(The GRAMMY Museum will present a special screening of Super Duper Alice Cooper on April 22. The screening is sold out. For more information on the Museum, visit www.grammymuseum.org)
Some rock documentaries follow an all-too-familiar trajectory as they plot an artist's meteoric rise, commercial downfall, personal adversity, and miraculous comeback. But Super Duper Alice Cooper — which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17 and will be released nationwide on April 30 — is something else. While Cooper's storyline very much mirrors the one outlined above, filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen have taken a more creative approach to telling his tale, employing footage from vintage monster movies, newsreels and other sources in lieu of the usual parade of "talking head" interviews.
The net result is a bit campy, but that's never been a bad thing in the world of Cooper. Super Duper Alice Cooper's kitsch visuals embrace the central paradox of the GRAMMY-nominated shock rocker, born Vincent Furnier — the conservative, golf-loving, preacher's son from Phoenix, who helped ignite the shock-rock '70s by creating the perverse persona known to the world as Alice Cooper. The Vincent/Alice identity crisis drove the singer into alcoholism as his career escalated, but also planted the seeds for his eventual recovery and reemergence as one of hard rock's elder statesmen.
In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Cooper discussed Super Duper Alice Cooper, his battle with alcoholism, God, the rock fraternity, and what he has in common with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, among other topics.
How did this documentary come about? Did the filmmakers approach you?
[Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen] came to me and they had done some really good documentaries. [Ed: Dunn and McFayden's documentaries include Metal: A Headbangers Journey and Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage.] Generally speaking, I don't live in the past. I'm normally thinking about the next project. But these guys came to me and said, "We're really interested in doing this." And they said, "We can't just do a documentary on Alice Cooper, though. It has to be as theatrical as the character. And we want to take this Jekyll and Hyde approach."
I thought that was a great idea because that's my story, basically. I created this monster called Alice Cooper, and it seemed like the monster took over. [But] the real problem, with the alcoholism, was not the monster at all. It was the creator. The monster was fine. He didn't drink. He didn't do anything. But the creator of the monster was really the monster.
We all have our light and dark sides. You just seemed to have acted yours out more dramatically.
In front of everybody. The person I really am couldn't be more the opposite of the character Alice Cooper. For instance, I've been married 38 years now and neither I nor my wife have ever cheated on each other. So that's the whole gist of the documentary — the fact that there's these two characters, me and him. And I talk about him in the third person. It's really great to have an opportunity to play Alice Cooper onstage. People wouldn't want the real me onstage. If Alice Cooper ever said, "Hey thanks, here's a song about golf!" they'd go, "What!?" They want Alice to be arrogant. They want Alice to be this horrible Moriarty sort of villain … who has all these hit songs.
It seems like the filmmakers and you were keen to avoid the usual rock doc clichés. For example, there's no "talking head" interview footage. Even when people are interviewed, there's some other visual on the screen that illustrates whatever it is they're saying.
Right. And we could have had interviews with everybody. I'm literally friends with everybody in the business. So we kind of picked the ones who counted. And we didn't overdo that. That would have been really easy to do. I'd rather have a select few. You put Johnny Rotten together with Elton John and Iggy Pop and that's really an interesting bunch of people.
Did the project reunite you with any colleagues you hadn't seen in a while?
I hadn't seen Elton John since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards in 2011. But generally, this business is a fraternity. You see people all the time — in airports, at events, whatever. Even people you don't know, you're still in the same fraternity with them. Like the first time I saw Bruce Springsteen — I had never met him, but I walked up to him and said "Hi" and it was like we were immediately old friends. You're all in the same game and you've all gone through the same things. You talk to the same people. You've done the same TV shows, recording sessions. So you feel close to everybody in the business.
Rock has always been a nice brotherhood/sisterhood.
It really has. Despite what people might think. The press really wanted there to be some kind of real problem with Alice and David Bowie, because we were both theatrical. Who was influencing who? All of that. But I never bought into that. I thought Bowie was brilliant. So it was more of an art movement than a competition. Same thing with Iggy Pop. Who's crazier — Iggy or Alice? But when the both of us got together, we just had a beer and laughed it off.
Even for Alice Cooper fans, there's a lot to learn in the documentary. For instance, I never knew the idea for "School's Out" came out of a Bowery Boys film.
Absolutely. As a lyricist I'm always looking for a phrase. "Only Women Bleed" — someone said that on TV and I wrote it down and said, "What a great song title." So a lot of times that is where songs come from.
Were you wary about using the G-word —"God"— in talking about your recovery in the film?
Not at all. That's the reason I'm here. When I came out of the hospital, I was not a cured alcoholic. I was a healed alcoholic. There was no doubt about that for me. Even the doctors said, "This is miraculous. We've never seen anybody who was more of an alcoholic than you, and you have not had one slipup, one moment of craving?" And I said, "Not one. I've never even been tempted to have a drink." They said, "That's beyond miraculous. You should be in AA every day. We know you have no willpower. I said, "I've never been to an AA meeting. Trust me on this, [alcoholism] was just miraculously taken away from me and I give God all the credit." I'm a practicing Christian. And when I study the Bible there's nothing I read that says I can't use the talents God gave me. So, being a theatrical rock and roller, I don't see how that's something I can't do. Of course I have my own boundaries. I mean I'm not going to do anything that promotes drinking. I almost died from it.
Another interesting point that the film brings out is that you felt vindicated, creatively, by the hair metal bands in the '80s.
Well, yeah. I saw all these bands all of sudden — Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses — and there were all these theatrics going on. And I went, "Yeah! About time!" It took a couple of generations before it clicked in, but then every one of those bands kind of looked at the Alice Cooper show and said, "That's looks like fun. Why don't we do music and theatrics?" And it was also the time of MTV. So doing videos made these bands become more theatrical. It got into their blood that they could wear eye makeup and tease their hair up and be outrageous — as long as the music was good. If you were a crappy musician, it wasn't gonna happen anyway. But if you had hit records like Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses, hey, then you can do anything you want up there.
And 1983, right at the height of all that, was when you received your first GRAMMY nomination for the Alice Cooper: The Nightmare video. Do you think hair metal created a context that shed new light on you?
Yes. I think that brought us into focus. Because every single band up there referenced us. It was one of those things where they were either referencing us or Kiss. And Kiss came out seven years after Alice Cooper. So if Kiss were the fathers of shock rock, I was the godfather.
What was it like for you to co-present the Best Rock Album GRAMMY with Katy Perry at the 52nd GRAMMYs in 2010?
That was a fun thing to do. Sometimes on the GRAMMYs you get paired with somebody you don't really have much in common with. But Katy's great. She's got a very funny sense of humor. And we're both PKs — preacher's kids. And in the end she became as outrageous as Alice Cooper. She and Lady Gaga took it in entirely different directions, but in lots of ways they're both just as theatrical as Alice Cooper. I once told Lady Gaga, "The funny thing is I am more compatible with you than I am with almost any rock band. Because you created a character, Lady Gaga, and you play that character. And I created Alice and I play that character. You write songs for your character and I write songs for mine. Then we do a show around it. So in all honestly, we're a lot more similar than I am with other rock bands."
(Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna is a contributing editor for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His liner notes credits include Santana Live At The Fillmore East, the deluxe reissue of AC/DC's The Razor's Edge and Rhino Records' Heavy Metal Hits Of The '80s [Vols. 1 and 3].)