“A Troubled Man for Troubled Times!” reads the banner unfurled on main streets and town squares everywhere across the fruited plains. A rendering of a recognizable face adorned in disturbing deep-black eye makeup grins like the Cheshire Cat beneath the quaint tip of a top hat—his long, ebony locks drape the shoulders of his alabaster tuxedo. He is impish and defiant, a past filled with triumphs, resurrections, and a whole lot of rocking.
Alice Cooper wants your vote for president this fall.
“Do you know how un-political I am?” he chuckles down a phone-line from Nashville, Tennessee, somewhere along the campaign trail. “I can’t imagine why anybody would want to be president!” A welcomed sentiment for an electorate whose majority not only sees corruption and failure in government, but a foul distaste for the current front-running candidates from both major parties.
Why not The Coop? Why not now?
“Yeah…why not me?” he exclaims with the strident glow of a contender. “I have tee shirts to sell!”
The man who defined shock rock, parody, satire, and non-de-plume celebrity has been married to the same woman for 40 years, stone-cold sober for over 30, and still humbly travels with his beloved pet snakes. Hell, he plays more golf than Barack Obama, and that’s saying something.
After a stilted but lucrative run back in 1972 (If we elect Alice, no Watergate, right?) on the fuel of the raucous, campaign-ready release of the iconic single, “Elected,” which was noteworthy for being the most expensive single in Warner Bros.’ storied history ($10,000—about 57 grand today), for reaching #26 on the U.S. Billboard charts and #4 in the UK, and later to be included in the international #1 album, Billion Dollar Babies, he is once again primed and ready to go.
“The kids need a savior, they don’t need a fake!” he shouts above the din of raunchy electric guitars and the pounding of tribal drums, as salient an observation today as ever.
There is a wonderful promotional (campaign?) film from the period that depicts a visibly soused Cooper stumbling from a blood-red Rolls Royce, pompously adorned in his signature top hat and tails (sans shirt), clutching a cane and later a can of Budweiser, shaking hands and raising his arms in mock victory. He cavorts mischievously, surrounded by secret service and swooning women. Later he is joined by members of the original Alice Cooper group and a chimp in a tux smoking a cigarette while pushing a wheelbarrow full of cash, which the band tosses around like confetti.
It is hard not to see these images as nothing but prescient in these times when nothing less than a billion dollars can get you a sniff at the White House and unchecked funds pour from anonymous sources to peddle influence all over our body politic.
So this ain’t Alice’s first rodeo, as they say. In fact, it was an honor to tell him personally that in 1988, faced with a similar dilemma of rancid candidates and the restlessness of fleeting youth, I actually wrote in his name…well his given name, Vincent Damon Furnier, as my candidate of choice.
Now, tanned, rested and ready—out on tour with a smoking band, a wonderfully bombastic remix of “Elected”—and a show that features a finale of fisticuffs between Madam Hillary and the Trumpster, The Coop takes time out from his busy campaign schedule to discuss his role in America’s political landscape, his bizarre but well-framed platform, an endearing friendship with Groucho Marx, the blessings of image over the banality of substance, and dining at Castle Dracula with Tim Burton.
Why Alice, and why now?
You’ve got some guy that keeps shooting himself in the foot every time he opens his mouth and then you’ve got another candidate that nobody trusts. Alice Cooper is probably more trustworthy and less chaotic than all of them. But of course I would hate the job; I couldn’t take the pay cut for one thing. Plus, I want to keep my hair dark not white. Every guy goes in with dark hair, comes out with white hair, because they’ve got the burdens of the world on their back.
There are so many people out there that want to be involved in how the political system works and how the game is played and the chess moves and this and that and to me that is the most boring thing in the world. It looks great when Kevin Spacey does it, but in reality it’s just the biggest chess game of all time and I’m much more interested in writing new songs. So to me politics is so much on the back burner that I believe I may be the most viable candidate.
You’ve released a remix of the 1972 single, “Elected,” to kick-start the 2016 campaign, as you did in 1972.
That song is so satirical, and of course, we had such a great target for satire in ’72: Nixon. Who is more evil, Alice Cooper or Nixon? At the time that was kind of what the point of it was. Who was more absurd: myself, or the President of the United States? And so now every four years it raises its politically ugly head and here we are this year in one of the most absurd elections of all times.
