We’ve Got A File On You: Alice Cooper

Jenny Risher

We’ve Got A File On You: Alice Cooper

Jenny Risher

We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.

Rebel. Vaudevillian. Surrealist. The Godfather of shock rock. The Captain Hook of rock ‘n roll. Over a five-decade career, Alice Cooper has been called each of these things, and for good reason. Both in the shock-rock-architecting Alice Cooper Band and as a prolific (albeit slicker-sounding) solo artist, the entity born Vincent Damon Furnier became world-famous because he looked at an average stage and saw infinite possibilities — many of them dark, theatrical, and seemingly deranged (see: the “Chicken Incident” that wasn’t). Even today, Alice Cooper remains as shocking as ever. Just not quite in the ways you’d expect.

Spanning seven albums with the Alice Cooper Band (1971’s breakthrough LP Love It To Death featured the proto-punk growler “I’m Eighteen”) and a whopping 22 solo projects, Cooper’s career is a behemoth. Meanwhile, his influence across music, art, and film is as undeniable as it is expansive — he’s inspired everyone from neo-psychedelic pioneers the Flaming Lips to fellow horror fan Rob Zombie to glam rockers Mötley Crüe to punk figureheads the Sex Pistols and the Ramones to ’90s no-wave experimenters Sonic Youth.

Paradoxically, Cooper is also an avid golfer, a former high school track and field champion, and a born-again Christian. He has long credited Christianity with helping save him from drug and alcohol addiction. “My wife and I are both Christian,” Cooper said in 2018. “My father was a pastor, my grandfather was an evangelist. I grew up in the church, went as far away as I could from it — almost died — and then came back to the church.”

Even well into his 70s, Cooper shows no sign of slowing down. In addition to his ongoing travels with the Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup also comprising Joe Perry and Johnny Depp, Cooper will soon release his 22nd solo album, the live-band-driven Road, which is produced by longtime friend and collaborator Bob Ezrin.

Ahead of Road‘s August 25 release, Cooper sat down for a career-spanning chat with Stereogum. We talked about his latest output, palling around with Groucho Marx and Salvador Dalí, babysitting a young Keanu “Ke” Reeves while recording Welcome To My Nightmare, and what he, as one of the best-known gender-benders in rock, thinks of the ongoing gender-affirming care “debate.”

New Album Road (2023)

Hey, Alice Cooper. How are you?

ALICE COOPER: I am great. I’m in Budapest tonight with the Vampires. We have tonight off, so we’re going over to see Guns N’ Roses. They happen to be here tonight.

Will you get to hang after the show or anything?

COOPER: Yeah, well, it’s great to go to a show and not have to work tonight. I mean, I love working with the Vampires, but it’s kind of neat to have a night off and you go see your old… They’re old friends. Guns N’ Roses are old friends of ours. I haven’t seen them play in a long time.

In the press materials for Road, you said that you wanted your touring band to be involved in the foundation of every song on the record. What specifically did your touring band bring to the recording process?

COOPER: I wanted to show this band off. First of all, you always surround yourself with the best players. But also, everybody in the band are best friends. There’s no ego. All I hear is laughing backstage. Everybody is the best at what they do on stage, and they give me 100% every night. So I really wanted to feature them and glorify them on this album. And the only way to do that was to say, “Okay, I want you to all write songs about the road, about us being on the road. And then [producer] Bob Ezrin and I will shape those songs into Alice Cooper songs.”

I wanted to play these live in the studio. I don’t want to layer it. Anybody can go in the studio and put the bass down first and then the drums on that, and then the da, da, da, da. That’s how you generally do an album. I said, “No, I want the audience to know that these songs we did live in the studio, and then I put the vocal on afterwards.” And when you listen to the album, it’s got that energy. It’s got that live energy on it. And to me, that’s me bragging about my band.

It’s pretty difficult to foster a no-ego environment in music and entertainment.

COOPER: Oh, yeah. And the funny thing is, it’s the same thing with the [Hollywood] Vampires. Johnny Depp and Joe Perry and I, we’ve been together eight years. There’s never been one argument in that band. It’s great because everybody respects everybody. We’re way past the ego thing.

I did see that in recording this album, you came up with a surplus of material. In January 2022, you said in an interview that you were working on two albums. Can we expect another for 2024?

