Alice Cooper: Shock rock? I’d rather play golf
As Halloween approaches, there’s no one we’d rather talk horror with than Alice Cooper . . .
This is how interviews with A-Listers usually start. We’re given a time, frequently no more than 10 minutes. And then we’re given a list of rules: don’t talk to them about their divorces, their drug habit, that off-shore tax account or the fact they sacked the guy who’d propelled them to fame and fortune. You know the sort of stuff.
Passive aggressive PRs lean on us to focus on a particular tour or album so that the resulting article is effectively a two-page advertisement that bolsters their campaign.
See Alice Cooper perform School's Out live in 1990 here:
We don’t play by those rules, of course, and nor, remarkably does Alice Cooper. When we speak to him in the early hours of the morning, we receive a unique instruction from his handler.
Before we’re connected with the man who has sold more than 50 million records, who at the age of 69 still sells out arenas and whose stage act usually includes beheadings and fake blood, this is what we hear.
“We just want to check that the British PR company didn’t give you any parameters about what you can talk about? We want to make sure they haven’t told you that you’re not allowed to ask about any area of Alice’s life?”
We say ‘no’. The interview has been set up following the recent release of his 27th album, Paranormal and to promote the resulting tour, which reaches Birmingham Arena on November 14. But, no, we haven’t been told we can’t ask about drink, drugs, smashing up chickens or any of the controversies in which Alice has been embroiled.
“Great, that’s great,” says his minder, unexpectedly. “We just wanted to make sure you didn’t think you were under any sort of obligation – because you’re not.”
The phone is passed to the Godfather of Shock Rock. And from there, it’s open season on substance abuse, heavy metal, his kids, golf, shopping with the missus and much, much more. The world’s most beloved heavy metal entertainer, the man who puts the horror into Halloween, the guy whose showmanship permanently transformed rock concerts is ours for the keeping.
“Hey, howya doin’?” he says, taking the phone.
He sounds great. He’s full of joie de vivre, brimful of asha.
“I’m in Australia right now,” he says. “We’ve got a show in Brisbane tonight and then we’re off to New Zealand. It’s been unbelievable.”
See the video for Alice Cooper's Feed My Frankenstein here:
Alice has teamed up with KISS founder Ace Frehley for his tour. The rock legend has been warming up the crowds before Alice’s full-on shows. “Every show has been sold out. Ace has got a great band and it’s been a good great rock‘n’roll crowd.
“This is my 15th time in Australia. But, you know, when it comes to Britain, I’ve been there a couple of hundred times. It’s one of those places. I’ve probably spent more time in London than I have in New York.”
Britain has always been a home-from-home for Alice. Fans have been enthralled as fake blood has been sprayed across stages, as politicians have called for him to be banned, as chickens have died at shows and as nooses have been hung round effigies. And they’ve been captivated as he’s pretended to run for the US Presidency and formed a supergroup, Hollywood Vampires, featuring Johnny Depp, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and special guest Sir Paul McCartney.
“It’s always been our best audience. So when we do England this time we’ve got the original band coming. We’re only doing that in Britain because Britain was our first and most loyal audience. I only wanted to bring them back for that. That audience has been the best.
“When the original band broke up there was never any bad blood. Nobody hated anybody. There were no law suits. It was more of a separation than a divorce. I stayed in touch with the guys and played on their projects and vice versa.
“In this case, we finally found Mike Bruce and put him in the studio – Glen, the original guitarist, passed away – as well as Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway. We just wanted to get them into the studio to write a couple of songs and play live.”
Alice is a man of many parts. On stage, he’s all shock-horror and vaudeville, he hams it up singing such tunes as I’ll Bite Your Face Off, messing with live pythons or pretending to kill babies. But offstage, he’s the polar opposite. He hasn’t touched drink for eons, he’s a Born Again Christian and he’s been married monogamously for more than 40 years. There is a remarkable difference between the public and the private. He’s a cool, benign super-healthy uncle, rather than a hoary old rocker.
He’s thrilled that his new record, Paranormal, has been such a hit.
“I think that you always try to bring something new to the game. So with this, we wanted to change a few things and mix it up.” So, Alice invited U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr, Roger Glover from Deep Purple, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and others to play on various tracks.
