To hear Alice Cooper tell it, school's out - forever. The veteran shock-rocker, who plays Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre on Friday, with the ghastly Rob Zombie, is shocked himself at what he sees as the uneducated state of rock 'n' roll today. On the phone from Springfield, Ill., Cooper pulls no punches in his damning appraisal of young players and songwriters. No more Mr. Nice Guy, you bet.
You were a pioneer in bringing theatrical elements to rock concerts. How did that start?
I think it was a natural instinct. Rock 'n' roll is the most visual kind of music there is. I would go see the Who and the Stones and all these great players, and I kept thinking: "I wonder why they're not painting the canvas behind them."
Now they're bringing rock music to the theatre. What do you make of jukebox musicals?
They always water them down. If you listen to an album like the Who's Tommy, you've got real rock 'n' roll. But on Broadway, it's sweetened. They make it syrupy and corporate. There hasn't been a real rock musical yet.
What about Rock of Ages?
But even that, it doesn't have the attitude it needs. Our show, it's in your face hard rock. We were influenced by the Yardbirds and the Who. We want to play to that level. Leave the theatre to me, I tell the guys in our band, but first, let's play as good as those bands.
Concert tours, not album sales, are driving the business these days. Is that a good thing?
To me, it's whoever is the best live band wins. The good thing about it is that it drives average bands to be better. You can't go out there and fake it any more. So now I say let's get back to the sixties and seventies when bands were great bands. You had to be good when you were up on stage against Bowie and Elton John and the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
You would have thought, by pure evolution, that bands would be better now than before.
That's interesting. But try and find me a young guitar player. They're very, very hard to find. I go see bands in Los Angles, and when they get to the part of the song where the lead guitarist should take off - the Jeff Beck part - they just play the rhythm right through it. I ask the guy, "why don't you fill that in?" And they say, "Oh, this is modern rock - we don't do that."
You don't buy that?
I think they're more interested in the attitude of the song. I get bands coming to me, asking me to listen to their tapes. I listen to the first three songs and I say "I get it, you're angry. But where's the song?'
I hear good songs from modern rock bands like Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age, so I'm not sure I agree with you. But what do you see as the cause of this poor musicianship?
I think it's pure laziness. I'm not kidding you.
Is there hope for rock 'n' roll, then?
If I were to take a young band, I would have them listen to four people: Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson and Paul Simon, or maybe Laura Nyro. Listen to the construction of those songs. I mean, the Beatles - so simple, but I get everything they're saying to me. When I hear these new bands, I don't get it. And it's because they don't know how to tell a story within those musical boundaries. That three-minute musical boundary.