Cooper-Duper

In Alice's wonderland, even trash turns platinum

Nobody stops Bob Hope when he makes one of his famous unannounced "walk-ons" in the middle of whatever talk show he happens to be taping a special next door to. Not even David Letterman bars Bob from playing through.

Nosiree, when Hope deems it appropriate to drop in on the latest late-night hot spot, it doesn't matter if the octogenarian quipster's jokes fit in with the show's hip format as poorly as a pair of green plaid slacks on Arsenio Hall. He's Bob Hope, dammit! A living legend in golf shoes.

It was the same thing whenever Alice Cooper showed up at radio stations during the Eighties to promote his various attempts at a comeback album. Deejays who hadn't played a Cooper pooper since 1980's "Clones (We're All)," his last single to crack the Top 40, would suddenly yank whatever Miami Sound Machine wowser they were spinning the minute the ever-lovable, still charismatic star walked into the control booth. So what if the veteran shock-rocker's Eighties albums seemed unfit for any format? This was Alice Cooper, dammit! A true rock 'n' roll original.

He dropped in on radio stations a lot, by rock-star standards. All his years of superstar schmoozing, guesting on everything from the Grammys to The Muppet Show during his Seventies heyday, had made Cooper a master at keeping his name on America's household word list, even without a song on the hit list.

Eventually, Alice's visits to Radioland took on a somewhat predictable pattern. The deejays would first slap on a Cooper classic--invariably "Eighteen" or "School's Out"--to announce the arrival of the surprise guest. Then Alice would launch into ten minutes of dependably entertaining anecdotes. His ability to tailor quips to any format was chameleonic: moonwalking jokes for the Top 40 crowd; make-up tips for the heavy-metallurgists; memory lane strolls for the classic rockers. Finally, the deejays would graciously ask the departing Alice to introduce his favorite cut off the new album. And then--when the star was safely out of the studio--they'd stash the album away somewhere like that tacky needlepoint pillow from your aunt you only put on the couch whenever the old lady rings the doorbell.

So last August and September, when the familiar ghoulish face began rolling up to the nation's stations in a garish garbage truck to dispose of copies of his latest album Trash, the deejays and program directors began making room in the closet for another needlepoint pillow. This time, however, it stayed on the couch long after Alice had gone.

Trash, contrary to its self-deprecating title, actually sounded pretty darn good to most radio ears. A lot of it had to do with Desmond Child, the rock 'n' roll Midas who had produced and cowritten some of Bon Jovi's biggest hits and helped Aerosmith engineer its comeback. Child handled the production on Trash, cowrote nine of its ten songs, and brought in Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Tyler and other leading-brand rockers to lend back-up support on the songs. Alice himself, clean and sober after years of legendarily heavy boozing, sounded in better voice than ever.

Whatever the reason, just five months after entering the Billboard charts, the platinum Trash has become Cooper's biggest-selling album since 1973's triple-platinum Billion Dollar Babies. He's back to big-time shmoozing now, having recently cohosted the American Music Awards. And his current tour has been packing arenas and theatres worldwide.

"It's sort of like winning a championship again," says Cooper long-distance from a hotel room in Milwaukee, far too busy touring to shoot the breeze in person as he's usually done for reporters in his hometown Phoenix. "I feel like a middleweight boxer who got knocked out, came back, got knocked out again, then went through a long period of rebuilding and putting myself back together. And now I'm in contention again. And I feel like I'm better than I've ever been."

It's a perch many on-top-again rockers might use to roast the radio and record rats who shrugged them off in the lean years. But Alice shows no malice toward all the deejays who only played his records while he was sitting there watching them, or even the former label (MCA Records) that did next to nothing to promote him during his long tenure there. And that Mr. Nice Guy attitude, in the end, may just be one big reason why Cooper was welcomed back so quickly by the powers that be in the entertainment biz.

"Well, I didn't really make any enemies, to be honest with you," says Alice. "Even when I was at my lowest points, I never passed the blame off to anyone else. If something went wrong with an album, I pretty much just took the brunt of it myself and said, `Okay, I goofed!' I didn't go out of my way to burn any bridges.

"And you know, after a while," Alice adds with the voice of experience, "that does pay off."

"I HEARD THROUGH the grapevine that Alice was a fan of our material," Jon Bon Jovi told New Times back in September, by way of explaining the collaborations that wound up on Trash. "And, of course, everyone's a fan of Alice Cooper."

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