Infinitely More Mr. Nice Guy
Alice Cooper talks Hollywood Vampires, God, golf and Marilyn Manson
It’s virtually impossible to have even a preliminary conversation about shock rock without dropping the C-word: Cooper.
Ubiquitous as a cultural icon for Generations X and Y, Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier) followed in the tradition of and expanded on the vision of shock and roll visionaries like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Screaming Lord Sutch and Arthur Brown. Well into his AARP years, Cooper seems positively sprightly for a four-decade member in the court of rock royalty. His spectacular schtick sometimes eclipses his masterful work as a songwriter. He’s also really nice.
It was almost disconcerting how genial and convivial the Godfather of Shock Rock proved to be when the Alibi chatted him up by phone about music, faith, FM radio, Dark Shadows and his former media sparring partner and current tour mate, Marilyn Manson.
I'm not worthy.
You are worthy. [laughs]
So, what's your favorite Alice Cooper song?
Boy, you know, that's like picking your favorite kid. I've got three kids, and I'm going, you know, which one's my favorite? That goes from day to day, depending on what they’ve done. If I was gonna pick one, it probably wouldn't be one of the hits … Being a songwriter, if you asked me what the best song I ever wrote was, it's probably a song called “Might as Well Be on Mars,” which was not a single at all. The song that everybody will probably remember me by is “School's Out.” With the Stones, you'll always remember “Satisfaction.” With The Who, it'll always be “My Generation.” There's that signature song that's always connected to you. It's funny that my favorite song is the one that we've never done on stage.
From the Inside is one of my favorite albums. What was writing and recording that with Bernie Taupin like?
Bernie and I were the best of friends, and we still are. But when we lived in L.A., we were literally inseparable. We hung out all day, and we drank all night. I still see Bernie. So when I got out of this hospital for drinking, I realized that I was the only one in this hospital for drinking. Everybody else that was in there was criminally insane. One girl had chopped up her uncle, and this other guy was a Vietnam vet that was Jackknife Johnny … So, when I got out of the hospital—being a lyricist and Bernie being my best friend—I said, “Bernie, I've got a story to tell you. We've got to write this album, because all these characters are real characters.” I told him the story, and then we'd sit there and write the songs.
Are you and Marilyn Manson friends?
I never met Marilyn until about three years ago. We had jousted in the press, you know. One of my favorite lines when he first came out: “Oh, let me see. A guy with a girl's name who wears makeup … I wish I would have thought of that.” It was an immediate shot over the bow. And then I listened to him, and said, “oh, he's not doing anything like what I'm doing.” The idea was the same. The idea, of course, was to alienate every parent in America; the more that the parents and the PTA hate you, the more the kids are gonna love you. With me, it was with snakes and guillotines and stuff like that ...
And chopping up mannequins with an ax?
It was easy to shock an audience in the '70s. Now, you cannot shock an audience. I met Marilyn in Transylvania of all places. There was a big rock festival there, and we were the two headliners. He stopped by my dressing room, and the funny thing was that all we talked about was marriage. I've been married now 37 years, and he had just been divorced. So what we actually talked about was marriage. I thought we would have talked about horror movies or—especially in Transylvania, you know, there's Castle Dracula right there—but we never even touched on that; it was all about marriage. But yeah, we're friends.
I read you're teaching him to throw knives.
I became an expert—like a ninja knife-thrower. So, yeah, I'm gonna teach him how to throw knives, but I don't know how good he's gonna be.
And you’re practically a professional-level golfer, right?
I play every day. I shoot even par or around even par most every day. It’s funny 'cause it seems like golf and Alice Cooper would never meet ...
You're working on a covers album?
That's what we're doing next. In 29 years, I've never done a covers album. Every band in the world has done a covers album. They pick their favorite songs and do a cover version. In the early ’70s, I had a drinking club in L.A. called The Hollywood Vampires, and it was John Lennon and Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson and Bernie [Taupin]. John Lennon would come in, or Jim Morrison or someone like that, and it was sort of like “last man standing.” You drank until somebody had to carry you out. And I realized that those guys are dead: Let's not let them die. Let's do part of the show where we dedicate four songs—one to Keith Moon, one to Jim Morrison, one to Jimi Hendrix and one to Harry Nilsson. We decided to expand on that, and now we're doing a full album of covers.
