Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper
Some 40 years into his career, Alice Cooper has seen plenty of ups and downs. A quick overview finds him creating the shock rock sub genre in the early 1970s by incorporating now widely-pilfered theatrics such as hangings and prop-mutilation into his stage show, becoming an international superstar and releasing top-selling albums. A decline into alcoholism prompted him to check into an insane asylum and fall into relative obscurity throughout the early ’80s. He returned later in the decade by intensifying the horror aspect of his persona and reestablished his commercial success during hair rock’s heyday, eventually settling in amongst the elder-statesmen of rock’n’roll as a whole. He’s pretty much done it all.

Yet despite turning 60 this year, Alice Cooper (nee Vincent Furnier) refuses to slow down. In fact, he’s back; releasing 24th studio effort, Along Came A Spider, an 11-track concept album loosely inspired by the cryptic eeriness of 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare as coupled with his darker, heavier musical output circa 1986’s Constrictor. An engaging affair full of twists, haunting reality and unforgettable riffs, Along Came A Spider is easily the Coop’s best work in almost two decades.

You’ve got a lot of Canadian dates during the tour for Along Came A Spider.
Yes. This is a full-out Canadian tour with about 37 days. It’s pretty aggressive, the second part of the 200-city Psycho Drama Tour. We started it last year and we’re 40 or 50 shows until we’re done.

You must be aching to finish it up then.
Yeah, but it’s not bad. The show is so much fun for us. We’ve designed it so we all have so much fun. We’ve got all these songs to go to and the theatrics. We change it every night. Somebody will say, "Let’s try this.” We keep it organic so the show keeps changing.

You mean every town has a new experience?
That’s exactly it. If you saw the show last year, you’d say, "Wow, this show has totally changed.” That’s what it should be. I don’t want it to get stagnant. Some people take two weeks off [work] and come to every show. They’re in the first row every night. I check to see if they’re there and then we change the show just for them. Those guys know when all the tricks are gonna happen so we change it up and they have no idea what’ll happen. All they know is it’s gonna be a show; real Alice Cooper all the way. A part of that is having surprises and things they’re not expecting. There’ll be a few tricks of the trade where they expect [one thing] but something totally different happens. I like giving them misinformation occasionally.

Do these nightly changes in the show occasionally turn the tables and give you something you didn’t expect?
Certainly. Sometimes the mistakes end up being the things you keep in the show. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on an effect and the people go, "Meh.” I go, "Wait a minute! That was great! Why didn’t the audience go for that?” Then, someone might slip and fall at exactly the right time and everyone loves it. I go, "Okay, do that again tomorrow night.” "What?” "Slip and fall down again at that same spot tonight and if the audience loves it, we’re keeping it in the show.” Every once in a while you get a mistake or something that just happens out of nowhere and if it makes an audience react, do it again. If it works, it works. That happens in Broadway all the time. Someone will laugh at a certain moment in dialogue and the audience is infected by it. Then you get a laugh in the show that wasn’t written. I guarantee you the director is going, "You make sure you blow that line tomorrow night.” I heard McCartney do that one time. He blew a line in a song and then made a funny remark that everyone loved. I saw him a year later and he did the exact same mistake. Then I got it… that’s good showbiz.

I suppose it keeps everyone on their toes, including the band.
A show like ours has a tendency — for us — to get stagnant. It’s the kind of show that’s written, directed and choreographed. The first part of the show is very loose. I keep the first half rock’n’roll; totally Alice Cooper rock for 45 minutes. The second part of the show is choreographed so I like the first part… I tell the band to stay loose and rock. I think the audience gets the idea that it’s choreographed but they know the beginning is open. I don’t want to make it so stiff that it looks like a Broadway play. It’s rock… there’s not one moment in the show that’s not guitar rock. I’d never let it get soft, syrupy and stupid. One thing I didn’t like about Tommy going to Broadway was that they kind of dulled it down and made it commercial. It was soft for the audience because they were worried about people coming in from Iowa. That’s no reason to dumb it down. Keep it loud. I don’t even know why there’s an orchestra. There should be a rock band. I always said if we ever went to Broadway don’t expect an orchestra. There’ll be a band. If it’s a rock opera, make it rock.