COOPER: It’s so funny. I can normally talk about things. I can’t talk about that album, but I can tell you it’ll be a surprise. It’s a very hard-rock album. During the whole COVID thing, the only thing we could do for 18 months is write songs, and so there’s a glut of songs. So being way ahead on the album thing is something that maybe some [other] bands are like that too. I’ve got an album sitting in the can right now, and this one’s not even out yet. But it is going to be a surprise album. I can vouch that it’s going to be very… It’ll be a surprise.

High School Band The Earwigs/The Spiders (1964) & Classic Alice Cooper Band Lineup (1964-1975)

Your high school band the Earwigs aka the Spiders and the classic Alice Cooper Band lineup were primarily made of guys from the Cortez High School cross-country team. What was your best time?

COOPER: It was a very odd thing. I went to a little school in Arizona called Cortez High School. Now, the strangest thing about this high school was Rickie Lee Jones came out of there. Half of the members in the Tubes came out of there. And Alice Cooper came out of there, out of this little high school. I mean, that’s pretty weird when you get three major acts that come out of one little school. But then on top of it, it was a school where we couldn’t win a football game to save our life. We couldn’t win any sport except cross country. I was the seventh guy on the cross-country team, and I was running a 4:30 mile in high school.

We had guys running 4:10, 4:15, 4:23. We were unbeatable in cross country because we had seven guys that could beat me. Being the seventh guy, I could usually beat their first guy, whoever we were running against. So we were 72-0 in cross country.

Now, at the same time, we were the #1 band in Arizona, the Spiders. It was so uncool to be a jock and to be a rocker at the same time, so we kind of had to ride both things. We’d be running against a team, and they’d go, “Wait a minute, aren’t you guys in the Spiders?” And we’d go, “Yeah, keep it down. Okay?” Dennis Dunaway was a great runner. John Speer, our first drummer, was a great runner. We were four-year lettermen that had to hide it.

I had the state record in Arizona for the 22-mile run when I was 17, and I ran it in July. I didn’t run it in November when it was cool. I ran it in July.

It has a lot to do now with me being 75 and being in two touring bands and being the only guy that’s not breathing hard at the end of a show. I mean, all that training, and I still run two miles a night. Before a tour, for two months before a tour, I’ll go out and I’ll run two miles a night, and I’ll push it. I’ll push it every single night.

[In high school], nobody wanted to run against us, and nobody wanted to play against us. So it was great. I loved high school. People think because I wrote “School’s Out,” [then I must have hated high school]. I was Ferris Bueller. I mean, I ran that school. I loved high school.

Babysitting For A Young Keanu Reeves (1970s)

Is it true you used to babysit Keanu Reeves in Canada?

COOPER: Yeah, I did. We were making Welcome To My Nightmare in Toronto. Instead of a hotel, I was staying at… [producer] Bob Ezrin had a friend that had a Victorian house right across the street, and they were from Hawaii. They had this little six-year-old kid that always wanted to come over to the studio, and his name was “Ke.” He had black hair. He became our mascot. I would bring him over to the studio, and I’d say, “Do you want to go get some ice cream?” “Yeah, let’s go get ice cream.” “Okay.”

Then he would come over, and we had a big black dog there, and he loved to play with the dog. But we absolutely sort of took him in as our mascot, and he loved being in the studio.

So I’m watching the Jimmy Fallon show, and they’re interviewing him. Jimmy Fallon pulls out a Welcome To My Nightmare album. And he says, “What does this mean to you?” And he goes, “Oh yeah, well, Alice was my babysitter.” And I sat there, and I went, “What?” And then I thought, “Ke, Keanu. Oh my gosh.” I had no idea. And then I realized it was him. I used to babysit John Wick.

Did you hear that Ke just got his band back together?

COOPER: Yeah. He’s playing bass. Dogstar. If I heard they were playing, I would certainly go there. And I would tell him at the end of the show, “Do you want to go get some ice cream?”

Hanging Out With Groucho Marx, Colonel Sanders, Salvador Dalí, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra (1970s)

You’ve spent time with such a wide array of famous personalities. Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to meet but haven’t yet?

