Alice Cooper is rock's greatest pantomime villain. In the sleeve notes for a lavish box set titled The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper, the Detroit-born singer is called "a musician, showman, drag artist, drunkard, and executioner – both of plastic dolls and the remaining taboos of the Western world".
Long before Marilyn Manson or Ozzy Osbourne, Cooper was a formative influence on theatrical rock, punk, heavy metal, and everything else in between. When John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols, he sang Cooper's breakthrough anthem I'm Eighteen for Malcolm McClaren. KISS, Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop and countless others have taken cues and cogged notes from Cooper's songs and stage show. David Bowie dreamt up Ziggy Stardust as a direct consequence of obsessively listening to Alice.
Born in Michigan nearly 70 years ago as Vincent Damon Furner, rock's enfant terrible has Irish blood. "Everybody is Irish somehow," Cooper cackles from Sao Paulo ahead of playing an opening set for Guns N' Roses. "My mom's maiden name was McCart and my grandmother's maiden name was O'Haney. My recent connection with Ireland is Larry Mullen playing drums on my new album."
It sounds somewhat surreal, yet the former Artane Boys Band member drums on his 27th studio album, Paranormal. "My producer Bob Ezrin suggested Larry and it so happens U2 were always big Alice fans," he says. "Larry is the only drummer to ask me for my lyrics. I've never, ever had a drummer ask for the lyrics. Usually they couldn't care less about the lyrics. Larry said that when he drums, he interprets the lyrics."
Dalí asked me if I wanted to be the subject of a new hologram project he was doing. Of course, I said yes
Bono has said the first single he bought was Cooper's Hello Hooray, the opening track from his 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies. "I know the guys in U2 for a very long time," Cooper says. "I've always really respected them. When you reach a certain age in this business, you pretty much know everybody. Rock'n'roll is a great family."
In July, Cooper hit the headlines after he discovered a rare Andy Warhol he'd completely forgotten about. "Y'know, that is probably something that wouldn't happen to a normal person," he says laughing. "Back in the day, I used to see Andy Warhol every night in New York city when I lived there. It just so happened that Cindy, my girlfriend at the time, saw his Little Electric Chair silkscreen painting and she bought it for my birthday for something like $2,500.
“I hung it in my apartment for a couple of years. I moved to LA, but I was always on tour so all my stuff got moved to LA. The last time I remember seeing it was in Los Angeles. Then, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where I still live. I didn’t miss it because I’ve got a lot of art there.
“I was talking to somebody who knew a lot about Andy Warhol, and then I suddenly remembered I had one. I searched the garage and found it. It is valued at something like $10 to $12 million, so it’s a nice little find. I might have some Salvador Dalís in there, too, so I better have another look.”
Four days after the death of Picasso in 1973, Cooper and Dalí conducted a bizarre press conference in New York city proclaiming themselves to be the greatest living artists. They lived and drank together, while working on what was to become the world's first 3-D hologram, which was based on an image of Cooper's brain covered with ants and a chocolate eclair biting the head off of the Venus de Milo while wearing diamond tiaras and necklaces worth millions. It currently features in an exhibition running in the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres until the end of the year.
“I was incredibly lucky during the 1970s,” he says. “I had an art major in college and high school. Salvador Dalí came to see my show and he thought it was surrealism. Dalí called up my office and asked me if I wanted to be the subject of a new hologram project he was doing. Of course, I said yes.
“I worked with him for about a week, which was totally insane. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. He didn’t make any sense at all. It was a fun project and to say I was the subject of a Salvador Dalí piece is incredible.”
F Scott Fitzgerald famously said there are no second acts in American lives, but this doesn't apply to Cooper, who hasn't drank alcohol since the age of 35. Cooper turns 70 in 2018.
“The post-booze half has been the happier half of my life by far,” he says. “The first half was fun. When you’re in your 20s and 30s and you’re a big rock star, you’re living the life and you’re indestructible. You can tour for two years and still feel great, because all you’re doing is getting up onstage every night. No one is telling you what you do and you’re getting paid and adored. Now that I’m sober, I think it is far more important to make great records and perform great shows.
“I’ve got great kids. I’m happily married for 40 years and I’ve got my health back. I found religion, which is really important to me. It doesn’t interfere with my productivity at all, or being Alice Cooper. People want me to be Alice Cooper. They want to be entertained. It is all I ever wanted to do – entertain. I never had a manifesto. All I want to know is whether you had a good time at the show.”
Even though he used to constantly shock the authorities and self-appointed moral guardians (he memorably sent Mary Whitehouse flowers to thank her when School's Out went to number one), Cooper regularly attends church, volunteers as a bible studies teacher, and runs a charity called the Solid Rock Foundation. In 1972, Cooper "ran" against Nixon, and since then he has re-released the single Elected for every US presidential election.
I don't think I've written my best album or played my best show
However, he refuses to be drawn much further into politics. "There are certain things on this planet I just can't stand and politics is one of them. I think guys like Bono, Sting or Bruce Springsteen are much more humanitarian rather than political."
When it comes to contemporary music, Cooper singles out some upstarts from Co Cavan for praise. “You’ve got a young band in Ireland called The Strypes,” he enthuses. “Those guys have the right spirit and put on a great show. Rock’n’roll has to have an outlaw element. A lot of young bands these days are very introverted. I’d rather see a band get up onstage with attitude. I don’t want to know what bands think about politics or the environment. Tell me about your girlfriend. That’s what most great rock songs are about.”
Alice Cooper won't be slowing down after he hits seven zero. "I don't think I've written my best album or played my best show," he says. "I guarantee you that when Salvador Dali was lying on his death bed, he thought, 'The next painting I do is going to be the greatest painting I've ever done.'
“A true artist is never done. As long as I have the will, and health to do it, I’m going to make records and tour until nobody comes. If I do a tour and nobody shows up – then, I’m done.”
The beast of Alice Cooper
On Keith Moon
"Keith was the guest that was always welcome. We would come home and he would be in a French maid's outfit, dusting the house, and he would be like, 'Oh 'allo 'allo Monsieur Coo-per and Mrs. Coo-per ' And my wife's going, 'Who is this?!'"
The 1960s and 1970s music scene
"The Mamas and The Papas, James Taylor, David Cassidy and the Monkees were all on the cover of 16 Magazine, which was like purity personified. And bands like Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath were demonised as the worst things ever for you. But we were all into beer; those other bands were all into hard drugs."
Sheryl. His wife of 40 years
"I'm very romantic. I'm extremely romantic. I date my wife."
"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are."
"On stage, I'm this figure, this actor, who does things that people aren't used to seeing and I relish in that reaction. In real life, though, I play golf, I shop and I walk around with no makeup on and my hair in a ponytail. I'm closer to normal than you think."
- Alice Cooper launches his European tour at the Olympia, Dublin on November 8th and 9th. Paranormal is out now.