The story behind recording the song and getting it ready for the election in the late summer of 1972 is fantastic: Produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin, your partner in crime, there are 16 horn section overdubs on it, took you guys weeks to record it, you ended up doing the vocals in front of a mirror, as if you were giving a speech, and then you guys spent a record 80 hours mixing it. Tell me about “Elected” in 1972.
The pure idea behind that song was a tribute to The Who, because it had those big Pete Townshend power chords. (Sings) TA-DA! BA-DUH-DUN-DUN! DUH-DUH-DUN! We were kind of tippin’ our hat to Pete Townshend on that whole thing, and my natural way of writing songs is to tell a story. I always loved the way Chuck Berry told a story or the way Ray Davies told a story and I wanted to tell a story. Bob is the one that really turned it into the epic that it was with the (sings descending guitar riff) DUN-DUN-DUN-DUHN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN! It sounded like an American anthem, something that should have been written by Sousa, and yeah… it was way over-produced compared to anything else we’d ever done, but it just sounded so great on the radio.
I remember John Lennon came to our office in New York City on 13th Street and he listened to the demo tape of it like three days in a row. Finally, I passed him in the hall and he goes, (in Lennon voice) “Great record,” and I went, “Oh, thank you.” Then he took another two steps and he looked back and he goes, “Paul would have done it better.” And I went, “Well, yeah, of course he would have. He’s Paul McCartney!” But John loved that record, because it really had that power and it was satirical and it was something that he totally got. He was very cynical about politics and he understood the musical satire of it.
It does sound like a big, sweeping band is ushering you on stage to make a political speech. Like everything you and Bob did, and still do, it’s very cinematic. You get the whole picture from that song. It’s brilliantly done.
We always treated the studio as if it were a theater. When I sang “The Ballad of Dwight Fry,” they put me in a straight jacket and put a door on top of me, so I sounded even more stressed out. We always experimented on how to make this sound real. This guy really wants to get out of there. And for “Elected,” we asked, “How do we make this sound like a political speech and really make it sound convincing and take it up a notch?” Bob was not against bringing people into the studio as an audience, because I played better in front of an audience. From my remembrance of it, it was just a matter of let’s just sell this like a Southern diplomat. I mean, let’s just make this guy sound like he’s ‘top prime cut of meat’.
The remix sounds even larger, if that’s possible.
And for this stage show, we actually have Hillary and Trump come out, except that they look like zombies. We kind of tapped into Walking Dead and I said, “We can’t just have them come out. They’ve got to kind of look like they’ve been through hell.”
Which they have.
They come out and shake hands and she turns over and he can’t help himself; he pinches her on the butt and then she turns around and smacks him and then he smacks her back and then they look at each other and she falls into his arms with this gigantic kiss and the audience just dies laughing. Of course after that there’s a fist fight and I just order them off stage and I get up in the podium and point to myself like, “See?! I’m the guy!”
This harkens back to when Nixon resigned and you guys did the ’74 Muscle of Love tour, and the band ended shows with you beating Nixon up on stage.
Right. We beat up Nixon on stage. We beat up Santa Clause on stage. At the very end of the show anybody that should never be beaten up was beat up. The funny thing about this is, in all honesty, and like I said, I’m not politically correct, I’m politically incoherent; Nixon in 100 years will go down as one of the greatest presidents because of his foreign policy. He brought Russia and China together. He brought America into that. He was actually the best foreign policy guy I think we ever had. He wasn’t very good at home or around Watergate, but internationally the guy was pretty good at what he did. And he just happened to be involved in the Vietnam War. That was the thing where the kids were so angry with him. Our government was all wrong and everything. I think that started out as a righteous war and became an unrighteous war.
I want to discuss some of your platforms that I received from the campaign. My favorites are “a snake in very pot, getting Brian Johnson back in AC/DC, adding the late Lemmy from Motörhead to Mt. Rushmore, a total ban on talking in movie theaters, mandatory cup-holders for airplane seats, and a moratorium on taking selfies, except on Designated National Selfie Day”, but the one I wish to address is putting Groucho Marx on the $50 bill. I know that you knew Groucho personally. Tell me a little bit your relationship.
A lot of people don’t realize this, but Groucho, as much as he pretty much ran the Marx Brothers and was the quickest guy ever—I mean, he couldn’t go five minutes without doing three one liners, 86 years old and he was still sharp as a tack—he would actually consult Presidents of the United States. They would write to him and say, “Groucho what is your take on this guy Tito? What is your take on this guy Castro?” He was a Kissinger kind of character to presidents. He wasn’t just a humorist. He was actually a pretty good judge of character. He could be used to feel people out. I read some of the letters to Groucho from heads of state and you could tell they knew this guy’s serious.
