Alice Cooper: 'Retirement Is Not in My Vocabulary' (Q&A)
The legendary 66-year-old rocker celebrates 45 years in the business with a new documentary and a summer tour with Motley Crue.
The Super Duper Alice Cooper documentary premiered last night at the Tribeca Film Festival with a glimpse at the remarkable four-decade-plus career of its subject, who, at 66, is as busy as ever. Calling it a "doc opera," Banger Films' Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen and Reginald Harkema -- who have previously produced movies about Rush (Beyond the Lighted Stage) and Iron Maiden (Flight 666) -- captured the split personality behind the real-life Vincent Furnier and the onstage Alice Cooper, a distinction that even the man himself had trouble making at times.
The film will be screened April 22 at the Grammy Museum, followed by a Q&A with Cooper himself, then it will open at theaters around the country April 30 before going to DVD in June, with a set of commemorative panties like the ones included in the package for Cooper's 1973 album, School's Out. The film includes extensive interviews with Cooper, manager Shep Gordon, Elton John, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Dee Snider and Bernie Taupin, who reveals turning a young Cooper onto cocaine for the first time.
You're pretty busy these days.
There are so many projects going on right now. I'm finishing the "covers" album, which is now about 99 percent done. I just finished a tour in Germany accompanied by a 50-piece symphony orchestra, which was totally different. I've got a European tour next, and then I go out with Motley Crue. There are a million things happening.
Tell me about the "covers" album.
I've never done one before, but everybody else has … Bowie, Ozzy, Rush. So I finally said why not? We all started as cover bands … even the Beatles. If I'm going to do a covers album, why don't I get very specific with it and play songs by the guys I used to drink with who died … all my dead drunk friends. We had a club called The Hollywood Vampires that used to meet at the Rainbow every night and drink until the last man standing. It was Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Bernie Taupin … John Lennon would even stop by now and then.
So you're covering a Nilsson song?
Oh, yeah, but I can't tell you which one. I'm not supposed to talk about what the songs are yet, but I think it's the best thing on the album. I would just say that "one is the loneliest number in the world."
How involved were you in the making of the documentary?
These guys from Banger Films came in and said the movie can't just be a straight documentary … it has to be as theatrical as Alice himself. So, what if we took a Jekyll and Hyde approach, because really, that's what it is. I have successfully navigated my personality and the character of Alice. It's either Frankenstein and the monster or Jekyll and Hyde, and that's how we approached it. When I got sober, I realized Alice and I had to have separate lives. When I was drinking, there was a big gray area, where I didn't know where Alice ended and I began. Now it's very easy for me to understand I'm me all the time; the moment I hit the stage and the curtain goes up with the makeup, my posture, voice and attitude changes. I become this arrogant villain, this Moriarty of rock 'n' roll, which is great. I don't mind it at all; in fact, I love it. To me, that is the most fun character to play, but he is totally opposite of me. We couldn't be more different. I've been married 38 years, never cheated on my wife, have three great kids, go to church every Sunday and bible study on Wednesday mornings. I play golf every day. I coach Little League. Alice on this stage is this horrific thing.
Alice is a raging id.
He's a raging lunatic. The two never meet. People say, "How does Alice react to golf?" Alice never sees golf. He would hate golf.
The fans initially had a hard time making sense of Alice appearing on The Hollywood Squares and hanging out with Groucho Marx.
The cat was out of the bag when I did Johnny Carson. I got up, did my song, sat down on the couch, and I was funny. Johnny and I got along really well. I could throw one-liners back at him, and I was a regular guest on the Tonight Show. There are two people there.
You had a problem living up to that persona.
That was one of the reasons for the alcoholism. It was just too hard to be that character all the time. You have to remember who my big brothers and sisters were. When I got to L.A., the first people I met were The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa. Of course, Frank was straight -- might have had a beer once in a while. All the others, I was their little brother.
You followed your elders.
If someone handed me something, I'd take it. These people were my heroes. The fact is that's how I got my education … growing up in Hollywood. That I didn't die with them was pretty amazing. God had a different plan for me. I came close. Definitely came close.
How do you feel these days?
I've never felt better in my life. I'm getting ready to do 72 shows with Motley Crue, and I guarantee you, at the end of each show, I will be flying. Physically, mentally, spiritually, on every level … I'm in top shape right now.
