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INTERVIEW - 'I was more than happy to be the villain'

SOURCE –¬†USA Today / Post Crescent

5 things to know about Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Alice Cooper. Photos: Getty Images/AP. Wochit

For nearly 50 years, spending a night with Alice Cooper would be, above all else, memorable.

Whether decades ago, back when tall tales about shredded chickens couldn’t be cleared up with a simple Google search, or any time since, the man (and the band) known for injecting “shock rock” into the lexicon hasn’t let an audience head for the exits without a show.

Alice Cooper¬†‚ÄĒ Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, godfather of shock rock and human Halloween party¬†‚ÄĒ returns to northeast Wisconsin next week for a Wednesday night show at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton.

Cooper (real name,¬†Vincent Furnier) is a native of Detroit but went to high school in Phoenix, where he first formed the band whose name he’d later adopt as his own. Rising at the end of the 1960s, Alice Cooper stood in contrast to all the Summer of Love, flowers-in-your-hair iconography of the era. As Rob Zombie put it during the band’s Hall of Fame induction in 2011,¬†Alice Cooper¬†was “more like a murderous gang of drag queens” whose mission was to “destroy the hippies’ dream of peace, love and understanding.”

With contributions to the classic rock canon like “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out,” Alice Cooper ushered in a new wave of sensationalism, happily scaring the bejesus out of parents and piling up platinum records along the way. Before a twerking Miley Cyrus had parents writing open letters on Facebook or Marilyn Manson was a scapegoat for national tragedies, Alice Cooper was snuffing out Mr. Nice Guy.

Though lines long ago formed on his face and hands, the 69-year-old provocateur still keeps the circus rolling from town to town. He regularly¬†pushes past 100 performances a year and his 27th studio album, “Paranormal,” is due out later this summer.¬†That’s on top of keeping up with “Nights With Alice Cooper,” his five-days-a-week radio show that’s recorded remotely. He also aims to get in a round of golf every morning, even when he’s on the road. (Get up early on Wednesday morning and you might catch him at Reid or Bridgewood.)

As if he needed more to do, the sober (and ‚ÄĒ gasp!¬†‚ÄĒ devoted Christian) frontman¬†formed the Hollywood Vampires with Joe Perry and Johnny Depp in 2015. Named after a Los Angeles “drinking club” Cooper was a part of in the 1970s with John Lennon, Keith Moon and others, the Vampires put out a self-titled covers-heavy debut two years ago and performed at the Grammy Awards in 2016.

In advance of his Wednesday show at the PAC¬†(which lands perfectly on the day school’s out for summer in Appleton), we talked with Cooper about his most recent endeavors, his “Wayne’s World” cameo and the perks of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

What’s the status of the Hollywood Vampires at this point in time?

Johnny’s doing five movies this year. Joe is finishing the Aerosmith tour. And I’m doing this tour. And the whole idea behind that is essentially so that we have 2018 off¬†‚ÄĒ that will give us time to do the Vampires tour.

And in that time we’ve got to write the album and record it. Probably December, January we’ll be recording the album and then going out in the spring.

The last time you were in this part of Wisconsin was with Motley Crue on their farewell tour. How was it joining them for their last run of shows?

Well, you know, we’ve known them. We were going before them and we’re going after them. So, different work ethic in the older bands, I think. When I signed into this, I signed in to be a lifer. But I can see ‚ÄĒ¬†if you don’t have guys in the band, or if you don’t have guys that you’re working with that you like, that you’re happy with ‚ÄĒ¬†I’ve been with¬†Shep Gordon, my manager, for 48 years. I’ve really learned one thing: You hire the very best players and you also hire the very best players that are good friends. I never have any conflict backstage, I never have any conflict on the bus. All I ever hear backstage is laughing. I never hear people yelling at each other. That goes for the crew, that goes for everybody. It is a pleasure to tour with this group of people. But it took a long time to pare down to get to this group of people.

You were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2011. Was anything different for you after that, aside from getting to write “Rock and Roll Hall of Famer” in front of your name whenever you want?

You know, the funny thing about it is I for sure thought there would be a secret handshake and I’d get a dossier on who killed Kennedy and UFOs and all that. None of that happened. You just end up in the Hall of Fame.

So you didn’t feel any different after it?¬†

Well, yeah, you do. I’ll tell you why. A lot of guys go, “Well, I don’t care about the Hall of Fame,” and, you know,¬†it’s only guys not in the Hall of Fame that don’t care about the Hall of Fame. I care about the Hall of Fame because I worked my whole life to get there.¬†The very idea that the Paul McCartneys and the Mick Jaggers and the Jeff Becks are the guys voting for you, it’s sort of like graduating. Your teachers are the guys that vote on you and now I’m in that class where I vote on ‚ÄĒ you know, I get like 20 different people nominated and then you sit there and you look at all five of those and you’ve been in the business for 40 or 50 years and you go, “Well, which ones really contributed the most?” It’s not just a popularity contest. Which ones not necessarily sold the most records but, like a Laura Nyro or a Paul Butterfield ‚ÄĒ didn’t sell all the records in the world but one was the greatest American blues band ever and one was one of the greatest songwriters of all time. So, yeah, I’m voting for them.

The odd thing for me is that most of these people are friends of¬†mine. So it’s a very weird thing when you get to vote for them and you go gee, this guy’s a buddy of mine. He’s a buddy but this band here, they contributed more ‚ÄĒ I’ve got to vote for the band that contributed more. It really is a point of view, you have to know the business, you don’t just look down and check off names.

