Born-Again Shock Rocker (and Golfer) Alice Cooper

As he writes in his highly readable autobiography, Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, the father of shock rock credits the game for helping him maintain his sobriety, replacing a fondness for heavy boozing with the decidedly healthier obsession of birdies and bogeys after his second stint in rehab.

Today, Cooper is recognized as one of the best celebrity amateur golfers, sporting an impressive four handicap and playing up to six days a week, even while on tour. Golf Monster even includes a section of tips to improve your swing. But Houston duffers will unfortunately miss the chance to see Cooper tee off, at least this time.

"I absolutely love coming to Houston and playing the TPC course out there at The Woodlands; it's always been a favorite of mine," Cooper says. "But I haven't hit a ball in two weeks; it will be two more before my doctor says I can even think about it."


Alice Cooper

9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, at the former AstroWorld location, Loop 610 and Kirby Dr. Part of the Rock the Bayou Festival, 713-629-4747 orwww.rockthebayou.com.

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It seems that during a recent show, when the "creepy zombies" attack Alice during "Welcome to My Nightmare," he accidentally got pushed into a stairwell, resulting in a cracked rib for the rocker.

Let's see Tiger Woods try to get out of a tournament with that excuse.

"It doesn't really hurt until the end of the show when they hang me; then the pain just shoots up my entire left side," Cooper chuckles. "But there's no way around it, since it's part of the show — so I just grit my teeth and bear it!"

The now 60-year-old former Vincent Damon Furnier is currently touring behind new album Along Came a Spider, his strongest effort since 2000's Brutal Planet. The concept record finds Cooper taking the guise of "Spider," a serial killer who offs unsuspecting female prey, wraps their bodies in silk, removes a leg and, um, eats it. That is, until he falls in love with his eighth victim and loses his lust for murder. Or so the listener thinks, until the twist ending.

"I've always written short stories, and I'm a big fan of The Twilight Zone and O. Henry. Spider is like that," Cooper says. "And I learned how to tell stories in three-minute songs by listening to Chuck Berry and Ray Davies."

Recorded with his touring band, the narrative features some of Cooper's toughest and hardest-sounding tracks, like "Vengeance Is Mine," "Wake the Dead," "Catch Me If You Can" and "I'm Hungry." There's also a few softer numbers like "Killed by Love" and "Salvation," sung in his underappreciated ballad voice.

"It's funny that we can get behind fictitious serial killers, but not real ones," Cooper observes. "No one sits around and goes, 'I'm more of a Jeffrey Dahmer man than a John Wayne Gacy lover.' But you can say, 'I think Hannibal Lecter is cooler than Jason or Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger.'"

"Spider is a combination of Alice and another guy," continues Cooper. "Alice has a certain sense of humor in what he says. It's poetic, but there's always a veiled threat somewhere."

The fact that Alice Cooper — he legally changed his name years ago — the man talks about "Alice Cooper" the stage persona underscores what he's always maintained: that the guy who snarls at his audience, plays with snakes and gets electrocuted/hung/beheaded every night is the embodiment of fiction.

Otherwise, how could Cooper possibly allow his beloved wife and daughter into Alice's evil world? Cooper met his wife of some 32 years, Sheryl, when she was a dancer on one of his '70s tours. And daughter Calico — who now plays her father's nurse and torturer onstage — endures things that would give any family psychiatrist an aneurysm.

"Believe it or not, my daughter and I have the greatest relationship of all time!" enthuses Calico's dad. "We'll go to a mall in the middle of a tour, and she can't ever get all of the bruising makeup off of her.

"So it looks like she's been beaten up, and people are looking at me like, 'Who's this old, creepy, longhaired guy and what's he doing to her?'" Cooper laughs.

"And we share the exact same sense of humor," he says. "We'll burst out laughing at things that nobody else will find funny. I'll say to her at breakfast, 'You know when I slit your throat during 'Dead Babies'? Can you turn a little more to the left? It will make the blood squirt further toward the audience.' And that's a normal conversation!"

What was not normal, or expected, from the man who genuinely shocked parents during the era of records like Killer, School's Out, Billion Dollar Babies and Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is that he would eventually become a born-again Christian. Cooper even teaches a Wednesday-morning Bible study class when at home in Phoenix.

So what does he say to those who insist he can't be sincere and still go out on the road?

"Alice is a character. And between me and the Lord, the Lord knows that," Cooper explains. "I mean, there are some things I won't even let Alice do because of my beliefs. If my name was Vincent Furnier and I was a pastor in a church and asked to act in Shakespeare's Macbeth, that would be fine. It's got incest and murder and it's about three times bloodier than anything I've ever done onstage. But because this is rock and roll, there's an immediate prejudice against it."

And while Cooper's cameo in Wayne's World (as the surprisingly Milwaukee-knowledgeable recipient of Wayne and Garth's "We're not worthy!" bows) was one of the best things about that movie, another one of the movie buff's celluloid appearances still causes him to twinge: his role as Father Sun in the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees film named after and inspired by the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

"I had just gotten out of the hospital for alcoholism when I filmed it, and had this huge, big mustache!" Cooper laughs. "But I did get to work with George Martin recording 'Because.' He sent it to John Lennon, who thought it was great."

And of Cooper's fight scene with the film's snugly denimed heroes?

"I did connect a few good [stage punches] with Barry Gibb," he reveals. "The funny thing is, I'm actually a closet Bee Gees fan!"

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