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(April 02, 1988)
Originally Published: April 02, 1988
Author: Steffan Chirazi
Around 17 years ago, an ordinary guy called Vincent Furnier cam up with an extraordinary idea. He decided to invent an alter ego name of Alice Cooper and tread a rockin’ trail strewn with blood ‘n’ gore across this beleaguered planet. Now, in 1988, the dividing line between the man and the character he created has become blurred. No-one is entirely sure who is who any more - Steffan Chirazi least of all, as you can read in this schizophrenic story from the (altered) States...
When has Alice been Alice? When has Alice been Vince? At what stages of his 17-odd year career has Vince seen Alice completely take over and run the show? At what times has Alice felt rejected, deserted and abandoned by Vince?
There are many sides to the coin that is/has been Alice Cooper and Vincent Furnier. Fabulous multi-level sides they are too, corridors of intrigue, dark passages into the psyche, material that makes legends.
One this is obvious to me, as it should be to you by now: the stage is for Alice. I have a strong feeling that if even Vincent tried to com eup there, Alice would quite uncontrollably beat ten most glorious shades of shit out of the intruder.
As you’ll see maybe this week, maybe next, there's still nobody who take the stage quite like Alice Cooper.
Let’s straighten out one thing right her, OK? Excuse the crassness of this, but to those of you out there who are jaded and feel that the whole Alice bit is old hat... fuck off. I’m speaking as a young guy, someone who didn’t see the old shows, someone who needs the fix of theatrics and thrills that ALice shoots up in to the audience in these late ‘80s.
The more I see the ‘Raise Your Fist...’ tour, the more I see Alice as the natural and able successor to that master of movie macabre, Vincent Price. See, it’s all been done with such grandiose gory overstatement that it’s like a perverse trip to the theatre.
Alice gets whipped, he whips. Alice gets a bunch of shit from the ‘Prince of Darkness’, he gives shit. Alice nearly gets killed at the noose, he kills. Blood spews an angry course throughout and Alice dominates. Yes, take it sexually if you wish, but he dominates every person that sits/stands/leaps before him.
Alice has his cohorts with him, supplying the small licks to his big kicks. Kane Roberts in his impressive sidekick, Paul Horowitz decorates these bloody times with good keyboards, Ken Mary thumps thumps like a good ’un.
You’ll be there, I know that. But, y’see, it wasn’t always like that for Alice. He’s suffered indignities that would’ve broken any other man, and Vincent’s suffered with him. The comeback last year was a joint effort on their part, a collective haul from the gutter of anonimity. Let me say this: people like Alice Cooper and Vincent Furnier do not deserve the emptiness of anonymity.
I first met them both back in ’85 in LA when Alice was guesting on a Twisted Sister video. Sure, Alice and Vincent possessed the same physical stature and totally different attitudes. The one thing they shared at that time were those eyes. Crystal blue, gems that instantly read like a meter just how much of Alice/Vincent there is present at any given time.
Phoenix, 80 degrees, and the last show in the US for a long time. In his suite lies the familiar sight of Vincent and his TV, always on, pillows behind his head and Diet Coke on the table. He smiles and props his small frame up in order to concentrate...the eyes are calm now, but there's still a flicker in them that betrays the person trying to rest...Alice.
I ask Vincent if Alice ever does interviews?
"No, not at all, Alice only really shows up on stage, that's his place."
And so starts a subtle yet fascinating struggle between Vincent Furnier and Alice Cooper...for although Vincent says Alice doesn't do interviews, there are times when Vince's etes reveal Alice's definte presence in the room, his eagerness to respond, his desire to be fully recognised himself
Although Vincent seems confident that Alice is a character he plays, I see it a touch differently. If any of you saw a film called ‘Magic’ starring Anthony Hopkins and concerning a ventriloquist and his dummy becoming two totally seperate people, you might be able to click into all this far more easily. See, Vincent has control all the time other than that hour and a half on stage, and there has to be a time when it isn't just hte hour and a...
I'm rushing ahead here, but the man/men is/are so facinating that it's an easy thing to do. All legends with their monicker have some unique and incredible quality...and in the case of Vincent Furnier you’ve just gotta highlight his much-enjoyed, relaxed yet constant battle with Alice cooper. Of course, Alice Cooper ws a product of something all those years ago.
