Welcome to his nightmare. Vincent Furnier was a Salvador Dali-loving singer who developed the macabre persona of Alice Cooper as a vehicle for his shock-rock theatrical vision at the turn of the 1970s. A new documentary, Super Duper Alice Cooper, stylishly covers the history of the band Alice Cooper as well as the man himself – an audacious artist who sees his split personality as a modern-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The film, which makes its Canadian premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 24 to May 4), charts a weird rise, a drug-addled fall and the subsequent recovery of an anthem-singing, heavy-metal pioneer. The Globe spoke to Cooper from New York.
You saw Super Duper Alice Cooper at the Tribeca Film Festival. What was it like seeing your life on the big screen?
It’s always a bit awkward. I had only seen parts of it, because I wanted to see the finished product with an audience. What I take from it is that I’m glad the film includes the uncomfortable parts.
What were those parts?
Well, I had always avoided drug references before. I was the drinker. But I think it was important to add [the cocaine addiction] in there. If nothing else, it showed that you can beat it. You have to be brutally honest with a documentary. You have to show the parts that say, ‘yeah, I blew it.’
What about in the mid-1970s, when you took the name Alice Cooper for yourself and split with the band. Any regrets about that?
That was extremely uncomfortable, being as I was sitting with [former bandmates] Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway at the screening. But that has always been an extremely important part of our relationship – that we were always allowed to say how we felt. So, at the end of the screening, we were laughing. We’ve never been enemies.
You wore makeup and created the character Alice Cooper. But the film also mentions The Who’s drummer Keith Moon, who always seemed to be playing a role as well, as the jester. Can you talk about him?
He was one of our very best friends. He would come to L.A. and stay with me for a week. Then he would stay with Harry Nilsson for a week, and then he would go to Ringo Starr’s house for a week. We loved having him, but he would wear you out, because he was always on. We used to have a drinking club, the Hollywood Vampires, with Harry, Ringo, Bernie Taupin, Micky Dolenz and, when he was in town, John Lennon. When we got together, it was a matter of the last man standing. Keith was like a brother to us. We’d always tell him, ‘Keith, you don’t have to entertain us.’ But he didn’t have an off button. He was like a little kid who needed Ritalin.
You’ve talked about artists such as Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse, who you regard as “true artists” because they were out on a limb. And you seem to celebrate what you call the “drunk era” in the early seventies. Are you romanticizing or glamorizing alcohol and drug addiction, when it comes to making music?
I’m saying what I see. When you’re going out on a limb, you’re either going to be a genius or an idiot. It just depends on if everybody buys it or not. The only thing I hate is mediocrity. I hate the middle.
But did Jim Morrison need to be a drunk to create good music?
I think guys like Jim Morrison were predestined to be alcoholics. It just so happened he was an alcoholic and a singer. He could have been an alcoholic mechanic. I’m not promoting it. Being an artist often involves insecurity, and alcohol helps salve over that. Shakespeare was probably a heavy drinker. I mean, look at Dylan Thomas and Tennessee Williams. I can think of all these people who were tragically creative. It was just part of what they did. It doesn’t mean everybody has to be like that.
Can you talk about your writing process? It’s obviously Alice on stage, but who’s writing the songs, Alice or Vince?
I very rarely write a song that Vince wants to hear. I write songs for Alice Cooper’s attitude, and I hope that Vince will like it.
You’re known for your brash narratives. Is it easier to for you write that way, rather than confessionally?
It is. If I come up with a subject such as Along Came a Spider, I can write to that storyline. I sit down and think, ‘okay, what’s it about? It’s going to be about a serial killer. Okay, what’s his modus operandi? He always leaves the victim with one leg wrapped in silk – that’s what a spider would do.’ Other people do write like that. Ray Davies is one of those guys who can tell you a story in three minutes. I like to tell a story in 10 songs. With all of my albums, I find something that Alice, as my vehicle, can say. It’s a process.