Shock Rocer: Alice Cooper

The just-released Along Came a Spider is shock-rocker Alice Cooper's 25th album, and it harks back to his past in that the songs revolve around a concept. For Spider, Cooper takes on the persona of a serial killer who can't be stopped, boasting "They tried so hard to bury me, but I survived it every time" in "Vengeance Is Mine." Now 60 years old, Cooper recently spoke via phone about how he's been able to keep his rock 'n' roll alter ego going strong after all these years.

Talk about what it was like filming a video during the recent California earthquake.

It was really funny. When I tell the story, it sounds so matter-of-fact. I start with, "So I was strangling this nurse," and people usually go, "What?" But that's what was happening, and I looked up and the band is playing and everything and everyone is running for the door. When they yell "cut," you feel the floor start to move. It was moving pretty good. The funny thing is the band didn't run. Those guys are battle-worthy. A small earthquake won't make them stop.

Making a concept album in this day and age is a bit unusual. What inspired Along Came a Spider?

One of the great reasons to do it is because nobody else does it. Maybe they think it's old-school, but Alice is old-school. Everybody now that is supposedly a hip new rock band is retro. The White Stripes are a 1968 garage-rock band. Rock hasn't changed much at all. It's just a different attitude and look. It occurred to me that as human beings, we seem to embrace our fictional serial killers. We love our Jokers and Hannibal Lecters. Darth Vader, Jason Voorhees - they're guys we really like. I said, "Let's make this guy really interesting in the way that Hannibal or Joker is interesting." He sees himself as a spider. He traps, he kills, he eats. I don't explain why, but just the premise that he wraps his victims in silk is a nice touch. And he has a sense of humor about it. I let the audience invent their own story around it. I never thought playing a serial killer could be so much fun, but you seem to have a good time doing it.

Oh yeah. Just the idea of starting a song with "You look like you'd fit in the trunk of my car" is a great opening line. If I heard that on the radio, I'd say, "I'm in." You're known as the godfather of shock rock, but today Alice Cooper is essentially family entertainment. Do you agree?

I don't think you can be shocking anymore. I've said that and Marilyn Manson has said that. You can't shock an audience. The news is more shocking than anything we can come up with. Here I am, cutting my head off, and you turn on CNN and you see a guy really cutting someone's head off and he's a terrorist. I can't beat that.

I don't want to get you into any trouble, but it is an election year. You have any opinions on the candidates?

We can't do [the song] "Elected" without having all of them onstage. For a while, we had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama onstage. They'd fight and then make love onstage, and I'd throw them off. Now, McCain comes out and Obama comes out. They shake hands and then get in a fight and then they start making out. George Bush comes out and separates them and his pants fall down around his ankles. He has red, white and blue shorts on and fishnet stockings. Nobody gets off. But I'm extremely unpolitical. I think when you're a politician or diva, you deserve all the satire that comes your way. I can't imagine being a politician. You better have no skeletons in that closet.

I can't believe your comment about politically motivated rock stars committing treason caused such uproar four years ago.

It was taken so far out of context. Since when are rock 'n' roll and politics in bed together? To me, when my parents started talking about taxes and who to vote for, I'd go in my room and turn the Yardbirds up to 20. I still think rock 'n' roll is the antithesis of politics. I was just going, "Why would anybody come to a rock star and ask them who to vote for?" We're morons. Why do you think we're rock stars?

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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