"Yeah, Alice is actually a product of fear in a sense, because as much as I ’ve been on stage I still need to be nervous just before I go on. I used to anaesthetise myself with alcohol. I was just drunk all the time. But now it’s actually difficult sometimes to buld those nerves, which I think Alice finds a bit confusing.
"I wish there could be more nerves these days, but I’m so confident in Alice now, so sure that he can handle anything that’s thrown at him up there, that there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about.
"I guess it was a bit nerve-racking last night," muses Alice referring to a duet he did at Long Beach Arena with Guns n' Roses, "because it’s the first time i’ve done a duet with anyone on stage."
There’s a sparkle in those eyes and Alice is gleefully recounting the situation, Vincent keeping check on him.
"But it was time for the stage to be shared... See, Alice never shares the stage with anyone, but it went pretty good last night and it was time to do something new."
I wonder just how much Vincent will admit to treating Alice as his own independent person.
"Oh, I know completely that Alice is a different person," Vincent earnestly replies, eyes calm again. "I can criticise Alice in every way. If we were watchin a tape of last night’s show I could say that Alice shouldn’t have done that, or should do this or shouldn't drop that."
Just how much has Alice saves Vincent from being a completely damaged, violent and excessive person totally beyong any state of repair? Vincent mulls the questions over.
"I think that if I didn’t have Alice I certainly would have been excessive all my life, there’s no doubt about that. And I possible would’ve suffered an irrepatable nervous breakdown. I don’t think the violence would have come out as much, although Alice certainly helps me vent mine. But I think that everyone has a percentage of violence that needs to be let out, and if you don’t express it, you’ll end up beating your wife or something aggressive.
"Alice thrives on violence, which is very useful. If something happens onstage that I don’t like, Alice can beat the shit out of it... and it looks so strong. People love seeing Alice vent his anget - offstage I’m a very unemotional person, which may be down to having become Alice every night. Even in the worst situations I’ve remined cool, y’know."
Vincent chews a thought over, analysing Alice a touch more.
"After Alice gets done beating the prostitute up in ‘Only Women Bleed’ he really feels so repentant for a moment, he knows it was wrong. But the next minute, Alice is a psycho again. Alice is extremely emotional you see - you can never rely on Alice to do the same thing twice, or to do the same thing every night.
"Actually there are times when I worry that Alice isn’t really understood properly," states Vincent, "that the audience doesn’t really get all the black humour and that the parts are played too perfectly. Alice plays the parts to such perfection that I somethimes wonder if the audience should be let in on it all."
But does Vincent actually play Alice or is Alice anouther person? Is it one person with two characters or two seperate bodies? Vincent shuffles a touch, hums thoughtfully and seems only barely able to answer.
"I think that I assume the character of Alice. I have a big mirror in my dressing room just before I go on, and I stare at Alice for about 15 or 20 minutes before I go out. It’s not a possession or anything like that, it’s as though it's a self-hypnosis.
"I make Alice as I know he should be, and he starts to come out. Like if I see a point near my eye curving off and going straight down, it’ll bug the hell outta me and i’ll have to do the whole make-up again. It wouldn’t be as strong, and as the strengths develop Alice comes out.
Alice fully pushes me aside at the moment he knocks that thing over and sees the audience. The spine bolts up and Alice stands there, all powerful and totally in control. Nothing could confound or disturn him at that point. He's arrived."
The physical difference between Vincent and Alice are quite amazing. Is Vincent aware that he grows a few feet taller whan Alice comes in?
"Oh yes, I’m aware that Alice grows physically. It’s a whole new physical game that Alice opens up in me. And Alice is so much stronger. I remember this one time that a big drunk guy, about 240 pounds, jumped on stage and Alice picked him up and flung him over his shoulder before the roadies had time to see him.
"But he had made the mistake of threatening Alice. It’s bad enough invading Alice’s stage but then to threaten him... no-one does that to Alice, ever! It was kinda like in ‘The Exorcist’, the way that little girl get this enormous strength."
Of course, behind every great story there lies a darker and muddier past. There was a period in the later ’70s and early ’80s where no-one really knew where Alice or Vincent were. There were the now infamous ‘Hollywood Squares’ appearances (a cheap silly quiz game show) and Alice or Vincent (which?) suddenly became a trend figure to hob-nob around with and shoot a game of golf with.
