would be like ten plays of “Stairway to Heaven” in a row?

ALICE: I took his interview and I broke it into one hundred “Pearls of Wisdom” for my radio show. I was like, “now it’s time for the ‘All American Ted Nugent Pearl of Wisdom.’” He’d be saying something about a cow head or whatever. Really though, he has so many great quotes. The guy is like a machine gun. I would put him up against Howard Stern any day.

KNAC.COM: It would be an interesting match up, wouldn’t it?

ALICE: It would be a good one.

KNAC.COM: Was there one thing that annoyed you when you were being interviewed all those years that you said you would never do yourself--even if the person you were interviewing was annoying or a little slow?

ALICE: Well, I don’t know because I am just so used to controlling the interview in cases like that. With this interview though, I’m controlling nothing. (laughs) You are asking me all the right questions and asking me things that I don’t get asked. Nine times out of ten, when I am doing an interview, I am watching T.V. while I’m doing it.

KNAC.COM: What is the one question you have been asked in every single interview?

ALICE: Oh, it has to be, “where did you get your name?” The other thing they love to do is say, “tell us the chicken story.” I have just told that story so many times.

KNAC.COM: Do you ever refer them to your website in cases like that?

ALICE: You know, I just can’t be abrupt like that--I’ll just tell the story again. I will sometimes though look for something to invent to make the story just a little more colorful. You know, I may embellish the story a bit and then afterwards go, “that was pretty good, I think I’ll keep that.”

KNAC.COM: Basically you could just throw in a few more adjectives and adverbs here and there?

ALICE: Or it could be something like, “by the way, Jim Morrison was on one side of the stage and John Lennon was on the other watching this happen--those are your two eye witnesses.” How good is that? The stories were great to start with, and I get to make them better.

KNAC.COM: Which songs off of Dirty Diamonds are tunes that you think might be present on an Alice Cooper set list ten years from now?

ALICE: When you write an album, you go in realizing that not all of them will be great stage songs, but sometimes you just hear one, and realize what you’ve got. “Dirty Diamonds” and “Woman of Mass Distraction” are just built for the stage. They will be around for a while.

KNAC.COM: I liked, “You Make Me Wanna.”

ALICE: “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” is the other one we are doing onstage now. They are just the four songs that lend themselves most easily to the stage. You can do “Sunset Babies” right after “Billion Dollar Babies” or “Be My Lover” or “Eighteen”, and they sound like they all fit.

KNAC.COM: It seemed that the fans didn’t take as long to get into them as is normal when a group plays a new song live.

ALICE: Yeah, and in my case, what are those songs? They are the four most basic rock songs on the album. “Sunset Babies” is a song that even reminds me of “Brown Sugar” or a song like that. It just starts out with this honky tonk feel. It’s ok--everybody borrows from Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

KNAC.COM: No, there’s no harm in borrowing from someone as long as that someone doesn’t suck.

ALICE: Yeah, we’re not barrowing from the Thompson Twins or anything like that or Urban League.

KNAC.COM: How weird is it though to know that you had already been established as a rock veteran before they even started and now they have even been gone for twenty years? I mean, where in the hell are the Thompson Twins and the Urban League now?

ALICE: They might be playing Carnival Cruises right now. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: They deserve it for the waffle haircut thing they had going on too. Still though, how do you look back in your rearview mirror at these bands that have ceased being part of public consciousness two or three decades ago?

ALICE: Well, I’m still able to do it because Alice is still my favorite rock star. Mick Jaggar is right up there, and I enjoy Pete Townshend, but my favorite rock star is Alice. He has never let me down, and if I look at him in a stage show objectively, sometimes I will go, “darn, I wish I could feel that way.” Then, of course I realize that it’s me. (laughs) Basically, as long as Alice is my favorite rock star, then I’ll be fine.

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