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(March 15, 1990)
Originally Published: March 15, 1990
Author: Judy Black
Vincent Damon Furnier was born in Detroit in 1948. He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona doing all the typical high school activities that a typical teenager does.
Funny how things changed. Shedding his image as the class clown, Furnier became known as "the grand ghoul of Theater Rock" and the "pioneer of Shockabilly." What brought about this dramatic change? The creation of a stage persona: Alice Cooper.
Now, nearly 20 years after Alice Cooper first appeared on stage, he is embarking on yet another world tour. A rather amusing as well as energetic Furnier caught up with SCENE when he phoned from his home in Phoenix, during a break in the tour which will bring Alice Cooper and his band to the Music Hall this Saturday, March 17. The man behind the legend shed a little light into what it actually takes to portray the infamous Alice Cooper.
SCENE: Rumor has it that you have a daily allotment of slasher movies.
ALICE COOPER: Yeah. On the road especially. Now that I've stopped drinking, when you're in hotel rooms there are certain hobbies that you need to keep up on. And idiosyncrasies. I have a million idiosyncrasies. I watch really bad Chinese Kung Fu movies right before the show. If I don't have one, I get really superstitious. So I go out and find just the worst stuff you can find. Not B movies, but C moves and D movies; those are the great ones (laughs). SHAOLIN HERO MEETS THE GOLDEN VAMPIRES OF WHATEVER. It's great!
SCENE: When is it that you dried out?
AC: About seven years ago.
SCENE: How have you changed?
AC: Alice got better. Alice got totally in focus, which is great. I look at video form Alice in the '70s, and he was pretty sloppy back then as far as the vocals go, as far as the lyrics go, which had its own charm. That had its own charm. Now I look at Alice, and Alice has a steel spike up his spine. He's very directed and much stronger now. He certainly didn't become mellow, that's for sure.
SCENE: How does your stage persona differ from you?
AC: Total opposite. It's totally different. I have Jeckle (sic) and Hyde kind of lifestyle because I'm nothing like Alice, and that's what makes him so appealing to play. Alice, I mean I don't even talk to Alice. Nobody talks to him. He only lives on stage. He's a literary character. He's a character like Darth vader or the Joker, only he's rock and roll. I treat him like a character. I watch videos and go, "I think Alice should do this. What do you think Alice should do here?" We talk about Alice in the third person, like that, because I play him. When I get the direction, when I decide what Alice should do, then I become him and play it as if it's second nature to him.
SCENE: Was there ever a time when it wasn't like that?
AC: Oh yeah. That was the problem when I was drinking. When I was drinking I couldn't separate the two. I thought I had to be Alice Cooper all the time off stage. That's impossible. That's what killed Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix; trying to live a character. It's not that the rock and roll lifestyle isn't fun, but this is the '90s now.
SCENE: You've always been considered a trend setter. Do you feel proud when people follow your lead?
AC: Oh absolutely. That's the greatest compliment in the world. I read magazines, and I read about these great bands that are doing a lot. I really like bands like Guns 'N Roses and Poison and groups that are out there doing great. It's great when they say, "Our influences are Alice Cooper and Aerosmith." That's great, but I'm not nostalgic at all.
In the '70s Alice Cooper ruled the airwaves and ruled the press as far as being the most written about rock and roll character. But I don't live for that. I live for why are they coming now? They're coming now because TRASH is a hit. A certain amount are coming because of the legend, but I'm there in competition with these bands. I've put that message out. I'm certainly not there for nostalgia. If I were out for nostalgia, I'd put the old band together and do the old shows. I'm 136 pounds and I have all my own hair and I'm in shape.
SCENE: Your live shows were a show in every essence of the word. Did you ever worry that sometimes your lyrics would get lost?
AC: I always worried that the music would get lost. In fact, in a lot of cases, before people got used to rock theater, a lot of people just didn't listen to the music, they only watched it. They walked away: "Oh did you see what Alice did tonight? Did you see when he did this and his head came off?" Somebody would way, "What about the music?" "Oh gee, I forgot to listen."
To us, the music always comes first. Without the music, the theatrics don't stand up at all. If you go to see WEST SIDE STORY and there's none of that great music in there, then what is it? It's nothing. I've always believed that you put visuals to your lyrics, and portray them. A lot of people really hated that in the '70s when we started. They were terrified because it was something that was brand new.
SCENE: Do you find that ironic with the popularity that music videos have been experiencing?
AC: Now the problem with MTV - it's not really a problem with MTV, but with the bands - is that anybody can look good on MTV. Anybody can look good on video. I can take any band in the United States and make them look good on video. I can take them in a studio, with the technology that we have now, and make them sound unbelievable. But put them in front of an audience and that's the difference. I've always said that you should be a band that can play in front of an audience before you even consider recording. Before you even think about video you should be a band that can go up and kill an audience. That's first; everything else is second and third. What is a video? A video is a commercial for your song.