Just what was all that? Was it Alice on Hollywood Squares, Johnny Carson’s chat show, the golf courses with George Burns and Bob Hope? Vincent takes a deep breath, sighs a little and for the first time talks freely without Alice egging him on from somewhere.
Alice must be happy to let Vincent explain this one.
"On ‘Hollywood Squares’ I was always so drunk that I can never remember the show properly. But all that, for about four years, was me and not Alice. Alice was asleep and it was all me. Even though it was wearing his make-up, it wasn’t him. See, I got nervous that people were getting bored with Alice, because I can get bored easily. I was in a rut and I couldn’t see that the audience still wanted Alice.
"But that golf trip was totally my sense of humour, not really Alice’s. His is far more immediate and slapstick, whereas mine is more subtle. And golfing with all of them, wearing Alice’s gear, was the biggest practical joke I could play on the USA.
"I must say, though, despite the humour in golfing with George Burns or whoever, I don’t mind a game of golf once in a while. On a brief side note here, it’s the game that all HM stars seem to play now... Dokken, Crue, it’s not an old man’s game any more. And when you hit that ball, it gives you a sense of power. When I play I really do attack that thing, I wanna rip the face off that ball and get real violent with it, hahaha..."
Now, now, Alice... let Vincent continue. Just what was the reason for Alice to sleep for four years?
"Well, obviously alcohol was one of the things, but disco was another. Disco nearly drove me outta business, I hated it that much. But when you’re at the top of that tree you wanna stay there. But there was no way I would allow Alice to do disco. So how do you stay in the game?
"Aerosmith died, we all died apart from Zeppelin who were the ultimate reaction against all that. Tull died... see, the radio started to clock the fact that you could see more Toyotas at discos, and with the Bee-Gees ushering in the whole Yuppie thing it was a situation that represented everything I hated.’
And, of course, there much have been a stage when Alice started to wake up. Did you suffer any struggles with Alice like Hopkins did with his dummy in the film ‘Magic’? Did you just wanna mellow out and see that Alice didn’t?
"In a way, yes, I did have that battle, but then we started to agree. The four years off were starting to get very comfortable for me, kinda like just lying around with enought money watching TV, going to Hawaii. But then I’d be at a news stand looking at a magazine and I’d flick through it and see these new names and faces... Ratt, Poison, Crue, all of whom were Alice juniors.
"And slowly Alice startd to realise that there was a whole generation of kids that perceived these people as having started it all. And Alice woke me up to that fact. It started to get lie a bad infection, where I had to let Alice be known for having done it long before them. Shep, my manager, said he didn’t want anything to do with it if I needed to have booze and drugs, but I told him they wouldn’t be there."
Vincent sits up, and the meters are reading quite high again. Alice sits beside us for a few minutes.
"D’ya know why the comback was so successful? It was attitude! Alice didn’t come back mellow, Alice had his attitude. And Alice didn’t come back bloated and overweight, Alice was a sleek 138 pound middleweight and there was no booze or stimulant to interfere this time.&quoy;
Vincent comes back into things to explain that, in many ways, the whole process was important and vital.
"Yeah, it was a good thing in the long term, those four years, because maybe Alice would’ve burnt out beyond recovery. Even though it was really completely involuntary, Alice had to blow it in front of everyone so that he could make the full and successful comeback."
Attitude adjustment was vitral if Alice was to remain his glorious self.
"People don’t want Alice to be human, to have that human touch. Alice’s idea of love is raping the audience - and the crowd playes female to Alice, they're saying ‘come on, take us’. Alice doesn't give people choices at all.
"Actually, that’s another thing that’s vert annoying to hear," states Vincent, "the accusations of Alice being sexist. The older reviewers come and take this socio-political view of the whole show, yet if it was all Shakespeare it’d be fine! They don’t understand that Alice has no preference as to who his vicitim is, whether it’s male or female.
"They seem to forget that when the whip girl comes out, she beats the shit outta Alice... they only emember that last part, y’know? It’s really quite dumb."
