A Conversation with Alice Cooper
Mike Ragogna: Dude! We're not worthy for Super Duper Alice Cooper! But if we were, Alice, please would you tell us about that film of yours of which we are not worthy?
Alice Cooper: I'll tell you, the guys came to us with the idea--we didn't go to them and say, "Hey, let's make a documentary about us"--they had already done Rush and Iron Maiden and they did such a great job on those that we said, "Yeah, we'd like to do it," and then they said two things that made a lot of sense, they said, "We're going to avoid all of the stereotypical documentary stuff, no talking heads or any of that, and at the same time we're going to use this Jekyll & Hyde device," which is sort of like myself and Alice. I said, "That's really good. If you can make it so that it's really enjoyable to watch, even the more painful parts, I think that i'll be really good." They did a great job.
MR: Rumor has it you studied theatrical arts.
AC: It's in my DNA!
MR: Are you surprised about how the project came together?
AC: No, actually, I was surprised that they were as great as they were at catching it. There's a sense of humor to it, there's a darkness to it, there's an all-American thing to it, there's sort of the Rocky story, the band that never should have made it but were just stubborn enough, and then it was just a pure success story after that. Then you watch this all-American band just kind of go crazy and not really be able to handle it. I had no idea I had an addictive personality, I really didn't. I didn't know that a beer was going to mean twenty beers. When you're a kid and you're out on the road with the guys, you drink beer all day. That's just part of it. Until it becomes medicine. That's when you become the alcoholic. That's when all of a sudden the beer is not because it tastes good and it's social, but because now it's medicine. "In order to get this done I have to have this." That's any alcoholic. When any thing that you're doing becomes medicine you know that you're addicted.
MR: Did you feel it spinning out?
AC: No, I kept putting it in the back of my mind saying, "I could live without this if I had to, but why? Why would I even want to? I'm fine." You're indestructable at that age. You're indestructable. You're on tour for six years without a break and you feel great. You're lucky to be out there. So nobody was complaining, I was never sick, I never had hangovers, I never missed a show, there was never a time when I couldn't do The Johnny Carson Show and talk and be funny and not slur a word or stumble, if I was doing a movie I knew all my lines. There were no signs that there was a problem. Internally there were all kinds of things going on. You can't drink that much alcohol without your liver and your pancreas at a certain point starting to go, "Okay, this morning we're not going to throw up beer, we're going to throw up blood." That's when you know the party's over.
MR: Alice, one of the most interesting elements of the film is Dennis Dunaway's reflections.
AC: I felt that the most uncomfortable moments were the best moments. I was sitting with Neal [Smith] and Dennis at Tribeca and I made sure that I hadn't seen the whole thing yet, just parts of it. So when Dennis was talking about the Dali thing, when he was telling his version of how the band broke up and Neal was telling his version of how the band broke up and I told my version, I wasn't going to edit their version. I wanted their version to be in there, even though it's uncomfortable and we're sitting there and watching it and squirming in our seats because nobody wants to be the jerk, but at the same time, that's what happened, so we had to leave it in. We were all laughing and going, "Welp," because we all remembered it totally different.
MR: And then, of course, there were the groundbreaking stage theatrics.
AC: Yeah, and there was never an agenda. There was never any kind of satanic or political agenda. Our thing was pure hellzapoppin'. We organized it, it was going to be funny, it was going to be scary, it was going to be flashy, it was going to be sick but you were going to be laughing about it, and at the same time it was going to be backed by all these great songs. To me, there was nothing in that except entertainment.
MR: Please Mr. Cooper, would you elaborate on the "chicken" incident?
AC: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, you know, some things you don't have to embellish on. There were two or three stories that you never had to embellish on, and that was one. We couldn't have asked for a better thing to happen because that was a definitive moment that I realized that rock was looking for a villain. Rock was looking for a guy that would kill the chicken, because everybody loved it. That's all they talked about. Nobody was saying, "Oh, the poor chicken," everybody was saying, "How cool, he killed a chicken." I didn't kill the chicken! The audience killed the chicken! But the funny thing was that opened my eyes to one thing: that Alice that we were seeing there was some kind of psychadelic, sci-fi, victimized Alice. Later on I took that idea and turned that into the fact that we needed a villain and Alice was going to be that villain. Rock needed a Moriarty. Rock needed a Captain Hook.
