In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people the same 11 interesting questions.
You have to be some sort of superhero or vampire to survive in the world of rock ’n’ roll for 50 years, and living legend Alice Cooper is one of the few who fits that particular bill. The horror-rock icon—likely the only person who’s in both the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and The Friars Club—has just released his 21st solo record, Detroit Stories, on which he pays homage to his hometown. Cooper reunites with old friends like producer Bob Ezrin and fellow Detroit music legends MC5’s Wayne Kramer, The Detroit Wheels’ Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, and the Motor City Horns on inspired covers like Lou Reed’s “Rock ’N’ Roll” and new bangers like “Social Debris” that prove that his vocals are as scathing as ever.
It’s been a long road, to say the least, for Cooper (née Vincent Damon Furnier), who drafted his cross-country teammates back in high school to create the ensemble that would eventually become the Alice Cooper Band (as we found out, it was his first and last job). The band hit it big in 1971 with the teen angst anthem “I’m Eighteen,” but soon, Cooper spun off into a solo career, keeping the band’s name for himself to create the 1975 concept album Welcome To My Nightmare, which helped establish his iconic demonic musical persona. The rest is shock rock history. Alice Cooper has not only toured almost incessantly since, but has appeared everywhere from The Hollywood Squares to Wayne’s World to a recent turn as Herod in the 2018 live production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
With a new record out, Cooper would usually be on the road in one of his gruesome stage shows, heavy on the blood-curdling theatrics. But like the rest of us, he’s stuck inside, at his home in Arizona. “Every band that I know of, we’re like racehorses at the starting gate. We’re not used to having a year off. It’s just weird that coming back and getting into the rhythm of being at home for a year was very different.”
This is also a big month for Cooper because The Muppet Show finally dropped on Disney+, and many (including The A.V. Club) have pointed to Cooper’s episode as one of the Muppet Show’s best ever. To this day, he calls it “the most fun thing I ever did in my life. When I was offered The Muppet Show, it was the number one show in the world. And at the time, I kind of established myself as being rock’s villain.” Parts of Cooper’s episode were so disturbing that they reportedly weren’t aired in some countries: “Well, you know, they wrote the show. I didn’t write the show. It was really funny, this kind of Faust thing. I tried to get Kermit to sell his soul to be a rock star. It was a perfect thing to do in the Halloween show, you know?”
We were excited to have Alice Cooper answer our 11 Questions, in which we learned that he was among the first people ever to taste Fritos, he’s taken up tap-dancing during the pandemic, and he has an amazing collection of celebrity stories that the rest of us mere mortals can only dream about. To say we’re not worthy is a massive understatement.
1. What is the best trip or outing you remember as a kid and what made it great?
Alice Cooper: Well, I went to Disneyland when I was 10 years old. All we ever heard when we lived in Detroit was Disneyland was like heaven. And this is 1958 now, and you never, ever thought you’d ever actually get to Disneyland. My sister and I were just kind of going, “Oh, maybe when we’re older, when we’re 20, we might be able to get there.” So then we moved from Detroit to California and got to go to Disneyland. And it was one of the things as a 10-year-old is the greatest thing in the world, only because you’d watch [Walt Disney’s Wonderful World Of Color] every Sunday. All the characters were there.
And it was the very first day that they were introducing Fritos. It was the first time anybody ever tasted Fritos and being from Detroit, we never ate Mexican food ever, you know. So I tried Fritos for the first time, and it was the greatest taste I’ve tasted in my life.
I do remember trying to go on every ride, and you just couldn’t possibly go on every ride. But we were there from the moment it opened till the last second when it closed, and it was the greatest time.
2. What’s something that’s considered a basic part of your current career that you struggled to learn?
AC: Well, I’ll tell you, there was a lot of time when I was drinking that I didn’t spend a lot of time really singing. I didn’t concentrate on the singing because I was doing so much theatrics up there that the singing was sort of secondary to me.
When I got sober, like 38 years ago, all of a sudden I started concentrating more on the vocals, on the singing. And it really, really was a whole different thing. I would rather hit the notes, and then do the theatrics. So I learned how to sing, and then when I wasn’t singing, do the theatrics. That was the thing that I really had to learn. And then the singing got better and better and better to the point where I was very confident about my singing.
AVC: And you still sound incredible.
AC: Well, I never smoked, and I quit drinking 38 years ago, and it’s just one of those things where I think you get rewarded for that. Most of the guys my age that are still touring can do maybe two shows a week. I’m doing, like, five. But I think that’s just because of the fact that I haven’t diminished that lung capacity. When I get in the studio, I seem to sound the same way as I did in 1972. So I’m happy with that.
3. Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies, or get into something you hadn’t before during quarantine?
