Alice Cooper has been making a "Nightmare" and living a dream these days.
The Detroit-born shock rocker is on a decided upswing in what's been an ebb-and-flow career since his 1969 recording debut. And thanks in particular to a hit appearance at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June, a new generation is discovering his pioneering brand of hard-rocking theatrics, the mold from which the likes of Kiss, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and so many others sprung.
"I think we're viable now," Cooper (ne Vincent Furnier), 64, says -- with a bit of tongue in cheek given a career that includes 26 studio albums and a half-dozen Top 20 hits. "I always like to put Alice where he doesn't belong."
And Cooper has certainly been hanging in some unusual places during the past year and a half.
In March of 2011, he and the original lineup of his theatrically pioneering band -- which was based out of Detroit in the early 70s, when it recorded its breakthrough hit, "Eighteen" -- was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cooper followed six months later with "Welcome 2 My Nightmare," a sequel to his 1975 concept piece "Welcome To My Nightmare" that reunited him with producer Bob Ezrin and snagged his best position on the Billboard 200 chart (No. 22) since 1989 and his second-best showing in 36 years.
And earlier this year he got a pop culture crossover boost with a cameo in the new film adaption of "Dark Shadows," in which Johnny Depp's vampire-out-of-time Barnabas Collins dubbed Cooper as the "ugliest woman in the world" -- a tag-line that ranks right up there with "We are not worthy!" from "Wayne's World" 20 years prior.
"As soon as (Johnny Depp) said that, 'cause it got a big laugh in the movie theater, I went, 'Boy, I just got stuck with a new one. That's gonna be the new catch line,' " says Cooper, who resides in suburban Phoenix. "We're going to get T-shirts made that say 'Alice Cooper is the ugliest woman in the world...Barnabas Collins,' "
Bonnaroo was an even greater game-changer, however. The Tennessee music weekend is a haven for the hip and the hippie, and the cutting edge. Despite successful appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Jimmy Buffett and a few others, Cooper's shock rock and classic rock aren't exactly the fare of choice in the fields near Manchester.
But the tweetiverse and blogosphere went crazy after Cooper's midnight set in mid-June, the quiet but vociferous sound of a new generation discovering someone who's been around for nearly 45 years.
"Everyone thought we were the one band that didn't belong there," says the father of three, who also hosted an afternoon talk about Groucho Marx before a showing of the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" "I don't think a lot of those kids had seen a real ROCK show, hard rock all the way, with the theatrics. So we gave 'em the full-out Alice Cooper show, and they dug it.
"It was a huge crowd, and they really got into the idea that Alice Cooper was rock's villain, that this was a different kind of show."
Shep Gordon, Cooper's manager of 43 years, called Bonnaroo "just one of those beautiful, true Alice Cooper things of a thought becoming a reality, taking chances, doing it differently and having an underbed of the best music you can possibly get. It was a chance to show that crowd you're actually allowed to have fun when you're listening to great music. You don't have to just close your eyes and nod your head."
Cooper, who's routinely played summer festivals in Europe, is hoping that the Bonnaroo triumph will open some more doors for him at home. "I'd love to play Bonnaroo again," he says. "I'd love to play Coachella. For some reason, somebody like an Iggy Pop has got more of a grass roots thing going. He's a little more earthy. They can understand Iggy a little bit. They can understand Lou Reed, the Beach Boys...We're a little more un-earthy. But maybe now we'll get some more looks for those (festivals)."
Cooper has other things on his docket before that, however. He's currently on the road with Iron Maiden playing a "special guest" set focusing on his greatest hits. But he also calls it "the best the band has sounded in years, maybe ever" thanks to input from Ezrin and Cooper's wife, choreographer/dancer Sheryl, who he met when she was part of the cast for his 1975-76 "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour.
"We, the band, are so used to the show that we do things we don't realize we're doing," Cooper explains. "So Bob and Sheryl came in with cleaner ears and eyes and really tightened things up and choreographed a whole bunch of things so the band really looked like a Band. [cq] We'd run through the show twice a day for six days and take notes, and on the last two days we'd listen to all the notes and do all the cleaning up.
"I think that paid off. I've done how many millions of shows, but I don't think I've ever done shows this tight, where everything works perfectly every night."
That comes just in time for his next production, a new show focused around the "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" songs. Preparations will begin in mid-August for a planned October launch, and Cooper says that "things are being built right now. The stuff for that show is in construction as we speak.
"It's going to be fun," Cooper promises. "With Iron Maiden, we're like a guest star, so we're only doing an hour and really kind of limited to doing the big stuff. This next show will be the full-out Alice explosion. I think people will love it."
Alice Cooper performs with Iron Maiden at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $95 and $50 pavilion, $29.50 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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