The Godfather of Shock Rock is also a grandfather of four.
Which one is cooler, the godfather or the grandfather, might depend on whether you can tie your own shoes.
Alice Cooper’s 7-year-old twin grandsons, Falcon and Riot, already have it all figured out when it comes to separating the rock icon with the scary stage persona from the nice man without the face makeup and black leather who they call “Pop-Pop.”
“They watch Alice Cooper videos and they go, ‘Oh look, Pop-Pop, there’s Alice Cooper. They know I play Alice Cooper, but they know I’m not Alice Cooper,” the 74-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee said during a phone interview.
“They got it two or three years ago. At one point, Falcon came up to me and he kind of sat next to me and he goes, ‘Um, Pop-Pop, you’re like a vampire but you’re not really a vampire, huh?' I said, ‘No, I just play one on TV,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, OK.’”
That’s just how things roll with the Cooper clan.
There’s also a 3-year-old grandson named Rexington — “We call him T-Rex” — and 15-month-old granddaughter, Desiree, who Cooper says is “scary smart." She already knows how to delete a commercial when it pops up during her cartoons on the phone.
Cooper got to spend more time at home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, with family, including his wife of nearly 46 years, Sheryl Goddard, when the pandemic derailed touring in March 2020. It was the longest he had been off the road since his touring career launched with Alice Cooper, the band, and its 1969 debut album, “Pretties for You.”
“Eighteen months. Eighteen months,” he said. “It was like being in jail for 18 months.”
It wasn’t an easy lifestyle adjustment to go from legendary showman traveling the world with boa constrictors and best friends, unleashing rock anthems and your own haunted house of guillotines and straightjackets on sold-out crowds, to suddenly becoming a homebody. Not even for somebody who loves to golf as much as Cooper.
Performing is his high, and he and his bandmates missed something fierce.
“None of us are on drugs anymore. We’re not drinking. We’re not alcoholics anymore. We’re not drug addicts, so our drug is the adrenaline that we get from being onstage. We do that every night. That’s the most fun you’re going to have all day is that performance,” Cooper said.
“So all of a sudden they come along and they go, ‘OK, no more touring for 18 months.’ I’ve come off drugs before. It’s like coming off drugs, because you’re dying for that adrenaline again. How many times can you sit home and watch TV?”
Tap dance lessons, yes, but Zoom, no
Cooper and Goddard, a dancer who has long appeared in her husband’s show, took tap dance lessons virtually in the backyard on Wednesday nights during quarantine. He spent time in his home studio writing and recording. There was some Zoom-ing, but for a guy like Cooper who feeds his Frankenstein by whipping up a crowd in person, performing virtually just didn’t cut it.
“Live music is its own animal, and people don’t really realize how much they miss it until they can’t go see it. You can Zoom all day with music and it’s just not the same. We did a few Zoom things and I went, ‘Nah, this is one-dimensional,’” he said. “But when you get onstage and there’s the audience and there’s a reaction and there’s a possibility of anything can happen up there, that’s when it’s fun.”
He returned to touring last fall in support of “Detroit Stories,” a 15-track album (his 21st as a solo artist) that pays tribute to his hometown. His concert on March 31 at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton is a return visit to that venue that was originally on the schedule in April of 2020.
“When we finally got the green light that we were going to go on tour it was like Christmas morning. We got to rehearsal and everyone was giddy ...” Cooper said. “And then getting onstage and doing the show? Well, come on, that was like the ultimate.”
It’s a whole new world out on the road these days, Cooper said. His tour travels with a COVID protocols person. Everybody is triple vaccinated, gets checked nightly before the show and there’s no more VIP backstage. He’s completed two tours with 53 people and nobody has gotten sick.
A shock to the system in the early days
There’s something about knowing that Cooper is back on the road, wielding his walking stick and top hat, that goes a long way toward feeling like things are indeed getting back to normal.
After nearly 30 albums, first with the band Alice Cooper for five years and then as a solo artist who took the same name, the we’re-not-worthy “Wayne’s World” cameo, the countless “Counting Cars” appearances, his annual charity golf tournament, the Progressive commercials with Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Hollywood Vampires supergroup with Joe Perry and Johnny Depp, it’s no wonder every generation seems to know him.
“First of all, I genuinely like people, so I have no problem signing autographs or taking pictures. I never say no to anybody. I think that’s my job,” he said. “In fact, I always say you have to worry if they don’t want your picture and if they don’t want your autograph. So I’ve always said that that’s a compliment to me.”
Of course, it wasn’t always the case that he was so widely embraced. In the early days, parents, and just about everybody else, didn’t know what to make of him or his band.
“In the very beginning, we were the pariah. People could not define us. They didn’t know what to do with us,” Cooper said. “It was easy to shock an audience, because here was this band called Alice Cooper, the lead singer is wearing makeup, but it’s not really female makeup. It’s kind of weird theatrical makeup. But he’s wearing a pair of black leather pants and he’s wearing his girlfriend’s slip, but the slip has got blood all over it so immediately the audience is going, ‘What happened?’”
He still gets a good laugh out of it.
“You’ve already got them, because of the fact that it was so not what was going on at the time. It was so other than that and so dramatic and so scary to a point, because you couldn’t define it, and people are always terrified by things they can’t define.”
