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Alice Cooper | Brutal Planet | interview | shock | rock | Lollipop
Brutal Planet (Spitfire)
An Interview with Alice Cooper
by Rich Black
Alice Cooper is rock'n'roll royalty, but you'd never realize it by speaking to him. Funny, smart, and down to earth, Cooper seems to really care about the whole interview dynamic and the world at large, the polar opposite of his dark stage persona. As we talked about Cooper's new release, Brutal Planet (Spitfire), a line of movie dialogue kept bouncing around in my thick skull: "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"
How do you stay excited about music after doing it for 30 years?
Y'know, it's funny 'cause I think if it's in your blood, you never get tired of it. I'm still a rock'n'roll fan. I have a 19-year-old and a 15-year-old, and I'm probably the only dad in the world that bangs on his children's doors and says, "Turn that up!" If it's good rock'n'roll, I'm the first one to turn it up. Like anything else, there's great rock'n'roll, and there's crappy rock'n'roll. I can go from Eminem to Rob Zombie in a heartbeat. I've always been a big music-lover, and so any time I can get up on stage, it's fun to be able to do hits all night. Probably 90% of our set are songs people've heard on the radio. The hard part is introducing new songs because people always wanna hear the old stuff.
As a kid, I remember a rumor that Alice Cooper was a 16th century witch who channeled through a Ouija board...
Y'know, everybody has a different story about Alice Cooper... Most of what you've heard about Alice Cooper is urban legends. And it's not just me... Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson; anybody who's in the least bit exotic in the rock'n'roll business gets these incredible rumors going. Granted, I have done some pretty strange things on stage, and in my new show there're even more strange things, but 90% of the things I've heard I've done I didn't do.
Like the chicken?
Somebody did throw a chicken on stage. I threw it back into the audience. I didn't even throw it, I thought it would fly away. It's a chicken, it has wings! I'm from Detroit, I didn't know anything about chickens. I didn't know they couldn't fly! I tossed it back into the audience and they tore it apart. And the crazy thing about that is it wasn't the whole audience... They put all of the people in wheelchairs in the front row, so it was the handicapped that tore the chicken apart. I didn't do it, the audience did it. But I got blamed for it...
You're the son of a reverend...
Yes, my dad was a pastor. I lead a very strange life, I think, because I'm a Christian. I still have very Christian values. My show is very anti-Satanic, and the things I write about are anti-Satan. I go out of my way to warn people that if you think Satan doesn't exist, he's already beat you because he does. Maybe it sounds old-fashioned, almost archaic, but I believe in the classic God, and I believe in the classic devil. It explains a lot of evil in the world.
I'm kinda surprised that that's the way you see things...
We blame things on movies, we blame things on music, we blame things on videos, but we forget where evil comes from. It comes from a much darker place.
The character of Alice is a super-villain. What redeeming qualities does he possess, if any?
The good thing about Alice being a villain is he shows the audience the evil in the world, then he gets executed. Evil never wins in my show. I get my head cut off and get put into a giant vice. They have to kill me twice this time. No matter what Alice does up there, he always ends up paying for it. It's a morality play, kind of a classical Shakespearean bad guy/good guy thing. When Alice comes out at the very end -- after they execute me -- it's in a white top hat and tails. It's balloons, and confetti, and everything's okay. I never leave the audience with a bad taste in their mouth. I want them to leave saying, "Man, that was the greatest party I ever went to." They have confetti and streamers in their hair, and it's like, "Were you at a New Year's party?" "No, I was at an Alice Cooper concert!" I think a lot of bands forget to do that. It's a show, it's fun, and it's totally choreographed.
How did it end up that Spitfire released Brutal Planet?
Independent labels are the future. I think you'll see a lot of major stars going to independent labels because they're tired of working for banks. Big record companies are basically banks, they really, really are. They have 60 or 70 artists, they sell all these records, then they take all the money, invest it, and live off the interest. It's got nothing to do with promoting the artist. The artist is basically a "product" to them, whereas at an independent label, there's a lot more attention given to artist development and the art of the product.
I know Spitfire's working hard because every day I wake up and have 12 interviews to do! At my old record company, they'd just say, "Well, whatever you want to do is fine." These guys flew 50 guys to Los Angeles to listen to the album. They flew 40 people in from Europe to Phoenix to interview me. It's amazing the kind of things they're doing for me. I'm very happy with it.
Is it possible that the sociological observations on Brutal Planet coincide with Alice taking inventory of his life?
I'm kind of looking into the future... I'm not gonna say it's science fiction, I'm gonna say it's social fiction. I kinda compare this album to THX1138 or 1984... We're all kinda faceless. In my thing, it's more Road Warrior. Instead of technology taking us forward, it's eaten itself. We've technologied ourselves to death. Now all that's left are survivors. We're almost back to being cavemen.
Is the song "Gimme" from the perspective of the devil?
