Alice Cooper has always incorporated covers into his live show, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has never done an album of other's people music. He plans to change that soon by recording an album of songs inspired by his legendary onetime drinking club, the Hollywood Vampires, a group that included John Lennon, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and more.
Cooper himself has been sober for three decades. Thinking back to those early days of rock & roll excess he says, "It was another life." But he remembers it well, reflecting here on trying to save Jim Morrison, his healthy rivalry with guys like Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and David Bowie and his thoughts on young artists such as Justin Bieber. Cooper spoke with Rolling Stone at the John Varvatos charity event in West Hollywood last weekend.
You were just talking to Joe Perry earlier. I know you guys are old friends.
We did some writing together back in the Eighties for a movie and it happened to be at [manager] Shep [Gordon]'s house, which was one of the most haunted houses ever. And in the end, it's not like the movies, where you hear stuff in the basement and you say, "Let's go see what that is" – we both ran out of the house. We took off because it sounded like somebody moving furniture in the basement. And then Shep goes, "Oh, they wrote The Amityville Horror there." I went, "Oh, thanks, that's information I could've used before."
You have dates coming up with Marilyn Manson. Have you toured together before?
No. In fact, the very first time I met him was in Transylvania. It was the weirdest thing. We had jousted in the press before a little bit ,and we realized we were doing a show together in Transylvania, a big outdoor show, two miles from Dracula's castle. He walked by the dressing room and I said, "Hey, come here." We finally met face to face, and what we talked about was marriage, which was interesting. I've been married 37 years.
And after the tour you start the covers album?
We do a thing in our show, which is a tribute to Hollywood Vampires, my drinking club. And it was Keith Moon, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz – a very eclectic bunch of drunks. Half of them are dead, so we do four songs in the show in tribute to them. We do "Break On Through," "Revolution," "My Generation" and Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady." I just kind of said, "We've never done a covers album, let's think about that." So [Bob] Ezrin and I are kind of bouncing it around right now.
What are some of the wish-list songs?
I would keep it right to about '73, '74. I don't want to just go anywhere. I want to keep it right in that sort of drunk era, so it's specific. I would say "Break On Through," that's a really good rock track there. The other ones, think of it – Harry Nilsson, there's a lot of good stuff there that could be rocked out. I think of songs as being clay. Take a song like "Jump Into the Fire" and take that to a harder level, and that'll work.
When will the album be out?
I think it'll be out next year. When the tour's over in December then we'll go right in the studio.
Can you look back on that time now with perspective?
It was another life, honestly – a different life. Bernie Taupin and I are best friends, and Bernie was a vampire. He was a last-man-standing, good British drunk. And we sit and talk about it, both of us. I've been sober now 30 years, and I go, "It was another life." But it was all artists, and that was the cool thing about it. It was all guys that were competing with each other in a really good way. I wanted to hear Bowie's new album, I wanted to hear Iggy's new album, I wanted to hear Lou Reed's new album. To me, it was almost more of a theatrical movement than it was competition.
I had a conversation a couple of years ago with Nick Cave, and we were talking about people having to make their own mistakes.
I feel sorry for young bands. They don't have a chance to make mistakes. One strike and they're done. We got to make mistakes. We got to make albums that bombed right along with albums that were the Number Ones.
You also got to fuck up in public, but now the pressure is so great. Look at Justin Bieber – who didn't see that "rough week" coming?
He came into Phoenix, comes up on stage, turns his back to the audience and throws up. I said, in the press, "Justin, just as a note of professional rock & roll, never turn your back when you throw up. Let the audience see you throw up . . . Because that's a moment they're gonna remember." Make sure the lights are on you when you throw up. If he rides this thing out and still makes records, he's gonna be a seasoned artist in about 10 years, 'cause he makes good records now, but he's got to survive the next 10 years. The excess is gonna come at him so quick.
You got to make those mistakes. You survived it. But with so many public tales of those that didn't make it, what are your thoughts when you see someone like Amy Winehouse?
Hey, Jim Morrison – nobody could talk Jim Morrison out of dying. I was a drunk, but I was a lightweight compared to him, and nobody could talk him out of where he was going. Jim was gonna go there and that was it. Same with Amy. I don't think anybody could've talked Amy out of where she was going. The true artists are always out on a limb. They're always the ones that are just maybe gonna die.
How did you survive?
I had to wake up one morning and throw up blood and realize that was a pretty good sign God was saying, "That's about enough out of you. You could still rock & roll, but you're gonna have to do it a different way." Because I was dying. Doctor said, "You got two more weeks before you join Jimi, Jim and all the boys." I said, "I want to stick around and make records." So I had to stop. Same with Iggy, same with Lou, same with Steven [Tyler] and Joe. They're here because they got in the crossroads and made the right choice. If not, we would've been dead, all of us.
But, as you say, some of them couldn't be stopped.
I think the early guys, the Jim Morrisons, the Janis Joplins, just did not want to see 30. Twenty-seven was the expiration date. And it really came up a lot of times, 27, and I guess they said, "That's too close to 30, I'm just gonna burn out." First of all, rock & roll and heroin, it's not gonna work. Anything with a needle involved is not gonna work, and you add that to a little schizophrenia and a little bipolar, you got Syd Barrett and you got Brian Wilson. Two geniuses. Brian's producing and I've always loved him, I consider him a genius, but what could he have been doing now? He would've been doing amazing stuff. But on top of being schizophrenic and bipolar he's doing acid and speed. That's just like pouring coals on the fire.
Why do today's musicians do it?
It's some kind of defiance. "I know it's gonna kill me, but I'm gonna do it." I always tell kids, I can't think of one guy that I know that took a lot of drugs and sat back and said, "That was a good idea." Now, if they're still alive they're going, "OK, I wrote some good songs when I was smashed out of my mind, but I was really lucky to get through it."