Originally Published: February 1987
Author: Scott Morrow
It's Saturday night at the local overcrowded concert madhouse, and the teeming fans are going wild! Frisbees are flying everywhere. Suddenly, the lights go out, and flaming Bics are held up high to the right, left and front of you. Hell, the guy behind you just lit your hair on fire! Thousands of rabid teenage shagheads start chanting, "Al-ice! Al-ice! Al-ice!" and girls in sexy spandex pants, wearing those silly, green, glow-in-the-dark things around their necks, squeal with excitement as a solitary figure makes his way to the edge of the stage-holding a huge, green python!
Concerned mothers everywhere hated that snake - and that disgusting album cover with the big, red serpent sticking out its tongue. But to rebellious kids across the country, this was some neat stuff. That record, Killer - with the photo of a bloody, freshly hung Alice Cooper - was the outrageous follow-up to Love It to Death and the predecessor to School's Out, Billion Dollar Babies, Muscle of Love and Welcome to My Nightmare. Of course, back in those days the Coop could do no wrong. But suddenly, he sort of disappeared.
Well, the man with the leather suit and red athletic supporter is back - with a new LP, tour and record label! And guess what, folks? Things are looking better than ever. Constrictor has a boss metal sound to it - thanks to production by Beau Hill and extensive remixing by mega-mixmeister Michael Wagener - and has some great songs like "Teenage Frankenstein" and "Thrill My Gorilla" with the trademark horror-rock, cartoon lyrics. And the new single, "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" - from the Friday the 13th Part VI soundtrack - could be taken as a snazzy reference to A.C., as well as ol' hockey mask. Look out, Mom - a new generation of misfit teenagers will be corrupted by the new, supercharged Alice Cooper!
The godfather of shock-rock recently took time out to discuss such varied topics as homelife, Dwight Frye and NutraSweet. Read on, if you dare.
What's your ultimate dreamhouse?
Well, I've been looking at a castle in Transylvania, but it's too far from work. It's really hell on gas, refueling the Lear jet to get to L.A.
Didn't you and the band have a famous castle in Connecticut - back in the early '70s?
Oh, yeah - The Galesia Estate. It was a big, huge castle that was about 300 or 400 years old - with trapdoors, secret passageways, and rooms that there was no way to get to. That was back in 1974. Then it just burned down. No one knows how. It got so evil that it burned itself up - it committed suicide.
I know you have a house in L.A. now. What do you like to do when you're relaxing at home?
Well, I have 22 television sets, and I keep them on all the time. They're all over the house, and they never, ever go off. I've bombarded with useless knowledge.
Do you like splatter movies?
Yeah, horror movies. I always did. I still rent about three a night. I don't think there's any horror movie anyone could mention that I havn't seen. Evil Dead was brilliant. If anyone asked me what my favorite splatter movie was, I gotta say Evil Dead. That one and Suspiria. That one's great too.
Didn't you write a song about the great actor, Dwight Frye?
Yeah, we're gonna do Dwight Frye in the new show. So many people still have no idea who Dwight Frye is. I always thought Bela Lugosi was kinda scary, but he wasn't nearly as psychotic as Renfield - Dwight Frye. And in Frankenstein, the Monster wasn't as crazy as Fritz. I mean, that guy was really out of his mind! He had the "Jack Nicholson look" in those old movies.
What's your new stage show gonna be like?
I'll be wearing the same makeup. I think it's a traditional thing now. It's almost like Jason's mask. We're gonna do a lot of the old stuff, 'cause a lot of this audience hasn't seen it. There's a whole audience that has heard the legend, and they want to see it. But I think we'll probably make everything more splatter-orientated. We'll go more splatter on a lot of different things.
It seems as though you disappeared for a couple of years. What have you been doing all this time?
If you find out, let me know! I had some problems with my old record company, but that's just history now. We did some albums that were basically for hard-core Alice fans, but I was doing the last three albums to get out of my contract. Of course, I didn't put out anything I was ashamed of - I could have just sat there, wankity-wham-wham. But "Zipper Catches Skin" and all that stuff was really thought out. At that time we were in total competition with the Bee Gees. Every hard-rock band, every heavy-metal band, every theatrical, glam-rock band, everybody that had anything to do with guitars was out of business about 1976. And the reason was disco. So, for the next four years I just said, "This is a great time for me to take off and regroup." Think of it. From 1976 to 1980 very little of anything with guitar was popular. The late '60s were great. I really liked the Yardbirds - they were our heroes. I don't think Led Zeppelin was ever as good as the Yardbirds, but it was great that the most popular band in the world was a heavy-metal band. And now I think it's time for Alice again.
So you've got that big, guitar-heavy sound back?
