Planet Comicon showed how it has grown into a multi-genre spectacle with the announcement of several celebrity guests out of the comic book world, including professional wrestlers Sting and Trish Stratus, but none was exciting as the announcement for Godfather of Shock Rock Alice Cooper.
The line to meet and have something signed by Cooper remained full throughout the weekend, and Friday night fans were treated to a panel with Cooper moderated by Clare Kramer, who played Glory on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series.
Fans filed in front and center in the Grand Ballroom of Bartle Hall, while Cooper talked about a wide range of topics from his nearly 50 year career spanning shocking audiences, appearing on “The Muppets,” and handling his sobriety on the road.
At the start of the panel, Cooper talked about playing King Herod in the upcoming NBC revamp of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live!” and playing the character like Alan Rickman. He joked about how all Rickman had to say was “Frrmmm” to be the most condescending character, the crowd laughing at the impression of the late actor. Cooper talked about how John Legend is portraying Jesus, playing the character very quiet – like the world really does revolve around him. Continuing a bit of monologue, Cooper talked about how he recently turned 70, and in one week was in a
“nuclear attack” in Hawaii and a head on collision and walked away from both fine.
“I think maybe, John Legend’s looking out for me,” Cooper said to a chorus of laughs.
Cooper talked about the different projects he’s involved in, including his own band as well as Hollywood Vampires, which features actor Johnny Depp on guitars alongside Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. With both bands in different stages of producing new material and touring, Kramer asked about how Cooper finds the time of day between all the projects he’s involved in.
“When I’m home, I’m just dad,” Cooper said. “I have three great kids, and I’ve got two grandsons, twin grandsons, Falcon and Riot. Three years old, and they go ‘PopPop’” he said mimicking their voices. “But they look at me and they see Alice Cooper on TV and they go ‘ah it’s PopPop’ and I don’t scare them all, which is weird. I am dad.
“Just getting ready for my forty-second wedding anniversary, Sheryl was the original ballerina in ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ when she was 18 years old and she still plays the ballerina now, in character, but as a ragdoll coming out of toy box,” he continued. “But she dances better now than she did then. She also plays my nurse, Rozetta, which is this just horrific nurse, ya know, Day of the Dead nurse. It’s so much fun to tour with a great band, I’ve got the best touring band ever, and then have your wife playing opposite you, as your adversary on stage, it’s really fun to tour now like that.”
Kramer talked about the beginnings of Alice Cooper, while he was still in high school. Cooper talked about the time, he was 15 and the Beatles were peaking in popularity. When he first heard them on the radio, Cooper said it caught his attention because it was so different. He said it took a while to understand where you were going to be and what you were going to do to make it different from the British Invasion.
“Being an art student, and all the guys in the band were art students, I looked and I said ‘there’s hundreds of Peter Pans out there and no Captain Hook,there’s no villain in rock,’” he said gesturing to himself. “I will gladly be the villain of rock. And so to create the character Alice Cooper, well that’s gonna piss off every parent in America. Because it’s 1969, 1970 and there’s this guy named Alice Cooper and he’s got a snake, he’s got a guillotine, and there’s chopped up baby dolls everywhere, there’s blood everywhere. I’m not letting my kid go see that, of course it was all in fun. We did scare pretty much everybody, we were sort of Marilyn Manson times ten.”
It wasn’t until people understood it was a character he portrayed on stage that Cooper became more of a household name. Cooper then went on to talk about the origin of the name, with Kramer bringing up an urban legend that the name came from a Ouija Board session, which Cooper said was better than the actual story.
“The real thing that happened was, we sat around saying, we had these horrible names, Husky Baby Sandwich,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “There were some really horrific names, and I said ‘no let’s not do the obvious thing, let’s give them the name of some sweet old lady that lives down the block that makes cookies for the kids, Alice Cooper. That was the sweetest little old lady name I could think of.
“But it also had this threat to it. Baby Jane, Lizzie Borden, Alice Cooper, there was a rhythm to it that made it sound dangerous,” he explained. “And when you saw the band with that name it kind of threw you for a loop. And then when you give them the show on top of it, and they had never seen anything like this. Well nobody knew how to take it, it was fun to watch, but was this real? What is going on? It really truly scared everybody.”
He went on to say he designed the character based around Barbarella and The Great Tyrant character as well as influences from Bette Davis’ “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” He said it took a long time for people to realize it was all part of the show and Alice Cooper was actually a character he was playing.
He explained his stage show and how he wanted it to reflect the lyrics to be represented in what’s happening on stage and a manner of realism to what’s going on – confirming the blade in the guillotine that “beheads” him is a real, razor-sharp, 40-pound blade that misses him by about six inches.
Cooper went on to take a multitude of questions from fans in attendance, ranging from how he stays sober when touring to being on the Muppets TV show to how his religion is reflected in his work.
One question from a member of the crowd, who works at School of Rock Kansas City, was about what advice Cooper would give to her students who are growing up and interested in rock and roll. He joked that the students he’s played with before are great musicians playing complicated chord progressions instead of the three-chord rock from his era.
“Bands come to me and they’ve got all the image in the world, they’re dark,” Cooper said. “They’re good looking kids and they’re young and they’re angry and this and that. And then they play me the song I go, ‘where’s the song?’ I get it you’re angry. I got that part. You’re yelling at me. Ok, I get it. Now, I’m going to ask you to do something that you’re not going to be able to do. ‘What? We’ll do anything.’ I say ok, for the next two weeks I only want you to listen to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and maybe The Four Seasons, ok Burt Bacharach. Listen to the way a song is constructed. I want you to listen to the construction of the song, how it goes from an opening to a verse to a B section to a bridge into a chorus back to a bridge back to a verse, whatever. And then write me an angry song, but put a melody to it. You can put an angry melody to it. But they can’t do it, because they’re so involved in the anger of it that they can’t listen to a simple song. So write me an angry song, but make it a song.
“My producer Bob Esser, we did some of the most dastardly, horrible lyrics, but you can sit at a piano and play each one of them. You can take any song that we did and play piano and sing it as a melody. That was one thing that had to be there. If you don’t have those songs then Alice Cooper is a puppet show. You have to have the songs before you do the theater, and a lot of bands don’t understand that.”
Overall it was a great experience for fans. Cooper was candid and pleasant throughout the panel, going into detail about handling his sobriety and talking in detail about how he is a Christian but believes when it comes to an Alice Cooper concert, there is no place for politics or religion, only entertainment. His panel was a clear example of why he has found so much success over his 50 years in the business, and will continue to go strong.
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