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Arts & Life

Alice Cooper Revisits Hometown In New Album

(SOUNDBITE OF ALICE COOPER SONG, "BILLION DOLLAR BABIES")

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

For more than 50 years, Alice Cooper has been the face of shock rock. That is rock that's just as much about the performance as it is about the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BILLION DOLLAR BABIES")

ALICE COOPER: (Singing) Billion dollar babies...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Cooper's hands, the performance has featured creepy dolls, fake blood, snakes and a lot of strutting and dazzling. Now Alice Cooper has a new album. It's inspired by his hometown, and it's called "Detroit Stories."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DETROIT CITY 2020")

COOPER: (Singing) Bleak town, sleek town, freak town. Detroit city. Downtown, Motown...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alice Cooper, welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

COOPER: Thank you so much, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were part of the hard rock scene in Detroit in the early '70s, along with The Stooges. What made you want to revisit that time and place?

COOPER: Well, for one thing, if you're going to do a hard rock album, you want to go to the place where it actually lives. And Detroit is still the hard rock capital. I mean, when we went there in the '70s, we met The Stooges and the MC5 and Bob Seger and Ted Nugent and Suzi Quatro. All the bands, though - we related to them because LA - we were too weird for LA, if that's possible, and too weird for San Francisco. And, you know, but we got to Detroit, and there was this hard rock scene, really guitar-driven hard rock scene, and that's really where we belonged.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The song that leads off the album is a cover. I want to listen to a bit of this. It's the great Velvet Underground song called "Rock 'n' Roll."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK 'N' ROLL")

COOPER: (Singing) Jenny said, when she was just 5 years old, there was nothing happening at all. Every time she turned on the radio, there was nothing going down at all. Then one morning on a Detroit station, couldn't believe what she heard at all. She started shaking to that fine, fine music. Yeah, her life was saved by rock 'n' roll. Despite all...

I always thought that that song - it had that New York heroin chic '70s sound to it where they kind of (singing) when Jenny was just 5 years old, it was - you know, kind of monotone. And it was cool because that's what The Velvet Underground were. But I said, why don't we take that song to Detroit and put a V8 engine in it? And Lou wouldn't have minded that change - New York City to Detroit City. So it just gave that song a different life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you remember about those days? What was it like?

COOPER: It was the best. It was the healthiest rock scene I'd ever been in. Everything was about hard rock. Everybody worked in factories. They wanted their bands to sound like their machines, you know, sort of no-frills, right-in-your-face rock 'n' roll. That's what we were. Then you put the theatrics on top of that - sort of a dark vaudeville but to rock 'n' roll.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was Alice Cooper also born there? Or does that persona - not just the name but the persona you built around it - come from someplace else?

COOPER: Well, you know, we were the first generation that was brought up on TV and movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE SOUND EFFECT)

COOPER: I think I absorbed an awful lot of RKO horror movies when I was a kid, and I saw the comedy in them. I didn't just see the horror. I saw the horror and comedy kind of mixed together. And then what happens if you put rock 'n' roll to that?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN")

COOPER: (Singing) I'm a teenage Frankenstein. The local freak with the twisted mind.

Rock 'n' roll needed a villain.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you were happy to do that?

COOPER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we had all these Peter Pans and no Captain Hook, but I thought that this villain should be arrogant and condescending, kind of Alan Rickman-ish, you know? Most horror is pretty schlock. And if you can scare the audience for a second and then make them laugh after that, and then you put all that to really good rock music, I think you got something.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You decided, though, at a certain point that you kind of had to divorce yourself from the persona of Alice Cooper. And you now speak about him in the third person. Can you explain why?

COOPER: Well, for one thing, to coexist with him, you know, I was back in the days - we had a drinking club called the Hollywood Vampires, and it was John Lennon and Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson and Bernie Taupin and Micky Dolenz. It was like every night, we met and drank, the last man standing. And, you know, half of those guys died. And so I got up one morning and threw up blood. And my wife says, party's over. I went to the hospital. And 38 years ago - I haven't had a drink in 38 years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I read that you go to church every week, Bible study, I mean, that faith is a huge part of your life.

COOPER: Yes, I was the prodigal son. I grew up in the church. My dad was a pastor. My grandfather was an evangelist. My wife's father is a pastor. When I got sober, I came back. I was missing my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And it was very important to me when I realized that that one-on-one relationship was more important than just about anything in my life. And then I realized there's nothing that ever said I couldn't be a rock star.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's nothing in the Bible about that. It's true.

COOPER: No. Well, for one thing, I think it's all a matter of, what are you presenting on stage? And what my show was was never anything satanic in my show. We never had any nudity, no bad language, nothing like that. So my show is pure entertainment. And I thought I could very much coexist if I didn't have to be Alice all the time. Once I get on stage for the two hours, I love playing Alice. He's so much fun to play. I mean, you can't get bored playing this character. Offstage, I go to church every Sunday, a Bible study on Wednesday mornings. All my kids are really in great shape on every level. They've never been busted for anything. They're all married now. And I got grandkids. So it's a - you know, I'm more Ozzie Nelson than Ozzy...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ozzy Osbourne.

COOPER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have some heavy hitters on this album - your longtime producer Bob Ezrin, the Motor City Horns, Wayne Kramer from MC5. Let's listen to a track co-written by you and Kramer and Ezrin. This "$1000 High Heel Shoes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "$1000 HIGH HEEL SHOES")

COOPER: (Singing) Sometimes I drive all day, until there's nothing left in my tank.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Shoo doowop, shoo doowop, ooh.

COOPER: (Singing) You know, I'm breaking my back, but, man, I'm sure not breaking the bank.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Shoo doowop, shoo doowop, ooh...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask you about this. Gene Simmons, the bass player from KISS, recently claimed that rock is dead, which is a lot to say. And you fired back, telling New Musical Express that you'd let Simmons do your taxes because he's a businessman and dead wrong about rock 'n' roll. What else did you have to say to him?

COOPER: Oh, Gene is one of my - he's my buddy. You know, I mean, he'll understand what I'm saying on this. I think what he's saying is rock 'n' roll financially may be not what it used to be. I don't think it's dead at all. I'm sure right now there's lots of teenagers in their garages learning Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses because that's the one music that has survived from the '60s until now until another 50 years. It survived punk. It survived grunge. It survived hip-hop. It survived all these. It's not the foremost thing in music right now where it used to be. So what's happened now is rock 'n' roll has taken its place again as outlaw. It's an outlaw kind of music looking in. And I think that's a pretty healthy thing for rock 'n' roll. Young bands are going to like the fact that they're not the mainstream now. They're the outlaws defying the fact that, oh, you don't like it? Well, let's turn it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT UP AND ROCK")

COOPER: (Singing) Just shut up and rock. Oh, shut up and rock...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rock 'n' roll legend Alice Cooper. His new album is "Detroit Stories." Thank you so much.

COOPER: Thanks, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT UP AND ROCK")

COOPER: (Singing) Don't want to hear about your yoga class... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.