Recently we spoke with Alice Cooper. That same day British newspaper The Guardian posted an archived article from 40 years ago highlighting efforts of high-ranking government officials to ban his shock-rock stage shows from entering the United Kingdom. Needless to say, it just helped build his legend even more on the back of hits such as “School's Out” and “Billion Dollar Babies.”
“There was no profanity, no nudity, and nothing blasphemous,” Cooper protests. “But the British were very touchy about blood. But when you tell the entire country you can't see a band, no amount of money in the world could have paid for the benefits of what happened afterwards. But when we did our show, the British audience got the humor behind everything we were doing. They knew we weren't butchering babies, they knew we were using baby dolls. They loved that it was a choreographed show constructed for entertainment.”
Back then, slashing the heads of baby dolls was pretty shocking.
“At that point in time it was so easy to shock an audience,” Cooper explains. “There was no Internet. Word spread via urban legend. If I had a ten-foot snake on stage with me one night, by the time we returned to town, it became a forty-foot snake. I would get into a city, and I would ask 'What's the local rumor?' 'Oh, you set a German Shepherd on fire last night!'”
But much has changed, and the Detroit-born Cooper cedes that his show is more entertaining than shocking in 2013.
“You can't be more shocking than CNN,” he asserts. “I'm watching CNN and I see three girls getting rescued after being held in a basement for ten years. That's shocking! A gigantic tornado in Oklahoma causing the destruction it does is shocking. Alice getting his head cut off in a staged performance is not shocking. Especially when everyone knows it's a trick.”
Those tricks may not be shocking any more, but they certainly will entertain the crowd at Gibson Amphitheatre tomorrow, when Cooper co-headlines with '90s shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. Cooper has great respect for the antics of the younger Manson, though he wasn't sure what to make of Manson when he broke through.
“My joke is that my initial reaction was, 'Gosh, a guy with a girl's name doing make up and rock and roll…I wish I thought of that!'” Cooper says. “But he was the new monster. Instead of The Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein, you had Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Marilyn Manson.”
Though the established king of this bizarre rock subgenre for over four decades, Cooper admits that the tour may end up being a game of one-upsmanship. He mentions experiences from a recent co-headlining tour with Rob Zombie.
“Rob would watch our show, and then add something new to his show the next night,” he relays. “Then I would watch his show, go 'Oh yeah?' and then add something new to my show. By the end of the tour, we had each added a new truck just for production elements that weren't there at the start of the tour. We both knew what was going on, but neither one of us would admit it at the time.”
Cooper laments that most newer rock bands don't have an interest in the theatrics that helped bring him to fame.
“That's the one thing in rock right now that I don't get,” he says. “I don't get why so many younger musicians these days want to be in folk-rock bands. I'm 65 and expecting younger guys to come up with new ideas, and I find myself more and more saying, “This is it?” When I'm around most of these newer bands, someone has to tell me they are a band because they usually just look like six guys from the mall. I don't understand why someone that is young and has the leeway to let it go doesn't take advantage of it! But if that whole generation wants to be boring, whatever.”