Alice Cooper and Britain seem to have a very special and intense relationship indeed. It’s been going for quite some time now and hasn’t escaped the attention of Vincent. I guess the whole love and respect trip started way back in 1972, when a very large billboard of Alice wrapped in a snake and nothing else was parked in Piccadilly Circus at rush hour for all to see. A stunt not quickly forgotten.
"Yeah, Shep and I came up with that one, like a Barnum and Bailey circus team. It was a big old thing and it got the attention.
"On the next year’s tour, I remember putting a high eight-storey industrial balloon with Alice Cooper on it in the Thames right by Big Ben. The police came along and said, ‘Of course, this is an accident isn’t it?...’ Ohhh, of course, officer, hahaha...
"Even recently on the ‘...Nightmare’ tour, we had the huge 13ft cyclops go through customs at Heathrow, and the little old guy at customs just looked slowly up and said, ‘Passport, please’, just like Basil Fawlty, hahaha...
"You see, I think the British totally accept our sense of humour and outrage," says Vincent, Alice straining at his leash to get involved again. "We certainly seem to have a lot more in common with Europe than, say, the US, just like we do in Canada.
"I can only put that down to that fact that the show is more exotic and exiting as it travels, it’s more of a mystery when they can’t see you all the time. We haven’t played some parts of Europe for a long time, Germany, for example, will be the first shows in ten years! I think it’s gonna be great.
"But in Britain, we just did a really big sell-out tour last year, we did the Reading Festival, and yet when we come over again and we still do really great business. There is certainly this most loyal and dedicated following in Britian, and I really do appreciate that, we both appreciate it.
" But it all comes back to the first time I got banned in Britian," eagerly explains the vibrant Alice, "ever since that moment they’ve known that I won’t take that, that I won’t be told where to go. I become their symbol of rebellion, and they responded by saying that no-one could tell them what they could and could not see. It’s very much a thing between Alice and Britain...
"I try to see things as the fans see them," enthuses Alice. &rquot;Every time I knock that first thing down and it’s Alice loud and proud, I put myself where those kids are looking at Alice.
"Now if they’re 18 looking at Alice for the first time, having heard so much about him, wondering if he’s everything he’s cracked up to be and if he’s for real - Alice and Vincent have a lotta contradictions between them - my first view of Alice would leave me standing there screaming ‘yeeeaaahhh...’
"That’s the way I know Alice is seen, as an image to rally behind. Alice does everything the audience is not socially allowed to do."
Just where will Alice go after the European tour, Vincent?
"I think once it’s over, Alice will take a rest," replies Vincent earnestly. "There’s been a lotta touring this last year and a half, and now that I’m totally secure with Alice, I can afford a rest. But I’ll be spending far more time on the next record, because I really want it to be real special... maybe I’ll spend four months in the studio. But that’ll be a while after the tour, y’know?"
A final question for Vincent and Alice. Did either of you go to the theatre ever? After all, the execution of the effects is really superb.
"Strangely enough I never really did go to the theatre," they both reply simultaneously. "I did see a couple Broadway shows and was really impressed with the way that everything had to be right on the spot, at that instant or it was lost for the night. Not like movies where you can go over the same thing again and again and again. Although Alice may well be doing film work in the future..."
Nothing stupid I trust.
"Oh no, Alice will only do parts where he’s not acting, where he's just himself. ‘Prince of Darkness’ was a good movie for Alice ’cause it was him, and that’s the only sort of movie Alice will do, a movie where it’s just him and not him giving a performance."
In conclusion I’d like to point out a few facts. I spend time with both Vincent and Alice... there does seem to be a public side to Alice that likes to occasionally push Vincent away form the tape-recorder and speak his piece. And I think that Alice has never really taken over Vincent Furnier, more worked with him all these years, helped him through the bad time in his life and given him many good tmes.
But the most impartant factor is that you should recognise that behind Alice Cooper lies a man called Vincent Furnier. And behind Vincent lies a man called Alice Cooper. I don’t really think Vincent knows that Alice is there with him all the time, at interviews, at soundchecks, even at breakfast.
But that’s why the man/these men are legends, they refuse to destroy the fascinating, to break down the interesting and the diverse. In a day when stereotypes and impersonality are arguable at an all-time high, these are damn comforting things to know.
Amazing men, the pair of them.