AC: Yes, and it’s something that’s so bizarre. My wife is a professional dancer. She was with Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street. Both of my daughters are professional dancers, and one’s a comedian and one’s an actress and the whole thing. So they could all dance. I wanted to learn to tap-dance. I mean, I saw Fred Astaire movies and I went, “I want to be able to do that.”
Now, it’ll never, ever show up in my show. But it’s just so random to learn to tap-dance, to learn how to do a soft shoe. And it kind of took me back to watching these old ’30s movies. Everybody could tap-dance. Everybody! John Wayne could tap-dance, you know? And I said, “Well, then, Alice Cooper should know how to tap-dance.”
AVC: But if you did put it in your show, that would be amazing.
AC: It might be a strange little moment in the show, yeah. [Laughs.] But I would really have to find a way to squeeze that one in.
AVC: Is there a particular song, like an old Fred Astaire song, that you like to dance to, or it’s just whatever you’re working on?
AC: You know, any song with a 4/4 beat, you could tap-dance to that easily. So really any rock song, you could do it to. But I think that if I did do it, it would be in some comedic moment in the show. And I’d have to find just the exact right song for that.
4. What restaurant do you not live near, but make a point to hit every time you’re in the right town?
AC: White Castles. I grew up on White Castle hamburgers in Detroit, and so if I’m in a town, any town, and I see a White Castle when we’re on tour, that bus is stopping. Because I still am addicted to White Castle hamburgers, cheeseburgers. You’ve had ’em, right?
AVC: Yeah, I’m from Chicago, so I feel the same way.
AC: So you’ve had them, and I mean, you don’t live on them, but every once in a while you go, “Oh, man, I’d kill for a White Castle hamburger right now.” So White Castle hamburgers gets at least one lunch during the tour.
AVC: What’s your limit? What’s the most you’ve ever eaten?
AC: When I was a kid, they used to be 12 for a dollar. My dad used to bring them back, and they were 12 for a dollar. And I can’t remember how many we ate. But I was never a big kid. I was always a skinny kid, you know, so I could probably get through four, maybe five if I really pushed it. They’re like potato chips: You can’t just eat one.
5. What futuristic technology that doesn’t exist now would you like to have?
AC: I would like to have a machine that when I go to China and I’m sitting watching Star Trek in China, that the machine translates to English. In other words, you plug it into any TV and whatever this thing is in Chinese, you’re hearing an English translator. And I think that whoever invents that is going to be the greatest inventor of all time. Because I spend a lot of time in Europe, in Germany and France, and I’m sitting there in a hotel room and I’m trying to understand what they’re saying. So I’ll just plug that one little machine in, and I’m hearing everything in English.
6. What famous person that you’ve met has lived up to or exceeded your impression of them?
AC: I can name two or three of them. Salvador Dalí, Groucho Marx. Sinatra, Elvis—they all lived up to what I wanted them to be. You know the old saying, never meet your heroes? I met all of my heroes, and I was never disappointed in any of them.
AVC: Salvador Dalí was a big fan of your live show, right?
AC: He loved the show because he thought it was surrealistic. And he probably gave himself a lot of credit saying, “Well, you guys were art students and you kind of got all this from me.” And then Groucho saw the show, and Groucho says, “No, this is vaudeville, and he got all this from me.” So everybody saw the show in a different way. Vincent Price just said, “Oh, this is great. It’s comedy and horror together. That’s what I do.” And they were all right. Maybe all of them had the right to say that because we probably did borrow some stuff from all those guys.
AVC: How did you meet Frank Sinatra?
AC: Well, I was the only rock ’n’ roller in The Friars Club. I mean, it was Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, every comedian you could imagine, and me. I had this long black hair down the back in the early ’70s, and somehow Groucho got me into The Friars Club. They kind of looked at me as comedy, I guess, more than rock ’n’ roll. And so I would sit next to Sinatra and talk music and everything like that. And he was very cool. I mean, he was never arrogant. He was Sinatra and a very, very, very cool guy. He used to call me Coop. He says [Adopts Frank Sinatra voice.], “So, I can’t call you Alice. Gary Cooper was a friend of mine. I called him the Coop. So you’re the Coop now.”
7. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
AC: I have never had any job except rock ’n’ roll, honestly. When I was 15, the very first job I ever had was with rock ’n’ roll, a singer in a band. And I’ve never, ever had any other job other than that. Really, the only time I ever got paid was to sing. And before that, I was just in school and track and cross-country and everything like that. And then it became the band practice, after that. And there was really no time to do anything but that. I can tell you what job I would not want more than any other job in the world—that would be president of the United States.
AVC: And yet, you ran.
AC: Well, yeah, satirically. And I told everybody, I said, “If you vote for me and I won, the whole country should be impeached.”
8. What fictional family would you like to belong to?
AC: Well, I think The Addams Family might have been fun, or maybe The Munsters. I would have fit right in there. So I would go with The Addams Family. I think I’m more of an Addams Family than a Munster.
