On the phone, Alice Cooper comes across like the cliché about the kid in the candy store.
If you didn’t know he made his living portraying a heavy metal villain, you might mistake him for an author of inspirational greeting cards.
At 71, Cooper is loving his life. Maybe more than he ever has.
Forward in his 70s
At a time of life when most famous rockers are coasting on their laurels and mining nostalgia to add to their already towering gold piles, Cooper embarked on a major new project: The Hollywood Vampires.
The Hollywood Vampires is a supergroup composed of Cooper, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, The Cult’s Chris Wyse, and actor Johnny Depp. It is named, Cooper said, for all the now-dead rockers he used to hang out with in the days when he actively courted death himself.
“All of my friends died at 27,” he said in a Whatzup phone interview. “I was the only guy who survived the 27 Club. If I hadn’t gotten a hold of myself, I could have easily joined them.”
Fans of Cooper, Aerosmith, and the Cult might gravitate to the Hollywood Vampires in search of reassuring stylistic similarities. But Cooper said that they knew they were a real band when the music they played together didn’t sound like anything they’d done separately.
Depp is the wild card here in several senses. He has not quite reached the post-scandal phase of his career that the other members of the band appear to have achieved.
And his musical bona fides remain unproven.
But Cooper is a big fan and not just because he is contractually obligated to be a fan.
“People go, ‘Yeah but what about Johnny Depp?’” he said. “And I go, ‘Johnny Depp can play with anybody.’ He’s played with McCartney. He’s played with Jeff Beck. He’s played with everybody. So people are shocked when they hear Johnny play guitar.”
I did not ask Cooper to weigh in on Depp’s alleged off-stage (and off-screen) misbehavior. In a band full of sober septuagenarians and near-septuagenarians who are lucky to be alive and know it, Depp has surely earned a spot as an apprentice vampire.
Better that the troubled Depp become a member of a band called Hollywood Vampires than a member of the group that inspired the name of the band.
Cooper has been sober a long time. His sobriety is what led to the willful bifurcation of his personality. Cooper is only Cooper in performance. Off-stage, he goes by his birth name, Vincent Furnier.
While Cooper is known for shock rock, Furnier is known for being an avid golfer and for referring to Cooper in the third person.
I’ll keep referring to both personae as Cooper throughout to avoid confusion.
Off-stage, Cooper is so atypically clean cut that only thing separating him from a 1950s TV dad like Ward Cleaver is his presumed reluctance to keep his necktie on while lounging around the house.
Cooper loves his stage persona but he also spends a lot of time in interviews trying to distance himself from that persona.
There are undoubtedly citizens who find something contradictory between the horror movie imagery in Cooper’s shows and the Christian faith he unabashedly espouses off-stage. But talk with him for a while and you may very well conclude that he knows considerably more than you think you do about sustaining happiness, satisfaction, and enthusiasm in life.
On the links
Cooper’s main strategy for avoiding booze involves golf.
“I play every day,” he said.
The Calloway Golf Company sets up rounds of golf in every city where Cooper performs.
“On the day of a show, we play nine holes,” he said. “On a day off, we play 18.”
Cooper tends to play with band members and Calloway sales reps.
It is common, he said, for rockers in recovery to replace an addiction to illicit substances with an addiction to golf.
“The reason is because it’s a repetition,” he said. “And it’s something you can never, ever master.”
A list of golfing rockers (or rocking golfers) surprises most people, Cooper said.
“Lou Reed plays golf,” he said. “Iggy Pop plays golf. Bob Dylan plays golf. Neil Young plays golf. Guys in Motley Crue. Most heavy metal bands have two or three guys who play golf.”
When he is on the links, Cooper said he never thinks about his stage persona.
“Generally, I don’t think about the show that night,” he said. “I don’t think about what I am going to wear. I don’t think about what I am going to do. And when I am on stage, I never think about golf.”
Cooper has a unique term to describe his sobriety: healed alcoholism. He believes that God intervened and took away his alcoholism.
Whether you want to ascribe it to divinity, biology, or serendipity, Cooper now has the energy and stamina of a much younger man.
“I’m in better shape at 71 than I was at 30,” he said. “At 71, I’m in two touring bands. I do a five-hour syndicated radio show every night. I’ve got three grandsons. And I run a charity for teenagers. I am doing more at 71 than I ever did when I was younger.”
Welcome to his nightmare…and his golden years.
He’s making the most of both.
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July 27 • The Clyde