How did you feel about being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011? Was it worth the wait? Has it changed anything for you?
We were never even nominated before. There was a thing that Alice Cooper would never get into the Hall of Fame, but the first year we were nominated, we went right in, which was great for us. We never thought we would ever get in. When it comes to record and ticket sales, our stats were as good as anybody's. And we influenced everybody. We just didn't understand how you got in or when you got in. It was like you sat around waiting to see if you got nominated. The only disappointing thing about it was, once we got in, I was kind of expecting to learn the secret handshake or get a dossier on Area 51 or find out who killed Kennedy. And none of that happened. The cool thing is, the people voting on you are your peers, the guys in the Hall of Fame … when the Paul McCartneys, Mick Jaggers, Eric Claptons, Pete Townshends get their ballot and they check your name off, to me, it's kind of like graduation.
Hard to believe how reviled Alice Cooper was by the mainstream rock community. You were outcasts, laughed at, but you had the last laugh.
In this business, hit records mean everything. We had 14 Top 40 singles and 20 gold albums. We made great records, and we put on a great live show. And we still do. That's the deal. When you get Bob Dylan saying Alice is the most underrated songwriter, everybody in Rolling Stone noticed that. I lived on that for quite a long time. My ego went through the roof. And then John Lennon said "Elected" was his favorite song. When you get a Beatle saying that, all of a sudden, other musicians went, "You know what? These guys are good."
Your stage show still has all the old Alice tropes -- the guillotine, the straitjacket, the snakes, the severed doll parts.
Absolutely, but it's done with even more tongue in cheek. We have 15 songs that we have to do or the audience will revolt. If we don't do the bits, it's almost like Abbott & Costello; the audience feels cheated. We do it a little bit differently now. We set it up so they're not expecting it. It's more fun now than it's ever been.
What are your three kids doing?
Our oldest daughter, Calico, is 32. She's with the Groundlings in L.A. She's very funny, like the next Kristen Wiig. She's been in Hollywood the last 10 years. She's now writing movies and doing the whole thing. My son Dash is 28, has his own band here in Phoenix, and also works with my organization, Solid Rock, which gets kids out of gangs and into music for free. It's a Christian nonprofit. They get more addicted to playing than the street life, and pretty soon, we're getting 100 kids a day in there learning to play an instrument. We give them an alternative to being in a gang, jail or dead. It changes their lives. That's something we believe we should do. My youngest daughter, Sonora, is 21 and a makeup artist. She can do monster makeup or Cindy Crawford glam style. They're all in show business. My kids were born backstage. They grew up with Uncle Axl and Uncle Slash and people like that. My wife, Sheryl, was with Joffrey Ballet. She was in my original video for "Welcome to My Nightmare" and Sgt. Pepper movie.
Have you seen the Shep Gordon documentary, Supermensch, which premiered recently at Sundance?
It's so great. Mike Myers, who loves Shep, directed it. I've been with Shep 44 years, and we still don't have a contract with each other. There's no other relationship like that anywhere in any business. Shep's life was as crazy as mine. He managed Groucho, he managed Raquel Welch, he managed everybody. And the stories he has are so great. I even learned 10 things I didn't know about Shep. He's the sweetest guy in the world. When I'm in Saskatchewan, he's on the beach in Maui. Not bad.
Are you going to die onstage with your straitjacket on?
The R-word is not in my vocabulary. I won't be retired. I'm now a 2 handicap. I can stick it, yeah.
You still listen to new music? Any bands out there impress you?
Something is very wrong with the next generation. They all want to be folk artists. I keep explaining to them, "Guys, if you have an accordion, you're not a rock band. I want you to start watching Aerosmith, Guns n' Roses and The Rolling Stones." Those are rock bands. There are all these young groups that are afraid to be rock bands. It's the softest generation I've ever seen.
You don't miss being at the center of the commercial mainstream?
In this business, you have to absolutely ride the roller coaster. For 45 years now, I've been riding hit records and hit albums -- when you're way on top, and then the next album, you're down. I grew up in that golden generation where we can still draw 10,000 people. We're almost mythical characters. There's also a work ethic involved. I just can't imagine not touring, a year without being onstage. For me, it's so much a part of my life. It just doesn't make sense to me. I've been doing this since I was 16. Come see us at the Hollywood Bowl this summer.