Alice Cooper has plenty left in the tank
Rocker bringing on-stage theatrics to Coliseum, May 2
Interviewing anyone can cause a bit of anxiety on my part, and when it’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, it can be ratcheted up a few notches. However, when I got the chance to speak to Alice Cooper, he was as cordial as you could ask.
“I am the easiest guy to talk to if there ever was one,” Cooper said.
Gone are the days of folks believing him to be the spawn of Satan. Now, he’s the lovable grandfather figure who loves golf and hosts a nationally syndicated radio show, Nights with Alice Cooper.
“In the ’70s, people didn’t understand what I was doing,” he said. “The 700 Club was burning my albums, and Alice was to blame for everything that was going wrong. Now, I’m sort of the Vincent Price and the lovable monster that lives in your house.
“You stick around long enough where you’re not going to go away, and guys like me and Iggy (Pop), people that have been around that were not really the ‘in crowd’ at all, all of a sudden we stuck around long enough to become lovable.”
His image may have changed, but his stage theatrics remain. You can see that for yourself when the man behind hits like “School’s Out,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” and more visits Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday, May 2.
Things fall into place
Before Cooper was a “lovable monster,” he was just a monster in many people’s eyes.
Born Vincent Furnier in Detroit, Cooper’s family moved to Phoenix where he formed a high school band. Starting out as the Earwigs, they became the Spiders, then Nazz before discovering Todd Rundgren was using that name for his band. Going back to the drawing board, the band found a name that would change their careers.
“We came up with all these really horrific names, then I went, ‘Why don’t we go the other way? Let’s come up with a name that’s sweet and is the little old lady that lives down the block and makes cookies for all the kids,’ ” Cooper said. “I was thinking of Betty Crocker, but I didn’t say Better Crocker. I said Alice Cooper. It stuck. It absolutely juxtapositioned to who we were. We were this horrific stage show, and we had this little old lady’s name.”
While stationed in Los Angeles, the band Alice Cooper, which included guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith, got another boost when Frank Zappa signed them to his record label, Straight Records.
“He couldn’t understand what we were doing at all,” Cooper said of the band’s meeting with Zappa. “He even went, ‘I don’t get it.’ I said, ‘Well that’s not good, is it?’ He says, ‘No, that’s good. I’m Frank Zappa, and I don’t get it. Of course I’m going to sign you because I don’t get it.’”
Their third album on Straight was 1971’s Love It to Death, which featured their first bona fide hit, “I’m Eighteen.” The album was also a departure from their first two albums, 1969’s Pretties for You and 1970’s Easy Action, which had more of a psychedelic vibe.
“Pretties for You and Easy Action were really not even Alice Cooper songs. They were Nazz songs; we wrote those when we were the Spiders and the Nazz,” Cooper said. “Really, Alice Cooper started with Love It to Death.”
Embracing his role
Love It to Death catapulted Alice Cooper to rock stardom, which continued through four more albums, including 1973’s Muscle of Love, which was the last with the classic lineup that is now in the hall of fame.
Along with knocking out hits, it was the band’s stage show that was gaining notoriety.
“Rock needed a villain, and I was absolutely up for that,” Cooper said. “I was born to be the villain, as long as the villain had a sense of humor. That’s the important thing. There were tons of Peter Pans, but not a Captain Hook.
“There were so many rumors about Alice Cooper. And there was no internet, so it was all word of mouth,” he added. “We’d get to a city, and someone would say, ‘Heard you set a German shepherd on fire on stage yesterday.’ We did some crazy things on stage, but people made up things that were even crazier. It took people a while to realize we were sort of a dark vaudeville.”
Reaching new audiences
Going solo with 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare, Cooper saw a resurgence in the late ’80s and early ’90s thanks to the hit song “Poison” off his 1989 album, Trash, and a cameo in the 1992 film Wayne’s World.
“Anytime a thing like that comes along like Wayne’s World or even when I played Freddy Krueger’s father in (1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), it does bring in a different audience,” Cooper said. “Right when we did (Wayne’s World), “Poison” had just come out, and that was a huge hit. It was one of those things where it was a one-two punch.”
And his presence in Wayne’s World changed how a generation would pronounce “Milwaukee” and ushered in a salute that continues to follow Cooper wherever he goes: “We’re not worthy!”
“Only every day,” he said about how often he hears the phrase. “If I’m at an airport, ‘We’re not worthy’ happens at least four times. Honestly, and people always think they’re the first ones to do it.
“The weirdest one was Sinéad O’Connor. You always think of Sinéad O’Connor as being very controversial. And I’m backstage at a concert, and she and a girlfriend are like, ‘We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!’ They’re giggling, and they run away, and I’m like, ‘Was that Sinéad O’Connor?’ ”
No reason to stop
While the film credits are fun, it’s the music and performing live that Cooper is truly passionate about.
“We’ve never changed what we do,” he said. “We’ve always done guitar-driven hard rock with the best hard rock band around, and then we add the theatrics to it. The lyrics are actually the script for the show.”
And that script constantly changes, so the show you might have seen in January 2022 at Honeywell Center in Wabash won’t be the same one you will see at the Coliseum.
“If you saw our last show, which was the haunted castle kind of place, this is an entirely new show,” he said. “It’s new staging, new sets, new theatrics, new everything. But, of course we’re going to do all the hits. We can’t take those out because the crowd would be very angry if we took those 20 songs out. Then we try to add three or four songs they aren’t expecting. There’s 30 albums, so there’s so many places to go with that.”
The latest of those albums is 2021’s Detroit Stories, and he’ll have a live recording coming out in June, Live in Rio, with Johnny Depp, Joe Perry, and Tommy Henriksen.
“The crazy thing is, I’m in better shape now than I was 30, 40 years ago,” Cooper said. “I go on tour now just because I love performing more than just about anything else. And, I play golf anyways when I’m (on) tour. People always go, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ I go, ‘Why don’t you retire? I’m not retiring. Mick Jagger’s not retiring, and if he’s not retiring, I’m not retiring.’ ”
Not only is he not retiring, he’s still looking to “shock rock” your world.
“We’re still there to knock you out,” he said. “The idea is to go up on stage and just kill the audience every night. That’s just the way those bands (from the ’60s and ’70s) are and the way we are.”