By the time someone reaches the age of 65, they’re usually screaming at younger generations to turn the music down. Alice Cooper, however, wants the current generation of “boring” bands to turn it up and start offending people.
“I’m hoping right now that there’s some kids in a barn or somewhere in a garage learning Guns N’ Roses songs and learning Aerosmith songs and Alice Cooper songs, only because I think a lot of the younger bands are just trying so hard to blend in and to not be offensive. They’re just boring as can be. I mean, it’s just unbelievable how boring some of these bands are. Of course it was like that in the ‘60s, too, and ‘70s. The majority of your bands were boring, but at least there was an attitude behind it. There’s no attitude at all behind a lot of these bands,” Cooper emphasized to The Weekender in a recent phone interview.
“You’ve got the Foo Fighters – great, great band, and they get up and they do a great show. Green Day always brings it. Slash, Axl, Aerosmith, Ozzy – the bands from that era just seem to have a different worth ethic. We go on stage with the attitude of, ‘Give ‘em a show.’ Mötley Crüe – give ‘em a show. Now you get a bunch of bands up there that’s just reverted back to, ‘We don’t want to offend anybody.’ I don’t get it. I don’t understand what they’re thinking. It might just be a period that we’re going through, like we went through the grunge period, we went through the punk period. We through all the different periods of rock, but the only music that survived that is hard rock. If you take a 16-year-old kid and give him a guitar, he’s going to learn ‘Smoke on the Water.’ He’s going to learn ‘School’s Out.’ He’s going to learn Jimi Hendrix. So these kids are still way into classic rock.”
Cooper’s brand of hard rock was very different than what The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were playing at the time. He respected both bands, but he felt like he should be playing a different kind of cool on stage.
“I saw it as theater and said, ‘We have all heroes and we don’t have any villains.’ And I created Alice to be Moriarty. I created Alice to be Dracula. For all the Peter Pans, they needed a Captain Hook. I said, ‘I need Alice to be my favorite rock star,’ and in order for him to be my favorite rock star, he was going to have to be the Darth Vader of rock and roll. He was going to have to be the one that when he walks on stage, the audience goes, ‘Gasp!’ And really, how do you do that? Well, you have to affect parents, you have to affect society – you have to do all those things that make the audience, the other generation go, ‘Oh no.’ In all honesty, it took a while for them to get the tongue-in-cheek part of Alice Cooper, and when they did get that, I was firmly established at that point,” he noted.
“But in the beginning, I was Marilyn Manson times 10. It was like everything that happened – the Vietnam Way was blamed on me. The Vatican, the Russians – everybody hated Alice Cooper, but the kids loved me. And if you’re going to take that stance, if you are going to go that far out on a limb, the trick to that whole thing is to have songs that work. You have to have the songs. If you don’t have the cake, you can’t put the icing on it. The cake is the music. The Beatles had all the cake in the world, and then they put the icing on it. The Beatles were just so up and so positive and they were so cool, and the Stones the same way. But the other bands started getting a little bit to me. OK, they make great music, but they didn’t take it anywhere. So I said, ‘Why not make great music? The songs get played on the radio, but let’s make the stage come to life. Nobody’s done that yet. Let’s turn this into a piece of theater up here where if I say, ‘Welcome to my nightmare,’ give the audience the nightmare. Don’t just say it – do it!’ Again, the trick is to have the songs that get played on the radio. I had as many Top 40 hits as most of your big commercial bands; I had like 14 of them, whereas a band usually that has as much image as Alice doesn’t have that many radio hits.”
So is the guy who makes a living scaring people afraid of anything?
“Miley Cyrus,” Cooper joked. “No, she’s not scary. She was just smart enough to steal the (MTV Video Music Awards). It seems like every single year somebody tries to steal the VMAs, whether it be the Britney and Madonna kiss or the meat dress. There’s always one person trying to steal them.”
Actually, his honest answer may surprise you.
“I’m needle-phobic. I could put my head in guillotine. I can handle a 20-foot python. They can hang me. They can do everything like that, but a blood test? I’m like out. It has nothing to do with the pain. There’s no pain involved. It’s the idea of the needle going in your arm, so as you can guess, I have no tattoos. I am tattoo free.”
And like many great horror icons, he also has a great sense of humor.
“Absurdity is always funny to me. I think that’s why I always found things like Monty Python funny. There’s a dark humor that was involved that I’ve always really liked. Anything that maybe shouldn’t be laughed at. It’s sort of like the forbidden laugh. It’s sort of, ‘Why is it always funnier if somebody farts in church?’” he pointed out with a laugh.