COOPER: It was funny. I always wanted to meet Errol Flynn or Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, but they had all passed away before I had any opportunity to meet them. But knowing Groucho meant that you knew Fred Astaire, and you knew Jack Benny, and you knew George Burns and Gracie [Allen]. I mean, [if you knew one, then] you knew all the vaudevillians. They used to see our show as that. They thought the Alice Cooper show was vaudeville, which it is. I can see that. Like a very dark vaudeville.

Whereas Salvador Dalí would come to the show, and he would see it as surrealism. In some ways, he’s right, because we were huge Salvador Dalí fans. We were art majors in school, and so Salvador Dalí was the ultimate. He was the Beatles of art. And so I got to work with him on some projects.

But the thing that impressed me was the fact that everybody I got to meet, that I wanted to meet, I was never disappointed. I got to meet the Beatles, and I got to be friends with all the Beatles, and they were the nicest people I’d ever met. The same with the Rolling Stones. They were just like your brothers. I met Elvis. Elvis was great, a very funny guy. And Sinatra was cool.

I realized that all the guys that were the best in their field were the nicest guys because they had nothing to prove. They’d already achieved everything you could achieve, and so there was really no ego involved in it. I was very impressed with that. Groucho and I got to be really good friends. I mean, Groucho Marx and Alice Cooper together, what a crazy combination that is. We used to hang out all the time.

I always found it was the people on their way up that had a certain measure of success that were the ones that had the ego problems. They didn’t really know who they were. They hadn’t digested the fact that, okay, I’m very, very fortunate to be in a business that recognizes me as being a good actor or a good singer or whatever it is. Now I can rest. I don’t have to prove anything.

It’s interesting how classic artists of very different mediums all felt that the Alice Cooper experience was reflecting their work.

COOPER: I was so happy with that because it really was a part of them. I wanted the show to be vaudevillian. I loved those guys. I wanted some surrealism in it. I wanted a little bit of West Side Story in the show. I wanted a little bit of RKO horror movies in the show. All of that mixed all together turned into Alice Cooper.

The “Blackout Albums” (Early 1980s)

You’ve referred to Special Forces, ‘Zipper Catches Skin, and DaDa as your “blackout” albums because they were made in a haze of substance abuse. You haven’t played any of these songs in concert for a long time, if ever. Are there any songs from this period you’re fond of though?

COOPER: Well, this is the odd thing about it. [To] my real hardcore Alice fans, Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa, Special Forces, the albums I don’t remember writing or recording or touring with are all their favorite albums. I think it’s because I was, of course, in the middle of the great cocaine blizzard in Los Angeles. From 1977 to 1983, I was right in the middle of that. I listen back to those albums now, and I go, “Oh, that’s really good.” They weren’t produced very well, and I didn’t spend enough time on the songs. But I listen to those albums, and I am not in the least bit ashamed of any of them. I think they represented a period of my psychosis right then. Some of it was really artistic, whereas I didn’t go in and try to make them hit records. I was just kind of babbling incoherently, and they ended up being these albums.

If it would’ve been somebody else, I would’ve said, “That’s a great album, or that’s a great song.” I can’t think of any of the songs on there that I’m ashamed I’ve written. They all were really unique little numbers. And the only thing now, [being] sober, I would go, “Wow, maybe I should go back to those albums and pick out five songs on each album and rerecord them.” [But] then I think I would lose the charm of those songs if you tried to make them better.

Being An Arizona Department Of Transportation Mascot (2022)

Last year, ADOT held a Name-A-Snowplow contest, and the winning entry was “Alice Scooper.” This summer, ADOT launched a specialty “Alice Cooper’s Rock Solid” vehicle license plate. What would you like to see next? Maybe an airport terminal?

COOPER: It’s so funny. I’m a snowplow. I was a lotto card, a scratch card, and now I’m a license plate. I think that they should at least name a mental institution after me.

I’ll tell you what I do have in Phoenix. I have the Solid Rock Foundation. We have two buildings right now. Any teenager can come in and learn any instrument or dance or vocals or recording or anything like that, and it’s all free. So we get kids from gangland. We get kids from the richest part of town. They all come in there, and they’re all at risk. Every teenager in the world right now is at risk because the world is so much more dangerous for teenagers now than it’s ever been. It’s a Christian nonprofit, and what we do is we just go, “Hey, come on in and find your talent.” It’s just that simple.

