Four and a half decades, 26 albums and a persona that completely and controversially changed the look of rock concerts have made Alice Cooper one of the most prominent rock acts in the world.
And that rock icon is promising Cranbrook audiences the highest energy show they’ve seen in a while. Since the early 1970s, when his shows created controversy and scandal with their focus on horror, the macabre and elements designed to shock, an Alice Cooper concert has become one of the hottest tickets on the international touring circuit.
Cooper spoke to the Daily Townsman from Arizona on a searing hot day there, and cold rainy day in Cranbrook.
“It’s a ritual,” he said. “An Alice Cooper concert is going to be something that’s almost traditional now. They want the guillotine, they get the guillotine. They want Alice in a straitjacket — absolutely.”
Alice Cooper is bringing his “Raise the Dead” tour to Western Financial Place in Cranbrook on November 13. And the Godfather of Shock Rock is enthusiastic about what he and his band are presenting.
“The show is very hard rock,” Cooper said. “It’s in three sections. It starts out being really glam Alice, then it goes to nightmare Alice. We do a little section in the show called ‘Raise the Dead,’ where it’s really about all my dead drunk friends.”
Cooper’s “Dead Drunk Friends” — his drinking buddies from yesteryear — just happen to be among the most influential names in rock.
“They’re four guys that I used to drink with who are all gone now — John Lennon , Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison (lead singer of the Doors) and Keith Moon (drummer for the Who).
“We had a drinking club called the Hollywood Vampires. We drank every night at a place called the Rainbow, and it was literally last man standing kind of thing.
“But now, I watched all these guys go. I’ve never done a covers album before. So I said to my producer, ‘Why don’t we do a covers album but let’s direct it towards the Hollywood Vampires?’”
The proposed covers album has morphed into a four-song tribute to his late friends — a song from each of Hendrix, the Beatles, the Doors and the Who.
“It really makes it fun that not just is it about them, but the fact that I actually really used to drink with these guys,” Cooper said.
“They were my big brothers. I was their little brother.”
Cooper spoke at some length about Jim Morrison. Morrison was a legendary stage performer who revolutionized the interaction between audience and artist through his tumultuous career with The Doors. He died at age 27, of a heart attack likely caused by extreme alcohol abuse.
“The funny thing was that you couldn’t talk him out of it,” Cooper said. “All he ever talked about, or sang about, was the other side. ‘This is the End,’ ‘Break on Through’ (famous Doors’ songs) … When you think about it, he was so obsessed with death in one way or another.
“But he was great on stage, a great poet. He was fun to be with. But he was always predicting his own death. And when his death came about, nobody was surprised. None of us sat back and said, ‘What a shock.’ We were surprised that he got to 27 years old.
“We (the Alice Cooper band) had the privilege of opening for The Doors,” Cooper continued. “It wasn’t one of those deals where we would do our show and get on the bus and go. We would do our show and then stand on the stage and watch every night. Because every night was a different show. You never knew what Jim was going to do. He never did any song the same way twice.”
Cooper had his own struggles with alcholism, but has been clean and sober for decades. But it seems he looks back at his famous drinking club with nostalgia.
“It was great, and we did have a lot of fun,” he said. “And it was mindless fun. When you’re in your 20s, and you’re living on beer, basically … I look back and say those were really the good old days.”
Death, the macabre and the shadow side of humanity have always been touchstone themes of Cooper’s songwriting, albums and stage performance. His most recent album — his 26th (“Welcome 2 My Nightmare,” a sort of sequel to his 1975 album of that name) and his ongoing “Raise the Dead” tour both confront death, look it in the face, comment on its before and afters.
“I think Alice has always been interested in that — things like life and death, God and the devil, good and evil, sinners, saints,” Cooper said. “There’s a very Christian sort of attitude about it.
“I grew up in a Christian home,” he said. “I was what you could call the prodigal son. My dad was a pastor, my grandfather was a pastor. I grew up in Christianity, went as far away as I could, and then came back. So I do write about the devil. I write about Satan, I write about God. But I write about Satan in much more of a warning.
