The incomparable and legendary Alice Cooper’s new show is blowing into the area for three performances of what he is describing as a career retrospective, Broadway-type extravaganza; replete with a reliving of the glam explosion of the early ‘70s, his spectacular solo output from Welcome To My Nightmare and beyond, and a rousing tribute to the Hollywood Vampire days of yore.
He took some time to sit down for our third chat in as many years to opine on surviving Keith Moon, barbecuing Lady Gaga’s meat dress, struggling to keep corpulent comedians alive, burying the hatchet with Marilyn Manson, and what the hell is so shocking about Miley Cyrus.
Let’s start off with the show. Each time we’ve spoken you’ve done a different kind of show and a specifically themed tour—double bills with Mötley Crüe or Marilyn Manson; what can the fans expect this time around?
Well, when you have 28 albums, you have to play all the hits. When I go to see The Who or the Rolling Stones, I want to hear the hits. That’s just as a fan. And I realize that. So, the first third of the show is full-out glam Alice: “No More Mister Nice Guy,” “Under My Wheels,” “Hello Hooray.” Then it goes right to the “Nightmare” Alice: “Welcome To My Nightmare” and “Go To Hell.” And then they take me into the graveyard, where we do a tribute to all my dead, drunk friends. So we’re in a graveyard and it’s Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Keith Moon and Jim Morrison. We do a song for each one of them. Then we finish out the show with “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out,” “Poison”; all the big hits. You go through three different changes in the show, and it is with the best band I ever worked with; Orianthi (Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Carlos Santana) is playing lead guitar. She’s unbelievable; fits right into the band, too. So, musically, it’s a killer show.
That is quite a retrospective of your career. You and I spoke the last time about how there are all these different Alice characters, but since your sobriety, in particular, the Alice character has evolved from the victim to more of a dominant figure on stage; how your posture, vocal attack and overall demeanor has changed with your sobriety. So, now, with these different arcs of Alice playing out on stage, do you try to physically embody each incarnation of Alice?
Well, you know, when you’re doing the straightjacket, “The Ballad Of Dwight Frye,” that’s always that era; when Alice is suddenly the victim. He’s in the straightjacket. The nurse is the villain at this point, but it doesn’t last long, because when he gets out of the straightjacket, he kills the nurse in front of the audience—at least he thinks he does—she retaliates and the next thing you know he’s getting his head cut off (laughs).
And it seems part of this story is steeped in your background with the Hollywood Vampires; your exploits drinking with John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr and Keith Moon in L.A. It is a notoriously fascinating back story to your career.
Right. Actually, I’m doing an album right now, and I’ve never done a covers album, but this will be my first. Bob Ezrin is producing, and we went right to that era. And I said, “Let’s just do an album that’s a tribute to all my dead, drunk friends!” It’s amazing the array of songs you can do from that era; with T-Rex, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix. There are so many great songs to go to. Doing this album has really been fun, but it is dedicated to those specific people.
I know you met Jim Morrison in the early days of the Alice Cooper group when you were playing places like the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip, but your time with Moon and Lennon and Harry Nilsson came a few years later when you were a star and living in L.A., right?
How did that all come about? How did you guys meet? Did Keith Moon stop over to borrow some sugar or what?
We met every night at the Rainbow. The Rainbow club was the lair of the Vampires. Every night we’d get there at around 10 o’clock and it was a last-man-standing sort of thing. But, always, we could not wait to see what Keith Moon was gonna wear. One night he comes in a full Hitler outfit. The next night he’d be the Queen of England.
When Keith got there the party started, ‘cause he was the party. I mean, along with being the greatest drummer of all time, he was just amazingly entertaining (laughs). But there was no off button with Keith. He would wear you out. He’d come over and stay at my house for a week and then he’d stay at Harry’s for a week and then go to Ringo’s for a week. And everybody loved him! I loved having him at the house for a week. It’s just that after that week, you’d have to go on vacation, because he would just wear you out.
It’s amazing to digest all of the madness throughout your career, pushing the limits with your “drunk, dead friends,” so I would imagine you look back and say, “Hey, I’m a survivor!”
Yeah, you know, there was always a moment for me when even though I drank all day, I was never a drunk. I was on a golden buzz all the time. I wasn’t the kind of drinker where you had to carry me out of the place or I couldn’t remember what I did the night before or anything like that. I was just sort of the Dean Martin. I was on that golden buzz at all times, but it did catch up with me to the point where I’d get up one morning and I started throwing up blood (clears throat). That’s when you get to the hospital and you realize that the party is over.
I maintained friendships with all those guys, but I watched them all drop off one by one, and I think the main reason was they were all trying to live up to their image. You know, Jim Morrison wanted to be Jim Morrison all the time. Well, in order to do that you have got to put an awful lot of drugs and an awful lot of alcohol in your system to wake up every morning and become Jim Morrison. Whereas I learned how to be myself and then that night play the character. That way I started respecting the character more. I started understanding, “Okay, yeah; look, I’m Alice tonight, so I’ve gotta get ready for that. I gotta make sure I rest here and do that and that, because tonight the audience doesn’t want to see me, they want to see Alice.”
So if those guys could have treated their careers like that, where Keith is going, “Okay, I’ve gotta take this, this, this, but tonight I’ve gotta be Keith Moon,” then I think they would have lived a lot longer.
Well, that is personalizing of what we spoke about in an earlier discussion. I likened it to your Tramp character, like Charlie Chaplin. You could take off the costume, and literally and physically strip yourself of the Tramp. There is an actual duality there.
That was it. You know that happens with a lot of comedians; John Candy, Chris Farley, Sam Kinison. Those guys didn’t know when to turn off. They felt since they were big, fat guys, and that they had to be funny all the time. In order to fuel it, you have to push the envelope of drugs and alcohol. You just wanted to say, “Stop! You don’t have to be funny all the time.”
Speaking of your character, Alice has always struck me as a composite of the American experience—especially the Alice Cooper group. There is a quote from an interview you did in 1971, very early on in the band’s career, which always resonated with me; how you guys reflected the American experience, and it perplexed you that people would be shocked by it. This was a country at war in Viet Nam at the time, coming off the violent upheavals and assassinations in the ‘60s, and here you come satirizing that, making a grotesque spectacle of it; your stages were always festooned with fast food wrappers and garter belts and road signs and pop culture gibberish. Alice was in many ways a composite character for his times; a reflection of the American experience in all its glorious madness.
It really was. I used to say we were an American Frankenstein. Because we weren’t just horror movies; we were West Side Story. We were Guys & Dolls. We were The Twilight Zone. Everything that we grew up with found its way into our music. Even James Bond themes. We all loved going to James Bond movies, and all that music wound up finding its way into our stage show. I think that was really it.
You know, we hold a mirror up; Alice Cooper is the extreme Americanism. And a lot of times people said, “Wow, if that’s where America is going…” I remember in Russia there was a thing in Taft’s magazine in the ‘70s saying, “Alice Cooper will never come to Russia, because they are the worst example of Americanism; of what Western rock and roll will turn people into.” Now, they did kind of miss the comedy. Since then we’ve played Russia 10 times. It was just at the time we were considered to be the worst examples of what America could be (laughs).
I always look at Alice Cooper as the ‘70s kids’ Elvis. You know, “Elvis is shaking his ass on The Ed Sullivan Show and the very foundation of Western civilization is going to crumble in its wake!” and how ridiculous that was. And then here comes Miley Cyrus a few weeks ago shaking her ass on MTV and the level of outrage was patently silly. So, of course, I thought of you, and while breaking it down, I came to the conclusion that whereas Elvis was organic and this latest thing was more fabricated, neither carried the humor and social commentary of Alice Cooper. There was a tongue-in-cheek quality to the Alice Cooper thing that said, “Look how silly this all is!” as it was happening.
Yeah, and you know, even looking at what they were doing, and more specifically Miley Cyrus, I think, every year somebody steals the VMAs. One year it’s Britney kissing Madonna. One year it’s Lady Gaga wearing a meat dress. Well, this was Miley Cyrus deciding, “I’m going to totally destroy my old image in front of the world,” and, you know what? She succeeded!
She sure did.
She stole the whole thing! But, what you were getting, though, was fake shock. You know, all of us sitting there going, “Oh, how shocking.” Really? Any dance club, there are 200 girls doing that dance. I told Lady Gaga, “You didn’t take it far enough with the meat dress.” I said, “You should have had them put you on a spit and barbecue you and have the audience come up and eat the dress off.”
I know when we last spoke you talked about how important a sense of humor is in the shock value of a performance and that with someone like Marilyn Manson, whom I know you recently shared a tour with, it was, “Okay, I get you’re shocking, but where’s the punch line?”
Yeah, well I have to say, now that I’ve met him, there is a punch line; a very subtle punch line (laughs).
Honestly, when you get to know him, it becomes much more obvious that he gets the humor behind it. I don’t think he lets the audience in on it enough. But Marilyn and I got along really well. It was one of those things that once I met him, and once the ground rules were laid, we really got along well. He came up every night on “Eighteen” and I’d throw him the crutch and we’d do the song together and the audience would go crazy, because they never thought they’d see Marilyn and Alice on stage together. We did have our words at the very beginning; me being a Christian guy and him tearing up the Bible every night. I couldn’t let that go without saying something. But in the end, we ended up being pretty good friends. In fact, we’ll probably tour again together.
And to wrap up, this is one whiz bang of an Alice Cooper show, then?
It is really fun to do. First of all, the band is really good. It’s unbelievable. The reviews on how good the band is has been amazing; with Orianthi and Ryan Roxie and everybody in the band. They just gel like crazy up there. And the fact that it goes glam, nightmare, tribute to my dead, drunk friends, and then the finale; every night the show just works like a charm.
Alice Cooper will be playing Oct. 13 at the Capitol Theatre, Oct. 15 at the Count Basie Theatre and Oct. 19 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. For more information, go to alicecooper.com.