Was doing Dark Shadows a hoot?
Isn't it a fun movie? “Go listen to the Cooper woman.” Johnny [Depp] is really a funny guy, and I like him a lot. He plays with us a lot, and he's a really good guitar player.
Yeah, I watched some video of him playing with The Lone Ranger director Gore Verbinski at the wrap party in Angel Fire. He was good.
Yeah, he was in Albuquerque doing The Lone Ranger ... Every once in a while, he comes up on stage with us and does a couple songs with us. But, we were the kind of band, you know, he's in his mid-40s. He was the target audience for us. When he was a kid, we were doing “Eighteen” and “School's Out.” Those were his songs. I was surprised by what a good little guitar player he is. He plays.
You seem very passionate about your radio show.
When Dick Clark was alive, he came to me and he says, “if you had a radio show, what would it be?” I said, first of all, throw demographics out the door. I would take it back to early-'70s, late-'60s rock. FM rock where it was freeform, and the disc jockey decided what got played, not the computers. And everybody I play, I know—being around in the business for four or five decades, there's not one band out there that I don't have a story about.
What about the Mighty Sphincter story?
I just met one of those guys the other night at a party. My wife teaches ballet and jazz, and we went to this dance party thing and this guy comes up and says, “I was in Mighty Sphincter.” And I said, “you guys are the guys that put on your album that I produced you.” That took a lot of guts to do that because obviously we're going to hear about that. And he says, “we were hoping you'd sue us, because that would have been something we could have used for press.” I said, “we didn't sue you purposefully, because I just thought it took so much balls to do that that I just said, let 'em go. When people ask me about it, I'll just say, yeah, that was a lot of fun producing that album.” I've never even heard the album.
How has being a Christian informed your life?
First of all, I'm the prodigal son. I grew up in the church. My dad was a pastor and an evangelist. Both my dad and granddad were Protestant evangelists. And my wife's father is a Baptist pastor. My wife and I are both PKs, preachers’ kids. So I grew up in the church, and then I went as far away as I possibly could. I was the poster boy for everything wrong, and then I came back. When I quit drinking and sort of got my life back, I came back to the church. And I realized that it had nothing to do with rock and roll. You can be a Christian and be in rock and roll. I realized that my lifestyle had changed, you know, but it didn't make me any less insane. Most Christians I know are fairly insane, which is why I kind of like them. They're very odd people.
Marilyn has espoused some interesting religious/philosophical beliefs—including Satanism—but he’s ultimately pretty cagey.
I think he's just anti-religion. That's what we always battled in the press about. He would say this and I would say that, and of course, he took the Bible on stage and ripped all the pages out. I'm sure God's going, “Uh-huh. Is that all you got? Really?” You know who was worse than Marilyn Manson? The apostle Paul, who was literally killing Christians before he became a Christian. [laughs]
So, the Ouija board-band name story. That's not true?
I like that story, but it was just a story. It was based in truth. We sat around and we said, “Look, The Nazz and The Spiders, those are good names for late-'60s bands, but that doesn't really say who we are. We have got to come up with a name that's going to be just as shocking as we are.” As far as I was concerned, I said, let’s go the other way. Instead of having a dark, Black Sabbath-y name, let's go the opposite way. What if we had a little old lady’s name? And the first name I said was Alice Cooper. I mean, I could have said Betty Johnson or whatever, but Alice Cooper sounded like a sweet old lady that lives down the block and makes cookies for everybody. And then, somebody said, “I was on my Ouija board and I asked who was Alice Cooper and it said ... Vincent Furnier.” Yeah, right. A reincarnated, 13th-century witch and all this, but I went, “that’s a better story than mine.”
And now, that little old lady’s name is forever altered.
That’s the history of Alice. You can’t change your history. I was what I was—I was the scourge of rock and roll. I think that was part of it; it was part of my growth.
How long do you plan to keep rocking?
Right now, I'm 65, but I'm like Benjamin Button … I’m 30 right now. When I was 30, I was 65 ’cause I was drinking a bottle of whiskey a day. I felt like I was 70 years old. Now that I haven’t had a drink in forever and—I’ve never smoked cigarettes, so my lungs are just—I’m in such good shape at 65. Honestly, I’m in better shape than most guys are at 30. I go on stage and do two hours five times a week, and I feel great. I’m out there for as long as I want to be, and I want to be.