SCENE: You seemed to have put a lot of time in the "Poison" video.
AC: Actually, it took about two days. That really wasn't a big production. We were working with people that we had never worked with before; it was great to work with people who really know their craft.
SCENE: Is TRASH your first album on Epic?
AC: Yes. I'm very happy with them. They came to me and said, "We'll give you an unlimited budget and no time limit. Just deliver an album that is as viable as BILLION DOLLAR BABIES or WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE or one of those classic Alice albums." I said fine. I already knew what the subject matter was going to be and pretty much knew who I wanted to use. I wanted to work with Desmond (Child) becuase I really think Desmond is a pure songwriter.
I was pretty loose on this album. Normally I'm very... I keep the people on my album very sparse. On this album it was like sure, let's have Richie Sambora play guitar, let's have Joe Perry come in and play. I think it really loosened the whole feel of the album up, which is good. It wasn't just an Alice Cooper album that only Alice Cooper fans could listen to. I think we really gained a whole new audience with it.
SCENE: Why "Poison" for the first single?
AC: When it comes to a single, you pick the strongest material. "Poison" was so unique, I think, that it was almost like we didn't pick it. When the album came out, "Poison" was on the radio so fast and on so many stations that it was making our heads spin. It more of less fell off the album. (The album's current single is "House Of Fire." The next single to be released is "Only My Heart Talkin'," which includes vocals by Steven Tyler - Ed.)
SCENE: Would you consider this a comeback or sorts?
AC: I think that rock and roll is so full of comebacks. If you're gone for three weeks on vacation, it's a comeback. It seems like I'm always coming back. It seems like Bowie's always coming back and that Elton is always coming back. Kiss is coming back now. From where? They just did an album last year. If you take any time off at all it's a comeback. I think as long as you keep your hand in the game, you're always in the game.
The business is full of peaks and valleys. We peaked with SCHOOL'S OUT and BILLION DOLLAR BABIES; both went to number one. Then there was a lull. Then NIGHTMARE, four years later, was a Top-10 album. Then there was another long lull due to disco, and now TRASH is up there. I expect another couple albums to be big and then another lull and then another big alubm.
SCENE: So there really is no end in sight.
AC: I'm going to tour as long as the audience will stand up and scream. Or unless I get really fat and bald, but I can't see that happening. And the audiences are still screaming and they're still coming to the shows, so I can't really see and end to it at this point. I'm finally at a position where I'm having fun doing what I'm doing. When I got rid of the drinking problem, it really lifted a big weight off of my shoulders. I get up on stage now, and I can do an hour and 45 minutes and not breathe hard - really going at full speed. I'm in better shape now than I was at 25.
SCENE: How do you think you've evolved musically?
AC: I think that rock and roll is rock and roll. When we do theatrical pieces, I think that's when Alice gets to stretch. Alice has always been a real Yardbirds, rock and roll kind of band. We have really similar roots to Aerosmith's when it comes to music. It's kind of like the whole early British Invasion when an updated sound. It just doesn't seem to get old.
SCENE: What can we expect from the "Theater Tour?"
AC: The show is a big production. It's an hour and 45 minutes. It's about 23 songs, from LOVE IT TO DEATH right up to TRASH. We do eight songs off of TRASH. It's about 70 percent really right in your face rock and roll and about 30 percent pure rock theater. We take the audience into Alice's nightmare about a half hour into the show. The makeup changes, the stage changes, the lighting changes, the whole mood of the place changes. The audience goes through this "House of Horror" ride, and then we come back with another blast of rock and roll. The show's a lot of fun.
SCENE: The show is already sold out in Cleveland.
AC: Yeah. I heard it sold out in half an hour. We're doing a different thing this time. Being that it's the '90s, we decided not to go into the arenas, not to play the Coliseum - the 15,000 20,000 venues where you can't see the show. The first seven weeks of this tour, which is the first leg of the tour, is going to be theaters where the audience can actually come and see Alice Cooper. I want them to be able to see Alice's facial expressions. You can't see that 500 rows back. If you're one of the 3,000 people that got tickets, you can see it from anywhere in the house. I think that's a great way to go for the beginning of the '90s. We'll come back and do outdoor shows in the summer, but I really want people to see Alice Cooper for once.
SCENE: Is there anything you'd like to make sure that your fans know about Alice Cooper?
AC: Make sure that you tell them that Alice is not a satanic band. We do not believe in that. Let that stand as my statement. I don't like being lumped in with anything anti-religious like that. Alice is horrific in places, and sensational, but certainly not satanic.
SCENE: Do you really get that?
AC: Oh yeah. We get lumped in because of the P.M.R.C. and the Bible belt, who believe everything taht they read in the The Enquirer as much as they believe what they read in the Bible. If you have long hair and wear black leather, that means you're a Satan worshiper.
(Originally published in Scene Entertainment Weekly, March 15th - 21st, 1990)