MR: Nicely said! And look who you influenced. You can see your mark on so many rock bands that came after you, even if some of them don't cop to it.
AC: And in all honesty, they're all friends of mine now. There was a time when Mariliyn Manson and I jousted in the press, especially the fact that I was Christian and he was tearing up the bible in the audience every night. Then when we met we actually had some pretty interesting conversations. I wasn't angry with him. I asked him, "You must've had a horrible experience with church when you were a kid," and yeah, he did. So there was a reason that he did what he did, an intelligent reason. He was always a smart guy, I always knew that, but now we're friends. We're still on opposite ends of the spiritual world, but that doesn't mean that I can't sit and talk with him and luahg with him. I'll hold my grounds on what I believe and he will too but at least we're talking about it.
MR: My favorite period of your career is your Welcome To My Nightmare years. It seemed like that was the culmination of everything you did before, and it really peaked with that project.
AC: Yeah, and it really was the primo show. It was the show that I wished the original band could have done, but you have to remember we had toured six years in a row without stopping andwe had put all the money back into the show evvery single year. I think when Billion Dollar Baby was over we had broken all of the Rolling Stones' records, we were a number one album, biggest band in the world and I think everybody was ready for a rest and they were ready to divvy up some money and buy a house and buy a car and do whatever they were going to do, whereas I came in with, "Guys, I've got this idea. Welcome To My Nightmare. Of course, we're going to have to take all of the money and put it into this show and it's going to be a two-year tour and the rehearsal's going to be four months because there's going to be real dancers, a director from Broadway," I had massive, grand ideas for this show, and I think that's where I lost them.
MR: The television special was beautiful, too. That was almost like a video clip compilation in a lot of ways.
AC: And it really was! When we did the thing with Vincent Price in Toronto the guy was using this new thing called "video" and we were like, "What's that?" They said, "Well it's like film, only it's easier to use, it's more pliable, we can do more with it and this and this and this," and we're going, "Okay." At the end of a seven or eight day shoot with Vincent Price with props in the studio we said, "How much is this going to cost us?" and the guy says, "I don't know, twenty thousand dollars?" Imagine what a video like that would cost now. It'd be more like ten million dollars. And there was no place to play it; there was no MTV. We did this video pre-MTV so there was really no place to put it, but we had it in the can. I guess we kind of realized that video was going to come in and there would be a market for it someday.
MR: It was wonderful. Going back to how I was talking about your influence earlier, I wanted to say in a weird way you've been a mentor to a lot of people, even goth music owes something to you.
AC: After ...Nightmare, when we did it in London the next day on the street there were kids walking around with top hats and white makeup and dark under their eyes, all Addams Family kind of stuff. Goth was born right then. It was a fashion statement and the British were the first to pick up on it. All of a sudden there was this really dark look, the kids were not hippies anymore, they had this style and it all came back to Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare show. It did kind of create that goth look, and at the same time punk was kind of born there, too.
MR: Alice, what advice do you have for new artists?
AC: Wow. First of all, if you have an accordion in your band or a banjo you're not a rock band. Okay? There's a band called The Stripes coming out of England right now that may be the next hope for rock 'n' roll. They're a real Small Faces type of rock band. They're young guys that really caught on to that seventies style of snotty rock 'n' roll and I hope that's what's going on, because right now rock is so anemic. It's just amazing how anemic it is. The bands that are going up this summer that are going to really burn up the summer are bands like Aerosmith and Slash and Mötley Crüe and Alice Cooper and KISS and Def Leppard. Those are going to be the shows that bring it every night, whereas if I were going to go see a couple of young bands I'd be so bored out of my mind, because these young bands are just afraid to be rockers. They want to be all acoustic, and they want to sing about how oil is bad and "I'm going to be a vegan now, don't let any burnt flesh come near me," and I'm going, "Come on! What is this? Have a cheeseburger and shut up!"
