For much of the 1970s, Alice Cooper arguably could have held the title of “Scariest Man in America.” But a performer who brings a prop guillotine onto his stage show should be proof enough of the rocker’s bonafides on the matter of artistry.
Perhaps even more noteworthy is Cooper’s popularity as a showman spanning nearly five decades. This November will mark the 48th anniversary of the release of his breakthrough single, 1970’s “I’m Eighteen,” with the now-septuagenarian continuing to stick his head between the stocks of that guillotine to the cheers of his multigenerational crowd of fans. On Monday, Oct. 8, he will bring a Paranormal Evening with Alice Cooper to downtown Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. Featuring a setlist of 20-plus songs spanning the entirety of the rocker’s career, it’s the perfect concert to usher in the Halloween season.
We talked to Cooper before his upcoming appearance about his career, including the controversies that came along with it, as well as the later generations of “shock rockers” who came afterward. We also touch on a sport that has become nearly as synonymous with Cooper’s name as stage blood in recent years.
Or to have the singer say it himself, “You know what I really love about Raleigh? You all have some great golf courses down there.”
Q: So what exactly does spending a paranormal evening with Alice Cooper entail?
A: If you’ve ever seen an Alice Cooper performance, you know what this show should be an all-out production, with all of the hits being played, and with every single song having some sort of theatrical device to it. Nobody does it the way we do it, and I probably have the best touring band out there of anybody. You’ll remember the music more clearly than the theatrics at the end of the night, and we don’t give the audience a chance to catch their breath, as — once the show starts — it’s just a total assault. I’ve never gotten better reviews for a tour in my career than this one, and I’m just very proud of the band and the production.
Q: When the current tour was first announced, some dates, not including Raleigh, sadly, were to feature special guest musicians playing alongside your touring band. What does a musician get from playing an Alice Cooper show that they can’t get from performing their own?
A: I think, especially when you talk to these guys, take Larry Mullins (Jr., drummer and cofounder of the rock band U2), who started out playing in an Irish pub cover band. What did they perform as a cover band? Alice Cooper songs! He told me that U2 has performed “School’s Out” in some of the shows that they’ve played well after becoming huge stars.
With Billy Gibbons (guitarist and lead vocalist for ZZ Top), we took ZZ Top (“Gimme All Your Lovin’”) out (as openers) on one of their first tours when they were first starting up. A lot of these guys, I just call them up to play on the new album (2017’s “Paranormal”). I try to pick the exact right song for a musician to play on, and I’ll sit and listen to a song like “Fallen in Love,” and it just screamed Billy Gibbons to me. All we had to do was play it for Billy, and he just said, “Oh yeah, that’s me.”
With Mullins, that was to give a different sound to the album, because he brings a completely different way of drumming to a project. We didn’t want to lose the drive of the songs, because most of what we do is hard rock, but I wanted it to have a completely different texture; that’s what Larry Mullins brought in.
Q: When you had your breakthrough with “School’s Out” in 1970, you received a ton of negative press from a writer who didn’t seem to completely grasp what you were trying to pull off via the Alice Cooper persona. I’m guessing most of your original fans were pretty young at that time, but now those fans have grown older, have you found that some have become the folks who rail against you now?
A: I think what it was is that a lot of folks finally understood that there was a lot of comedy in what I was doing. I think when we first came out there was a lot of shock value, because no one else had ever done anything close to what we were doing. More people were offended by the idea of what the show was in the ‘70s, and began calling it “shock rock,” offended by the fact that there were mannequin parts tossed around the stage; it was physical, and dangerous looking.
We certainly weren’t Satanic, as we all came from Christian backgrounds. My father was a pastor, and my grandfather was an Evangelist. I made sure there was nothing in the shows that was blasphemous, let alone Satanic, but there was a lot of anti-authority going on in there. That’s what rock and roll is supposed to be, but I think it got interpreted incorrectly, especially once the “700 Club” jumped on it as a target. Since then, they’ve finally figured out that it isn’t what they thought it was; if you bring your kids to an Alice Cooper show, they’re never going to hear any bad language, or see any nudity or anti-Christian. What they would see is a show that sort of borders on vaudeville.
Q: You were arguably the first performer to have the “shock rock” label placed upon you, but it feels like every few years a new artist emerges who receives both that label, as well as the label of “an Alice Cooper for a new generation”. How often do you see those articles and immediately think, “Oh, I’m much better than that act”?
A: It’s funny, because I know all of the acts that get that label, and they’re all friends of mine. KISS (“Rock and Roll All Night”) was the new Alice Cooper for a while, and they ended up doing well, considering that when I first met them I told them where to buy their makeup. It’s not a competition, as I told the guys in KISS, “Make sure that you don’t do the same kind of show that we do, and don’t use the exact same kind of makeup we use, because the press will just kill you.”
It was the music press at that time that even pointed out, “If one Alice Cooper works, there’s no reason why four of them shouldn’t,” with KISS. They were much more comic book heroes, whereas Alice Cooper was Phantom of the Opera.
When Marilyn Manson (“The Beautiful People”) came out, I totally got what he was going for. He was telling everyone, “I’m a Satanic priest,” and I knew it was just another way to piss off parents. I knew Marilyn very well, and he came from an area of the Bible Belt where religion was shoved down his throat until it reached a point where he choked on it, but he is his own entity. We don’t get along theologically, but we do as friends.
Rob Zombie (“Dragula”) and I are basically best friends, because he totally gets that horror and comedy are in bed together. Why do you go to a horror movie? Usually it’s to get the thrill of a scare, but you’ll find yourself laughing at being scared. It’s like going on a rollercoaster: it’s a thrill, but you know it’ll bring you back safely.
Q: Finally, considering your well-documented love for the game of golf, do you basically continue touring just to keep the money for green fees rolling in?
A: People keep asking me, “Why don’t you just retire?” I always respond, “Why, so I can play golf? I play golf every day anyway!” I play golf in the morning, and rock at night; what’s wrong with that? The only reason a performer my age retires is because they’ve treated their body so badly that they can’t really go out on the road anymore; they may do two shows on the weekend, but you can’t really keep a tour going on two shows a week. We are headed toward our 200th show of 2018, have visited 17 countries over five continents, and have never felt better in my life.
I haven’t had a drink in 35 years, so that just shows the health benefits of getting sober.
Who: Alice Cooper
When: 8 p.m., Oct. 8
Where: Memorial Auditorium at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Cost: $47.15 to $117.15
Info: DukeEnergyCenterRaleigh.com or 919-996-8700