Florida Times-Union — As part of a job that many people rightly put quote fingers around while describing, I interviewed Alice Cooper by phone last week at my home about his upcoming show at the Florida Theatre — which will be very splattery and squishy and thick with the usual dark menagerie of snakes, beheadings, go-go dancers and what I’d guess to be many tongues of fire, nature’s lethal minion.
But since I have a Little Man whose attention needs must be sated while Daddy does what he guiltily passes off as work, I had to first fire up the usual distraction: Wah Emmo (pronounced “watch Elmo” by those of us with a full set of teeth). It’s a rock-solid safe bet for securing 15 minutes of Jeff Time, unless it’s the one with Mr. Noodle’s crazy binoculars, which Little Man is scared of. It’s OK, I reassure him. I’ve been sort of scared of Alice for years.
So when Alice calls — promptly, God love him — I answer, and for that first brief moment it occurs to me that I’ve got Mr. Welcome To My Nightmare on the phone, and over my shoulder, Elmo chirping out a song entitled Waddle Waddle Hop Hop.
Such a thing tends to throw one’s spine out of whack, but when I reported this to Alice, who is an unfailingly engaging and articulate guy, he merely comes back with, “I love the fact that you’re a daddy!” And we launch forthwith into a 20-minute chat about parenting.
It’s all about attention, Alice says. He and his wife of 29 years — whom he met when he hired her to perform on the Nightmare tour as (and I am not making any of these up) the giant spider, the giant snake, the dancing tooth, the mannequin that comes to life and the tap-dancing skeleton — “always spent all our time with our kids. They never felt insecure.”
Their three children grew up backstage, regarding the secrets behind Daddy’s fake guillotines, lighting and magic tricks “with big smiles” and routinely saying things like “Where’s Uncle Axl? Where’s Uncle [Keith] Moony?”
“They’d always travel with us on the road, and anybody backstage would pick them up and carry them around. They were like everybody’s kids,” he said.
Despite some of those uncles’ reputations, though, his kids turned out to be “the most balanced you’ve ever seen.” Regular churchgoers all, he said they’ve never done drugs, never stolen anything, never gotten into any trouble with Johnny Law, and he says it all in such a proud, paternal tone. “When you hear of Ozzy’s kids in trouble all the time, well, I mean, look at what the example is,” he said.
Now before I forget: Alice’s show is supporting his new Dirty Diamonds, and it’s a return to form, which means the props-heavy and mercilessly over-the-top spectacle for which he’s famous. Thirty songs, he says, and 28 of them are full-metal rockers. And it co-stars his daughter as, among other things, Paris Hilton, who in the end is viciously mauled by her chihuahua. “The first five or 10 rows get totally covered in blood,” he said. Sweet.
But what I take away from this brief and bizarre convergence of the Cooper family, their Uncle Slash, my Little Man and the little red Muppet that by then was frenetically counting ice-skating dogs, is this: When it comes to all this, Alice Cooper makes way more basic, focus-on-the family sense than all those parenting books we bought, all those articles that randomly change tack every few months (sun is bad! no, sun is good!) and all those scary-in-their-own-right ostensible-morality nuts like John Rosemond or James Dobson. See? And you thought Alice couldn’t shock anymore.