How does Along Came A Spider transfer to a live setting?
Spider is just so set up for a stage show. I have to admit that I cheat towards the stage when I’m writing the lyrics. I know it’ll read better than if I don’t write a line. I can get away with something if I write a certain line. That’s the beauty of being the writer and the performer: it’s your show so you can cheat all you want to the stage. To me, this is really one of [my] best-written albums as far as melding together and making the story work. It’s an interesting story about a serial killer that definitely has flaws. When you think of Hannibal Lecter, he’s perfect. He’s a serial killer, a psychologist [and] a meticulous planner. This guy thinks he’s that but the more the album goes on, the more you find all these flaws in his personality. He has a romantic side that will get him in trouble. He eventually falls in love with one of his victims and can’t kill her. Of course that’s one of his downfalls. He also has a religious side. In the middle of the album, he has an epiphany: "What if I’m wrong?” That’s a great, complex thing to have happen to a serial killer. I can write about that, the one that got away, his salvation…these songs round out the album and make it work.

I assume rough edges or flaws are more interesting to write about. There’s more to grab onto than with something that’s perfect.
Even though he thinks he’s infallible, he’s totally fallible. He’s got everybody on the run; he’s created this spider and wraps his victims in silk—very clever. He takes one leg and the police finally realize: "eight legs and silk? This guy thinks he’s a spider or at least becoming that.” But then you realize it’s written in a diary form. Just when you think you’ve got it all put away, the Epilogue comes on and he says, "well, we’ve been in this cell for 28 years. We couldn’t have done that.” All of those murders only happened in his mind and showed up in the diary…or there could be another killer. The audience thinks they have it figured out but it twists.

It’s like the dramatic spin a lot of horror movies utilize at the last second.
As a lyricist, I can get away with that. I tried to figure out what’s gonna be the vehicle for this album. Welcome To My Nightmare? Everyone has nightmares so they can understand that. Alice Cooper Goes To Hell? It’s gonna be sort of Damn Yankees: Alice is gonna go to hell and try to con his way out. From The Inside is an insane asylum; anything can happen in there. All those are devices. With this one, I wondered what the device was to give the audience. At first I wanted to do a radio drama like the old The Phantom Knows with the cliffhangers but then I realized that 95 percent of the audience has no idea what [a radio serial] is. I only know about it because I like them but in this world, nobody knows what that is so I had to figure out something. The best thing at that point was the diary. He was writing it all down and then I had an insight into his brain.

I had read that you initially toyed with the notion of a radio drama and thought it was great even if people didn’t catch on. They’d think it was a totally new idea.
You’re right in that aspect. It would have been great as a radio drama. When I first thought about it, I thought it would be great to have Billy Bob Thornton and Michael Douglas — my friends — to play the parts of the psychiatrist, the cop or the insane asylum orderly. I think everybody would’ve loved to do that but I got to the point where I realized if I explain it too much or explain what’ll happen; if I don’t give the audience a chance to use their imagination, it won’t work. Great art forces the audience to use their imagination. When I see a Salvador Dali painting, I know what I see but you’d say, "No, he’s not saying that. He’s saying this.” We all have out own values we place on a crutch or a tongue or a melting watch. It’s the same with my show. When you come see it, there are so many images going on, you create your own story. I think that’s why Dali liked our show. He saw all these images and created his own stories behind them.

You’ve often said that everyone has a different viewpoint of your shows, like when you bring out the snake. One person finds it sexy, one scary… it’s very subjective.
Everyone’s gonna have a different take on those things. I know a lot of people, when I bring the crutch out to do "I’m Eighteen,” they’re going, "how dare you make fun of cripple people!” Or, "I get it; he’s saying he’s 18 but he’s 60. The crutch is very funny. He’s making fun of himself.” Other people think it’s a phallic symbol. Then they ask me and I go, "I dunno… I’m just doing it.” It a Rorschach test… it’s all up to you!