6/13/2013 - Before Alice Cooper, theatrical rock didn’t exist. Five Arizona high school pals with a singer named Vincent Furnier blossomed in late 1960s Los Angeles with elaborate crime-and-punishment themed shows employing guillotines, gallows, doll parts and other props. The band even toured with its own lighting director, another first.
Furnier inhabited the Alice character, and took the name with him when the band split in 1975. In 2011, Alice Cooper (the band) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cooper’s four-decade solo career is still booming.
He’s inspired many artists, including his current tour mate. Cooper met Marilyn Manson at a music festival in Bulgaria, near Dracula’s Castle.
“It’s so bizarre, of all the places in the world — it could have been Toledo but it ends up being Transylvania,” said Cooper.
They formed a quick bond and that night sang “I’m Eighteen” together; they did it again when the Masters of Madness tour opened June 1 in New Mexico.
Cooper spoke with the Hippo from Salt Lake City.
How’s the tour going?
It’s been really good. I mean, nobody knew what to expect. Manson’s show is much more of an industrial high-tech Frankenstein and Alice is more of a scary vaudeville classic Dracula. It’s almost like Dracula versus Frankenstein. If you put Rob Zombie in there, it would be the Wolfman too.
It’s reported that David Bowie attended your 1971 show in London show and Elton John said you helped him discover show business. Is either story true, and how do you view your influence on theatrical rock?
I think Elton had all of that theatricality in him. He was more or less a Billy Joel type ... sort of content to play the piano and do his songs. He went to see us at the Hollywood Bowl, and I think that inspired him — that’s what he said — to branch out and make the Elton John character bigger than life. It gives you the freedom … when you’re a musician and you’re going to do something theatrical you think if it’s going to take away from the music or what, and Elton already had a theatrical thing to him. He just decided to have fun with it. I didn’t go as far as wearing a Donald Duck suit at Dodger Stadium. I look at him as being the modern Liberace except that he’s rock and roll and he’s not as flamboyant … he’s got that flair. You can’t walk away from an Elton John concert and say that wasn’t fun, and think of it. Every single song is one you’ve heard on the radio. Doing the theatrics and dressing the way you want — you’re a character now. Elton went from being a piano player to being a character, a rock character. Same thing with Bowie; he was a mime artist and a folksinger. I think when he saw that rock could be theatrical and at the same time taken in a different direction — I mean, the band is just a hard rock band and we don’t give that up. What happens if you take a hard rock band and you put the frosting on it — the attitude, the look, the theatrics? Well, 1971 it was like what the heck is this? It’s either gonna be genius or moronic. You really can’t be in the middle. It’s one of those things where you climb so far out on a limb that you’re either gonna be called an idiot or a genius. So if it works … but if nobody likes it you’re an idiot.
On the other hand, that was your appeal in the early days, that you could get so many people to vehemently not like you.
All the right people didn’t like us — the PTA, Ann Landers.
I’m talking about your ability to clear an L.A. club before people knew who you were.
Those were people who were so into themselves. They were on acid and into themselves. L.A. was very me, me, me. It was never an audience like in Detroit that was tribal thinking, you know? When Alice Cooper comes on, we’re loud and grotesque and in your face and you’re on this acid trip and having a wonderful time. Yeah, you’re gonna run out of the room.
Alice Cooper, the original buzz kill.
Yeah, we were the original L.A. buzz kill. Now, if you had taken the same people on acid in Detroit, you would have had a great time.
Which is why you ended up making the move there.
We fit like a glove there because you had Iggy and the Stooges who are totally theatrical, you had Ted Nugent, the MC5 were like a rock and roll revue and then Alice Cooper comes along and they didn’t flinch — they looked at us and went oh yeah, we dig this. I was the lost son.
You’re working on an oldies album — will it be faithful or more like Butchering the Beatles?
Honestly, we can’t help from giving it the Alice touch. I was such a fan of the British Invasion, and there were so many great records that almost died and nobody remembered them. Bands like Them, Small Faces — “Itchycoo Park.” Those were the bands that I really liked. So we went into this era — we could go anywhere. But let’s go to the Hollywood Vampire era, the time when we were at the Rainbow every night and it was Keith Moon, Mickey Dolenz, John Lennon when he was in town during his lost weekend, Harry Nilsson and everybody else that was in that era kind of showed up at the loft of the Vampires. Bernie Taupin, Mickey and I are the only ones that are left. I said let’s go to that era … let’s tip our hat to our fellow vampires. In the stage show, we do “Break On Through.” The Doors took us on our first tour; we got to open for them when we were kids, basically. John Lennon, who loved to drink, and Harry Nilsson was his best friend so he was there, and Keith Moon was there. Jimi Hendrix was one of our guys; he introduced us to our manager. [So those four are in the set] and we said, let’s find out who the other guys are that we really liked in that era.
You’re finally in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Who do you think should get in next?
Well, you can’t ignore Kiss. Kiss is there. They’ve done everything that you could possibly do to be in the Hall of Fame. The Moody Blues has to be in the Hall of Fame. Deep Purple. There are so many guys … but the Hall of Fame doesn’t work in a chronological order. Getting nominated is really the big deal. The nominating committee nominates you on sort of what you’ve brought to it that nobody ever brought. That’s why you find like a Patti Smith, The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper — we brought something that no one had seen before. Even though we didn’t sell as many records — well, we sold 50 million, so we were in a different class. But you’ll find people in there who didn’t sell as many records — Patti Smith didn’t sell many but she was a huge influence. I always think it should go in chronological order but it just doesn’t. It’s a mystery to us as much as anybody else how it works. Honestly, when I got in I kind of thought, well, is this when we learn the secret handshake? I thought we were going to get a dossier on Area 51, how many people were involved in the Kennedy shooting and all this. The best thing about it was that when you do get nominated the very guys that taught you are the guys that vote on you. In other words, Paul McCartney, the Mick Jaggers of the world … if you get in you realize that those guys voted for you. So that’s the big compliment really.
You’ve embraced and embellished a lot of stories about you; my favorite is that you played Eddie Haskell on Leave It To Beaver. What’s the most outrageous whopper you heard and ran with?
We would get into a place and people would say every day a different one. ‘Are you gonna set German shepherds on fire tonight?’ I’d go, ‘What?’ But back then there was no Internet, everything was just myth. Urban legends.
By that time there was a new rumor that was beyond belief — Captain Kangaroo was my father. Where does that come from? Somebody actually had to think about that. The Eddie Haskell thing, I know how that started … they said, ‘What were you like as a kid?”, and I said I was a regular Eddie Haskell. And they took that to be I was Eddie Haskell. The great thing was we were at rehearsal one day and Eddie Haskell shows up — Ken Osmond, he’s a Los Angeles cop. He says, OK who’s impersonating Eddie Haskell here? I went wow, you’re Ken, he goes yeah. I tell him the whole story and we laugh. We look nothing alike.