“Larry brought a whole different feel to it. It was all about using different people in the right place. People ask me all the time about why I choose to make albums when there are no longer any album sales. But I’ve got a million fans around the world that want to hear new music. And I still don’t think I’ve written my best songs. I always think my next album is going to be the best. If you are just going to live on stuff that you’ve done in the past you might as well quit. When we were doing Paranormal, it was about finding things that suited the other guys. So we wrote a song that we knew would be just perfect for Billy Gibbons. He came in and did it in two takes. The same was true with Roger Glover. We just picked the right people.”
Alice sees a shift, however, away from streaming and hard drives back to vinyl and CDs. “Vinyl is coming back strongly. I’m still old school about it. Last year, vinyl sales went up 85 per cent. The last generation was hi-tech, this generation wants the ritual of buying an album, opening it up, reading the lyrics and putting it on the turntable.”
As much as he likes making records, it doesn’t come close to the thrill he gets from playing live. Though he’ll celebrate his 70th birthday in February, he has no plans to give up. And besides, Sir Mick Jagger’s still going strong at 74 – and Alice is determined to outlast him.
“The live show is something I’ll never give up. To me, the lyrics to the songs are the script to what’s going to happen on stage. If you sing Welcome to My Nightmare you have to give the fans something. There are places where you have to kill the ballerina, you know. That’s how I design the show. It’s all about the lyrics.”
Alice has made a career from controversy. And yet in conversation, it’s clear that it’s simple artifice. A friendly, more down-to-earth guy it would be harder to encounter. Rock has its fair share of out-and-out nice guys – Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is another – and Alice is charm itself. He finds the hullaballoo that surrounds him kinda funny. He is ever-amused that he’s able to shock and outrage. It’s nothing more than fun.
“In 1971/2 it was easy to shock an audience, especially a British audience. They weren’t expecting such a monster and such a villain. There were baby dolls all over the stage and snakes. Then this character named Alice Cooper came out. You know, what was he? Was he a boy or a girl. The people who complained, like Mary Whitehouse, just played right into our hands. It backfired on them. The more they tried to stop us the more the British public wanted to see us. The campaigns had the exact opposite effect – they just made us more popular.”
Alice is in a good place. He’s never been fitter, he’s never been happier. Physically and emotionally, he’s enjoying the best of times. And yet it wasn’t always so. For a while, his drink and drug use was on an industrial scale. His consumption of mind-altering substances made Keith Richards look like a vicar. Things couldn’t be different these days. As well as being cleaner than a newly-bleached kitchen surface, he’s devoted to giving something back. He has helped and counselled numerous other rock musiciains, people such as Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, and led people away from the dark side.
See the video for Alice Cooper's Poison here:
“That’s one of the things I’m able to do as a healed alcoholic. God just took drink away from me. It was like a gift. And now I’ve had 37 years of being sober. People look at that and say: ‘If Alice can do it, I can do it’.
“I would not go to somebody and intervene and tell them to quit taking drugs or drink. That’s just another finger waving in their face. But if somebody calls me at 2am and they tell me they’ve got a real problem and are losing their life, then I know they are already halfway home. Now I can help people, I do.
“But you have to admit you have a problem. Most addicts have this illusion that they are not addicted. If you called me up and said you’ve got a problem. I know I can help. It’s a way of giving back. It’s an obligation. I have a lot of friends and I see them falling apart. I could go to them and say: ‘Slow down a little bit’. But that would make me the enemy. All I can do is go by my example. I was ready to die. I was throwing up blood but I found a way out of it.”
He hadn’t found God by the time he gave up booze. Religion came later. Though he’d grown up in a Christian family – his father was a preacher in The Church of Jesus Christ, in Pennsylvania – he went further off the rails than a runaway train.
“I was the prodigal son. I grew up in a Christian home and all my friends were Christian kids. When I got as big as I did I went as far away from religion as I could. But when I got sober, that’s when I came back. That’s when I got back. Christianity had nothing to do with being a rock star. I can be a rock star and be a Christian. God changed my life. But God didn’t say: ‘Don’t be Alice Cooper’.”
Sex‘n’drugs‘n’rock‘n’roll – Alice has had every opportunity available to man. Yet, remarkably, he’s eschewed the former. While many rock‘n’rollers see being in a band as a way to get girls, he’s never taken advantage. Following a string of high-profile relationships during the 1970s, including a reported link with actress Raquel Welch, he settled down with a ballerina instructor and choreographer, Sheryl Goddard. She’d performed in his show from 1975 and though their topsy turvy relationship suffered during his alcoholic years – at one stage, she filed for divorce – they reconciled and have stayed together.
“I married a Christian girl. Her dad’s a pastor and my dad’s a pastor. Sheryl and I have been married 41 years she’s still in the show and plays the insane nurse. She plays the ragdoll that does the ballet on Only Women Bleed. She dances better now than she’s ever danced.”
How about their kids? You’d imagine Alice Cooper’s tribe would be more than a handful. After all, they’ve grown up watching their father large-it on stage. An unruly bunch, you’d imagine?
“Not a bit of it,” he fires straight back. “Most rock kids you’d think of are quite privileged. But all three of our kids have never been in trouble or been arrested. They are all in the arts and showbusinsess. We’re very happy for them, they’re not dying, they’re not alcoholics. They are all married and happy.”
Alice is the ultimate paradox. He’s the poster boy for Halloween who will, in fact, be playing golf rather than carving pumpkins, who’ll be shopping with his wife rather than running round with groupies, who’ll be sipping tea rather than smashing out tequilas and who is one of the most thoroughly pleasant rockers on the planet.
A glimpse into Alice's life: I give my fans all I’ve got – every time
Alice Cooper is a one-off. In a world full of disposable use-them-up-and-spit-them-out rock stars, he’s the one-off who’s lasted the course. Far from falling on hard times or watching unhappily as the lights start to dim, Alice at 69 is more popular than ever. He’s selling out arenas around the world, enjoying the success of his Paranormal album and will no doubt return for more shows in the years ahead. Alice reached the highest of peaks and then sustained his success.
“You know I have to give a lot of credit to Shep Gordon, my manager. We understand each other. I wouldn’t say we are workaholics but we understand that you have to stay current. The most important thing is to give the audience their money’s worth. Don’t walk through the show. Respect the audience and give it everything you’ve got. I don’t care if you have flu or a toothache, when you’re in front of that audience give them everything you can.”
When Alice is on the road, he’s clean living. But he doesn’t sit around in hotel suites watching the clock as he waits for showtime. He has plenty of activities to occupy his time as well, of course, such as being able to hang out with his wife, Sheryl.
“You get into a rhythm when you’re on the road. I play golf every morning.
I do nine holes. Then I get back. I may go shopping with Sheryl and we have a good day.
See the video for Alice Cooper's Love's A Loaded Gun here:
“The most important thing of the day is that hour-and-a-half nap before the show. That’s my drug, right there. Sleep. I speak to other guys my age and we all agree. In order to do a great show you have to put 90 per cent of your energy into it. You can’t be under-par. And these days, I’m in a good place. Mentally and physically I’ve never been in better shape.”
Away from the stage, Alice devotes plenty of time to such charities as Red Cross, MusiCares, and Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, not forgetting his own Solid Rock Foundation. The Foundation is a Christian goodwill non-profit organisation dedicated to helping troubled teenagers and children.
The Foundation was formed by Alice and his friend Chuck Savale in November 1995. The organisation is based in the state of Arizona and Alice acts as its president.
Devoted “Well, my downtime is devoted to a bunch of charities. The Solid Rock Foundation is about keeping kids out of trouble and getting kids to learn instruments. I have to raise money for that all the time, I’m always doing a golf tournament or a big Christmas show. We have a lot of major events and Sheryl and I organise those.”
He’s is also a film actor and restaurateur. And since 2004, he’s been one of the world’s most respected rock DJs. He has his own popular show, Nights with Alice Cooper, which broadcasts across the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
The distinctive show features interviews with such stars as Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Brian Johnson of AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf, Rob Zombie, Glenn Danzig, Def Leppard, Peter Frampton and Jerry Springer. It also plays rare tracks from classic rock artists, along with blues, early punk rock, and psychedelic music.
“I love radio. One thing I love about it is that I grew up on the British invasion: on The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds and The Who. I’ve never lost the love for them. So when I do my radio show, I advertise a lot of that really cool hard rock catalogue. I play songs that nobody else does and people really appreciate that.”