Interview: Alice Cooper talks playoff hockey, his new documentary, and those ‘dead drunk friends’
The career of Alice Cooper has fittingly swung back and forth like a pendulum with an erratic, unpredictable rhythm. He experienced disastrous beginnings recording for Frank Zappa’s Straight Records — and a pair of albums that were poorly received — to a lengthy and fruitful relationship with producer Bob Ezrin that began in the early ’70s and delivered the hits “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen,” all the while battling alcohol and drug addictions that had him in company with the so-called Hollywood Vampires alongside Keith Moon, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson.
The influential shock rocker eventually cleaned up his act, with excesses now relegated to golf games and stage theatrics, but left no small amount of sensationalistic material for the filmmakers of the “doc-opera” Super Duper Alice Cooper to draw from, making it easy to incorporate a unique Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme. Elton John, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and MC5’s Wayne Kramer were all interviewed for the film, which Vanyaland is co-presenting with the Brattle Theatre this Thursday night.
We caught up with Alice to talk about the documentary, an upcoming covers project of his “dead drunk friends” and disappointment in his adopted hockey team, the Phoenix Coyotes — though it should be noted that he punctuated the end of our conversation with a hearty, “Go Bruins!”
Alice Cooper: Did it thaw out in Boston yet?
Michael Christopher: It’s absolutely gorgeous here today – it’s actually nice weather for golf, you would love it.
Oh man, I play at a place over there called The International in Bolton. It is the longest golf course in the world, 8,400 yards from the back tees – it’s crazy, but I play around 6,600 so [laughs].
Well it should be perfect by the time you get here with Mötley Crüe in August.
It’s funny, because I play golf every day; well, I play six days a week. When I’m on the road, I generally play at least four or five times a week. Golf in the morning, rock and roll at night: not a bad lifestyle.
We’re in the midst of the NHL playoffs right now…you’ve gotta be bummed that Phoenix didn’t make for the second year in a row after reaching the conference finals two years ago.
I was born in Detroit, so I was born in Hockeytown. When I was a little kid I would go see Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and all these great hall of famers. Of course at that age you don’t know what you’re looking at, but now I look back at old films and go, “Geez…I was there.” I still think hockey is the most exciting sport to watch – it just moves.
Are you still watching the playoffs even though your team isn’t in it?
Yeah…my son and I go to a lot of games here, to the Coyotes’ games. We realize we’re not a force yet, but it’s a fun team to watch, they’re exciting. They’re coming into their own, I think in three or four years – something like that. When we had hockey in downtown Phoenix, you couldn’t get a ticket, it was the most popular sport going.
What are your feelings on the name change [Ed note: Next season the team will be called the Arizona Coyotes]?
That’s fine with me; I don’t think anybody cares about that. The hardest this about them is they moved the team all the way out to Glendale. Phoenix is five million people; in order to get out to a game? It takes an hour and a half, and I think it was a bad move to move them out there.
Let’s talk about the film. There have been so many run of the mill documentaries over the years on musicians. What convinced you that Super Duper Alice Cooper would be different?[Banger Films] came to us and we saw that they did with Flight 666 for Iron Maiden and they said, “We don’t want to do a talking heads documentary where Elton John talks and then this guy talks; we want to make it linear, we want to make it the story of Alice but graphically, the whole way through. If you’re going to do a documentary on Alice Cooper, it’s got to be as theatrical as the character.”
I totally agreed with that and I loved the idea of them cooking up the Jekyll and Hyde connection with Alice Cooper and myself, and the fact that I talk about Alice Cooper in the third person – he’s a character I play. And it was absolutely the right story; I never knew where Alice ended and the other Alice began; and that was a big gist of the documentary, that gray area. Then the alcohol involved, where does Alice start and where do I end? And it was like that from the very start.
It was a really good story, and the drama behind it, the fact that here was a band that wasn’t supposed to make it. Everybody hated us except for Frank Zappa and The Doors and bands like that. Making it to the top, almost self-destructing and then coming back; so it had a bit of a Rocky story to it.
What sticks out most to me is how raw it is, especially with the uncomfortable parts, but you’re on record saying they were some of your favorite topics to talk about.
I found the uncomfortable parts the most interesting. When they interviewed Dennis [Dunaway] and Neal [Smith], the original guys from the original band – we couldn’t find Mike [Bruce], he’s hard to find – the easiest thing to have done was to edit out what they say, so we look good. I said I’d rather hear their opinion of why the band broke up.
Yet you’re all still on good terms.
To this day we remain the best of friends. We’re sitting together at Tribeca [Film Festival] watching it and all of us were squirming in our seats because everybody had a different version of why we broke up.
Then there’s the cocaine part, because I always denied any drug use because I thought it was so uncool to for Alice to be into drugs; it was so stereotypical that I wanted to avoid it. But when that part comes up, you have to be honest with it. That was uncomfortable for me, but at the same time it was powerful. The Tom Snyder footage of the skeletal Alice Cooper was really powerful, it was really scary.
Talking about Neal and Dennis, you guys – along with Mike – did a few songs together when you recorded Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2010. What was that like, getting back with the original band?
I honestly feel so close to those guys that when we got into rehearsal with Bob Ezrin, who was our producer, it was just like a day hadn’t gone by where we didn’t play together. I was so used to playing with the original band that even after all those years; it felt like a very normal thing to us. We still work together all the time. When we broke up, there was never once the thought of a lawsuit. There was never any bad blood. It was just one of those things where we just always stayed friends.
Do you ever see it moving forward to the next step of taking the original band on the road?
Dennis and Neal, I would have no problem with at all. We could put in a Steve Hunter or a Dick Wagner as a lead guitar player [original Alice Cooper guitarist Glen Buxton passed away in 1997], but Mike, who was the original songwriter with me, is just impossible to find, he’s not physically in good shape and it would be very, very hard to do a full tour with those guys. And you can’t just have two guys; then you’re at that point of being the Coasters where there’s 19 different bands called the Coasters out there.
Your next recording project is a covers album. Over the years, quite a few artists have covered your songs; Creed, Megadeth – even Etta James. Are there any that stand out to you, either because of how different the interpretation, or because of how bad it is?
Music to me is so much just a piece of clay that, “Here’s the verse, here’s the chorus, here’s the lyrics – let’s see what you guys do with that.” Joan Jett did a great cover of “Be My Lover.” Dio did a cover of “Welcome to My Nightmare” and did an amazing version of it. Roger Daltrey did “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Every time somebody does one of your songs, I feel totally complimented that out of all the songs recorded, they would pick those songs – one of my songs – to do. I’m always really interested to hear what their take is on it.
I can tell you one of the greatest thrills of my life is I went back to see McCartney and his band. I went backstage and they were kind of warming up and I walked into the room and they all went into “Under My Wheels.” There’s McCartney playing bass on “Under My Wheels” and I went, “Wow.” That to me is such a compliment the fact that he even knows that song.
So you doing something similar is your way of complimenting artists and the songs you love.
I have never done a covers album. We all started as a covers band – even The Beatles. Instead of picking just a bunch of songs, what about doing all my dead drunk friends? All the guys I drank with that died; Jim Morrison and I used to drink, Jimi Hendrix and I used to drink, The Small Faces, T Rex, Harry Nilsson – all those guys were buddies of mine.
So I said, let’s do an album about the Hollywood Vampires, our drinking club. There are just so many songs that you could go to. Bob Ezrin loved the idea and it’s pretty much done now, but I don’t think it will see the light of day until next year because we’ve got the Mötley Crüe tour for 72 shows and we don’t have the time to wrap a show around the covers album until next year.