Alice Cooper is fighting hard to regain his bad reputation.
His latest album, "Raise Your Fist and Yell," is packed with wicked heavy-metal songs about ax murders and rotting corpses.
His new stage show, which he brings to the San Diego Sports Arena tonight, is "bigger, badder and bloodier than anything I've ever done," he said--complete with mock decapitations and gallons of fake blood squirting into the audience.
"When I came back after taking three years off, I think people expected me to be fat and mellow," Cooper said. "Instead, I came back as a 138-pound thoroughbred--rocking harder, and scaring more parents, than ever before."
To paraphrase one of his vintage hits, no more Mr. Nice Guy. The king of shock-rock is determined to once again live up to the bad reputation he earned in the early 1970s, after changing his name from Vincent Furnier and assuming the identity of a reincarnated 17th-Century witch.
Snarling teen anthems like "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out" then made Cooper the idol of rebellious youths--and the scourge of their parents. So did such bizarre theatrics as simulated executions--by electrocution, by guillotine, or by hanging--and the chopping up of baby dolls.
But by the late 1970s, defiant rock 'n' roll had given way to gentle love ballads like "Only Women Bleed" and "You and Me." Cooper was regularly performing in Las Vegas lounges and appearing as a celebrity panelist on the television game show, "Hollywood Squares."
His bad reputation was shot.
"What happened was that after about 1975, there was no more rock 'n' roll on the radio," Cooper said. "Everything was either disco or ballads, and since I wanted to keep my hand in the game--and there was no way Alice was going to do disco--I started putting one ballad on each album.
"The rest of the songs were still maniacal rock 'n' roll. But unfortunately, the ballads were what people heard on the radio, and the ballads were what people wanted me to sing in concert.
"That really gave me this image as a crooner. It was horrible."
In 1983, Cooper took a three-year hiatus from both recording and touring. He spent that time kicking a heavy booze habit and bemoaning the direction his career had taken.
And since his re-emergence in 1986, he said, there have been no more ballads, no more Las Vegas performances, and no more guest stints on TV game shows.
"For a while, I even thought about putting stickers on my albums that said, 'No ballads,' " Cooper recalled. "I also kept beefing up my stage show to make it even bigger and more realistic than in the old days.
"On my current tour, I'm working with a lot of high-tech movie people who do special effects for splatter films. So if I need a head to explode, or if I need blood to squirt 20 feet into the audience, they can make it happen.
"And when Alice's head gets chopped off at the end of the show, it's a lot more anatomically correct."
Still, two years after he launched his "comeback," Cooper, now 40, has yet to score a hit single or album. He last cracked the charts in 1980, with "Clones (We're All)"--a ballad.
"I would be selling a lot more records if I could get some air play," he said. "But things are very sticky right now; everyone's saying Alice is too abrasive for radio, just as they were in 1975, before I started doing ballads.
"If you read magazines, come to my shows, or watch MTV, you'd see I'm doing really well--I'm stronger than I was when I left in 1983. But if you look at the charts, you'd never know I'm still around."
Nevertheless, Cooper continues to hold out hope. Radio, he said, is slowly starting to play more rock 'n' roll, even by heavy metal bands like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake.
"And since a lot of the popular heavy metal groups of today were influenced by early Alice, musically as well as visually, I'm just waiting for that break," Cooper said.