Film and TV

Alice Cooper's New "Doc Opera" Details Drug Abuse and Other Sordid Stories

Anything involving Alice Cooper is bound to push the boundaries of what's normal in the world of pop culture and music. Forty-five years after he began shocking the world for the first time, Cooper, along with a team of filmmakers, Cooper is back, this time in film form.

Unveiled as the first "doc opera," Super Duper Alice Cooper is a sight to be seen; a detailing of Vincent Furnier's childhood from a preacher's son to his transformation into Alice Cooper, followed by a brutal battle with the character that almost killed the real man behind the makeup -- all in the name of celebrating how the extremely influential and accomplished man came out for the better in the end. It isn't about glamorizing the hedonistic, chaotic and typical rock star lifestyle; it's a story of strong family bonds and how they can get us through the darkest of times. It's about survival, suffering, and stability.

From the get go, the film delves into a "Jekyll and Hyde" theme with clips from vintage horror films, providing a sort of realistic narration to a battle between of Vincent Furnier -- Cooper's alter ego -- and Alice Cooper. He's long described his two sides as Jekyll and Hyde, or an aristocratic villain, such as Sherlock Holme's nemesis Dr. Moriarty.

It's mostly narrated by Cooper, and favors a different documentary format. Instead of the typical "talking heads" interviews, it's peppered with voiceovers, contrastive animation, rare footage, music video highlights, vintage photos and, of course, a steady stream of music.

It's fascinating hearing some of the sound bites. There's Elton John, who talks about how he was at the famous Hollywood Bowl show in, when thousands of panties were dropped from helicopters on the crowd, and all he could think was "I need to grab a pair of these panties." Bernie Taupin discusses for the first time his role in hooking Cooper on cocaine while working on the 1978 album From the Inside. Dee Snyder admits to the fact that all the punk and glam rock bands that popped up in the '80s were all the kids who used to go to Cooper's shows -- "Alice Cooper ejaculated, and glam metal was born." Other interviews include Iggy Pop, John Lydon, manager Shep Gordon, Cooper's mom, Johnny Rotten and original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway, the latter of which had an acid trip where Cooper describes him standing by the drapes asking, "who would wear pants this size"?

The documentary starts with Alice discussing how he ended up in Phoenix. As a child in Detroit, he attended church Thursday through Sunday, as his father was a preacher. He suffered from severe asthma, and the doctors told his parents they had to get out of the cold climate and pick a new place to live if they wanted him to survive -- and that new place was Phoenix.

He and his best friend Dennis Dunaway bonded over a love for Salvador Dali's art and were Beatle maniacs -- the style, the sound, the look. Parents were confused, which was a big part of his fascination. Their school had a talent show, so they decided to do a spoof of the Beatles, and recruited friends who knew how to play music. The school crowd loved it, and that fueled the fire. That energy. They played those songs 50 times a night and every day got a little bit better.

They started as the Earwigs, playing at a rock 'n' roll teenage dance hall in Phoenix called the VIP. Then moved up to the next bug: the Spiders.

He began to choose music over church, getting upset that people cared so much about his long hair. He wanted to get to Los Angeles and play rock, which the band did in 1967.

The documentary goes on to detail how the guys met The GTOS, a girl band that lived in Frank Zappa's cabin's basement. When Cooper's band played they realized they needed to look different from everyone else, and the The GTOs told them about a place selling old Icecapades outfits on the cheap. From signing onto Zappa's label and Lester Bangs calling their album Pretties for You a "tragic waste of plastic," the band struggled to find a place to call home. For years they played from town to town, saying they would move to the first city where they got a standing ovation.

They finally found their niche after playing after Iggy Pop and the Stooges at a Detroit festival. They realized they were there to be an outlet for the kids who were on the lunatic fringe of society. That demographic finally had a rock star to represent them: Alice Cooper.

