After all the schlock, horror, revulsion and addiction, there is a surprising truth behind the name Alice Cooper – against all the odds, the man (real name Vincent Furnier, but you knew that, surely?) has become something of an all-American icon.
Surely, though, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock – throughout his early years, long mane and girl’s name notwithstanding – Cooper and his band displayed a work ethic that could accurately be described as ‘puritan’. From 1969 to 1976 they churned out such staples of the classic rock radio format as Pretties for You (1969), Killer (1971), School’s Out (1972), Billion Dollar Babies (1973), Welcome to My Nightmare (1975) and Goes to Hell (1976) during a period of artistic inspiration that Cooper milked dry with a capitalistic zeal before his inevitable fall from grace at the hands of severe alcoholism.
This was the time when Alice famously employed a roadie to ensure that a freshly popped can of Budweiser was on his bedside table ready for consumption as a pre-breakfast aperitif (breakfast being a bottle of vodka, a dish immortalised by Brit crooner Robert Palmer as the ‘breakfast of champions’), when he severely compromised his ‘Prince of Darkness’ persona by appearing on The Muppet Show, and allowed his creativity to be stifled by long periods on tour making money or in rehab spending it. It was also when the rise of bands such as Kiss took his brand of Halloween-obsessed vaudeville to the lowest common denominator with spectacular success.
Furnier was always a deal more cerebral than the Twisted Sisters of this world, and didn’t want to become an even more cartoonish version of his alter ego, so, dropping out of the stadium rock race altogether, he spent the late seventies getting well, putting out substandard new wave-tinged albums and getting the hang of a new addiction to substitute the old – Golf.
But by the middle of the eighties a fitter, wiser Cooper was back, feted by the new generation of hair metallers such as Bon Jovi, Poison and Def Leppard as something of a messiah, and ready with a new album, 1985’s Constrictor. Although this represented only a partial return to form, the album did enough to announce Cooper’s re-emergence. Even thrash metal legends Anthrax and Megadeth played their part in the rebirth, covering I’m Eighteen and No More Mr Nice Guy respectively in tribute to the man’s influence on their metallic salad days.
But while the metalheads were bowing and scraping before their idol, it was the pop fans who really saved Cooper’s career, with the melodic hair metal format that swamped the States in the late eighties providing the perfect environment for Cooper’s sonic rehabilitation.
In fact 1987 was the year for that genre, and Cooper joined in the fun with the excellent Raise Your Fist and Yell opus. Alice was back on the radio in the shape of the album’s exuberant lead off track Freedom, and his rebirth snowballed with the defining point of his ‘second’ career, 1989’s classic Trash. Featuring Poison, as iconic a Cooper track as I Love the Dead or The Ballad of Dwight Fry, Trash placed Cooper at the forefront of hard rock again, a position which, on an admittedly smaller scale, he still holds today.
The grandeur and commercial success of Trash was impossible to replicate, but to his credit, save for 1991’s Hey Stoopid, the man never really tried, happy instead to release solid, occasionally stunning albums such as 2000’s Brutal Planet and touring as enthusiastically as ever.
Cooper recently announced the opening dates of a new world tour, which includes Canberra – with no album to support but with the promise of a great show. When asked what audiences should expect, he says ‘I guess I’m just a fan of the big show. You don’t see many artists out there these days giving the people their money’s worth – we give them that and more. So we’ll be bringing the whole production with us”.
Even though they haven’t been to Australia in a long time, he says the country “has always been very good to Alice and we like to keep people happy”. But would any new songs be aired this time around? “In all probability, no. We haven’t done a ‘proper’ tour in a while and, although the next album is all written, we won’t record it until we get home from this tour. I wanted this tour to be a ‘no pressure’ tour, with everybody in the band enjoying themselves – that’s usually the best way”.
And what of the band? “Well, as ever, I have a great band. I’ve always been very lucky with my musicians – people seem to want to play with me. I have a bass player called Chuck Garric with me, Kerri Kelli on guitar – also I’ve got a hot new guitarist from LA named Jason Hook…”
A voice breaks in over the phone line – it’s Cooper’s interview ‘facilitator’ – saying that Hook was formerly in LA glam rock outfit the Bullet Boys, but I interject and say I saw Hook in Canberra when he was adding his guitar talents to Hillary Duff’s band. Cooper chuckles and says “I know. And my daughter was raving about this ‘totally hot guitarist’ she’d seen at the Hillary Duff concert. Next thing I know he’s playing for me. But sometimes it works like that. A guy will come to auditions, he’ll be an absolutely great guitarist and you’ll say ‘who are you working for at the moment?’. And they say ‘Celine Dion’. All guitarists are rockers at heart!”
When Cooper mentions that long time Kiss skinsman Eric Singer had been slated to fill in on the drum stool for the tour (only to be replaced by Canadian drummer Brent Fitz, from the band Theory of a Dead Man, as it transpires), I mention that the night before this interview took place I’d seen Kiss frontman Paul Stanley in concert in Sydney.
Cooper lets out a throaty, mischievous laugh. “I love Paul. Which number face is he on now? He’s a great guy, but I’m happy in my own face”.
And that’s possibly what lies at the heart of Cooper’s longevity – the master showman, the Barnumesque ringmaster, the man behind the mask – call him what you will, he’s still the same old Alice. Or Vince. And happy to be so.
Alice Cooper Returns to Australia in 2017 for the following dates:
Tuesday, 17th October
Perth Arena, Perth
Thursday, 19th October
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Friday, 20th October
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Saturday, 21st October
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Monday, 23rd October
AIS Arena, Canberra
Tuesday, 24th October
Newcastle Entertainment Centre, Newcastle
Wednesday, 25th October
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane