The shock rocker, rock jock and golf fanatic on his Hall of Fame induction
March 11, 2011
By Mark Brown
Special to MSN Music
In some ways, Alice Cooper may have been his own worst enemy. The theatrics that brought the band the attention fake blood, ghoulish makeup, guillotine, snakes -- also blinded some fans (and, apparently, Hall of Fame voters) to the fact that his titular original band produced timeless, classic rock. The group's long-lost midnight-movie 1973 concert film, "Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper, finally made it to DVD a few years ago and showed what a potent, raw, rock 'n' roll animal the original band could be on a good night, even if that was just ice tea that Cooper was swigging from the Jack Daniels bottle.
These days, Cooper (born Vince Furnier in 1948) talks of "Alice Cooper in the third person not in an arrogant or pretentious way, but to make it clear he's talking about a persona, a character he invented long ago that had little to do with the golf-loving family man he is today. He's reunited with the original band -- Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neil Smith -- on the eve of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
MSN: Early on it seemed like a lot of people, and especially parents, couldn't see past the theatrics of your act for the real art underneath.
Alice Cooper: You go from being dangerous to loveable if you stick around long enough.
That's so true. Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube were once the most feared rappers in the nation. Now they make children's movies.
It just shows you how the images are digested by the audience. Mick Jagger, now that he's nearly 70 years old, he's looked at as a very upstanding guy.
You mean Sir Mick Jagger.
Yeah. But mention Mick Jagger in '65 to a parent and they'd start coughing and go, "Oh, never! If you stick around long enough without doing something like killing somebody, you end up being woven into the fabric of society. You become a household name. That's what Alice Cooper has become, because I stuck around long enough. Dee Snider will be the same, Rob Zombie will be the same. If they can stick around another 20 years, they'll suddenly be America's treasures.
How weird did it get at the height of your notorious period? My mom used to say to me, "You know, he commits suicide onstage every night.
Yeah, you can only do that once. In that time, you're 22, 23, 24 years old, you're living on beer and everything else. You're a kid in a candy shop. You're indestructible at that age. Of course, you're feeding off of all of it. Normally you feed off of "What a great guy, what a wonderful thing, won a Grammy, but the more insane it got, the bigger we got. Every day I would hear a brand-new story about Alice Cooper that was only founded in somebody's imagination. No Internet back then, so it was all urban legend, stuff you'd all of a sudden hear and the next thing it's at the water cooler at work, the locker rooms at school. Those rumors just invented this Alice Cooper phenomenon.
If they could convince people that Paul McCartney was dead, it's a short leap to convince people that Alice Cooper bit the head off of something or did some other outlandish thing.
When you look at the image, you go, "Of course! Just look at him! If I heard a story right now that Lady Gaga was naked on top of the Empire State Building or went to the White House naked, I'd go, "Oh. Wow. Well, yeah. Because it would fit into her character, her persona. That's why Alice Cooper was everybody's strange persona. Which was great! We needed an Alice Cooper at that time. Rock n' roll was getting pretty predictable. We needed a Salvador Dali-type character where you never knew what was going to happen. Then Marilyn Manson came along and he acted it out in his generation. No one knew what he was going to do next. There's always a guy out there who will come along.
I know you're thrilled about being in the Hall of Fame, but did you need the affirmation? Bob Dylan praises your songwriting, Flaming Lips and other modern bands singing your praises. Unofficially you've gotten honors much bigger than this, in my book.
Even if I never, ever got in the Hall of Fame, I finally got to the point of realizing you can't erase history. & I watch all these VH1 top 100 this and top 100 that, and you can't get to the '70s without mentioning Alice Cooper. It's impossible to skip over Alice Cooper in the '70s. If you say David Bowie, you have to say Alice Cooper, because Alice Cooper was before David Bowie. It was an influence. That glam era was started by Alice Cooper. It wasn't started by Bowie, it wasn't started by T Rex, it wasn't started by Elton John. We were doing it first. Look at the "Love It to Death album or "Easy Action or "Pretties for You. We were doing glam way before anybody else. Musically we were viable. People keep forgetting we had 14 top 40 hits. That's a lot of hits for a band.
And they live on with new generations. My daughter may be the biggest fan of "School's Out.
It's so nice to have an arsenal of songs that every generation claims. Everybody claims "I'm Eighteen is their generation's song, "School's Out is their generation's song. If you write a big hit like that, every kid thinks, "That's about my generation." I was clever enough, I think, to understand that -- that a song like "School's Out would appeal to every generation, forever. It's kinda like copyrighting "Happy Birthday. You know this stuff is gonna go on and on forever. We were lucky enough to get two or three of those.
If it weren't for Tom Waits being inducted with you, you could argue that popularity worked against you. You had pop hits, Neil Diamond had pop hits, and maybe they weren't looked on as being serious enough.
It's one of those things where the pop hits worked for you, too. The Beatles songs were all pop hits, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons. Back in the day, we were looking for that nice medium between hard rock and pop hits. Really the trick is to find something catchy enough that it was going to be played on pop radio, because that's where all the records were sold, but hard enough to be rock. That was the balancing act. The Hall of Fame is a very strange, strange kind of prerequisite on how you get in. I still don't understand it. & When you think of influential bands, you think of the Rolling Stones, Bowie and Alice Cooper. They were more style-cutters, and that was as an important part as our music was.
You've always collaborated with people in your annual charity concerts whose name might not jump to mind -- Vince Gill, Nils Lofgren, any number of people. You've explored a lot of different areas as a musician, including singing "The Lady Is a Tramp in tails your '73 film.
One of my bucket list things to do in my life is to write a song with Burt Bacharach. Because the idea of Alice Cooper writing the lyrics for a Bacharach classic & I'm a big Bacharach fan and I'm a lyricist. I've got songs that I would never ever use for me, but would be perfect for a Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick type of song. I like working with guys you wouldn't necessarily see Alice Cooper with. Every once in a while, that chance meeting where you're in the same place at the same time in a musical situation, and the next thing you know you've written something & even back in the early part of the '70s I always wanted to inject Alice into places he didn't belong. My idea is Alice Cooper on "Hollywood Squares. This was the time when Alice was in the papers every day for something negative. Or Helen Hayes, in her TV show. Everyone called her "Miss Hayes. You didn't even call her Helen. She was royalty, acting-wise. Or Vincent Price, or any of these people. Groucho Marx. Those were the people I wanted to work with, the old pros.
Mark Brown is a veteran music journalist who was pop critic for the Rocky Mountain News until its demise. He is also a contributor to MSN's Reverb blog.