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Aerosmith's Joey Kramer
Mike Ragogna: Hey Joey. You've got the Let Rock Rule tour coming up with special guest Slash.
Joey Kramer: Yeah. In my opinion, Slash is probably one of the last of the iconic guitar players carrying the torch of what it's really all about.
MR: Speaking of carrying the torch, I think Aerosmith has been that torch for a long time now, and you've all been very dedicated. Just look at the projects and tours you've done, like going overseas in support of Japan when it had the nuclear disaster. You guys are pretty dedicated to keeping that Aerosmith flaship going no matter what. Why is that?
JK: I think the common denominator is the love of what we do, bottom line. We could be fighting or disagreeing or having whatever's going on, and Lord knows there's lots of drama, but when it comes time to play and get on stage and do what we do, everything else kind of gets dropped to the wayside and the common denominator, like I said, with us is the love that we all have to play and entertain people.
MR: You're also carrying on the legacy of the type of music you play. Aerosmith is a solid brand of rock.
JK: Yes it is, and I'm the one that's responsible for that. A band is as solid as its drummer is.
MR: How would you say Aerosmith has evolved over the years?
JK: I think that we've taken the original idea that we had, which was a rock blues band forty years ago, and we've kept that torch burning and its originality without deviating too far from what it's really all about to begin with, like a lot of bands have and a lot of the music world has. That's why music is what it is today. I think it's kind of pitiful that music is disposable today and that there's not a whole lot of bands making records anymore. Call it whatever you want, whether it's hip-hop or cult music or pop music, but to me, it's all pretty disposable. I don't think that the music of Nikki Minaj or Justin Beiber is going to be played on the radio twenty-five years from now. I just think that a lot of these people came along at a time when they could do what they're doing. If there were lots of bands like there were twenty years ago, there'd be no room for stuff like that because there was only room for stuff that was real. That's what keeps us together. We love music.
MR: Yeah, there's a lot built out of fashion and devices.
JK: It's built around drama! I don't give a **t what his father does or what his mother does or what Nikki Minaj's uncle does. Show me the music! Let me hear the music. Music speaks and their music doesn't speak to me.
MR: What do you think is missing? What got lost?
JK: That's a very good question. What's lost in it for me is soul. It's got no soul. It's got no emotion. It's got no love. It's got no schmutz, it's got no grease...at the same time, if you talk to a kid today that's sixteen or seventeen years old, he doesn't know squat about The Beatles or The Dave Clark or the Zeppelin. Where do you go with that? It is what it is, but it's a damn shame because it's already happened and it's too late to stop it. The only thing we can hope for is to let rock rule.
MR: Perfect, that brings us back to the Let Rock Rule tour. This particular tour is kind of important for you guys, isn't it.
JK: It's always an important tour, man! There's never one that's not important!
MR: Right on. Joey, how do you explain your longevity? As you said, it's all just about the music and about the quality of it, huh?
JK: That's pretty much it, yeah. It's the love of it that we have that keeps us going. It's like I said to you before, nothing else really matters when it comes time to get on stage and play because that's the original source of energy. Fortunately for us we've been able to stay in touch with that and there's nothing better than that and there's nothing more exciting than that and there's nothing that can ever replace that and as long as you know that, which we all do because everybody's got their heads on straight, that's what it's all about. There's nothing else. If we didn't have Aerosmith, what would we do? Work at McDonald's. We can't do that, right?
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
JK: I don't know man! It's so different now than it was when we started and when we were young. The only thing that I can say really is that if you have a dream, which is what it was for us, you have to want it so f**king bad that you go for it in every way, shape and form that you possibly can. You breathe it, you sleep it, you don't do anything but it for the whole time that you're awake and alive. That's what we did and that's what happened. But I don't know that that kind of love and that kind of energy and that kind of want or desire is still there. It gets talked about a lot. I hear it talked about a lot but I don't really see it in form. I don't really see it come to be.
MR: Is it a different kind of work ethic?
JK: I think to a large extent it is, don't you? It's got to be, because this is the land of, "If you want it, you can have it." That's all people do, is talk about it, but there's so many kids today who are subjected to so many different things in so many different ways whether it's TV or radio, violence has no bearing on their lives, stealing has no bearing on their lives, people going hungry has no bearing on their lives because we're all so spoiled and we take everything so for granted that why woudl we expect them to want to work really hard to accomplish a goal that they say they really love? Everybody is entitled.
MR: Entitlement is a big issue.
JK: It is! It's the worst thing in the world and we're pretty much our own worst enemies when it comes down to it.
MR: What do you think about American Idol and these other singing game shows?
JK: Of the kind of music that we're talking about? Real rock 'n' roll? There hasn't been an American Idol for bands. There's American Idol for singers, there's The Voice for singers, everybody wants to be a star. It's easy for me to see because i'm a drummer; I see everything that goes on. I'm a team player. I'm not the quarterback but I can appreciate what the quarterbck does. I'm on the line making the quarterback happen. I'm one of the springs in the back of the clock that enables the clock to tell time, but nobody really gives a s**t about that. Everybody wants to be the singer because that's what everybody's attention is focused on. There are lots and lots of other people who really get excited, as I do, about being a part of a team when the team is successful. But the team is only successful when everybody is pulling their weight. That's just not the way now, so you get a boy band because you've got five guys that want to be the lead singer.
MR: [laughs] What's your perspective on Aerosmith's place in music?
JK: It's very difficult because opinions are voiced to me by friends and acquaintances and strangers of how they compare us to the Stones or the Zeppelin or The Who. When I was growing up and I was idolizing the guys that I was idolizing, that gave me the desire to do what I wanted to do, it was those gusy. Granted those guys are not that much older than we are, but at the same time I could never in a million years ever put myself at the same level as the Zeppelin or as The Beatles. I don't relate to it that way because those are the iconic guys that I followed. When people tell me that it's a very difficult thing for me to relate to. I see the bands that we influenced coming down the line. You've got everything from Bon Jovi to Cinderella to Ratt--all the hair bands of the eighties. Yeah, we were an influence on all of those people and I hear that but I just find it difficult to relate to because I like to think of myself as a humble person and I don't like to toot my own horn. If I get a compliment or if somebody tells me how much they love what I'm doing, that's great because that makes me a success because that's what I'm striving for, and that's more important to me than the other.
MR: You guys have been Letting Rock Rule for quite a while now. This is just going to keep going, isn't it.
JK: Yeah! It's still ruling for us, man, that's why we're doing what we're doing. It always ruled for us.
MR: Aerosmith is just going to keep going and going.
JK: I don't see any reason why not, other than one of us dropping dead. It's not that kind of a thing that just goes poof in the night and is gone. It's too strong an entity for that to happen to.
MR: How do you see the next couple of years? Are you guys working on new projects?
JK: At the moment, I think we're going to do this tour and it would be a healthy thing for everybody to take some time and do a project on their own because whenever you do stuff on your own, when you come back to the mothership, it makes everything bigger and stronger.
MR: What's on your own creative agenda?
JK: Well, I'm doing my coffee. It's a complete opposite thing for me because instead of dealing with the sort of people I deal with on a day to day basis, I'm dealing with completely different people. It's in the business world and it's a really big challenge for me. I love a challenege and I love to work hard and I love to put myself in the middle of everything. I'm very hands on with the company, I'm not one to just put my name on something and sit back and try and collect a check. I take part in every aspect of the company, I have a great team, all the people that I have working for me believe in the product and it's going really well. I would love to take that further. Not only that, but it's something that people enjoy. I love doing something that makes people happy.
MR: And you've been doing that for a long time.
JK: I know, that's what my life is.
MR: As a longtime Aerosmith fan, thanks, Joey.
JK: "I'm happy, I hope you're happy, too."
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S' VIDEO PREMIERE
According to the group's vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Richard Edwards...
"I'd had an idea to shoot something long form and band related on 16mm for a long time, and the timing finally worked out. Film is my dominant interest and this seemed like a good excuse to get my hands dirty and learn more about something that I'd love to do in another life. The basic idea was to shoot performances in one take, mirroring the way those kinds of intimate songs are recorded to tape when you aren't putzing around with much overdubbing."
Okay, time to get the popcorn and all comfy-like...