“If it’s during a wedding or a funeral, it’s 100 times funnier because you’re not supposed to laugh, and that’s what makes it hard not to. So absurdity is great, and the greatest form of absurdity is human beings. We are the best form of absurdity. We do the most silly things.”
Combine those two sides together and you’ve got the groundbreaking stage show of Alice Cooper, a concert only limited by location and budget. But if money wasn’t an object, he would create theater in every sense of the word.
“It would be a theater where every sense would be attacked. In other words, it wouldn’t just be your visual and your auditory. I’ve always wanted to do it where you walk into the theater, you sit down, the doors lock. That means you don’t get out. And then your smell is affected, your touch is affected by either little electric things in the floor or maybe things coming down from the ceiling that touch you, like webs, when you kind of get that web in your face thing that you hate. You could affect every single sense, make it a total sensory theater but have it go exactly with the music and the lyrics so that whatever the lyrics are saying, you’re getting all the sensory (stimulation) to that,” he described.
“It’d be awfully good.”
His fans are quite pleased with his output as is, however, so much so that fans still surprise him at meet and greets.
“The funny thing is, you bring kids back and it’s the only time I ever have a one-on-one with the audience, and you get people that are really unbelievable fans that really know all your songs and they know every lyric and they know why you wrote that lyric. In fact, they know sometimes more about me than I do because I don’t care that much about all the trivia of Alice Cooper, whereas some of these people, I’ll say something and they’ll go, ‘No, no, that was 1973.’ Well I wouldn’t know that! How would I know that?” he joked.
“Those are the people that want to come backstage, say hi, get a picture, tell me story – they always tell me a great story about something that affected their life. The great stories are the ones when people come up and say, ‘That song kept me from committing suicide.’ This one girl came up and she goes, ‘I would have been a jihad secret cell or whatever if it hadn’t been for this song.’ I went, ‘What?’ and she was serious. She says, ‘No, I was well on my way to be in a terror cell and that song changed my whole perception.’ And I went, ‘OK.’ You never know how certain songs are going to affect people. So when those come along, I go, ‘Wow. I better keep writing songs.’”
He has kept doing just that, releasing his 26th studio album in 2011, “Welcome 2 My Nightmare,” and he feels that the current lineup of his live band is the best he’s ever had, a lineup local fans will get to watch on Friday, Oct. 18 at the F.M. Kirby Center as the group’s Raise the Dead tour passes through.
“There’s a corral of players out there that we know from New York and L.A. When you’re Ozzy or Alice or Steven Tyler, we all sit around and we go, ‘We know who the guitar players are. We know who the bass players are.’ (Bassist) Chuck Garric’s been with me – he was with Dio, he was with L.A. Guns, he was with all these bands, but he’s been with me now 13 years, I think, and he’s sort of my anchor. Glen Sobel, my drummer that I just picked up, is the drummer’s drummer. He actually teaches drums at the Music Institute in L.A. I saw him and I went, ‘That’s my drummer right there.’ So he is like the guy,” he enthused.
“Then you’ve got (guitarist) Ryan Roxie, who was with Slash. He’s just pure glam rock. He’s been with me off and on for 13 years. (Guitarist) Tommy Henriksen helped produce the last album. He’s the newest guy. He writes for (Lady) Gaga, he writes for everybody. He’s that guy that kind of gets on stage and he’s got that ‘90s pop kind of thing. He could have been in Green Day easily, but he’s so good. He’s the music director.”
The most interesting member he saved for last – Orianthi Panagaris, a young Australian singer/songwriter and virtuoso guitarist.
“Bringing in Orianthi was like bringing in your homerun hitter. Here’s this girl that, she’s what, 27-years-old, she looks like model, an Australian model, and she plays like Jimi Hendrix. She doesn’t play like a girl – she plays like a guy. She plays like Steve Vai. And people just go, ‘What?’ She couldn’t have fit in better. She played with Michael Jackson before he passed away. I said, ‘How many solos did you get in this show?’ She goes, ‘Like two, three.’ I said, ‘How’d you like to do 28 and really show off what you can do?’ And so she’s been with me now two, two-and-a-half years. She just fits in like she was born into this band. She really has a sensibility to know what to do,” he said.
Cooper has also been quite the influence on her, making sure she doesn’t end up in some boring new band playing it safe.
“The funny thing about her is in the very beginning, she was a little bit laid back. By the end of the tour, she had like dead birds in her hair, blood coming out of the side of her mouth, she had things scratched into her arm that said, ‘Kill me.’ I said, ‘I think you’re getting into this pretty good.’”