I was watching Rob Zombie’s induction speech earlier and he spoke about how Alice Cooper were villains of rock and roll. What did it mean at that time to be a villain of rock and roll?¬†

It was designed that way. And it was also very fortunate that we had that mentality anyway. I always liked the villains more than the heroes, even though I knew the villain was going to get it in the end. That’s why we incorporated the guillotine and the hanging and all that because you couldn’t just let Alice get away with it. There had to be some kind of satisfying end to the show where Alice would get his just deserts. And then come back in a hat and tails, Fred Astaire style, and say, “You didn’t get me, I’m still here.” The audience is satisfied in two different ways. And also, at the time I developed Alice, there was a world of Peter Pans and no Captain Hooks. There was nobody vying to be the villain, who was willing to be the villain. And I was more than happy to be the villain. Only I knew it had to have a sense of humor to it and it had to have, you know, satire to it and it had to have a show involved. It couldn’t just be, I’m the villain, you had to show them why you were the villain.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of “Wayne’s World.” Did that movie help introduce you to a new generation?¬†

Yeah, you know, I think the bands that were popular at that point ‚ÄĒ the Guns N’ Roses, who we took on their first tour, and all those bands, were Alice fans. They had amazing looks, all the hair bands, they did great songs and they did great shows. They picked up all that, I think, from Alice. Then the fact we didn’t have a hit during that whole time ‚ÄĒ we finally got “Poison”¬†out. When “Poison” came out, that was kind of our key to that whole generation. “Feed My Frankenstein” then was just Alice’s introduction to that whole generation. I think we impressed them enough that they went, “Wow, who are these guys?”

That’s how it went for me. That was pretty much my introduction¬†to you and “Feed My Frankenstein” gave me a good scare.

Now your parents’ parents hated us. Your parents were the first generation of people who weren’t allowed to see us. Your grandparents then were the ones who went, “Oh, this guy is from a different dimension”¬†or whatever it was. We kind of let the urban legend develop the Alice Cooper thing. There was no internet then, it was all word of mouth. If you had a nine-foot snake on stage, it was a 25-foot snake the next day. And all the rumors about Alice were true, you know.

Shane Nyman: 920-996-7223, snyman@postcrescent.com or on Twitter @shanenyman

MY NIGHT WITH ALICE COOPER

I’ve attended the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee a handful of times, including 2012, when¬†¬†Alice Cooper was an unlikely guest of the festival. While mostly filling out its annual lineups with buzz bands and more, shall we say, of-the-moment acts, Bonnaroo occasionally will throw a more seasoned veteran on a side-stage late at night to up the diversity. Among the bands I’ve seen in those situations are Billy Idol (a blast) and ZZ Top (sadly, a dud).¬†

Having grown up knowing the classic Cooper hits¬†‚ÄĒ “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and the like¬†‚ÄĒ but never having taken the time to, say, dig into “Killer” deep cuts, I figured I’d take the time to check out what the godfather of shock rock had in store. With a¬†festival headlined by the likes of Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Phish, the chances for on-stage beheadings are few and far between.

I didn’t regret it. Cooper, at that time more than 40 years into his career, delivered a greatest hits set (plus an unexpected Top 40¬†cover), each number¬†paired with elaborate and campy theatrical flourishes. There were costume changes. Endless confetti and balloons. There was “I’ll Bite Your Face Off!” There was a brawl between a guy in an Obama mask and a guy in a Romney mask. A giant monster stomped around during “Feed My Frankenstein.” It was all pretty nuts, sure, but even with elements of horror, all of it was in the spirit of fun.¬†Inducted¬†into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year prior, Cooper has the reputation as a legendary showman for a reason.¬†

With those memories still fresh in mind now five years later, when I got Cooper on the phone last month, I had to ask about the booking and his approach when dealing with crowds that likely were introduced to him through “We’re not worthy!”

“I can tell you two great stories about Bonnaroo,” Cooper said. “First of all, we had a feeling that that audience had heard of Alice Cooper but were certainly not Alice Cooper aficionados. So¬†at the end of the show¬†I said, ‘Let’s do a Lady Gaga song.’ But let’s take our Frankenstein and dress the Frankenstein like Lady Gaga and do ‘Born This Way.’ And we’ll make a rock version out of it. We’ll do a rock version, not a dance version¬†‚ÄĒ and maybe they’ll get that.

“I think that the audience loved what we did but it was almost like the audience in ‘The Producers’ during ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ There was a lot of open mouths, kind of like ‘What the hell is this?’

“The other funny thing is on the flight back, I’m listening to two kids (recounting past Bonnaroo memories) and they’re going, ‘Man, I love the Button Hooks!’ and all these bands I’ve never heard of. ‘The Monkey Wrenches were great!’ And the one kid says, ‘I liked the old blind black guy.'”

Cooper paused for a beat, at a loss over how the youngster described one of the biggest artists in pop music history. 

“Stevie Wonder!? Guys!¬†The old blind black guy?”

‚ÄĒShane Nyman/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

What:¬†“Spend the Night With Alice Cooper”

When: 8 p.m. June 7 

Where: Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, 400 W. College Ave., Appleton

Tickets: $42.50 and up; available at the Fox Cities PAC ticket office, foxcitiespac.com and 920-730-3760.

VIP options: Among the available ticket packages are the VIP tour package ($125 plus face value ticket; seating in rows 11-15 and special merchandise), the gold preshow VIP package ($250 plus face value ticket; rows 6-10, guided pre-show stage tour, photo with props, poster, set list and other merch), the Diamond Insanity package ($625 plus face value ticket; rows 2-5, meet-and-greet and photo with Alice Cooper, guided pre-show stage tour, photo with props, post, set list and a chance at joining Cooper on stage to toss balloons) and the Front Row Insanity package ($650 plus face value ticket; front row plus Diamond Insanity perks). 

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