‘I wanna be elected!” That emphatic declaration, bellowed with tongue firmly in cheek more than 40 years ago by American rock legend Alice Cooper, holds special significance in the US these days.
Although presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may not be heading to Israel to campaign before the November elections, their voices will nonetheless be heard – courtesy of the eponymous ghoulish frontman of the 1970s rock giants, who will be making his long-awaited Israeli debut on June 16 at Amphi Park Ra’anana.
“You’ll understand my feelings about the presidential race because both Hillary and Trump will be onstage at the end of the show. That’s all I can say,” snickers the 68-year-old godfather of theatrical shock rock in a recent phone call with The Jerusalem Post.
Cooper’s reputation as one of the nicest and most intelligent guys in rock may come as a surprise to those who recall Cooper’s wild mascara eyes, guillotining of toy babies and sporting a pet boa around his neck. But he’s also the same guy who lives in suburban Phoenix and puts as much passion into his golf game as his music career.
“That would be the other Alice,” laughs Cooper, who was born Vincent Furnier.
“Alice Cooper probably hates golf.”
The Alice Cooper he’s talking about led what was probably the most popular and successful band of the early 1970s, with era-defining albums like Killer, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies. Consisting of Cooper, guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, bassist Denny Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith, the band’s expressway to fame – aside from insanely catchy hard rockers – was mixing youthful rebellion and decadence with show business and theater.
It was Frank Zappa who originally identified their potential for weirdness, signing the band with a lead singer bearing a female name to their first record contract in the late 1960s and releasing their first album, Pretties for You.
While most of their contemporaries were wearing torn jeans and blasting 15-minute guitar solos, Alice Cooper was putting on a show with a capital S – mixing horror and vaudeville in equal measures.
“I guess you could say we were somewhat notorious. And that’s why it took a long time for people to accept that we were a band first and then a great theatrical experience – you know, ‘here’s this band that does all these outrageous things’ and this and that. But [1970’s] Love It to Death and [1971’s] Killer were considered by critics to be two of the best ever rock albums,” says Cooper without a trace of conceit.
“Look at it this way – you have to have the cake before you put the icing on it.
The cake was the songs. We would spend 90 percent of the time working on music and 10% of the time on theatrics,” he says.
Years before Kiss, The Tubes and other visually-minded acts shocked rock out of the navel-gazing era, Cooper was making his evocative, funny and sinister lyrics come to life onstage, with lavish props, choreography and routines that would make a Broadway production sit up and take notice.
“My theory was if you’re going to say ‘welcome to my nightmare’ then give them the nightmare,” says Cooper. “What made us unique was that we did not mind spending the money, time and effort to theatrically produce a show rather than just get up on stage and do the songs.
Nobody else was willing to go out on that limb. It was only years later that Kiss saw what we did and said, ‘Well, we can do that, too.’” By the mid-1970s, with fame, drugs and constant touring taking their toll, the band split up and Cooper went on to solo fame with Welcome to My Nightmare, hits like “Only Women Bleed” and a new career as a quotable celebrity – representing the presentable golf-loving face of rock stardom to Hollywood and middle America.
However, a drinking problem and a series of pedestrian albums in the 1980s led to a long period out of the spotlight for Cooper.
Returning sober and healthy as an elder rock statesman for a new generation of headbangers, Cooper scored another massive hit with “Poison” and was later immortalized in the 1992 film Wayne’s World.
And despite the years apart, he’s kept in touch with his former band mates (Buxton died in 1997). So much so, that the surviving members are collaborating on Cooper’s next album.
“The thing is, when we broke up, we didn’t have any bad blood at all. Everybody wished each other well, there were no lawsuits,” says Cooper.
“After my last tour, I was in Phoenix and talked to [longtime producer] Bob Ezrin. I told him I would really like the next album to have a very retro sound, more like Killer.
We brought in Mike, Neal and Denny and worked on five or six demos, and it all fell into place. We probably won’t go into the studio until next year because of my touring, but at least we have a slew of songs to go through,” he says.
“I never felt like I ever left the original band, and I always try to include the guys in my projects. It’s a nice brotherhood.”
His old band mates won’t be joining Cooper in Israel on his Raise the Dead tour, but he claims that his current band, featuring the three-guitar attack of Ryan Roxie, Nita Strauss and Tommy Henriksen, the rhythm section of drummer Glen Sobel and longtime bassist Chuck Garric, is the best he’s ever gone out with.
“The band I have now is so tight and so rock that we could do the entire show without the theatrics, and the audience would love it,” says Cooper. “Once you’ve got that, now put the icing on the cake and add all the theatrics in. The show now is just as theatrical as ever – maybe more so – but the band is better.”
While time will eventually force Cooper to wind down his career, he says he’s not averse to someone inheriting his role – along the lines of the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. However, he has some specific ideas regarding a successor.
“Well, if Johnny Depp was more handsome, he could play me,” laughs Cooper, referring to his band mate in the busman holiday project the Hollywood Vampires.
“I would like to be involved as an adviser if they ever make a movie about me. I want the character to be a character. There are certain parameters of playing Alice that I would need to have the final word on.
There are certain things you would avoid, and other things that you would need to embody. You can’t turn Alice into whatever you want him to be,” he asserts.
With a sense of character as developed as that, if American voters find themselves at a loss come November, Alice Cooper might just find himself elected.