Alice Cooper interview: 'None of us ever thought about getting past 30'
Alice Cooper in Detroit, 1970 - Ross Marino / Getty Images
In 1970 Alice Cooper decided to leave Los Angeles. In two unsuccessful years, the theater rocker had caught the ear of almost no one by commercial failure. "I don't understand what you're doing," Frank Zappa had told him, "and I think that's great." Few agreed. With "20,000 groups from around the world heading to [LA]", the singer moved to Detroit in the first revolutionary act in a career that has lasted for more than half a century. He found his crowd in the Motor City.
"As a hard rock band, we didn't really fit in Los Angeles," says Cooper. “LA was The Doors and bands like that. Detroit, now it was a working class town. That was the hard rock capital of the United States. The people in the blue collar parts of this town didn't want soft rock. They just wanted hard rock. And we gave it to them. "
Those days will be remembered on Detroit Stories, the singer's 21st album released last week. The 15-song collection was produced by longtime employee Bob Ezrin and co-written by Wayne Kramer, guitarist for punk rock band MC5 in Detroit. It's both a love letter to the town where Alice Cooper (real name, Vincent Furnier) was born and where he lived until he was 10, and his best record of the century.
In Motor City, Alice Cooper and his band were greeted with open ears. In LA, they could clear a space within a single song. Performing in front of 6,000 people at the Cheetah Club in Venice Beach, the band opened their set with a muscular version of The Who's Out In The Street, where the crowd took to the streets until all the noisy business was over.
As part of a bill curated to celebrate the birthday of comedian Lenny Bruce, it says "Coop" surpassed the most controversial comic book in United States history.
"The people in Detroit wanted their bands to sound like the machines they used to work with in the Ford factories or at Chrysler," says Cooper. “It was a very male society. It was difficult. If you were in a band you had to know how to fight too. Nobody has ever gone out alone. "
It's all too easy to overdo this stuff, however. In this tale of two cities, Los Angeles is inevitably seen as laid back nirvana, while Detroit plays the role of a flammable heartland city at war with everyone, including itself. Such broad lines overlook the fact that LA 1969's good vibes are bad were. In August of that year, seven people were murdered at the behest of the white hippie cult leader Charles Manson. The Motor City was a lot, but it wasn't like killing you with free love.
In the West, "the hippies suddenly became potential killers," says Cooper. "You saw a hippie and thought," Well, he might be doing drugs like Charles Manson, he might be the most dangerous man in the world. "So now they were being viewed completely differently. Not that we really had anything to do with the hippies, to be honest. We were a band so we didn't really understand why the hippies wanted to be hippies. We were a lot more on Ferraris are interested and have made money. "
Alice Cooper to perform in Sweden, 2019 - Michael Campanella / Redferns
As reported in songs like Rock & Roll and Social Debris, the Alice Cooper band could "play loud and fast" in Motor City. California could keep its dream because here they were in the middle of a meatier musical epicenter. In addition to being the home of Motown, Detroit used wild men like Iggy Pop and Ted Nugent, as well as the honorable Heartland rockers Bob Seger and Suzi Quatro. In the west the search was spiritual. In Michigan, bands like MC5 allied with violent civil rights groups using images of guns and bombs.
For my money, Wayne Kramer, the most exciting guitarist of his generation, seemed to believe in his wild days that his music could help overthrow the state. Under the direction of manager John Sinclair, the MC5 didn't mess around. Workers from such strict underground movements as Up Against The Wall Motherf ----- s, after wiring their equipment to a hot dog stand in 1968, the group provided the soundtrack for a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Sinclair's plight was sentenced to a decade in prison for marijuana possession and publicly supported by John Lennon and Abbie Hoffman.
Kramer is now 72 years old and fills Cooper's new album with sparks of wild electricity. These days the singer, natural bedfellow, confesses that in the flush of youth “I never got into politics myself. The MC5 were a show band, a great band, but these guys were on the FBI's wanted list. I got what they did, but I stayed away from it. Every time I picked up the paper, I read about it and the [associated radical movement] the White Panthers. It seemed like they were always being examined. "
What a time to be alive. In Detroit Stories, Cooper describes a city where people "tried to burn the place down." In the 1967 riots between mostly black residents and the police, 43 people died and 2,000 buildings were in ruins. More riots followed. Marked for generations, Detroit was the epitome of urban decay and a warning to others as to how far the United States would drop a great metropolis. The motor city, renamed and freezing cold, was renamed "Murder City" and operated under a racial segregation that pervaded all areas of life but one.