Oh yeah, it's a pretty heavy sound. Two guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and a cast of extras.a cast of, well, victims! I'll tell you, I'm in better shape now than I was ten years ago. I've been working out. There were years and years there where I was drinking two bottles of whiskey a night. That had a lot to do with why we dropped out at a certain stage. I toured for 11, 12 years straight, without a break. And I felt like I was dying - I was killing myself to play this character. There were times when I broke my arm, five or six ribs, and I didn't feel it until I got offstage. The adrenaline is so high, you don't really feel it. Then you get offstage and you're really banged up. I felt like Evel Knievel after a wake.
So you're not drinking anymore?
No, heavy on NutraSweet though. We'll probably find out it's worse than heroin or something.
Whatever happened to all the other guys in the band?
They're still around. In fact, I just talked to Dennis Dunaway yesterday on the phone. Him and Neal Smith are writing with some of the guys in Blue Oyster Cult, and they're also writing with Ace Frehley. They all live up in the same area, up in Connecticut. Glen Buxton's got a band in Phoenix called Virgin.
Glen was pretty out of control, wasn't he?
He was my buddy. I think that he's one of the most interesting characters I've ever met in my life. He was as close to W.C. Fields - a hard rock W.C. Fields - as anybody I can think of. Amazing character and a really good guitar player too. Mike Bruce, I don't know what he's doing. I think he's in real estate of something.
I always thought Mike had a lot to do with the songwriting.
He did. He wrote a lot of real solid, chord-type songs. It was really odd though. The band got to where we had two number-one albums in a row and, all of a sudden, nobody in the band wanted to be Alice Cooper anymore. They didn't want to wear makeup, they didn't want to do the theatrics. I'm going, "Gosh, this is what got us here. It took us all this time to get here, and I'm not gonna change. No matter how tired you are of doing it, that's what they want." Neal was the only one that understood that. He'd find out how many drums Keith Moon had and then get one more. That's class. He's already 6' 6", and he'd get heels to make him over seven feet tall. Neal was never really a problem. Everyone else, however, wanted to do different types of music, and I said, "I don't understand. People are trying to sound like us now. We're in the driver's seat, and you guys want to sound like other people."
People play better when they're hungry, don't you think?
Absolutely. Absolutely true.
You were pretty controversial when you first started performing. Didn't you get banned from England on your first tour?
Yeah, we got banned without anybody ever seeing us. It was the best thing that could have happened to us. On top of that, on the flight, this 90-year-old lady I was sitting next to on the airplane died! I got off the plane, and here comes the stretcher. They say, "What happened to her?" "Well, she was sitting next to Alice." I didn't say anything. More people invented things around us than anything else - which was great. That means we were doing our job.
What about the chicken incident?
I don't think anybody ever saw me kill a chicken onstage. You know, the Humane Society still shows up at every performance! "You guys gonna kill any chickens?" "Well, you got any?" What happened was that somebody threw a chicken onstage with about 60,000 people in the audience. We had these CO2 cartridges, and we opened up these pillows. Well, then someone threw the chicken up, and I threw him back into the audience. They tore him to pieces! I mean, I was from Detroit. I figured a chicken could fly - it had wings! So I threw it up in the air, expecting it to fly, and the next thing I know, it's "Alice Cooper drinks the blood of chickens!" So, Ozzy, you weren't the first.
You were shocking for the time.
Well, I think we did other things that were more dangerous than that. Alice Cooper was a total stab in the back to peace and love. Most of the people were into acid - everybody loved everybody - and Alice was full of A Clockwork Orange. If you look at the movie A Clockwork Orange - which came out after us - they even used some of our images. The snake, the makeup, the jockstraps on the outside, stuff like that, I think a lot of that imagery was taken from us.
Didn't Frank Zappa influence the band a lot in the beginning?
Well, he saw us, and he immediately saw that this was the future. He said that this is what everybody's gonna have to cope with in the next seven, eight years, because times are changing, and it's not gonna stick around to the point where everybody loves everybody. When people would throw flowers on stage, we'd take 'em and rip 'em up and throw 'em back, and the audience would sit there. That was an insult to the hippies. The hippies hated us! And, man, it's hard to get a hippie to hate you! But there was something inside them that liked us. Something about the way we threw money, sex, and violence right in their faces. That's what was missing from their social diet. Their social diet had been nothing but, "Everybody's groovy." And we were saying, "Everybody isn't groovy." They were finally ready to turn the corner and get back to reality.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I guess that we more or less introduced theatrics to rock 'n' roll - and we helped design this generation. I can look at my band pictures from 1973, and every group that's out there now has got some aspect from those pictures. It's satisfying to say, "Wow, the vision that we had was right, and it took all this time for it to happen."