He was a brilliant man.
He really was. To be a good comedian you really do have to be very bright. You can’t be a dumb comedian. I don’t think there are very many dumb comedians, because you have to get what’s going to make people laugh. You have to understand how to set people up for the laugh. I think comedians are some of your most intelligent people.
Speaking of which, we’ve previously discussed the humor and subtext of Alice Cooper, but here you have Groucho, who is a comedic character using makeup hanging out with Alice, a satirical character in makeup. I think it’s fantastic. You’ve always displayed great humor behind your work, so there was always the kind of intelligence behind it you’re talking about here. You’ve always been my hero for exploiting the guise of the anti-social behavior Alice Cooper was accused of incessantly.
Yeah, I think it took a while for the public to get the fact that there was sense of humor behind Alice Cooper. In the beginning, it was just all Satanic. “This is Satanic! This is Un-American!” and “Blah! Blah! Blah!” on and on. We couldn’t have been more American! Three of the guys in the band were four-year lettermen. We were jocks. We came from really good homes. We didn’t come from broken homes. We were just All-American, and maybe it was from associating with Groucho and [Salvador] Dali that we leaned towards the satirical artists, and we considered how to make Alice Cooper that also. We were already judged as being something that should never have happened and yet it took a while. Maybe it took me being on Johnny Carson a couple of times before people went, “Oh, wait a minute. This guy plays Alice Cooper.” It was like playing Dracula or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It took a while for them to understand that Alice Cooper was a character that I created.
Well, people naturally conflated Chaplin with the Tramp or Bela Lugosi with Dracula. Bela Lugosi couldn’t shake that throughout his life as an actor.
Yup. I’m like that. I didn’t want to see William Shatner in anything except Captain Kirk.
You know what I mean?
I sure do.
I never wanted to see Errol Flynn without a sword in his hand, because they were so good at that character that you just didn’t want to see them in any other part. I’m kind of like that with the guy that plays Dexter. I don’t really want to see him in anything except Dexter.
Last thing; I know that you’re in Nashville now and you’re going to be working with Bob Ezrin on new material. I worked off-and-on with Bob for a year on my last book [Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon] and I know how much he means to you. Give me a little taste of what you guys might be doing for a new record.
Well, we already started. Last night was the first night that we actually talked about direction. And we’ve already come up with 25 great ideas and you know today is going to be one of those days where it’s a lot of, “Oh, that’s a great idea, but wait a minute! That might be over the top! But there’s no such thing as ‘over the top’, ‘Oh, right!’”
This is the fun part for me, because this is the creative edge where you do a lot of laughing!
Well, I know it’s going to be interesting and cinematic and all those things, because it always is. I love when you guys get together.
It will be! It’s cool, because I know that we’re a hard rock band. It’s going to be a guitar-rock thing. That’s always what it’s going to be and I know what the lyrics are going to be already and I know what direction it’s taking already. Now it’s going to be fun to shape it.
You said the last time we spoke that you and Bob are like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
I was actually at Castle Dracula with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton this year! When the Hollywood Vampires tour had a day off we were in Romania and we had dinner at Castle Dracula.
And Tim Burton came along with us. It was the perfect threesome. We had the whole band there, but you know if you’re going to be there, be there with Tim Burton and Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp.
Before we part ways, I wanted to ask you about Joe Perry, who had the medical scare during your Hollywood Vampires tour. How is he doing?
Joe is great. You know, five days after this happened he was on stage with us in San Francisco and finished the tour out and I never heard him play better. I never saw him look better.
I don’t think it had anything to do with his heart. I think it was just exhaustion. You know, what we didn’t realize was I’m used to doing five shows a week, full out. I think he’s used to doing two shows a week with Aerosmith. I mean, they had a pretty hard life early on, whereas I quit everything 35 years ago. I didn’t really take into consideration; this was our eighth show in 10 days in Brooklyn. He might have just been dehydrated or exhausted or whatever it was. We found out later on that it was definitely not his heart. He’s fine. I think he’s already gone to Australia or South America with Aerosmith.
And you keep on running…
Alice Cooper will be performing at the Rock Carnival on Sept. 30 at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, NJ. For more information, go to alicecooper.com and therockcarnival.com.