(October 31, 2015)
Originally Published: October 31, 2015
The legends goes that the blade of a guillotine is so sharp that it can slice through your neck at such a pace that your dismembered hear will still be able to see in the moments after it comes flying off your neck.
That tension, that pause, that wait for the inevitable deathly blow to drop is one of the most gruesome, gore-soaked pieces of macabre theatre history have ever known. It is, in short, a truly spectacular, utterly horrifying way to end a life. Happy Hallowe'en.
Of course, it's only fitting that the wince-inducing French death-machine is the go-to weapon of choice of the modern master of shock-and-awe entertainment from the very bloodiest of top drawers. A man who has made more audiences shriek with pant-wetting fear than you have had hot dinner and who, over the course of a 50-year, spatter-soaked reign, has infamously faced the guillotine (yes, literally) onstage night after night but somehow, someway, always kept his head.
The original bogeyman of mild-mannered Middle America, the man who, according to folklore, got his name from a late-night session with a Ouija board, the living embodiment of All Hallows' Eve: Alice fucking Cooper.
Today, though, Alice is preparing his trusty old execution tool for a new victim. Someone who has come to gladly put their neck on the line in tribute to an old hero. Black Veil Brides' frontman, Andy Biersack, is here to worship at the murderous altar of Alice, one of his all-time heroes.
"The crazy thing about the guillotine," begins Alice, with a chuckle, slowly creaking the towering device into position, "is that every time you do this onstage in front of an audience, even though deep down they know it's not real and no-one is actually getting their head cut off, they will always all gasp. And hey, nothings ever gone wrong... fingers crossed!"
Now then, Andy: what was it you were saying about heroes?
"Well, actually, I really think of Alice as the ultimate antihero," offers Mr Biersack, nervously wriggling in the guillotine's neck-lock. "When I was growing up, Alice was always that person who was weird and so interesting. He always had such a cool voice, such a cool perspective, and he spoke to me in a pretty direct fashion. He was different to bands like Motley Crue - and I love that band - because it felt like all those cock-rock guys were singing about getting drunk and screwing chicks. I was a chubby kid in a Misfits T-shirt - I definitely wasn't screwing any chicks! Because of that, it seemed to me like he was one for us, one for the true outsiders. He's a cultural icon who goes beyond music."
In fact, the young Andy and the young Coop weren't so dissimilar. Growing up in Detroit, Alice (or Vincent, as he was then known) was, but his own admission, "the kid who always wanted to go and check out the abandoned house at the end of the street," no matter how much of a bad idea that seemed to everyone else. From there, the early obsession with blades developed, although admittedly not specially guillotines to begin with.
"I dressed up as Zorro every Hallowe'en without fail, sword and all," recalls the singer. "There was something about that swashbuckling nature that always appealed to me, I guess. I was certainly drawn to what was going on around the edges of the usual very early on, always pushing at what might be considered 'normal'."
Around this time, an infatuation with scary movies developed, a passion Alice would later pursue, appearing in installments of A Nightmare On Elm Street and countless other slasher flicks. He was, from the very earliest days, a musician and performer of popular culture who worked to drag its fringes kicking and screaming into the glare of a barely-prepared mainstream. Someone who didn't just enjoy horror, but a guy who lived, breathed and wholly inhabited the sinister side of life.
"When people talk about Hallowe'en, they always talk about horror films, but I am from the first generation who grew up on television, so trust me when I say that horror films were like my babysitter," laughs Alice. "I was obsessed with Creature From The Black Lagoon  as a kid and I loved being scared by all those things. But I saw the humour in a lot of it - the absurdity of a giant eyeball attacking a small town in Illinois. I mean, what's not hysterically funny about that?! That's where a lot of our stage show as and is inspired from, y'know, that idea of being startled and scared but hopefully deep down knowing that it's totally ridiculous and over-the-top.
"I see too many bands these days who are prepared to go onstage in a pair of corduroy trousers and a T-shirt," he adds. "Where's the showbiz in that?! Where's the value?! It's unbelievable to me! Right from the earliest days of performing I've always, always wanted to give more than they expected. I see it as my job. I see it as rock music's job."
And it's a job at which Alice has been the boss for a very, very long time...
If the idea of Alice Cooper lopping his own bounce off every night onstage seems a bit daft to you, then rest assured that in 1975, not everyone felt the same way. Alice was Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Mike Myers wrapped up in one spleen-rippingly dangerous package in the eyes of many scared stiff by him and everything he stood for.
"The spirit of rock'n'roll music is a spirit of rebellion. The idea that there is something about it that people don't want you to like or want you to understand," offers Andy, succinctly.
"I think that's why screamo bands are so popular nowadays, because it's something people's parents just don't get it. And that's always been a thing. It's a thing in 2015, and it was a thing four decades ago. In the same way that Alice's shows picketed by religious right-wing groups when he first came to prominence, we have had shows protested by people as weird as white supremacists who are scared by the idea of inclusion that we preach. If you're hitting those buttons and doing it earnestly, that can only be a good thing. What Alice did on top, though, was provide a whole world to escapism where people could go and express themselves away from the constraints of what more close-minded individuals might want them to do."
Of course, if there's one trick that modern society loves to pull, it's being able to put every person, band or piece of art into a neat little box so they can define what it is and what it is not. Take a look at Alice Cooper right now: a 67-year-old man who takes a boa constrictor and a gaggle of go-go dancers onstage, but who also has some of the biggest-selling modern rock records in history under his belt, and it becomes clear that he has no concept of what the inside of the box even looks like.
"When I came around, there was no real Moriarty figure," chuckles Alice, comparing himself to Sherlock Holmes' dark-minded nemesis. "There was no-one who really stuck fear into the heart of parents, but all I needed to do to achieve that was to make sure what we did was no definable. People didn't know what Alice Cooper was. I was wearing women's clothes sometimes; there was blood everywhere; musically, it had a really snotty punk rock mentality, but also big stadium-rock ideas. It had this, 'I don't care what you say, I'm doing this anyway,' attitude and it offered more questions that it gave answers. People hated that and they still do. Look at Marilyn Manson to Slipknot - it all works with those ideas of mystique and mystery that gnaw at someone's psyche."
Yet for all of Alice's shock-rock schtick, for all the ghoulish angst he spread, for every time he made it feel like October 31 every goddamn day, what really set him apart was his bona fide intellect and his astonishing back-catalogue.
"He's a surreal genius," smiles Andy, when asked about what has kept Alice so culturally significant for so long. "He's like the Salvador Dali of music."
"It's true that we were all arts students," chimes Alice with a sage nod. "Everything we did was smart and it was threatening because of that. We talked about politics, we satirised Middle America, we knew our stuff and they knew we did, too. If people can write you off as just a stupid thing, then they will, because that is how the middle 50 per cent of society undermines those on the peripheries."
"People love to complain about the times changing and their bands not staying relevant," returns Andy. "But if you're smart in the way Alice is, then you can make it work in any kind of era. There's no reason why more people couldn't parlay their success across the decades in the way that he has, but they don't understand their audience in the way he so obviously does. Just look at what he's doing with Hollywood Vampires [Alice's star-studded supergroup, named after Alice-hosted LA drinking club, featuring Aerosmith's Joe Perry and A-list actor Johnny Depp] right now! They're touring and there's a real, genuine buzz of excitement for that. The guy constantly ups his show, there's never been a time when Alice has played to 100 people. Even in the '90s, when most bands couldn't get arrested, he was playing 2,000- to 3,000-capacity venues. That's the product of smart, shred moves."
Yet, just as surely as Jekyll turns in Hyde, the cultural landscape has most definitely changed, too. In an internet era where all manner of video nasties are only a few clicks away, the bar for what is truly shocking and frightening had been raised to an almost unattainable point. Can a rock band really be scary any more? Or is Alice's legacy as one of the most dangerous figures on the planet just that: a legacy that will never be repeated again?
"Honestly, I don't think it's possible for a rock band to shock any more - certainly not in the way Alice did," ponders Andy. "But I think at this point that card is played anyway and I'm actually not sure it's important in the way it once was. I don't look at rock as a thing that needs to shock anymore, I look at it as a thing that needs to shake things up emotionally for people."
Perhaps more startlingly, though, the great grandfather of shock-rock himself agrees.
