By BIG DOG TIM BAINES
Doing this thing has its perks – like playing a round of golf with Alice Cooper, the shock rocker whose stage theatrics included having his head chopped off by a guillotine, cavorting with mutilated baby dolls, wrapping a boa constrictor around his neck and being jolted in an electric chair.
More than 30 years ago, Cooper swapped one addiction, booze, for another, golf.
And it saved his life. On the golf course, there’s no ghoulish face paint or fake blood. He’s just Alice.
Cooper (real name, Vincent Furnier) found himself drinking a bottle of Seagram’s VO a day until one morning he woke up spitting blood. He quit drinking alcohol, knowing he needed to find another addiction immediately. It all started with a set of Sam Snead Blue Ridge golf clubs he picked up for $90 off the shelf at Sears.
During a round of golf with Cooper at Rivermead Golf Club, near Ottawa, he told me: “The first time, I hit a seven-iron down the middle and thought, ‘What’s so hard about this?’ I needed to find a positive addiction. So in the first year I played 36 holes a day. I was playing with pros every day. (Winnipeg’s) Craig Yahiro would dump 200 balls 60 yards out and tell me we weren’t going in until I put them all on the green. I was a 9-handicap by the end of the year. After that, I was taking a shot off a year. I got down to even at one point.”
“I love the game of golf. It’s never a bad day for me on the golf course. My wife teaches ballet. She says she loves ballet, but once in a while she gets tired of it. I never get tired of golf. I’ve hit bad shots, but I’ve never thrown a club. I play a different course every single day. My goal is to break 80 and rarely do I go over that. I hit the fairway all day. That was what Johnny Miller taught me. Hit straight shots, not long shots.”
He’s played with the likes of Sergio Garcia, Arnold Palmer (“he was like your funny uncle”), Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Justin Leonard and Dustin Johnson.
Cooper, whose hit songs include School’s Out, I’m Eighteen and Welcome to My Nightmare plays golf almost every day – he’s around a 5-handicap. He’s got four holes-in-one, three double eagles and a low score of 67, at Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. His status also earns him “rockstar mulligans” as he calls them.
On his staged theatre of the macabre, Cooper is the bad guy.
“I’ve been doing this 45 years now. I get on stage and I’m Hannibal Lecter. I’m the villain. I’m rock’s Captain Hook,” said Cooper. “Lyrics are the script. If you say Welcome to my Nightmare, you have to give them that nightmare. Other bands were standing on stage, playing and looking down at their toes. We destroyed that concept. My character is angry, with attitude. He’s vicious.
“I spent 15 years drinking, trying to keep up with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They were all trying to live that image, to be that same person offstage they were onstage. Alice Cooper lives onstage, I live offstage.
“Thirty per cent of what you hear about me is true. Thirty per cent of what you hear about Ozzy Osbourne is true. People are willing to believe anything. If somebody saw a snake at the show, by the next day at school it was 30 feet long and it had killed two people. I threw a chicken into the audience (1969 in Toronto). They ripped it apart. The next day in the paper the headline was like ‘Alice Cooper Bites the Head off Chicken.’
“Frank Zappa asked if I killed the chicken onstage. I told him no and he said, ‘Well, don’t tell anybody that.’ ”
It was all about image. Groucho Marx liked Cooper for the Vaudeville approach he brought to his shows; Salvador Dali liked him for being a surrealist.
“My dad was a pastor and he loved (the show),” said Cooper. “I could have done drafting or commercial art, but my dad listened to the music and he got it. He knew I wasn’t satanic. Parents hated Sinatra, they hated Elvis, I was just another of those guys. My image scared a lot of people. We wanted to piss off every parent in America. We knew if we could get every parent to hate us, we’d be a huge hit.”
Finding his niche wasn’t easy at first, but once the fans bought in, it was sure worth it.
“We played one night at the Whisky-A-Go-Go on a bill with Led Zeppelin,” said Cooper. “The next night, we played with Pink Floyd. It was 1967. Nobody had heard of any of us,” said Cooper. “We were starving musicians. Frank Zappa signed us. Other companies didn’t want us because we weren’t Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“School’s Out still pays the bills. It’s got a bratty riff. Being a punk kid, singing, ‘We got no principal,’ and then that line, ‘We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.’ ”
Vincent Furnier has become Alice Cooper. That’s what fans call him, what friends call him, what his wife calls him.
“If Elton John was here, would you call him Reggie?” asked Cooper with a grin.