"If you were a musician with long hair, you could go to any black bar during a riot and not be the enemy," says Cooper. “You were a musician so you were a brother. Another time we were on the stage and I looked in that audience of black leather jackets and long hair and saw Smokey Robinson and there was two of the Supremes or there was one of the guys from the Temptations. There was no color barrier in music in Detroit. "
With the success of albums like Love It To Death and Killer and a macabre stage show with gallows, boa constrictors and gallons of fake blood, Alice Cooper was done in just three years. The singer returned to a Los Angeles music scene whiter than the cast of The Waltons and made a shock rock reputation for himself.
With the platinum LPs Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare, he cultivated audiences known for their enduring loyalty. In 1975 John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols in London, imitating Cooper's track "I'm Eighteen".
"We were rock stars," says the singer. “If you were a rock star in Beverly Hills, you could do anything you want. It was okay. Even the cops liked rock stars, so there was a status there ... Unlike Detroit, LA was all about glitz and glamor. The parties were completely different because there would be movie stars there. We'd go to the Playboy mansion. Up in the Hollywood Hills there were probably 500 parties a night. It was a completely different scene. "
Cooper filled his boots. The singer and his band kicked out an album every year, sometimes two, and played in arenas as large as the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood. "Super Duper Alice Cooper," they called him. A worker at heart, so tireless was his work ethic that he lacked a house to put his head in. "There was a point where I didn't live anywhere," he says. "I was basically a street rat ... I was always on the go."
Either that or in the pub. Unusually for the 1970s, Alice Cooper claims to have avoided illegal substances. He concentrated on bending his elbow and instead playfully tried to drink himself to death. Alcohol is "safe", he argued, while pills and powders are "dangerous".
In a rampant, rampant Los Angeles with the sharpness of a scarecrow's observation, the singer says, "If someone was doing drugs, I definitely didn't know." It's a dubious claim. When I think about it out loud, I wonder if this determination to draw the line between alcohol and drugs suggests a more old-fashioned way of thinking.
"I think you are right," he says. “But you have to remember that I had a career that I had to protect. I worked really hard to get to this point. I had big records out and I was selling all of these big venues. At this point, you definitely have something to protect. I was very aware of this, so I stayed very clean for everything like [drugs]. "
It seems like an odd distinction. In 1975, the singer fractured six ribs in 17,000 people and suffered a severe concussion after falling off the stage at the PNC Coliseum in Vancouver. In the wings, Cooper sipped a glass of whiskey while a member of the street crew wiped the blood away. After a short-lived attempt to resume the show, he was rushed to the hospital with nausea and double vision.
"There were times when I looked at my costume," Cooper told journalist Mark Paytress in 2005, "then I looked at the bottle of whiskey." And I knew I had to drink that bottle of whiskey to go out there. I was pretty beaten up. I would literally cry towards the end of this tour. My ghost said, "You're killing yourself. Stop it." But the other part of me said, "You're Alice Cooper. You can't stop."
"You're Alice Cooper, you can't stop": Cooper 1974 - Michael Putland / Getty Images
When he wasn't out, Cooper spent his time at the Rainbow Bar and Grill. on the Sunset Strip to become a key member of the legendary Hollywood Vampires Drinking Club. Every night “a car pulled up and John Lennon got out with Harry Nilsson. Along with me, Keith Moon, Bernie Taupin and Micky Dolenz were the mainstays of the club. "
Moon rented outfits from Western costumes and arrived disguised as Hitler or Zorro. To ensure privacy, club owner Elmer Valentine cleared a place for the group in the neighborhood. Neither of them ever saw daylight, hence the name.
"At the time, nobody thought of going over 30," says the singer. "It was the party that never ended."
Until it happened. Alice Cooper quit drinking in 1983 after releasing a number of albums he cannot remember. Thirty-two years later, the Hollywood Vampires were used as the name of the supergroup in which the singer appears alongside guitarist Joe Perry, by Aerosmith and longtime fan Johnny Depp. W.
What did Cooper think of Depp's widespread libel trial last year, in which a judge concluded that Depp was guilty of "balanced odds" in a series of attacks against his ex-wife, Amber Heard?
"I know Johnny well enough to know that he's one of the gentlest and most harmless people I've ever met in my life," he says. "I only know him from the band, but I've been to his house, I record there, and I've never met anyone who is as nice as Johnny when it comes to people ... That's my ability, Johnny as one of." knowing them the classiest guys i have ever met. "
Maybe, but it's Alice Cooper who's the pro. Punctual and committed, not for the first time, I have the impression that there is no question in the world that makes him pause. Still, it's worth a try.
Towards the end of our time together, I ask the 73-year-old singer to nominate the words he would like to see engraved on his tombstone. He gave his answer without hesitation: "Alice has been lying here since he cogged, he never stopped rocking until he stopped breathing."
Detroit Stories (Absolute) is available now
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