No more Mister Nice Guy

Father of shock rock thrashes new generation with hardcore theatrics

There would be no Kiss without him.

No Rob Zombie. No Slipknot. And certainly no Marilyn Manson.

Alice Cooper was and continues to be the undisputed father of shock rock, a title he has embraced since the late 1960s.

“There were so many Peter Pans and no Captain Hooks,” Cooper says of that era’s music scene. “I said I will gladly be rock’s consummate villain. I will be their Moriarty and their Dracula all rolled into one.”

The 57-year-old performer is phoning from Madison, Wis., in the midst of a June-to-November concert tour that deposits him tonight in Topeka.

His live show has lost none of the theatricality that people have come to expect. Cooper boasts fans will be treated to ballet-dancing vampires and a Paris Hilton impersonator who gets her throat slit by her own dog.

“It’s a public service,” he deadpans.

Musically, the Detroit native is not content to just regurgitate past hits such as “School’s Out,” “I’m Eighteen” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Cooper has a gritty new record out, “Dirty Diamonds,” and he continues to reach a new fan base through his popular syndicated radio show “Nights with Alice Cooper” (locally on KYYS 99.7 FM).

Q: What can audiences expect from an Alice Cooper concert in 2005?

A: I still believe in the rock-and-roll show, the big show. Not necessarily explosives, but I like the old-school rock-and-roll show that has a beginning, middle and an end. It’s got pacing. It’s got all the lighting cues choreographed. Straitjackets, guillotines, boa constrictors – everything that is Alice Cooper happens in these shows.

Q: Is the youth of America now too jaded to be shocked by their rock stars?

A: You can’t shock an audience anymore. You can’t shock an OLD audience. You really can’t compete with CNN. I watch CNN and I go, “What do you mean the guy is getting his head cut off?” That certainly does water down my guillotine. … Marilyn Manson and myself have both said shock has been dead for a long time – unless you go up and kill yourself onstage. Then you get one big shock. But you can’t continuously shock an audience every night.

Q: You named your CD anthology “The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper.” What’s the last actual crime you’ve committed?

A: A lot of people would say my entire career was a crime. …You got to remember, when Alice first came out, I was blamed for everything: the Vietnam War and everything. I was the Antichrist. I was the thing that every parent feared more than anything else. You look at it now and it’s pretty much good horror-comedy-vaudeville. At that time, it was a social indictment on the country. So when you talk about “The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper,” there were people who would have put me in jail in a second if they could have in the ’70s, just for being me.

Q: I understand you’re a fan of the movie “Carnival of Souls,” which was shot here in Lawrence. What do you remember about first seeing that film?

A: Really, I didn’t know that was shot there. It was a disturbing movie. The thing that bothered me the most was the scene where they were doing the ballroom dancing with all the dead people. There was something nightmarish about that when I saw it. That was, to me, much scarier than Dracula or Frankenstein or the Wolf Man.

Q: Did you incorporate that movie into your image?

A: Oh, I think so.

Q: What do you enjoy most about doing your radio show?

A: I’ve got carte blanche on what I want to play. I’m not dumb enough to go full-out oddities. I think you have to play a certain diet of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and people like that. But I try and balance that with Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Frank Zappa, Iggy and the Stooges – stuff that people don’t necessarily get to hear on the radio. I would say 40 percent of my show is stuff that they’ve never heard before.

Q: Were you at all surprised by Sony’s recent radio “payola” scandal?

A: I don’t really know so much about it, but I thought that we were past that. The thing that bothers me more than that about radio – and I’m only going to get on my soapbox one time here – is that radio is not about what’s good; it’s about what’s next. Like if Paul McCartney put an album out right now better than “Sgt. Pepper’s,” it wouldn’t get played. If U2 were a new band right now and didn’t have a record contract and went to a record company, they wouldn’t get signed because they’re too old. We’re not talking about quality anymore. It used to be in our heyday that the best record got played. It didn’t matter if you were The Supremes or Alice Cooper. That was a fair game. … I think I’m making my best records right now, but I know that I’ll never get on that full rotation on the big stations.