He’s been called the father of Shock Rock. His over-the-top theatrics and loud guitar marking the end of 1960s flower power. His band had huge success and in 1975, Alice Cooper went solo. He’s returning to New Zealand in February with his show ‘Ol’ Black Eyes is Back’.
In the Seventies he became a bona fide rock legend and carved out his own distinctive style: blending heavy metal stylings with the trappings of horror...think snakes, lashings of fake blood, leather trousers and heavy make up. And there was cocaine too: lots of cocaine. Today he’s a tee-totalling golfer and faithful christian. He joined Kim Hill to talk about his act and how Vincent Damon Furnier became Alice Cooper.
He says that while on tour he plays golf early in the morning every day. While people might find it amusing that the rock legend Alice Cooper plays golf, he says he’s not alone - and there’s a good reason for it.
“So do Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop. Lou Reed used to play golf. I can name you all the people you’d never expect to play golf who play golf.
“When you’re on tour and you’re doing all these cities; let’s say we’re in Wichita on a Tuesday and you’re there at 8am, you have all day to do nothing except sit in your hotel room. So, golf is something where at least you and your buddies can go out, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you go out and you play. It’s fun to get out of the hotel room.”
Though he acknowledges that there is something funny about it.
“Alice Cooper, the character on stage, he hates golf because he’s an entirely different character. Whereas, me, I love golf. But Alice really doesn’t like golf at all.”
He has said in the past that in the earlier days he tried to live the life of the character Alice Cooper, and it nearly killed him.
“When you’re trying to play an animated character, especially a character on stage that’s so specific as Alice, who is sort of an arrogant, condescending, villain - that’s just the opposite of who I am. In the old days, when I was drinking taking drugs - 38 years ago - I used to have to try to be that character.
“I was sitting there drinking with Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix, and larger than life characters, and I just figured I’ve gotta be this Alice character in order to hang with these guys. It ended up they all died at age 27 trying to be their characters, and I learned from that.”
He decided it was the best to separate the two - Alice Cooper the character, and himself, Vincent.
“I made Alice somebody I look forward to playing that night on stage, but I don’t have to be him.”
He says it was a weird and difficult experience to separate himself from the persona, particularly because Alice was the one that got all the attention.
“At the time, everybody wanted to meet Alice and I didn’t want to be Alice all the time. It was really exhausting being Alice. Finally, it was a matter of necessity that I had to separate the two.”
He says that at time Alice was born, the genre needed a villain.
“We had all these heroes. We had The Beatles, we had The Rolling Stones, we had all these rock heroes - and they were my heroes - and I said ‘wait a minute, we’ve got all these Peter Pans and no Captain Hooks. I will gladly be rock’s villain and I will put a show around this villain and it’ll be scary, but it’ll be funny and sexy.’”
It was quite a turn for a man raised by a pastor and with an evangelist grandfather.
“When I turned 16, and the band started growing, it took me as far away as I could possibly get [from Christianity] and it almost killed me. I was leading the rock star’s life and probably should’ve been dead two or three times.
“When you’re partying, you’re always doing too much and you’re never stopping, never slowing down. I look at all my friends that died and I realise that was exactly their lifestyle.”
Getting sober helped bring him back toward his faith in God.
“I was really missing, and what I was really looking for, was my relationship back with Jesus Christ. The sobriety came first, but deep down I was trying to drink away and fill that hole with alcohol and drugs - the hole that was not being filled by my spiritual life.”
He was initially worried that by getting sober and turning towards God, he wouldn’t be able to play the Alice character anymore.
“I went to my pastor, who was a very cool guy, and said ‘I think I need to quit being Alice Cooper,’ and he says ‘why?’ I said, ‘well, the lifestyle and all that,’ and he says ‘that’s not your lifestyle anymore, is it? What’s wrong with Alice Cooper, he’s an actor, he’s a rock and roller. Do you think Satan has all the good music? Because I think God has better music. Do what you’re doing, I think God gave you this talent, he expects you to use it.’”
The pastor told him there was nothing wrong with rock and roll music, there was something wrong with the lifestyle around it.
And Alice Cooper lived the lifestyle hard. He says that when he got sober, people told him they were inspired. Others said they were embarrassed that he got sober while they didn’t.
Some parts of the Alice Cooper mythos outdid the actual character, however. He says that in the days before the internet, there was a lot of hearsay and rumour about what he got up to which never happened. In particular, he denies there was ever any element of Satan worship to his songs or stage show.
“People would just make things up that were so ridiculous and, by the time I heard it, I would just start laughing and say ‘are you kidding?’”
One of the funnier anecdotes he heard was that Alice Cooper had defecated on stage and someone else had eaten it.
“It was urban legend that just got totally out of control,” but it was also good publicity, “we never denied anything.”