Metal Hammer

Metal Hammer - December 1986

Metal Hammer
(December 1986)

Originally Published: December 1986

Alice Cooper: The Man Behind The Mask

Author: Harry Doherty

If it's Thursday, it must be Columbus, Ohio, and Vincent Furnier is preparing to change personality. In a few hours time, for the duration of approximately one hour and twenty minutes, the modest, unassuming Mr. Furnier will adopt, some say possessed by, the body of Alice Cooper. Harry Doherty talked to Vince about the problem.

But Vince isn't worried about it: he can handle it. Yep, Alice Cooper is up and about again. After a period of Godknowshowlong inactivity, The Cooper roadshow has already steamed through the USA and, as we speak, is presumably, zapping audience in the UK too.

"I was a little nervous about going on the road," said Alice, through Vince the Intermediary. "It's the first one I've done in three or four years. In rock'n'roll, a lot can happen in three or four years. But what, in fact, happened was a lot of bands that came through ended up being like Alice Cooper clones bands anyway. A lot of them were fans as well, and that's one of the main reasons why I came back. I figured why not give them the real thing. I'm in better shape then I was ten years ago, so why shouldn't I go out and tour?" Cooper's re-entry into the biz came via his excellent new album, 'Constrictor', which recalls the manic and classic real AC. But after his long layoff and de-toxification, when he kicked his infamous booze habit, Alice was on the verge of being put out to graze.

"I had a choice of sitting back and spending the money or going out and having fun, and I've never had this much fun on a tour."

Not even on the early tours?

"Well," he laughed. "I don't even remember the early tours. Only joking. I remember all of them. It was a ten year party. It was a lotta hard work, but I lived on the road for ten years. I had a great time."

We recalled the halcyon days of the Welcome To My Nightmare show, a brilliant piece of rock theatre. The new one, promised Alice, will eclipse that spectacle.

"This show is like 'Nightmare 2'," he enthused, in true horror-movie jargon. "This show is a lot more grotesque. We're using a lot more blood in this show. There's no dancers of detractions like that. The band are all street guys."

But is it real blood?

"No," he deviously said. "Not all of it. Some of it is."

Cooper has put a new band together for this tour, and toiled over his choice of musicians, pulling in musicians from all over the country before he finally settled on the current line-up. He waxes lyrical about his co-writer and lead guitarist, Kane Roberts.

"Everytime I go out, I always look for the best guitarists. I do some writing on guitar, but I do mostly lyrics. When you get somebody that plays as well as Kane does, you don't really pick up a guitar around him."

I wandered, though, if they travelled as a band, given the super syndrome that usually dictates that the band travel in the coach, and the superstar travels separately. I got the impression that Cooper hated the implication.

"No, no, no. We travel together. Everybody in the band is real pals."

The band were, to say the least, a little unnerved by some of the special effects on stage. Alice explained.

"We did about two months rehearsal for this tour, but it took a lot of time as well to work out some of the special effects. The guillotine this time is a lot more dangerous than it was before. It's a forty pound blade and in order to make it a lot more effective, we have to make it a little more dangerous."

Alice Cooper once more puts his head on the block. I wondered whether there were any close shaves. Cooper was in no mood to forgive the pun.

"Actually, there have been. It's the sort of thing that if I don't go down at the right time, I only have about a second before the blade would actually hit me."

So, that was the stimulus to give up booze?

"That's right, you put your head in a guillotine every night and you'll definitely give up drinking."

That led nicely onto the Cooper's infamous drinking problem, and the publicity it received when he decided to pack it in. There were even rumours that share holders in Budweiser's panicked when they heard the news.

"I did it for a long enough period where I never need to drink for the rest of my life. I have still probably got so much alcohol in my system, but I had a choice of either stopping or dying. That was made very clear to me."

Rock'n'roll is the sort of lifestyle where that sort of ultimatum is ignored, I mused.

"You have to heed the ultimatum. I think I'm much more effective alive than dead...Maybe."

A lot of people would say he's more effective dead.

