Oct. 14, 2004
by BOB DORAN
WHEN HE WAS 15 YEARS OLD, VINCENT DAMON FURNIER had a revelation. "When the Beatles came out, I was 15. When I saw the Beatles and the Stones, I realized I didn't have to work at Safeway." The young Furnier, who would eventually be known to the world as Alice Cooper [photo above], started playing rock music in his garage, and he was good enough that it became his occupation for life. "The only job I've ever had was playing in a band," said Cooper, now 56, in a call from Canada where his band was on tour.
Dozens of albums later, his band has returned to the garage for an album called The Eyes of Alice Cooper. "I think that's where rock's going right now. I think rock got too caught up in production and high technology; now you're starting to see bands like The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Vines doing 1960s garage rock. That's basically what I wanted to do with this latest record.
"I said, `Why don't we do 12 songs in 12 days, and put the pressure on the band and the writing rather than on the producer and the machines?' That's what we did, and that's why it sounds so fresh. It's a rock band playing songs with no overdubs; that's unheard of nowadays."
Cooper sees the return to the garage as "a reaction to American Idol. People are tired of squeaky-clean rock, if you call that rock. The music business right now is like fast food. Take a look back at bands from the '60s who are still here: The Stones are still playing; The Who is still playing; Ozzie, Black Sabbath and Aerosmith are still playing; Alice Cooper is still playing. Every one of them is a guitar-based hard rock band. And once these bands are gone you're not going to see bands that last longer than ten years. The music business won't stand for it. They don't have room for mistakes.
"When I signed with Warner Brothers, they wanted 20 albums -- they basically wanted me for life. That was fine with me; I wanted to do 20 albums. Now if they sign you, they put out one album and if it doesn't sell as many units as they want, you're gone."
It all began in Phoenix, Ariz. with a high school band called the Earwigs, which became the Spiders which in turn became Alice Cooper. By 1967 Vincent had begun to establish an androgynous stage character with heavy mascara named Alice Cooper and a theatrical stage show based on imagery from horror movies. "Nobody was even close to us when it came to makeup and theatrics," Cooper recalled.
In 1968 Frank Zappa signed the band to his Bizarre label, a division of Warner Brothers. Cooper decided to firm up his image. "I looked around and thought, `Look at all the Peter Pans. Where's Captain Hook?' I set out to design Alice Cooper, this character, to be the definitive rock villain. And after countless bands have come and gone, Alice is still here. When you think Halloween, or shock rock or whatever you want to call it, who do you think of? You think of Alice Cooper. The character basically owns it."
Alice Cooper pioneered extravagant stage shows with gobs of fake blood and props including, electric chairs, guillotines and large snakes. "We frightened everybody. Parents didn't want their kids to grow up to be like that. But when you looked at it, there was nothing satanic about it.
And for better or worse, the fearsome image Furnier created for Cooper became an American icon, part of the language of our culture. "When I saw The Crow, I said, `That's my makeup.' It wasn't just a version of it, it was my makeup," said Cooper. "When Marilyn Manson came along, what did he do? He made himself the new version of Alice, but he had to ask, how can I be more shocking? `He said, `I'll be satanic -- parents will hate that. What else? I'll promote drugs -- parents will hate that.' You go down the list. I think every generation has to have its own boogieman. The question is, which ones will stick around? The ones with the best songs."
Songs? Alice has `em: "Billion Dollar Babies," "Poison," "Welcome to My Nightmare," and most of all, "School's Out," are true classics of rock.
With the horror imagery becoming so pervasive, how does he shock modern audiences? "You don't. In the '70s it was easy to shock a crowd: You put makeup on, you named yourself Alice, you brought a snake out, you hung yourself. Everybody was shocked.
"At this point, I can go on stage and do the best guillotine act in the world and it looks great, and then you turn CNN on and they're really cutting people's heads off. When I can't out-shock CNN, shock rock is dead. I can't compete with reality."
What's left? His music. "I always fought for the music. Take away all my theatrics and you still have 29 albums that are gold or platinum and 14 or 15 top 40 hits, songs that you still hear on the radio."
His stage show today? "We play all the hits, and I've got the best band out there. There's straight jackets, albino pythons, there's a little bit of Kill Bill, a little bit of West Side Story; Bush and Kerry both end up on stage. It's what I call a hard rock, burlesque, vaudeville side show, with a little bit of horror and blood involved. It's what it's always been -- a lot of fun."
The Eyes of Alice Cooper tour comes to the Eureka Theater, 612 F St., on Tuesday, Oct 19. Doors open at 6 p.m. Showtime is at 8 p.m. sharp. For further detail call Earth-shine Productions at 839-0425.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.