Hanging with Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper turned 60 this year. He is playing The Orleans this weekend, not sitting at home yelling at the neighborhood kids to get out of his yard — though wouldn’t you love to see just how he would scare them away?

But there is a "Back in my day…" tone to the conversation when Cooper talks about putting out a new album, which is no small achievement given his age and the current state of the music industry.

"It was a different time, it was a different era, it was a different mind-set," Cooper says of his ’70s heyday, when he enjoyed both album-rock credibility and the occasional Top 40 single ("School’s Out," "Only Women," "You And Me").

"We had to write good songs in order to get played. Now, all you really have to come out with is an image and a record company behind you and you’re going to get played. The competition isn’t anywhere near as strong as it used to be."

The "image" comment sounds a little odd coming from the pioneer Goth-rocker, long known for his runny mascara, top hats and live boa constrictors as neckerchiefs. But he does make a point about classic-rock radio formats and ageism in the music industry.

"If Paul McCartney put an album out right now that was better than ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ it wouldn’t get played (on the radio)," he says. "But if some little band called the Purple Skunks come out, they’re gonna get played all day. You sit there and you go, ‘Are we talking quality or quantity? What’s good, or what’s next?’ "

Still, the new album, "Along Came a Spider," recorded for an independent German label that carries other classic hard-rockers, hit No. 53 on Billboard’s album chart last month. New-media marketing tools such as YouTube feed right into Cooper’s longtime penchant for cinematic videos and theatrical concept albums.

This one ties its songs together from the perspective of a serial killer who calls himself The Spider, with the lyrics to each song reading as the killer’s diary entries. There is even a twist ending.

"When Ozzy (Osbourne) and Alice and Iggy (Pop) put out new records, we’re not really expecting to get a lot of airplay. When I wrote ‘Along Came A Spider,’ I know who that album is for. It’s for my fans," he says. "Everybody can get it on the Internet, but the real fans want the package. They want to be able to hold that CD in their hands. … I think they want that in their collection."

Cooper wants to go all out with a concept tour for "Spider" next year. This weekend’s engagement is still part of his summer "Psycho-Drama" tour, but offers plenty of his trademark visuals, including a good hanging for his Alice character.

"I’m always going to be old-school. I’m going to write albums, I’m going to put them out, I’m going to get onstage and perform," he says. He compares himself to Bob Dylan, who was scheduled earlier this week at the Hard Rock Hotel: "This is what I do. I can’t think of why I wouldn’t want to do that. It doesn’t really matter what the money is anymore, I think it’s that you’re addicted to performing."

The current show sticks mostly to the hits. But Cooper says he knows how to sneak in a new song or two by putting "a little piece of theater to it." Once at a Rolling Stones concert, he caught himself doing what most people do: heading for the men’s room during a new song. "How dare I do that?" he remembers thinking. "Because I should know better."

The yearlong tour is a family affair, with his wife and two daughters helping out in the show. At one point, they are Chinese assassins. "They look like Bond girls. One’s got a submachine gun," he says. "I look around and go, ‘That’s my wife and kids.’

"They all get to gang up on me and kill me every night," he adds, which may have some psychological bearing on the fact that he’s been married for 32 years. "I couldn’t be happier," he says. "I don’t stress about anything. I know the show is great, I know my family’s great."

As it turns out, Cooper did this telephone interview the day after he took a nasty fall during a show in Oregon. But he made no mention of it at the time and it was a few days before the story came out. According to one account posted on Cooper’s Web site, a few days passed before the indestructible rock icon finally agreed to get himself checked out and learned he had a broken rib and ligament damage. Still he missed no tour dates.

So during this phone call, it was either a very inside joke or the truest words he ever uttered when Cooper volunteered, "At 60, I’m in better shape than I was when I was 30. I don’t think the age thing has anything to do with it. I think age is just a matter of numbers; it’s how good your body is.

"Since I never smoked cigarettes and I quit drinking 26 years ago, I think I put 25 years on my life."

Good thing. Revelling in evil and getting your comeuppance on a nightly basis is hazardous enough, it would seem.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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