Alice Cooper on how Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali and Elvis are probably, definitely, aliens
Alice Cooper is a shock rock pioneer that's influenced countless artists with his on stage horror movie imagery and antics, which included hangings and beheadings by guillotine. Theatrics aside, Cooper (aka Vincent Furnier) is also a talented songwriter. Hits like "I'm Eighteen," "School's Out" and "Welcome To My Nightmare" combined elements of hard rock, psychedelia, glam and power pop, and made the band internationally famous.
At the heart of it all was a spirit of defiance, playfulness, Miltonian wickedness and a creative sense of humor that never undermined the music. His appearance on The Muppet Show in the late '70s boosted his popularity even more. Having struggled with substance abuse and the rise and fall of fortunes, Cooper remains an upbeat presence and one of the most gifted tellers of amusing stories from his life that you'll ever read or hear.
We recently spoke with the gracious and thoughtful rocker about an array of subjects, including playing Red Rocks with the Doors the day after Hendrix played the venue, working with Salvador Dali, being on The Muppet Show and the legacy of his music and image.
Alice Cooper: Do you happen to remember when Jimi Hendrix played Red Rocks?
Westword: Interesting you should ask that because I read a book put out in 2012 of some of his best interviews, and that concert came up.
Alice Cooper: I know he played there. That was one of the classic concerts. We were there. We were opening for The Doors back then. I think that we played the next night, so we went to see Jimi at Red Rocks. When somebody said we were playing Red Rocks on this tour, I went, "Wow, I've got good memories of that place." For some reason certain concerts seem iconic. That seems to be one of them.
Looks like it was September 1, 1968. How did you come to play with The Doors?
When we first came to L.A., we were recording with Frank Zappa and the Mothers [of Invention]. They were our producers; Frank was. We happened to meet the guys in The Doors, Robbie and Jim and everybody. When they needed an opening act, they put us on, which was great! We'd never been on tour before, so we went out with them through the whole Pacific Northwest.
That was an education for us, opening for a band like The Doors, because we were just a little band just learning everything. But we always maintained a real relationship. The passing of Ray Manzarek this week, that was really something. The Doors would not have been The Doors without Ray. He was the key to that whole sound.
Agreed. Why do you feel he was the key to that whole sound?
There was a certain jazziness to the Doors that was different from anybody else. I think that keyboard was the whole key to holding that Doors sound together. Robbie Krieger played the guitar differently from any other player, and Jim Morrison had that kind of nightmare dream thing going on. But the keyboards were the things that made it really jell. It was cool. It wasn't like your other bands. The Doors were jazzy cool, kind of.
Donovan sang on "Billion Dollar Babies." How did that come about?
We were at Morgan Studios in London, and it was one of those nights when Harry Nilsson came in with Marc Bolan from T. Rex and Keith Moon and Ringo -- they all came into the studio at the same time. Let's just say they might have been drinking a little. It ended up that that whole core of people became part of a club called The Hollywood Vampires that was like a drinking club. That was the core of that bunch right there from Hollywood.
We're doing "Billion Dollar Babies" and this and that, and I said, "Man, I need someone to sing like this." Somebody says, "Donovan's in the next room!" We all went in there, and literally hijacked him. We grabbed him, took him out, sat him down and said, "Donovan, enough of this folk rock. You're singing on a hard rock album now."
He loved it. He had such a good time. Then I went back into his session. He had a bunch of kids in there singing. This was when Alice Cooper was probably more frightening to kids than anything else.
There's someone who was an unexpected fan of Alice Cooper -- Salvador Dali.
It was funny because back then everybody had a different interpretation of what Alice Cooper was. We were a little bit indefinable. Groucho Marx came to see us, and he would bring George Burns, Mae West and Fred Astaire. They would stand on the side of the stage and he would say, "I want you guys to see what Vaudeville is now."
He looked at us as Vaudeville! They were never shocked at anything I did back then, and that's when shock rock was shock rock. They kind of looked at it, and they went, "Oh yeah, the guillotine. I worked in 1923 in Toledo where a guy did a guillotine." So they were not shocked at all.
Now, Salvador Dali saw the show and he saw it as surrealism. He looked at our show and he says, "Ah, this is like one of my paintings come to life." I got to work with Salvador Dali on a project where I was like the first moving hologram. I worked with him for a week in New York City.
He did a sculpture of my brain. It was my brain but it had a chocolate éclaire running down the back. It had ants crawling all over it that spelled out "Alice" and "Dali." I looked at it and said, "That's great. Can I have it?" He said, "Of course not; it's worth millions." Dali was really an amazing character.
There are certain people, I think, that are aliens. Salvador is one. I'm pretty sure the Beatles are aliens. I think Tiger Woods may be. Anybody that's so good at what they do that the guy in second place is way in second place? That guy's probably an alien.
Muhammad Ali, probably an alien. It's not just what they do, it's the fact they do it so well and the charisma that's around it. Elvis Presley? Total alien. They say Memphis, but that's probably a planet in some constellation somewhere. Einstein had to be an alien. Bill Gates, probably, is a really rich alien.
You've been on television numerous times but to people of a certain generation one of the most memorable is your appearance on The Muppet Show. How did that come about, and what is it like performing on a show like that?
It's funny because, at the time, I was sort of the scariest guy in the world. I had every PTA and every church tearing up my albums and things like that. So I was the terror of the entire rock world. It was great. I always said that Alice should be the reigning villain in rock and roll. We had a world full of Peter Pans and no Captain Hook, and I gladly took the part of Captain Hook.
[The people at The Muppet Show] saw it just like that. They said, "For our Halloween show, we need to have Alice Cooper." Now they had seen me on the Johnny Carson show, and other things like that, outside the character of Alice, and I was funny. They went, "He'll be really funny on the show."
They got in touch with me, and I went, "Oh, man, I love the Muppets, but I don't want to ruin my image by going on there. Who else was on it?" They said, "Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Sellers." And I went, "I'm in." Honestly, I've never had more fun in my life. We spent a week in London shooting the show and rehearsing it. You get so used to these Muppets, these puppets, being human because they're talking to you.
When you're rehearsing with Kermit and these other characters, you're literally rehearsing with the character. So I'd literally be sitting there with Miss Piggy, and we're rehearsing a ballad, and I said, "Wait a minute. Piggy, I've got a great idea. At this point, why don't you put your head on my shoulder. It'll be really funny." She said, "Okay, that's a great idea." Then I go, "What am I doing talking to some guy's hand?"
Everybody I talked to that did the show said the same thing. You get so caught up in the Muppets that you really start talking to them like they were real. So Jim Henson? Probably alien. Out of all the things I've done in my life, I probably get more people commenting on the Muppets than anything else I've ever done. People now that have five-year-old kids go, "Hey my kid just loves the Muppets. He watches it everyday." I think, "Wow, that was 1977 that I did that show. It just won't die."
There was something interesting about the Muppets, too. They were, internationally, the biggest show in the world. It was a purple guy making fun of a green guy. There were no nationalities involved. It wasn't like Mel Brooks who did full out insult everybody. This was a purple guy making fun of a green guy, and the green guy making fun of a striped guy, so nobody ever felt offended by anything.