So we get kids that were probably going to be in jail, or they were going to be heavy users. And I said, “You can get just as addicted to being in a band as you can to being in a gang.” So we have a hundred kids a day in there, and so life. And it really changes their life. It totally changes their life because all we’re asking them to do is come in and try everything and find out what you’re good at. Now, kids that were going to be in gangs are now in bands, and they’re not going to go to jail, and they’re not going to OD.

Thoughts About Sexuality And Gender (1974-)

In a 1974 interview with SPEC, you gave really forward-thinking responses to questions about sexuality and gender. You said “In the future, everyone will be bisexual,” and you accurately defined pansexuality, among other things. You also said, “Lots of men who perform wear make-up – that’s a theatrical tradition, it has nothing to do with sexuality.”

Recently some of your “theatrical” rock peers have commented about gender identity, with Paul Stanley and Dee Snider calling gender-affirming care for kids a “sad and dangerous fad.”

As someone who played around with gender expectations early on, do you have any thoughts on what some of your contemporaries have said before they walked those comments back?

COOPER: Yeah. I’m understanding that there are cases of transgender, but I’m afraid that it’s also a fad, and I’m afraid there’s a lot of people claiming to be this just because they want to be that. I find it wrong when you’ve got a six-year-old kid who has no idea. He just wants to play, and you’re confusing him telling him, “Yeah, you’re a boy, but you could be a girl if you want to be.”

I think that’s so confusing to a kid. It’s even confusing to a teenager. You’re still trying to find your identity, and yet here’s this thing going on, saying, “Yeah, but you can be anything you want. You can be a cat if you want to be.” I mean, if you identify as a tree… And I’m going, “Come on! What are we in, a Kurt Vonnegut novel?” It’s so absurd, that it’s gone now to the point of absurdity.

The whole woke thing… Nobody can answer this question. Maybe you can. Who’s making the rules? Is there a building somewhere in New York where people sit down every day and say, “Okay, we can’t say ‘mother’ now. We have to say ‘birthing person.’ Get that out on the wire right now”? Who is this person that’s making these rules? I don’t get it. I’m not being old school about it. I’m being logical about it.

It’s getting to the point now where it’s laughable. If anybody was trying to make a point on this thing, they turned it into a huge comedy. I don’t know one person that agrees with the woke thing. I don’t know one person. Everybody I talk to says, “Isn’t it stupid?” And I’m going, “Well, I respect people. I respect people and who they are, but I’m not going to tell a seven-year-old boy, ‘Go put a dress on because maybe you’re a girl,’ and he’s going, ‘No, I’m not. I’m a boy.'”

So I say let somebody at least become sexually aware of who they are before they start thinking about if they’re a boy or a girl. A lot of times, I look at it this way, the logical way: If you have these genitals, you’re a boy. If you have those genitals, you’re a girl. There’s a difference between “I am a male who is a female, or I’m a female that’s a male” and wanting to be a female. You were born a male. Okay, so that’s a fact. You have these things here.

Now, the difference is you want to be a female. Okay, that’s something you can do later on if you want to. But you’re not a male born a female.

I don’t think parents are encouraging doubt in their kids’ identities. I would just hope that they listen to their kids and find pediatricians that provide appropriate care.

COOPER: Well, I can see somebody really taking advantage of this, though. A guy can walk into a woman’s bathroom at any time and just say, “I just feel like I’m a woman today” and have the time of his life in there, and he’s not in the least bit… He’s just taking advantage of that situation. Well, that’s going to happen. Somebody’s going to get raped, and the guy’s going to say, “Well, I felt like a girl that day, and then I felt like a guy.” Where do you draw this line?

Something’s going to raise its ugly head, and all of a sudden, people are going to start going, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. We’ve got to get this under control.”

It’s almost like that with AI. People would say, “Well, what about AI?” And I said, “The only person that shouldn’t have AI is Paul McCartney.” It’s dangerous.

Road is out 8/25 via Earmusic.

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from We've Got A File On You

Please disable your adblocker or subscribe to ad-free membership to view this article.

Already disabled it? Click here to refresh.