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Thursday, April 20, 2017 12:10 am

Alice Cooper comes to Springfield

We’re not worthy, but he talked to IT anyway

Alice Cooper.
PHOTO COURTESY prairie capital convention center
At 69 and still singing “I’m Eighteen” for fun and profit, Alice Cooper is, arguably, the luckiest man in America.

The artist formerly known as Vincent Furnier didn’t hit it big way back when because he was lucky. That was a matter of talent, showmanship  and sheer audacity. If Alice Cooper sounded weird to the silent majority when Nixon was in the White House, it was more palatable than the Earwigs, which Cooper and some high school chums dubbed their first band.

“Earwigs are a type of water scorpion that smells bad when you step on them, and they can crawl through your ear and infect your brain,” Cooper told Crawdaddy magazine in 1976, the year he released Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, an underappreciated effort that included a monologue by Satan and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” a vaudeville-era song covered by Judy Garland, Perry Como and  Guy Lombardo.

You gotta love Alice Cooper, a man so extreme that he’s become almost quaint, the godfather of shock rock in an age when nothing’s shocking.

For all the onstage faux beheadings and celebrations of necrophilia, the most disturbing images of Cooper come from the 1980s. Awash in booze and smoking prodigious amounts of cocaine, Cooper gave gaunt a bad name as he pranced around the stage with a riding crop, hair knotted up in a man bun, a ginned-up version of a paled-out Geisha girl on the brink singing forgettable songs. Cooper says today that he can’t remember recording them, owing to a near-constant state of intoxication that ended when he checked himself into a hospital more than 30 years ago.

“I came out totally healed,” Cooper says. “I think God took it away from me. I don’t think I was cured – I was healed. I never once had a craving for it. The doctors said ‘That’s impossible.’”

Exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from the son of a minister who married the daughter of a minister 41 years ago and still takes her on the road with him. Sheryl Cooper was a dancer on the 1975 Welcome To My Nightmare tour when the courtship began, and she has a part in the current show, which stops at the Prairie Capital Convention Center on April 23. If nothing else, Cooper is a family man. He’s said that Keith Richards is the only person who calls him by his birth name. What about Mom, who lives with Cooper and his wife in Arizona?

“She calls me Superstar,” Cooper says.

Cooper has a reputation for surrounding himself with such top-notch musicians as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Slash. His current band is a mix of old hands and relatively fresh faces – guitarist Ryan Roxie has been playing with Cooper since 1996; Nita Strauss, also a guitarist, is the newest member, having signed on in 2014. They are more than musicians, Cooper says.

“They’re not just the best players, they’re five or six people who are best friends,” Cooper says. “That way, you never have a problem going backstage with egos. When I go backstage, all I hear is laughing. I never hear arguments backstage.”

If there’s a downside to an Alice Cooper show, it’s the paucity of ballads. After the breakup of the original Alice Cooper Band in the mid-1970s, Cooper’s biggest hits were ballads, which he says are easier to write than hard rock numbers. “Only Women Bleed” has been the most frequently played slow song on recent tours, with “I Never Cry” a relative rarity. And forget about “You and Me,” a chart-topper released in 1977. Cooper hasn’t performed it since 1978, according to www.setlist.fm.

Cooper says that he’s reworked “Only Women Bleed,” but no one goes to an Alice Cooper show to slow dance. And so Cooper keeps at it with his guillotine and snake and gallows. And crossed fingers.

“Anytime you’re going to do theatrics on stage, you’re going to have your Spinal Tap moments, where everything you rehearse goes wrong in front of the audience,” Cooper says. “Then you have to have the cleverness to make it work as a comedy, because the audience knows it’s obviously not working.”

Sunday’s show is the third in a tour that’s scheduled to last until early December. After all these years, after all these concerts, after all this money (Cooper is worth a reported $40 million), why keep crisscrossing the country in a tour bus, playing golf in a new town each day before donning makeup each night?

“If I take more than a month or two off, I really start missing it,” Cooper says. “I was born to be up there.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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