AVC: You could have been Uncle Alice.
AC: Yeah. Or that thing that lives in the cellar.
9. What’s the first piece of art, or earliest piece of media, that inspired you to go into your field?
AC: That one’s easy. I was a mimic. When I was a little kid, I was sort of a show-off kid, and I could imitate everybody. So I saw Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was 7. And I immediately went back in my room and got in front of the mirror and started imitating him and combing my hair like him.
That didn’t necessarily make me want to be a musician. But what really made me want to be a musician was the first time I heard The Beatles. I heard The Beatles on the radio. And I went, “Oh, what was that? I mean, that was really good, whatever that was.” And I had never seen them, never saw The Beatle haircuts or anything. I just heard the music, and I heard three songs in one day, and I went, “Who are these guys?” And as soon as I saw them and I saw the reaction and everything, I went, “Oh, I think I found what I want to do.”
AVC: You said you actually met Elvis later.
AC: Yeah, I got to meet Elvis in Las Vegas. I guess four people a night would go up and meet him. And it was me, Liza Minnelli, Chubby Checker, and Linda Lovelace. So you can imagine that three of us left that night, and one person stayed. Now, I don’t know what Elvis and Chubby Checker did all night…
Elvis was so cool. When he walked into the room… This was not fat Elvis. This was not stupid Elvis. This was Elvis Presley in his prime. And he was the room, you know what I mean? He walked in, and he just had so much charisma. [Adopts Elvis Presley voice.] “Hey, man, you’re the kid with the snake, right? That’s cool. I dig that makeup and all that stuff you guys do. That’s really cool stuff.” And I immediately got along with this guy. He was one of the guys, and he had no problem making fun of himself. Really, I could hang out with Elvis all day. He was one of those guys that… it was just who he was, you know? I mean, you didn’t feel like you had to be anybody in front of him. You didn’t have to put on any airs. He was just a Southern boy. He was Elvis.
AVC: But it’s interesting that he inspired you, because you created your own unforgettable persona. You didn’t go out and just play rock music. You created this whole art experience, basically.
AC: When my mom and my parents saw The Beatles… my parents were very musical. They loved music. And they kind of went, “Okay, The Beatles are okay.” And then they saw The Rolling Stones. Now The Rolling Stones did not wear suits. They were kind of gruffy, and they were kind of nasty. And Mick Jagger looked like he was just spazzing out onstage. And my parents kind of looked at that and went, “Uhhhhhh.” And when I hit that point, I said, “I’m going to make these guys look like choirboys.”
10. Who is the funniest person you know personally?
AC: I would say Peter Sellers was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He was just witty. When we do shows in London, he would always come to every show, and he was just like a little kid. You could just see the mischief in his face. Then every once in a while, he would just turn into Clouseau, at the most unexpected moments. You’d be having dinner, and all of a sudden he’d go [Adopts Inspector Clouseau voice.] “Ah! Helloo?” And all of a sudden, you’re talking to Clouseau. And Clouseau, you know, would pull the tablecloth off the table to see if he can. It’s one of those things where he was just fairly out of control. But at the same time, he was Peter Sellers.
11. If a deli named a sandwich after you, what would be on it?
AVC: This is probably going to have an interesting answer, like bat wing or chicken blood or something.
AC: I would probably have to say—I’m a pretty big pastrami guy. Hot pastrami and on some kind of dark bread—that would probably be the Alice Cooper. Unless they made a rattlesnake sandwich, you know? And in Arizona, people eat rattlesnake. So I would say a rattlesnake hoagie would be good.
AVC: Have you tried it yourself? You’re such a big fan.
AC: Well, rattlesnake meat is very white. It’s almost like a chicken breast, but it’s very, very white and very tender, actually. Very sweet. But it’s expensive. It’s $20 an ounce. We have this thing here in Arizona where they make snake and eggs, and it’s rattlesnake meat with chorizo, scrambled eggs, a Spanish Mexican dish. And honestly, if you didn’t know what you were eating, you’d go, “This is unbelievable. It’s so good.”
AVC: It’s so interesting that you were born in Detroit and then your family moved out West, eventually to Arizona, but then you made it big again in Detroit. But now you’re back in Arizona, like you’re drawn to these two really disparate parts of the country. What made you go back to Arizona?
AC: Well, Arizona is a giant resort. I lived in Hollywood, in Beverly Hills, for eight years, and that was great. It was the right time to be in Beverly Hills. I lived in Chicago. I lived in New York. When we were in the band, we lived in a lot of different places. I almost lived in London because we spent so much time there.
But Phoenix… It always felt like you’d be landing in Phoenix, and you felt like you were on vacation. It was always warm, and it was always really nice out, and while everybody else was in a blizzard, we’d be having a barbecue. I always said I never really want to be cold again. I’m tired of being cold. And I never get tired of Phoenix because you wake up every morning and it’s nice.