But more important than the early shock value was the band’s hard rock sound on 1970s classics like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out,” “Under My Wheels,” “Be My Lover,” “Elected” and “Billion Dollar Babies.”
“We were a really good Detroit hard rock band, and we played guitar-driven rock n’ roll, and we learned how to write songs listening to The Beatles, and we had Bob Ezrin, who was a producer that knew how to take our craziness and put it on record and make it commercial, make it so that it would get played on the radio.”
'And yeah, I'm pretty lovable'
After Cooper went solo in 1975 and it looked like he was getting painted into a corner as a “scary guy,” his manager Shep Gordon (the two have been together for 53 years), came up with the idea to show people there was more to him than his dark side. Gordon booked him on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
In 1977, there was Cooper, dressed casually all in white and sans makeup, cracking jokes with the host about a boa constrictor named Angel that won his auditions for a touring snake — and that he just happened to bring along.
“So they were seeing a different side now of Alice Cooper. All of a sudden, they’re going, ‘Oh, I get it. He plays that character onstage. He’s not that character,'" Cooper said.
Other guest appearances in the ’70s followed, including “The Muppet Show” and as Father Sun in the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” movie. Horror film roles in the ‘80s and ultimately, his most famous screen gig, as himself in “Wayne’s World” in 1992, all further opened up his audience.
“After a while then, Alice stayed around long enough to become sort of the household name,” Cooper said. “And yeah, I’m pretty lovable.”
He has proved you can both sing “No Mr. Nice Guy” and have a reputation for being one of the nicest guys on the planet.
“It’s sort of like being Vincent Price. Vincent Price was known for his horror movies, but he was the sweetest guy you ever met in your life,” Cooper said. “Very sweet guy and funny and everything, but put him in a movie and he could scare you to death.”
Cooper still likes a good scare onstage, and he’s always been partial to having the haunts of his theatrical concerts be more old-school classic and less high-tech wizardry.
“Anybody can buy a show. Anybody can blow things up, pyro. If they want to spend millions of dollars they can do all kinds of trick onstage, but we do the tricks without the technology,” he said.
The giant Frankenstein onstage is a puppet with a person in it. There are dancers — Broadway, not rock — in creepy costumes beneath a bed. A 9-foot baby breaks its way out of a castle.
Cooper delights in the sense of humor and the sense of anything can happen that comes with that “more organic” approach to props. It’s not just shock rock to make people gasp, he says, it’s shock rock to make them wonder how in the world they did that.
“All the stage props look like we made them, and that’s what I like about it. It’s sort of like a weird guerilla dark vaudeville,” he said. “Other than lighting, I’ve never really depended on lasers or any of that stuff. I always thought that the theatrics should come from the music. In other words, if you say, ‘Welcome to my nightmare,’ give 'em the nightmare. Don’t just say it. Give it to them."
Bob Dylan would never make it on 'American Idol'
Back when Alice Cooper was playing Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena in the ‘70s, it was what he called “the golden era of creativity.” The Beatles had already happened and showed other bands how it’s done. Then the Rolling Stones came along. They were more “street guys.” Artists of that era each had their own distinct sound and kind of performance theater, from David Bowie to Elton John.
“Now it seems like everybody wants to sound like everybody else, you know what I mean. There’s not a lot of creativity involved now,” Cooper said. “Even in the ’80s, Motley Crue did not sound like Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi did not sound like Guns N’ Roses. Gun N Roses didn’t sound like anybody except themselves. It was a golden time of selling records, being that character. Everybody knew what they were going to get.
"Now I go to concerts and I can’t find any individuals out there. I can’t find people that just, boy, I know who that is. I listen to the radio and most of the songs I hear could be anybody. Nobody’s striving for that individual art thing anymore.
“I think that we just all got very comfortable. Anybody can make a record now at home. The Foo Fighters are great because they’re a throwback to the ‘70s hard rock band. They do a rock ‘n’ roll show. Green Day. When you hear Green Day you know it’s Green Day. You hear 10 other bands and they all just sound alike but Green Day has a signature. They have a sound that’s all theirs. I think that’s what’s lacking anymore in young bands. They just all feel like, ‘Well, who cares? Nobody cares about that.’ I think everybody does care about that. I always want to hear somebody that’s unique, not just somebody that could be anybody else.”
That brings Cooper to reality TV singing competitions like “American Idol.”
“You put people on TV and you give them a Burt Bacharach song and they can sing, well, great. ... What about them writing the song and singing it?" Cooper said.
"Bob Dylan would last one second on ‘American Idol.’ Think of that, because he’s too unique. Nirvana would last no time at all. Anybody with any uniqueness would never last on ‘American Idol,’ because they’re not looking for that. They’re looking for that cookie-cutter kind of guy that is just going to end up probably being on a Carnival ship somewhere singing."
That's about as un-Alice Cooper as you can get.
Get shocked, get rocked
Who: Alice Cooper, with Buckcherry
When: 7:30 p.m. March 31
Where: Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, Appleton
Tickets: $40.50-$85.50; ticketmaster.com
SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM: Our subscribers make this coverage possible. Click to see the Green Bay Press Gazette's special offers at greenbaypressgazette.com/subscribe and download our app on the App Store or Google Play.
Contact Kendra Meinert at 920-431-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Alice Cooper talks shock rock, touring and being a grandfather