Interview: The dichotomy of Alice Cooper
© Alice Cooper, used with permission

Alice Cooper is a very busy man these days. He seems to be constantly on tour, he has a new album, Paranormal, which is set to be released in July and he also has a syndicated radio show. He is a very active family and church member as well as a charity organizer. Alice is an open book and AXS was very fortunate to catch up with Cooper for an interview while on tour.

AXS: You’re in San Antonio as we speak?

Alice Cooper: Yes, we did a show here last night. We have a day off tonight. We’ve been doing three shows, then one day off. We are working five shows a week. We are working until December.

AXS: You are going to be playing at AVA Amphitheatre in Tucson on June 22.

AC: Tucson is going to be great. Tucson is like in our backyard. We are going to be in Phoenix with Deep Purple in August. We try to make the show very full. If you look away from the stage for a minute, you are going to miss a lot of things. There is something new happening all the time on the stage. Once you get that kind of energy going on stage with those songs, the characters and all the props, you don’t want to look away.

AXS: You are on the road until December. How do you keep up with that kind of schedule?

AC: I’ve been doing this for so long, since I was 15 years old. On the Nightmare tour, we were on tour for two and a half years. People would ask, "where do you live?" I would say, "I don’t live anywhere." We were totally the "circus." When my wife joined the Nightmare show, she was 18 years old. She is still in the show. She told her parents, "I’m going to join the circus."

AXS: I understand you used to paint houses.

AC: Well, my bass player, Dennis Dunaway, and I would paint murals in people’s houses in the summertime. We were both art majors. That’s what we did to make money. And then, the Beatles came along. He looked at me and I looked at him and I said let’s put a band together. He learned how to play bass and I became a singer. One of the other guys that ran long distance with us learned how to play drums. We started a band from literally being high school friends. We were at Cortez High School in Phoenix.

AXS: You were also a long distance runner?

AC: Yes, Dennis Dunaway John Spear and myself, from the original band, had 72 wins and no losses in the four years we were there. We were unbeatable in cross-country and were four-year lettermen. People have this picture of Alice Cooper being the most horrendous band of all time, not even from this planet. We had this letterman sweater with four stripes that gave us prestige as jocks in high school. Now, I play golf six days a week. I play every single morning on the road too.

AXS: When do you have time to be a Disk Jockey?

AC: I do that every day. I tape the show wherever I am at on the road using Pro Tools. My show goes as far away as Istanbul, London, Perth, Australia, all over the world. I have to make sure it is taped 10 days in advance. We can do the show from a hotel room, from the tour bus, from backstage, anywhere. It is a five-hour show, but I can tape it in one hour. What happens is they give me a free reign on the show. I can play pretty much what I want. I’ve got all the backstage stories that nobody else has. Everybody likes to hear all those stories.

AXS: Have you written a book about it?

AC: I haven’t really written a book about that. I have written a book about how Alice became Alice. If I were going to write a book about Groucho Marx or Salvador Dali, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and all the people that I ended up having relationships and became friends, it would go on forever. The book would be full of stories.

AXS: Do you ever interview people on your radio show?

AC: Yes, mostly I interview guys that I have projects coming up with. Almost every single time, I interview people that I have toured with or recorded with, or we have some kind of connection.

AXS: If you were going to interview Alice Cooper, what would be your primary question?

AC: I think the dichotomy of Alice is really interesting. The fact that I go to church on Sunday, I play golf, I have been married for 41 years and I have never cheated on my wife. I’m a great dad and a great granddad. Opposed to this character who is a full out villain. It’s really interesting that I can click in and out of that character. I think I would ask Alice if he is ever tempted to be the other character, to be the normal everyday guy. The thing that is interesting to me is that 22 hours of the day, I am the normal guy. At night I get to play this villain. It’s really fun to play that character. The same is true with my wife.  My wife teaches bible study. She is a ballerina and she teaches ballet and jazz. At night she plays this incredibly demented nurse, a “day of the dead nurse.” She also plays this rag doll that comes out of a windup box. She always says that it is great to play somebody you are nothing like. I would ask Alice if he ever wanted to switch places with me. And I think he would say absolutely not. I play this mythological rock star that doesn’t really exist. But he does exist for those two hours on stage. The audience has become endeared to this villain, kind of like Captain Hook. Peter Pan is kind of ho-hum compared to Captain Hook.

AXS: You have been dedicated to the “Solid Rock Foundation” in Phoenix for a long time. Can you talk a little bit about that?

AC: Being from Detroit, I have seen drug deals go down. I was sitting on a corner in Phoenix and I watched a couple of 16-year-old kids do a drug deal. They were thinking they were very clever. The thought hit me, ”How does that kid not know that he may be the best bass player in Arizona? And the other kid might be the best drummer?” They have never had the opportunity to do that. They were born into gangs and into the drug system. That’s all they know. The idea of opening a place where that same kid can go in and learn guitar and it might take him away from that life and put him into another life. We decided to open a youth center. It took us 20 years to get it all done. We get 100 kids a day in there. Some are suicidal. Some are cutters. Many were and are gang members. It goes on and on. These kids came from such rough backgrounds and now I go in there and they are playing in bands and their grades in school went up. Their relationships with their parents have improved. Nobody is shooting at them anymore. So, it does work.

AXS: You do the yearly “Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding” and a celebrity golf tournament to support the Solid Rock teen center.

AC: I’m in a great situation where I can go through my Rolodex and I can call Johnny Depp and Joe Perry for instance, and say, "hey can you come in and do four or five songs with me?" They say sure. I can call up Cheap Trick or Rob Zombie. Nine times out of ten they say sure, whatever. That’s how I get both the variety show and the golf tournament done. We do a big jam session after the tournament is done.

AXS: You seem to be constantly working, but when you are off, what music do you listen to?

AC: I’m not a music snob at all. I’m not into country music, but there are certain country songs that I think are very clever. I’m not big on rap, but there are certain artists that I think are clever, like Eminem. I think genius is another word for clever. There are a few geniuses like Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and Frank Zappa. Those are a few guys that are true geniuses at what they do.

AXS: What is your very favorite album that you listen consistently?

AC: If I was going to listen to one album for the rest of my life, it would probably be East-West by Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Or there is another one called Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. I’ve worn that album out.

AXS: Laura Nyro.

AC: Yes and add Reach Out by Burt Bacharach and West Side Story to that list. I go in a lot of directions. I could listen to Yardbirds all day too. I’m surprised you knew about Laura Nyro. I got to meet her a couple of times and I told her she was the most brilliant female songwriter of all time. She was a very interesting woman. The people who covered her songs made a lot of money on her. She occupies that genius category.

AXS: Is there something else you would like to say before we finish this interview?

AC: The only thing I can think of is not political at all. I wish that young rock bands were not so anemic. Rock bands anymore have forgotten how to be outlaws. If you are going to be a rock band, don’t be a wimpy rock band. Everybody wants to fit ‘in’ these days. When we were kids, we didn’t want to fit in. We wanted NOT to fit in. Every single rock band out there now all look the same. They all sound the same. They are all just cookie cutters.