Super Duper Alice Cooper highlights an array of stories and facts about Cooper's childhood, rise to fame, demise and recovery. There are well-known myths debunked, like the famous "chicken slaughter" story that occurred 45 years ago at the Toronto Rock n Roll Revival concert. Alice Cooper's band opened for John Lennon, he threw a chicken off the stage thinking it would fly (he has insisted for years that, "I'm from Detroit and never been on a farm in my life"), and the audience ripped it to shreds before throwing it back on stage. It details Cooper's meeting with Salvador Dali, one of his favorite artists as a child; meeting his wife, who was one of the dancers in his solo show; how the musician found his way back to Christianity; and how, after he got clean in a sanitarium, it was printed that "the new Alice Cooper is a housewives' delight."

And that's just a small part of the film that runs about an hour and fifteen minutes. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17 in New York, and will have about 400 screenings at theaters across the country starting on April 30. Super Duper Alice Cooper was made by the same people behind the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage -- Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn -- and Reginald Harkema.

Up On The Sun talked with Cooper about the most uncomfortable parts of the documentary for him, the inventive format, and the tough task of pinning down the origin of his name.

Alice Cooper: Hey Lauren. Just got back from New York last night!

Up On The Sun: I heard the afterparty was on the 10:00 news.

It was great. I had it catered by White Castle, because when I grew up you know the whole documentary is about my childhood and the battle between me and Alice -- I grew up on White Castle. So I thought, let's keep the theme going here. Well Happy Easter weekend! Last time we talked it was right before Christmas and we were talking about holiday traditions. What will you and the family be doing tomorrow?

It's so great I have all my kids here. All the girls have their boyfriends here and my son and his wife are expecting, so we are going to be grandparents. It's a great Easter because everyone's here. I think we're just going to host everything at our house.

Well congratulations on being grandparents and the film.

To me there are parts of it that are very uncomfortable. The cocaine use is something I never ever talked about. We talked about the alcohol before but not that. But in a documentary you have to tell the whole story. And also the parts about Neal and Dennis; the break up of the band. Well, they were at the Tribeca opening. I was sitting with them. And when you get their opinion about why the band broke up and how they felt, it would be easy to edit that out, but I don't think that would've been the right thing to do. You give everyone their say about what happened. And we're still best of friends.

In a documentary you have to touch base on all those things to show the big picture.

Yeah, you can't just candy coat it and say there was no problem. "Oh, Alice had a drinking problem and he got over it." Well, that isn't exactly what happened. You know, I did get over the drinking problem but then I had the coke problem. I moved to L.A. in those years, in the late '70s early '80s, which was ... A blizzard. A cocaine blizzard. Everyone in L.A. There wasn't anyone I knew who didn't do cocaine. It was almost legal, and I was just right in the middle of it. And having an addictive personality, man, I was addicted to it immediately.

You mentioned in the doc that all these bands were coming up, like the Sex Pistols, and you said something along the lines of having to keep up with the younger kids. And that was what led you to coke.

Laughter. I could've kept up with them without the stuff though you know? That was the amazing thing. I kept giving alcohol and drugs all the credit! And that's the problem usually with alcoholics and drug addicts; they start depending on it and giving it all the, you know, the credit for your talent! In the end, you would've done much better without it. For some reason, our insecurity shows up there, you know? As soon as I quit doing everything, everything started going right again. And that told me right there, when I actually got sober, I started seeing the reality for what it was. If anything, the alcohol and cocaine held me back. It didn't help my career, it hurt it.

Well the doc paints a clear, unapologetic picture of your life.

Especially since all my friends had already died. The Jim Morrisons and Jimi Hendrix's ... they all died at 27. You think I would've looked at that and gotten the message. [Laughs]

I was curious as to why Michael Bruce was never mentioned in the film?

Michael Bruce is impossible to find. We can't find him 90% percent of the time. He's in Mexico, or Spain ... and he never leaves an address and there's no phone number. He's literally impossible to find so these guys just got to a point where they said they had to exclude him because they couldn't find him. I would always include him because he was the guy I wrote most with, you know? And we mentioned that in Tribeca because someone else asked that question. I said that we would've been more than happy to include him. But if you find him, call us, OK? You told me once that Alice Cooper is almost destined to end up on Broadway. Do you think this rock doc is just the start of that?

