Every Halloween is a career moment when your name is Alice Cooper. This particular October is especially notable for the veteran rock star — he’s back with a new album, an attraction at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights and a recently completed cameo in Tim Burton’s upcoming “Dark Shadows,” which features the singer as himself in all of his gory glory.
“This is my season,” the 63-year-old singer said with a satisfied grin during a recent visit to Los Angeles. “Welcome to the nightmare, all over again.”
“Welcome to My Nightmare” was the name of Cooper’s 1975 concept album that delved into the nightmares of a child named Steven. That vintage vinyl moment is echoing now at Universal Studios Hollywood, where this year’s elaborate Halloween attraction includes a “Welcome to My Nightmare” maze with music and imagery from that album and others by Cooper. Halloween Horror Nights runs through Monday night and features other mazes this year based on “The Thing,” “The Wolfman,” Rob Zombie’s “House of 1,000 Corpses,” Eli Roth’s “Hostel” and the legend of La Llorona as imagined by Diego Luna.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee said he was giddy as he walked through the maze and saw his dark creations come to life.
“It’s like a movie, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end,” said the Detroit native whose birth name is Vincent Furnier. “It’s so well thought out and it’s so ambitious. The designer of the maze is an Alice Cooper fan and usually with something like this you get a two-page description sent over — he sent over 40 pages on this maze and Steven’s house and the nightmare, and it was detailed,” Cooper said. “When you think you know where the scare is coming from, he has something coming at you from the other side. It’s all misdirection. It’s amazing with the music. It’s a nice thing for Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper is synonymous with Halloween, I’m amazed no one has done it before. We did a haunted house at my restaurant in Phoenix but having Universal do it and do it on this scale, that makes it special.”
Cooper was equally impressed walking through the huge, elaborate sets of “Dark Shadows,” the Warner Bros. film that stars Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green and Helena Bonham Carter and reaches theaters in May 2012. “They should take that set and make it a haunted house next year,” Cooper said of the Pinewood Studios constructs that include a sprawling gothic mansion and a harbor city complete with pier and boats floating in an artificial ocean. Cooper plays himself in the film, which is set in 1972 — Depp’s character, the recently revived vampire Barnabas Collins, hires the rock star to play a private ball at his seaside home in Maine. It adds to Cooper’s acting credits, which includes cameos in “Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Dead” and John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness.”
“He’s a guy you have to watch when he’s up on the stage and the songs are just classic,” Depp said last month about Cooper, who, wearing his trademark makeup, plays “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in the film. (His collaboration with Depp went beyond the confine of Pinewood — the actor brought his guitar along to perform with the rock star and his band during a London gig.)
Cooper said he also found in Burton a simpatico soul.
“Rock and horror and comedy work together, that’s something I’ve known a long time and people like Rob Zombie know, and Burton knows that too,” Cooper said. “Sometimes the comedy is disguised a little bit, it’s dark, but it is there. You can’t do horror and rock with a punchline in a way. There’s the absurd stuff and there’s just that delivery of the ‘Oh!’ moment that is like a punchline. I just saw ‘Final Destination 5’ and I was laughing so hard. I mean, it was Wile E. Coyote, all these elaborate things leading up to this moment of impact… there’s something like that in our shows, too. Hitchcock would do it too. There’s the setup, the misdirect and then the delivery. Tim Burton knows it so well. He’s one of a kind. He’s a kindred spirit.”
Cooper’s just-released new album, “Welcome 2 My Nightmare,” is a sequel that updates the 1970s spook show with all of the 21st century things that frighten Cooper’s alter ego — namely technology, hip-hop and the devil. “And the devil is Ke$ha, because the devil wouldn’t look like Christopher Lee, it would like this new creature,” Cooper said, referring to the pop singer who contributes a bit of hellfire vamping to the track “What Baby Wants.”
“This is what an album should be,” Cooper said. “If you’re a young man, listen to this album. It’s not a one-trick pony. It goes left, right, up, down, it goes everywhere. These days if you’re a band you don’t make an album, you make a single. But if you’re an Elton or an Alice or a Bowie, you have a fan base that expects an album. There’s a community out there that wants to hear what Alice is doing. It’s a generational thing too. When we started, in the 1960s, it was the golden age. A record company wanted 20 albums, they wanted to build your career and there was fine-tuning and an investment. They wanted to build your career to the point that every time you put a record out it was a million seller.
“Now a band has no chance for that because radio doesn’t really care,” Cooper continued. “Now you’re better on your own selling your albums from your website and just playing live and playing and playing. Guys who came up in the 1960s are still playing now, you won’t see that in 40 years from now. Lou Reed, Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop, Pete Townshend, Rod Stewart, they’re all still playing to audiences. That’s going away — or it’s already gone — and for a real music fan that’s scary.”
— Geoff Boucher
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