One thing that Marilyn Manson and I both agree on: You can't shock an audience today," Alice Cooper says. "Audiences are shocked full at this point, because of CNN."
Cooper should know; he's the most infamous shock-rocker of all time, a pioneer of the genre.
"When I used to cut my head off and be resurrected the same night in stitches, that used to freak parents out more than anything," he says of his old stage show, which saw him punished by a guillotine. "Now I can come home, turn on CNN, and those guys are showing people's heads getting cut off by terrorists. When reality becomes more shocking than Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper's fantasy shows... something's wrong."
Nowadays, Cooper seems to be setting his scarier persona aside more often, but that still leaves him big laurels to rest upon. His career highlights are interspersed with urban legends, like those that say he bit chickens' heads off onstage or that he's Captain Kangaroo's lost son. "Maybe 30 percent of what's written about me is true," he says. "Same thing about Michael Jackson." In fact, such stories are interchangeably applied to other rockers of his era, he points out, such as Ozzy Osbourne. But there is an exception — his late drinking buddy: "Everything you read about Keith Moon is true," he says, laughing.
Cooper, 59, is a born-again Christian these days as well as an author and avid golfer. How did that happen? By the '80s, his love affair with booze was dragging him down at the same time that his showbiz star was dimming, he says. He'd been "the most controversial rocker of all time — and then alcohol totally sideswiped me. I never saw it coming. The next thing you know, I have to find somewhere to spend my time, and being half-jock anyway, what can I do for five hours a day?
"Golf seemed to be a real challenge, and then I ended up being good at it. I ended up playing it every single day," a development he chronicled in his recent book, Alice Cooper, Golf Monster.
"It's such an oddity," he says. "It would be like if Marilyn Manson suddenly became, like, the world's greatest badminton player."
Cooper isn't exaggerating his skills. He actually had a chance to go pro on the senior tour. "I kept thinking, 'I've got to do it all in black with makeup,' " he says.
He might have shocked the tour, but what's more shocking is that Cooper and his shtick have come to seem mainstream. "I think Alice Cooper has been woven into Americana now," he says.
It's a long trip for the former Vincent Furnier, born in Detroit in 1948. He legally changed his name to Alice Cooper, but when he takes the stage, his character is as much artifice as it is him. Cooper is a study in meta-awareness, the artist who created only to have his creation create him right back.
"There was a time when he was the most feared character out there," he continues, referring to himself in the third person. "I still think Alice is the king vampire, but I think it's come to the point where it's all about the show. It's some sort of rock black-humor vaudeville. If you buy a ticket, the one thing you know you're going to get is a full-out show. I don't think I've ever done a half-assed show in 20 years."
But at 59, how much longer can Cooper put on the makeup, take the stage, and leave it headless, only to be resurrected for an encore night after night?
"I'm healthier than I was 30 years ago," he says. "I still have all my hair, and I can sing better than I used to. I even have more energy now, honestly.
"Mick Jagger has five years on me, runs two hours onstage and a half hour on the treadmill before the show. If Mick Jagger can go that long, why can't I?"