CHICAGO — Alice Cooper, the former Vincent Furnier, former high school track star, former resident of Detroit and Chicago, did not die this week at 75. Despite a half-century of horrifyingly playful onstage executions, he was not hanged, beheaded, impaled or electrocuted. He just released “Road,” his 22nd solo album, and plays in Tinley Park on Friday, and when we spoke the other day, he said, though he was 75, he has no plans to retire and can perform these days “with more energy than I had in the ’70s. I was held back then by alcoholism, but I am in the best shape of my life right now. My kids are all grown and have kids. I have no stress in my life. I have been married to my wife of 47 years, and every single thing is in order — my spiritual life and financial life. There is nothing wrong with me.”
But it seems appropriately ghoulish to note: Even Alice Cooper, who secured his place in pop music infamy with such songs as “Dead Babies” and “I Love the Dead,” will die.
Certainly, he can still shock.
Less than 48 hours after we spoke, he was trending on Twitter because he told an interviewer for the online music blog Stereogum that, despite being an early rock voice in support of broad sexual expression, he was concerned transgender identities were becoming “a fad” and children were being encouraged to transition before they understood who they were sexually. Like many Twitter outrages, the shock came and went, though if it feels significant, that’s because Alice Cooper, an provocative pioneer of gender fluidity in mainstream culture, sounded sincerely confused by the subject now.
Indeed, when I asked if the man once synonymous with shock would even get noticed today, he replied: “No, the audience is shock proof now.” If Alice Cooper is shocked by anything, it’s “that we’re not shocked by these daily mass shootings. It’s not healthy.”
Shock, in its many shapes has been such a recurring theme in the career of Alice Cooper, you may also be shocked to learn:
1. Alice Cooper bought one of the O’s in the “Hollywood” sign in LA: “It was the (sign’s) 75th anniversary and it was falling apart, so I started a campaign: Each letter cost $27,000 (to restore). I bought the ‘O’ for my good friend Groucho.” As in Marx.
2. Alice Cooper lived in Chicago for three years. “We lived in Lake Point Tower, ’83 to ’85. In ’83, I decided to get sober and (wife Sheryl Goddard) and I decided to get away from L.A. and rock ‘n’ roll vampires and live in a place we never lived and start over. I needed that. I was trying to decide if I wanted to keep doing (the onstage persona) Alice Cooper. My wife’s parents were in Oak Park. I had lived in Detroit so it wasn’t a shock, but I was not expecting winter to go on for eight months. Half the Cubs lived there. And I remember getting in an elevator with a resident at the time, this kid Tom Cruise who was making some movie called ‘Risky Business.’ I remember telling him I hope he does OK.”
3. Alice Cooper has been a born-again Christian for decades. His grandfather was an evangelist, his father was a pastor. He was not close to the church throughout his red-hot ’70s infamy, but eventually returned: “Some songs, on a Christian level, I won’t do now. At the same time, I look back at songs like ‘I’m Eighteen’ and ‘School’s Out,’ and they’re general, you know? There’s nothing satanic. There was nothing satanic even back in the old days. I have probably 20 songs about avoiding Satan. My Christian background was always there somewhere. It just got so sensational. I mean, they were burning my records on ‘The 700 Club’ and I guarantee they never heard any of them.”
4. Alice Cooper wrote to Ann Landers. “She did a column about my song ‘Cold Ethyl.’ Nothing was that offensive (on his records) if you had a sense of humor. I was singing about a guy who keeps his dead girlfriend in a refrigerator.” “Ann was mad because of the necrophilia. So I wrote, ‘Ann, if there is a gigantic rash of necrophilia because of this song, I will issue a public apology.’ 5. In the early 1970s, Alice Cooper lived for a couple of years in a crumbling mansion near the Connecticut shoreline, next door to Bette Davis (who had inspired his use of heavy black eyeliner). Cooper has said he and his band were treated like Munsters among New England blue bloods. After Alice and Co. left the mansion, it burned down.
6. Seven years before Michael Jackson had Vincent Price do a monologue on “Thriller,” Alice Cooper recorded a Vincent Price monologue for “Welcome to My Nightmare.”
7. Alice Cooper’s appearances on innocuous ’70s TV like “The Muppet Show,” and “Hollywood Squares” was part of an intentional charm campaign. “I had become a fish out of water on every level,” he said. “My manager and I sat there and realized we painted ourselves into a corner and we needed to start doing things to open me up. I could make Johnny Carson laugh and people didn’t expect me to tell good stories or make people laugh. When I was invited on ‘Hollywood Squares,’ I asked to sit next to Paul Lynde. One of my questions was: ‘If you are an enlisted man and you are in the shower and an officer walks in, do you salute?’ I asked, ‘With your hands?’ Paul broke up laughing, which is all I ever wanted to do — make Paul Lynde laugh. I fit well into things like that, and so I had become like a Vincent Price. Scary but digestible.”
8. Alice Cooper never killed a chicken onstage. But he did throw one out into the audience. “The audience killed that chicken! Then they threw it back onstage. So of course, I had to have a picture taken with Colonel Sanders. Anything that happened like that then we would look at it and ask how to promote to — how do we gain from this?”
9. Alice Cooper’s best-known fans were not who you thought they were. To audition for the Sex Pistols, Johnny Lydon performed an Alice Cooper song. Bob Dylan often cited him as an underrated songwriter, and Frank Zappa signed him to his first record deal. Before David Bowie was a star, he sought Cooper as an inspiration for his own onstage theater.
10. His inspirations were not who you thought they were. “We were students of the Yardbirds. And the Who. But also ‘West Side Story’ and James Bond. We wanted to mix it all into the stage show. ”