"You honestly cannot shock and audience any more, no," offers Alice, a hint of disappointment rippling in his voice.
"I mean, are you really shocked by Miley Cyrus twerking?"
Er, no, not really, Alice...
"Exactly! Are you really shocked by Lady Gaga's meat dress?"
No so much...
"I actually thought that was a great idea, and I told her that it was in my show, we'd have cooked her on a spit and fed the meat to the crowd.... But that's not the point. The point is that we used to really be shocked by things, and now we just pretend to be. What shocks me these days is when a kid walks into a school and shoots 14 of their classmates. It shocks me what ISIS is doing. These things are genuinely scary and happening in the world all the time, so how is anyone meant to be shocked by an Alice Cooper show, or a Rob Zombie show, or a Marilyn Manson show?!"
If that is the case, then, what is the remaining value of an Alice Cooper show? Is playing the vaudeville ringleader rather than Earth-ending firestarter enough for Alice these days?
"The thing about my shows is that I have your total attention for those two hours," grins Alice. "So, even if, in the big scheme of life, people don't see what we do a a real threat any more, I guarantee that when I look out across the front five rows, there will be at least a couple of times in every performance where they look a little worried. And once you get people into that space, you can mess with their psychology. I've read reviews where people have said I've done things onstage which I just flat-out haven't done, but their minds make that up. That's pure horror-movie psychology - your brain taking you a place outside of reality."
Andy, for his own part, has his own take on Alice's ongoing value as a rock icon.
"We've gotten to the point where popular culture now that something that might seem on paper a bit old hat, has actually become incredibly rebellious again. Picking up a retro record rather than picking up a rap record is a statement of rebellion. For a 12-year-old to go and grab an Alice Cooper record is one f the most defiant things imaginable to me, and you're seeing it more and more. I truly believe he can still be a counter-cultural choice for a new generation and he is such a pure artist that more people discovering him can only be a good thing, in my eyes."
But with the guillotine's glinting blade poised and ready to fall, perhaps it is time for Alice to pay tribute to a man who is, in some ways at least, a spiritual successor to his ludicrously over-the-top throne.
"The think I like most about Black Veil Brides," says Alice, pausing slightly in a big to pin down his exact meaning, "is that I can walk past 20 new bands and 19 of them seem totally interchangeable with one another. There's absolutely no spark there. Black Veil Brides are absolutely not interchangeable, though - they belong together. And with Andy they have someone really erudite and full of passion for what he does. It's easy these days to be a puppet show and put on a big spectacular stage show, but if there's not the intelligence and the wit behind it that I talked about earlier on, then none of it counts for anything at all. This band have that and it's a pleasure to see them dong what they're doing in the manner in which they're doing it."
And with that, down comes the blade with remorseless force, just like it has a thousand occasions before on stages all across the world; all eyes watching, as Alice emerges, just like Alice has so many times, totally unscathed.
But there's precious little time to waste, because even after a long day chopping heads, Alice still has a gig to play tonight.
"Oh, man, the show we're doing at the moment is our best ever!" finishes the legend with a boundless grin and an enthusiasm that belies his years. "And I've always said, if you think you've done your best show or you've written your best song, quit now. But, to me, nobody has ever, ever done a better show than Alice Cooper."
Well, Coop, we couldn't agree more.
Hollywood Vampire's debut album is out now on Universal. Alice Cooper plays two special Hallowe'en shows this week, before joining Motley Crue on tour throughout the UK.
He's been curring through neck onstage for four decades now, but who would Alice like to actually run through his guillotine?
"The guillotine is almost too good for these people. People chattering throughout movies has always been a pet hate of mine and I feel like it has only gotten worse over time. I would happily remove all their heads, one by one."
"Don't ask me why, but the ways those balloons squeak really gets on my nerves. I don't have any problems with mimes per se, and I actually don't mind the balloons when they're done, but the noise those things makes is the actual worst of all time ever, ever, ever!"
"When I see a critic totally trash an album or a movie just because they don't understand what is going on, it really annoys me. I've seem people who have made amazing films and amazing albums get totally panned just because someone has a grudge either against them or the style of thing they're making. It's nonsense."