"I know. I wouldn't like to put it up to a vote."

How did this lack of drink affect his work in the years immediately after he kicked the habit? No matter what anybody says, having that amount of outside influence obviously would have effected the way he wrote. It must have had a bearing on the classics like 'School's Out' , penned during his most successful period.

"At the same time, I've never said that alcohol affected the writing either way. I don't really think it does. I think the writing is there. You might have more fun writing on booze."

But surely it's the stimulant that brings the writing out? It's a mental stimulant.

"I guess so, maybe you're less inhibited, but I find that on 'Constrictor' , I wrote as well on that as I did on the last five of six albums. I probably wrote better on it. I was more in control. What I wanted to write came out on paper more. A lot of the early things were ideas, and they didn't go to a second step. But that's okay. I don't sit back and compare what I do now to 'School's Out' ."

But a lot of people would argue about whether the inspiration came from the head or the bottle?

"Yeah, I see what you mean. There was a period of time when I stopped drinking. First of all, it was during the Disco period. I call it the Dark Ages, because it was the worst time for any sort of metal music or hard rock. I'd listen to that crap and wouldn't believe it was happening. Everybody was turning into Yuppies in front of your eyes. There was no hard music at all. Look at who appeared: Aerosmith, Alice Cooper."

Did he find it hard to cope with?

"I found it hard to cope with because they wouldn't play our kind of music on the radio, and we we're used to success. There was always, at least, five or six hard rock songs on the charts, and then there were none...I took that time off and I was floundering around with the image. I figured that after all this time - 1978 or so, it was time to change the image. What I didn't realise was that the audience didn't particularly want me to change the image. I was equating my lack of success with maybe the image being tired. I thought that maybe the product was tired, the music was tired, and I didn't really know exactly where it was. It was a combination of all those things. Now that we're back, we're finding that the Alice Cooper thing is as big as it ever was. It's fresh, and Alice is in top form. And it's deadlier than it ever was."

What did he do in the intervening period?

"Well, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with Alice. I had this character. And when I started reading, and everything I picked in the last two years, every article had my name on it, in reference to them saying 'Alice was my hero, my mentor'. I realised it was time to get back in shape and show 'em how it's done. The funny thing was that on this tour, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know if they would be a nostalgic audience. I was hoping that they wouldn't be. That would be the worst thing in the world. But the audience was 16, 17, 18 years old. There's an established metal audience in America, and it's the same audience that'll go to see Motley Crue, Judas Priest...whatever."

Did he see theses bands as his peers? How did he relate to them?

"I have to look at these bands as peers, but I also look at them mostly as total competition. I'm not gonna sit back and say I'm not in total competition with Ozzy Osbourne, or any of these guys. I'm out there to do the best show I can do, and the intention is to blow them off the map."

Addressing Vincent Furnier, I wonder how he managed to keep the two identities separate? He always refers to Alice Cooper in the third person. Could he become that detached from it?

"Oh, absolutely, when I become Alice tonight, I won't be like this. It'll be a totally different schizoid personality. It'll be Freddie from Nightmare on Elm Street. I'll totally turn into that character and I will be Alice for an hour and a half. There's a totally psyching in, to being Alice. It's all mental. I don't go into the dressing rooms, I always dress in the bus. I get the Alice drag on and I get the Alice make-up on. I'm totally alone until I go and as soon as I hit the stage, then I become Alice."

Sounds a bit frightening?

"No, I look forward to it. The crew see two different people, especially the guys in the band that I rehearse with, because I don't play Alice during rehearsals. They only see Alice when I get on stage and they come backstage stunned, thinking 'Who was that?' People ask me what my worst nightmare is. My worst nightmare would be to be on stage as Alice and suddenly get hit with a bolt of reality. That would be the worst thing in the world for me, because Alice is total fantasy. He's like a phantom, and the last thing I would like to do is for him to accidentally become real?"

Have you ever seen a psychiatrist? He had. And had he recommended therapy?

