Hot Docs 2014 Interview: ScreenAnarchy Talks To The Legendary Alice Cooper
The filmmakers behind Super Duper Alice Cooper dub their work the
first "doc opera", and it comes pretty close to living up to that hype. Tracing
the remarkable career of the band Alice Cooper (a moniker derived from a drunken Ouija
board session), we get a nice overview by directors Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn of the hedonistic rock of the 70s right
through to the present day.
"Alice Cooper" became not just the band's appelation but the legal name of its flamboyant yet macabre lead singer. From "I'm Eighteen" to "School's Out", Cooper's songs continue to be a staple of Classic Rock radio. The story behind this rise, as well as the many slips along the way (be they professional or personal) are spelled out in economical fashion. Plus, there's loads of local flavor to the film - Alice Cooper recorded several of their albums in Toronto (under the guidance of producer Bob Ezrin, himself deserving of a feature length doc), as well as an infamous situation involving a Beatle, a concert for peace, and the dismemberment of a live chicken
I had the pleasure of speaking to the man born Vincent Furnier as he attended the premiere of his film - he was as charming and affable as you'd expect, patient with the many reporters gathered to ask him what sounded like repetitive questions. Naturally, I took the time to get a bit deeper and nerded out about some of the music and musicians that shaped him.
Your first record was produced by a hero of mine, Frank Zappa. What was he really like?
Frank was great. He was such an untouchable character because he wasn't like anybody else. The Mick Jaggers of the world and the Paul McCartneys of the world and all of the guys who were the biggest stars looked at Frank as the Maestro.
He was the genius. He was the Brian Wilson.
Was he as much of a workaholic as we hear?
All I ever saw was cigarettes and coffee and he was in the studio 22 hours a day. There are probably 50 more albums out there that have not been released yet. But that's all he did, all he did was work.
It's nice to see the GTO's get their time in this film as well. Besides being notorious groupies and Zappa's babysitters, they also happened to help you guys find a career.
I just saw Miss Pamela and Miss Mercy, just a couple of days ago. They look great.
Still hanging out with groupies, huh?
[Laughs.] They're doing great, they were in L.A. and they looked terrific!
In terms of your own musical trajectory, you started with slightly more progressive rock into, shall we say, a kind of glam/goth metal, and finally into a more spiritual musical side. What is the type of music that still energizes you?
I still go back to the fact that I haven't outgrown the power chord yet. I haven't outgrown the Pete Townshend power chord yet, I still love that.
I'm the last guy that's ever going to say turn it down. I want to turn it up, I want it loud!
So, Beatles, Stones... You're (wisely) going with The Who?
Well, we all learned from The Beatles. We all learned from The Stones. We were all cover bands!
The Beatles did Chuck Berry.
But The Who were the band with the attitude. The Yardbirds were the band with all the great musicians, so they were the band we tried to be. The Who was the band that made us go . . . whaaaaat?! I mean, they had the best drummer of all time, Keith Moon.
Even Pete doesn't think he's a drummer per se, more a force of nature. He was a total lunatic, musically and professionally.
More than you know! I tell people all the time, about 30% of what you've heard about me is true, or Michael Jackson or anyone. But everything you've heard about Keith Moon is true. And you've only heard about 10% of it.
Do you watch something like THIS IS SPINAL TAP and have this feeling in the pit of your stomach that it's playing like a documentary?
Every band that has moving parts on the stage has experienced [what occurs to] Spinal Tap. When I saw the guy not being able to get on the pod, I thought, I have been there! I have had that stage prop that worked perfectly in rehearsal, but get an audience and you can't get on to it.
My introduction to you was of course in watching THE MUPPET SHOW. Could you talk about working with Jim Henson and what that was like for you? You had crafted this image of being the untouchable, scary guy, and here you were singing to guys wearing felt creatures on their hands.
To this day probably the best thing I ever did was The Muppet Show, only because I so didn't want to do it.
Even though I loved the show, I thought it was going to soften me up so much and then they said, well, Vincent Price did it, Christopher Lee did it. Peter Sellers did it, and I went I'm in. Just get me in there.
I had more fun working with The Muppets, with Jim Henson and Frank Oz, than anything else.
On my birthday I still get a little porcelain Muppet, they send me one every year.
Super Duper Alice Cooper had its Canadian premiere at Toronto's Hot Docs Film festival. Theatrical, VOD and disc releases are scheduled for later this summer.