Yes, absolutely. Thank you! I'm so glad somebody picked that up. People always think that the devil is gonna come as this evil character, and he's not. He's probably gonna come as the most appealing, charming guy you've ever seen. He's always gonna say, "Whatever you want... I'm your only friend." Man's point of view is "Gimme this!" It's like turning a kid loose in Toys R Us. So the devil says, "I'll give you anything you want." He says, "Kneel down, I'll give you what you need." When he tempted Christ in the wilderness, he said, "I'll give you anything you want, just kneel down and tell me." That's all he wanted, the "kneel down" part. I had to throw that in; it was too appropriate for this song.
I hear a similarity between the riff on "Cold Machines" and the one from Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People."
I didn't notice that. I don't write the music, I write the lyrics, but somebody did bring that to my attention. I said, "Y'know, it's a rock'n'roll riff, I guess there's a million of 'em. There'll probably be 10 more of those coming out." It's kind of ironic... I sort of like the idea that finally something I do sounds like somebody else!
Does Marilyn Manson make you angry, happy, or are you indifferent? I consider him a poor imitation of the original...
I've never met Marilyn, but I've met everybody else in the band. I like the song "Dope Show," and there're a couple other songs I really, really like. I understand that he's changed his image a lot. I had a really big problem when he first came out, tearing the Bible up and all that, and then calling me his hero. I was like, "Wait a minute... Let's get this straight -- what I do on stage is warning about people like you." I think he's very smart and he knows how to push all the right buttons. If he concentrated on the music, he'd last a very long time. The theatrics are easy, but he needs to find some good writers, because he's a good lyricist...
"Take It Like A Woman" tells a horrific story about a woman who's tortured and killed...
She was tortured and killed because she took it too long. She's one of these women I'll never understand... When I'm watching TV and these battered women say, "It's the tenth time he's beaten me up and almost killed me," I'm just like, "Then why are you still there?" The first time someone hit me, I'd be gone. Why does anyone stay in a situation like that? I've always believed that women are emotionally stronger, and physically stronger: they can take more physical pain than men can. So "Take It Like A Woman" is probably more accurate than the cliché. On stage, we go from "Take It Like A Woman" into "Only Women Bleed," and it really connects well. I think women will understand that this is about a woman who took it for too long. In the end, you realize she's telling the song from the grave.
Sexism and rock'n'roll seem to kind of go hand in hand; do you expect a backlash from the rock'n'roll community for saying something like this?
I hope not. People often ask, "What are you preaching here?" I'm not preaching anything, except "There's good, there's evil. We have a choice." This is Alice's view, not my view. I'm the optimistic one. Alice's view is very pessimistic. Alice sees things going to hell. Brutal Planet is 50 years from now, a world without God. It's a horrific place. My stage show is gonna make it entertaining, and Alice the character is gonna make it entertaining, but the main message is "This is a place where we don't wanna be. There's no redeeming value to this place at all."
I'm very surprised by your spiritual nature...
I'm politically incoherent. People ask me if I'm politically correct, and I'm like, "I'm Alice Cooper." I should be able to say what I want to say. Just because it doesn't jibe with what the general rock'n'roll public says, that's not my problem. The amazing thing is, if Alice Cooper pisses off the rock'n'roll community, that's the ultimate rebellion! I don't do Christian rock, but I am a Christian. Prophetic rock!
As always, your lyrics are very cutting.
You know what was a really hard song for me to write? "Blow Me A Kiss." "Blow me a kiss/and blow me away." It's not veiled, it's about Columbine. These people are senseless, absolutely senseless. Their point of view is "You're black? You're dead. You're gay? You're dead. You're afraid? You're dead." We can't ignore that, I can't let that one go by. "Wicked Young Man" is another one. He says, "I've got a pocket full of bullets and a blueprint of the school." I wrote him as a futuristic character, but this kid is now.
Did you write the song before the Columbine shootings?
I can't positively say it was before Columbine, but when I heard about the shootings, I was just like, "Sheeesh... this is now." When something like that happens, you can't just say, "I'm not gonna write this," to be sensitive. I think you have to write it to be sensitive. So, in the song "Wicked Young Man," I'm not condoning him, I'm exposing him. I've got three kids, a 19-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, and a seven-year-old girl in a great big house... I know if my son's got a firecracker; I know if he's got a hunting knife. How can you not know a kid's got 50 bombs and a shotgun? If you've got kids, you know where they're at. It's part of being a parent. If you're that removed from your kids, something's really wrong. So, if this Wicked Young Man is out there, somebody should be picking up on his vibe.
There was a time where the line between your Wicked Young Man, the character of Alice, and Vincent Furnier got very blurred...
Well, I was an alcoholic for a very long time. About 18 years ago I quit drinking.
Sobriety helped you separate the two identities?
I thought I had to be Alice in order to be believable. I thought I had to go out and wear the make-up with a snake around my neck. I lived in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and I'd go out in all black. I thought I had to be this heavy character. You have to remember, I used to drink with Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, and Jimi Hendrix. Almost every one of my big brothers died... These are all people who tried to live their image. I learned that you'd better separate that image [from who you really are].
I'm happy I'm talking to the person I'm talking to...
Oh yeah, you don't want to talk to Alice. I tell people that Alice doesn't do interviews, Alice does shows.