"They don't seem to think there's any problem. They say 'Do you like Alice?' and I say 'Yeah'. I don't have a problem. I like Alice and if everybody had an Alice, there wouldn't be any need for psychiatrists. It's an alter-ego. Alice does everything that I would never do. Alice is a lot darker than me."

Of course, the danger of coming back after all this time is that Alice could now be seen as a caricature or parody of what Alice was.

"No, no. When I became Alice, I became totally involved in it. I totally believe in the character. I wouldn't be able to do it unless I totally believed in it."

Given the manic personality, what sort of effect did it have on impressionable audiences? Was gross-out syndrome emphasised?

"When people come and see our show, the thing that they can't believe is that they leave the show exhausted. On this tour so far, I haven't seen one fight. It's a little catharsis. We do everything for the audience on stage. They don't even have the time to look away from the stage. If they look away from the stage, they're gonna miss two or three things. I look out on the audience and I see everybody totally mesmerised. We are venting their frustration. We have a real good reputation on tour for not having trouble in the audience. It's because we don't give them a chance to get bored."

Did he see it purely as a theatrical show?

"Well, it's like when Alice comes to town, it's like an extra Halloween. Something wicked this way comes"

Alice, of course, wrote a song for the dross movie, 'Friday the 13th, Part 6'.

"I think this guy is gonna make thirteen of them,", Alice giggled.

But surely that sort of involvement ranks of CLICHÉ?

"It is," he admitted, "...except for the fact that I am one of the biggest splatter movie fans in the world."

But some people take these movies seriously.

"C'mon. Anybody that take them seriously must also take Dempsey and Makepeace seriously. It's absolutely innocent. I tell people never to be afraid of anything you see on film or on stage. If you want to be frightened of something, be frightened of the news. That's really frightening. I gave my alliance to Jason (the warped character in the movie) because he's one of my favourite characters. We have a lot in common. I've been killed so many times on stage, and I keep coming back. He does too. They just can't get rid of us."

On the songwriting front, did he find it hard to write? Were they written from the Alice point of view or the Vince aspect?

"I do an awful lot of confessing in my songs and I don't realise it until I've written it and recorded it, and then I listen back and think 'Gee, I really told a lot about myself there."

Alice Cooper is constantly writing about the teenager with a chip on his shoulder. Originally it was with 'School's Out'. He a lot older than that.

"I've never grown past 17-years old. I'm 38 now, I'm still a rocker, and that's the way I think. I've never been accused of being terribly intellectual. I've always thought that I write better for teenagers than I do anybody else. I've got a total Peter Pan complex. I just refuse to grow up. I'm a rocker, that's the way I am, it keeps me young. There were points when I wondered what I would be like when I grow up. But I'm one of the luckiest people in the world because what I'm doing is exactly what I want to do."

Alice Cooper
Teenage Frankenstein

Another 'A' rocker - I like it already! Good production, but the lead guitar sound could be better, and being as Alice doesn't play, how does he know, nice chorus! Teenage wanking what...? It's so nice to hear Alice play metal again instead of all that groovy crap he has benn producing over the last few years. Yeah! You can dance to it and just as long as the kids can bang there heads on the stage to it, great! Alice's voice sounds good, it's not as distorted as it has been in the past and he uses his voice effectively, going from different articulation techniques, clean, good, dirty, mean and terrific. Good job guys!

Cronos + Cooper = Chaos

Strange goings-on in East London the other week when that double act, Venom and Alice Cooper accidentally bumped into each other. You know what happens when two worlds collide.... Well, it didn't on this occasion. In fact, Cooper and the dread boys got on like the proverbial house on fire. It happened when 'legendary' British photographer, Joe Bangay, arranged consecutive sessions, in the same studio, with the two purported leaders of anarchy passing in the corridors, and then adjourning to the local Flying Standard for a quick pint (or in Coop's case, a coke). There, the lively Alice regaled Venom with tales from the pat, while Cronos masturbated in the corner in his preseence. An hour later, they parted, promising to meet again in the near future.