“It’s one of those things where I’m saying, ‘Be careful who you invite in. Be careful of what doors you open.’ Because the devil’s best trick is to make you think he doesn’t exist.
“I write a lot of songs that say not only does he exist, but he is very active in trying to get ahold of you.”
Alice Cooper’s persona over the four decades has served as a dark mirror of humanity, in which we see the things we avoid thinking that we are.
“There’s a catharsis there too,” he said. “I always realized one thing about the character of Alice was that is he is not the mainstream, he is the lunatic fringe. Alice was never going to be about Crosby, Stills and Nash, or Jackson Browne. I was always the one who collected those kids who didn’t fit in. There were tons of those kids out there — the kids that didn’t fit in related with Alice. So I was sort of the dark outsider.
“But I think what happened was that people finally started picking up on the sense of humour. You’re going to be the villain and the dark outsider, have fun with it. Don’t be this character that’s just doom and gloom. I’ve always thought the villain was the character that had the greatest lines, and probably had the best sense of humour. So people started finding the sense of humour in Alice Cooper, and it relieved them a little bit, that you could be an outsider and still be funny.”
The original Alice Cooper band played for years before breaking into the international mainstream in the early 1970s, with a string of hits like “I’m 18,” “School’s Out,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” When he began his solo career (taking the Alice Cooper name with him), he pioneered the musical recurring nightmare which almost single-handedly created a new musical genre, and from which he continues to draw inspiration. He agrees with the suggestion that the early 1970s have never been given enough credit as a period of great musical creativity, compared with, say, the late 1960s.
“Think of all the ‘70s bands that took rock and roll and stretched it and turned it into an artform,” he said. “I love the ‘60s stuff. But if you really think of the ‘60s, it was really three-minute happy songs. And then you go to the ‘70s and all of a sudden here comes all these bands and stretched it into something new. So I think the ‘70s may have been the most creative time in rock and roll, when you think of Bowie, when you think of Roxy Music, T-Rex, Frank Zappa and the Mothers. And we (the Alice Cooper Band) contributed in our way.”
Cooper’s view of the evolution of rock music since that period is less kind.
“Rock music is anemic right now,” he said. “How many rock bands are there, actually? There’s the Foo Fighters, there’s Jack White, there’s Green Day — bands like Chicken Foot. But the majority of rock bands today are just anemic. They want to be more folk, or they want to be more introspective — no image, let’s just get out there and write these songs that are sensitive.
“Whereas rock music is Guns N Roses, Aerosmith — really arrogant, snotty rock and roll. I think we need more of that. I really like Billy Talent (a Canadian melodic punk rock band from Ontario). I’ve always thought Billy Talent was one of the really unsung rock and roll bands.”
Alice Cooper’s positive enthusiasm returns with mention of the band he’s touring with, and bringing to Cranbrook.
“Best band I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “Ryan Roxie (guitar) has worked with me for quite a long time. He’s just a pure rock and roll guitar player showman. Chuck Garric on bass and me. Glen Sobel is one of the best drummers of all time. This guy is Mister Showbiz. He does things with the drums that make people go, ‘What are you doing?’ Tommy Hendrickson (guitar) was co-producer with Bob Ezrin on the last album.
“And then I got Orianthi. Orianthi is our 27-year-old female Australian guitar player, and she can play Hendrix like Hendrix. She is a monster guitar player. She looks like a model and she plays like Jimi Hendrix.
“You put that band together and there’s just no stopping them. Every night they’re 100 per cent.”
Cooper’s wife, Sheryl Goddard, is also in the show. “She was the original ballerina and played about nine different parts in the ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ show,” Cooper said. “Then my daughter took over, and now Sheryl is back in the show as the demented ‘Day of the Dead’ nurse, and she just kills it. Every night she puts me in the straitjacket — the audience loves it.
“It’s going to be the highest energy show you see all year.”
Alice Cooper plays Western Financial Place in Cranbrook, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. Tickets are on sale now.