I think with a documentary usually it goes to DVD and that's it. Whereas this one, it will be released in 300 movie theaters, and if it does well there it will get a bigger release as a film. But -- you never know how it will be received; and you hope it does well. It did get good reviews. Not just for us but for the filmmakers. You know, these guys worked two and a half years on this thing to make sure it wasn't just a documentary, but it actually had more to it. It avoided the "talking head" thing, where you go to Iggy Pop and you see him talk or Elton John. We avoided that totally. You hear the voice, but you see something else going on. I think that was a great design. Also the design of making it Jekyll and Hyde. It was a very smart device.

When you watched the film in its entirety after it was completed, was there anything that really stood out to you that you hadn't thought about before?

I think the thing that was the most shocking ... was the interview when I was really thin and really not well. I hadn't seen that in a long time. But I thought that it was really strong, because you had this character that was really a pretty healthy rock 'n' roll "let's go get them" ... and then you saw this sort-of version of him of what he became. And then the very next thing you see his him healthy again. So there's almost like a "Rocky" thing going on there -- not just living through it but coming out on the other end more productive than ever. So I think that was the idea behind it. It certainly doesn't paint Alice as a hero but it does give a really good real, real story about what happened.

I think that interview was the most shocking part for me personally. You looked so sickly and out of sorts.

It was for me the scariest part of it. I liked the idea that it was a scary character. It actually became the Mr. Hyde that ... when I played the Alice character on stage I never looked that scary. And this was not Mr. Hyde this was the guy playing Mr. Hyde. So the guy who was the author of all of this was scarier-looking than the guy on stage. And that was really a juxtaposition there. And it was great; they told the whole story about Sheryl and myself, and how we got back together. I almost lost her, you know, but I just would not let that happen. I'd rather lose the career and lose everything else than lose her. And that was the beginning of the healing right there.

The doc explains that the name Alice Cooper came from a Ouija board. I hadn't heard that before.

[Laughs.] And, and ... there's so many versions of that. The funny thing is, that's the story people want. You know what I mean? In reality, I sat there and I think when I talked about the Ouija board ... Neal Smith was telling that part. I sat there and said that the Ouija board happened after we came up with the name Alice Cooper. Then somebody went to a Ouija board and asked if Alice Cooper was Vincent Furnier. And I said, "Yeah right, I'll believe that as far as I can throw this house." [Laughter.] So that was Neal's version of what happened with the name, but I never bought into that. It makes for a better story for the movie, though! If you asked me my version of the story I would've told you something completely different. The funny thing is, Shep Gordon, my manager, there's a documentary right now about him out at the same time. It's made by Mike Myers, you know, Austin Powers? And he tells a different version of that story even! In those days we were laughing, saying how dare people ask us to remember something from 1968 when we can't remember yesterday!

There wasn't much about your father in the video, in terms of your relationship and that dynamic. Was that something that was pretty hard to repair after everything?

My dad and I had the best relationship, but he passed away 25 years ago, so that could have never been included in the doc. But my dad was one of the funniest guys and he was the shocker of the whole thing; he was the pastor and a really good preacher. But if you asked him about the Beatles, the Yardbirds the Stones, The Who, he could tell you who was in each band. He liked the music and he liked the show. But he used to say he couldn't buy into the lifestyle. He said the music was fine and the show was fine, and he knew I wasn't Satanic and he understood the sense of humor. But he couldn't buy into the lifestyle of drinking drugs and sleeping with a different girl every night. My dad was very hip. If he would've been alive to do this interview, he would've had 10 zingers in there.

That's what I was wondering; if he would've been in the film or not.

He would've stolen the movie!

Super Duper Alice Cooper is playing on April 30 in Phoenix at Scottsdale 101; Peoria Arrowhead Fountains 18; and Chandler Fashion Mall. It's also playing on May 1 at Digiplex Surprise Pointe 14, and on May 2 at Filmbar in Phoenix.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise