It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call Alice Cooper one of the most interesting figures in the history of rock ’n’ roll.
If you go
What: Alice Cooper, with special guest VenrezWhen: 8 p.m. MondayWhere: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum DrivePrice: $35-$55For more info: www.north charlestoncoliseumpac.com
Before David Bowie put on makeup and called himself Ziggy Stardust, and decades before Marilyn Manson hit the airwaves, Alice Cooper helped popularize the androgynous male rock star look.
Born Vincent Furnier in Detroit, the future Alice Cooper first formed a band with teammates from his high school track team, two of whom remained in the group throughout the rise to fame.
Alice Cooper was originally the band’s name, but it soon became a moniker for their flamboyant lead singer.
Surprisingly enough to many fans of Cooper’s “shock rock” image, a term he helped coin and define, the singer’s primary influences were The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd and The Beatles.
A quick listen to the band’s 1969 debut, “Pretties for You,” reveals orchestral, multipart harmonies that sound far more like outtakes from the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions than anything Cooper’s contemporary, Ozzy Osbourne, ever recorded.
By the 1973 release of “Billion Dollar Babies,” Cooper was one of the biggest rock stars in America.
Although his fame has fluctuated in the years since, he’s remained consistently productive, releasing 26 studio albums to date.
The latest, 2011’s “Welcome 2 My Nightmare,” remains a poignant reminder of his skills as a musician and a showman without ever putting aside his career-spanning themes of blood, gore and death.
Sticking with his tried-and-true makeup-and-gore persona still works for Cooper, despite finding spiritual awakening in recent years through re-embracing the Christian faith of his youth.
In the same week, it’s possible that Cooper may be on stage fake-executing himself with a guillotine and helping to watch the children in his church’s nursery in Phoenix.
Nevertheless, don’t expect his upcoming show at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center to be a sit-down, unplugged-style affair.
In an interview with Charleston Scene, the 64-year-old Cooper didn’t hold back, freely answering questions about his faith, his four-decade career and being “old and lovable.”
Q: Do you go by Vince to friends and folks who know you?
A: Oh no, no, no, no. My mom calls me Vince. I always ask people, “Do you call Elton John Reggie?” Probably not. Everybody calls me either Alice or Coop.
Q: I read that you have some French Huguenot blood, and Charleston is a bastion of French Huguenots.
A: My family traces back to the Huguenots, the French Protestants. Our family went two different ways, to Montreal and New Orleans, down in that area in the South. It could have been Charleston, too.
Q: You’re playing Bonnaroo two days before the show in Charleston. Wherever you go, there must be a lot of young people in the audience who weren’t alive for the first few years of the ’70s, when you were one of the biggest rock stars in the world.
A: In those days, people didn’t have any idea how to classify us. Here was this guy named Alice Cooper with blood everywhere and snakes and guillotines, and the scariest part of all: hit records.
Generally, with a theatrical kind of act, which we were probably the first one, they didn’t have hit records that went with it. There were bands like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Oingo Boingo that were fun to watch, but they didn’t have hit records.
Alice Cooper could back it up with “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
We had 14 Top 40 hits, so that made us three times more dangerous because we were commercial. It scared parents and it scared clergy and it scared politicians and the PTA, and at the same time it fascinated them, because when they came to see the show, they really liked it.
Q: In the ’80s, you did get really heavy. But even when Alice Cooper, the band, was inventing “shock rock” with those hits you just named — comparative to what we think of as heavy now — those songs really weren’t that heavy.
A: That’s right. It was subversive. At the time, you had disco and pop, and then along came Alice Cooper. We took it a step further. All of a sudden, the Rolling Stones were choir boys and Jim Morrison was just this California guy, because here was this new danger.
I don’t think people got the sense of humor in our act until later. It took a few times on the Johnny Carson show.
I really think that most comedies and horror movies are pretty much related. There was nothing satanic about anything we did. There was no bad language. There was no nudity. It was just creepy.
Q: You’re known as having come back to your childhood Christianity, yet you still use the same stage persona that you’ve been using for 40 years, which originally scared the church.
A: I look at it this way: I always say, “Would it be OK if I did ‘Macbeth’?” Most church people would say, “Sure, that’s Shakespeare.” Have you ever seen “Macbeth?” It’s all incest and cults and witches. It’s 10 times more satanic than anything Alice Cooper has ever done. But it would be OK to do that. So most of the time they have to sit back and say, “Yeah, you’re right.” Alice Cooper brought sensationalism to rock ’n’ roll. If rock ’n’ roll was the Los Angeles Times, I was the National Enquirer.
Q: I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians today prefer not to believe in the devil, yet Satan is something you clearly do believe in.
A: I am very, very, very vocal about that. I always tell kids, “If you think hell is getting high with Jim Morrison, then boy, you’re exactly where he wants you.” I believe in a total source of evil. If God says there is a devil, then I don’t think God lied about it. It’s sort of like people only want to believe in a certain amount of the Bible.
I think that if you believe one word, then you have to believe in all of it. If God is not in control of every molecule in the cosmos, then he’s not in control and he’s not God. So I believe he’s in control of every single thing, and especially, he’s in control of Satan.
Q: Do you ever worry that even though there’s a Halloween-show aspect of what you do, with the blood and the guillotine, that it might ever fuel someone else’s tendency towards evil?
A: I think of it, and then I think that if they take me seriously as being this, then they probably take “Scooby Doo” seriously also. Honestly, for the 99.9 percent of people that get it, there’s always that (small) percent who don’t. They would probably be affected by “Kojak,” you know? So I don’t know if you can stop art just because there is a very small percentage of people who will take it seriously.
I guarantee there are people out there who don’t get the satire, but the vast majority do. Frank Zappa once told me, “Either they get it or they don’t.” He said, “Everybody’s not going to jump on this and say, ‘Oh, yeah, how hip is this?’ Some people are actually going to take it at face value, so understand that.” But that was in 1970. I think that by now, everybody kind of gets it.
I always tell people that Iggy Pop and myself and Lou Reed and David Bowie and Ozzy, when we were younger, we were dangerous. Now we’re old and we’re lovable.
Q: Did you see this story in the news about the guy in Miami who almost killed somebody by biting their face off? On your new disc, “Welcome 2 My Nightmare,” you have a song called “I’ll Bite Your Face Off.” I wonder if you can still play that song at your shows this summer.
A: That’s weird. There is a subculture out there that actually believes in a zombie invasion, which I think is wishful thinking on their part. We have enough zombies out there, mentally, without there actually being real ones. If there was a nuclear war, then maybe the people left on the planet would be zombies or flesh-eaters, but I don’t think we have that now. We have one, I guess, in Florida.
Q: Sometimes when I’m getting to know people, I think about how they would behave in a post-apocalyptic situation and then decide whether or not I want to be their friend.
A: You know, exactly. Every time I see a movie like that, I always put my friends in that situation and go, “How would they react to that?” I know a lot of people who would fold under the pressure immediately.
Q: Shifting gears, you’re playing at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. Have you been playing a lot of theater shows?
A: I would prefer to play a theater anytime because I think the show is better. We do big outdoor shows in the summertime with 100,000-plus people. Eighty percent of the time, that’s what we’re doing. We’ve been touring with Iron Maiden and we’re the guest stars, so we only do an hour.
When we do our own show like this, it’s an hour and 50 minutes, and even that’s usually in an arena. When we find a theater that we like, I think everybody has a better seat, and it sounds better. If it were up to me, we would do only theater shows.
Q: Are the people in the front rows still going to get bloody at a theater show?
A: If you’re close to the guillotine, you’re going to get something on you. Especially now that we have Orianthi (Cooper’s new 24-year-old female guitarist, who previously played with Carrie Underwood). She likes the idea of spreading the blood around.
She’s an amazing guitar player. People are shocked at how great she is, and I give her a lot of leads during the show. In the beginning of the tour, she had her blond hair, but by the middle of the run, it was getting ratted-out and she was getting freaky. By the end of the tour, she had blood coming out of her mouth and “Help Me” scratched into her arm. She totally got into the whole theatrics of it, and it’s almost like I have to tame her down and say, “OK, back off a little bit.”
Q: I can’t remember you playing in Charleston in the last decade.
A: I don’t think we have, but we were there in the ’70s and ’80s. This tour takes us everywhere. We’re in 100 cities around the world, from Moscow to Jakarta to Charleston.
Q: I’m glad that you’re still out there doing it.
A: Oh, yeah. I am so happy with the band I have. This show is a lot of fun to watch. I’ve never been more viable than I am right now.
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