Rock singer Alice Cooper plays an earlier morning round of golf at Rivermead Golf Club in Gatineau, QC, on Saturday, July 7, 2012.
Credits: MATTHEW USHERWOOD
He's taken lessons from Johnny Miller.
On stage, as the world's greatest shock-rock entertainer, with his face covered in ghoulish face paint, he's had his head chopped off by a guillotine, he's cavorted with mutilated baby dolls and snakes, he's been covered in fake blood and he's been jolted by an electric chair.
Saturday morning, 7:30ish, I pull up to his downtown hotel to pick him up. Welcome to Your Nightmare, Alice. No nooses, just a morning on the golf course with me.
The world's greatest shock-rock entertainer, in town for Bluesfest, accepted an invitation to play the beautiful Rivermead layout in Aylmer, QC, Saturday morning - also joined by Kevin Haime and his son Jake.
Understand that the 64-year-old guy, who long ago stopped being Vincent Furnier, who brought us rock anthems like School's Out and I'm Eighteen, is an avid golfer. Avid as in six days a week, for the past 30 years. Avid as in he's a 4-handicap. Avid as in he's got four holes-in-one, three double eagles and a low score of 67, at Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Avid as in he's got a sweet, smooth swing that stripes the ball down the middle of the fairway pretty well all the time.
In finding golf, some 30 years ago, he swapped one addiction for another.
It was a good trade, considering his bottle-a-day Seagram's VO habit saw him wake up one morning spitting up blood. He hasn't had alcohol since and soon after going cold turkey, golf became his obsession.
"I love the game of golf. It's never a bad day for me on the golf course," Cooper says. "I've hit bad shots, but I've never thrown a club. I play a different course every single day. My goal is to break 80 and rarely do I go over that. I hit the fairway all day. That was what Johnny Miller taught me. Hit straight shots, not long shots."
Not bad for a guy who started out with a set of Sam Snead Blue Ridge clubs he picked up for $90 off the shelf at a Sears store.
"The first time, I hit a seven-iron down the middle and thought, ‘What's so hard about this?'
"I needed to find a positive addiction. So in the first year I played 36 holes a day. I was playing with pros every day. (Winnipeg's) Craig Yahiro would dump 200 balls 60 yards out and tell me we weren't going in until I put them all on the green. I was a 9-handicap by the end of the year. After that, I was taking a shot off a year. I got down to even at one point."
In the midst of a 100-city tour with his band, with his long black hair tied up under his white hat, cross around his neck, silver chain bracelets on his wrist, Cooper is a shotmaker. All precision, even on this day when he's using a borrowed set of Callaways, a company he represents. On the seventh hole at Rivermead, he takes "a rockstar mulligan." When you've blistered out 14 No. 1 hits and a stage show like no other, you've earned those mulligans.
On his staged theatre of the macabre, Cooper is the bad guy.
"I've been doing this 45 years now. I get on stage and I'm Hannibal Lecter. I'm the villain. I'm rock's Captain Hook," says Cooper. "Lyrics are the script. If you say Welcome to my Nightmare, you have to give them that nightmare. Other bands were standing on stage, playing and looking down at their toes. We destroyed that concept. My character is angry, with attitude. He's vicious.
"I spent 15 years drinking, trying to keep up with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They were all trying to live that image, to be that same person offstage they were onstage. Alice Cooper lives onstage, I live offstage.
"Thirty per cent of what you hear about me is true. Thirty per cent of what you hear about Ozzy Osbourne is true. People are willing to believe anything. If somebody saw a snake at the show, by the next day at school it was 30 feet long and it had killed two people. I threw a chicken into the audience (1969 in Toronto). They ripped it apart. The next day in the paper the headline was like ‘Alice Cooper Bites the Head off Chicken.'
"Frank Zappa asked if I killed the chicken onstage. I told him no and he said, ‘Well, don't tell anybody that.'"
Offstage, on the golf course Saturday, Cooper, who has season-tickets to the Phoenix Coyotes and is a huge sports fan, is a different character - affable, smiling. "As soon as the curtain comes down, I'm like, ‘Did the Tigers win today?'"
It was all about image. Groucho Marx liked him for the Vaudeville approach he brought to his shows; Salvador Dali liked him for being a surrealist.
"My dad was a pastor and he loved (the show)," Cooper says. "I could have done drafting or commercial art, but my dad listened to it and he got it. He knew I wasn't satanic. Parents hated Sinatra, they hated Elvis, I was just another of those guys. My image scared a lot of people.
"We wanted to piss off every parent in America. We knew if we could get every parent to hate us, we'd be a huge hit."
Cooper is from an era when bands like The Ramones, Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5 were tearing it up with attitude.
"I like the Foo Fighters. Jack White is a total genius," Cooper says. "But bands like Arcade Fire and Kings of Leon ... I go to sleep listening to that."
And he likes muscle cars, driving a prized 1967 Shelby Mustang these days.
His own library of hits has many memorable tunes.
"We played one night at the Whisky-A-Go-Go on a bill with Led Zeppelin. The next night, we played with Pink Floyd. It was 1967. Nobody had heard of any of us," Cooper says. "We were starving musicians. Frank Zappa signed us. Other companies didn't want us because we weren't Creedence Clearwater Revival.
"Schools Out still pays the bills. It's got a bratty riff. Being a punk kid, singing, ‘We got no principal,' and then that line, ‘We can't even think of a word that rhymes.'"
Vincent Furnier has become Alice Cooper. That's what fans call him, what friends call him. What his wife calls him.
"If Elton John was here, would you call him Reggie?" Cooper asks with a grin.
Cooper met his wife, Sheryl, when she was a ballet dancer on the Welcome To My Nightmare tour. She was 18. He was 27.
"Thirty-six years later, we're still married and I've never cheated on her," Cooper says.
OK, well, maybe he does have a mistress: Golf.
"I never get tired of golf. My wife teaches ballet. She says she loves ballet, but once in a while she gets tired of it. I never get tired of golf."
He endures, listening to, ‘Nice putt, Alice' and ‘We're Not Worthy,' in homage to his appearance in Wayne's World.
It sure was a pretty picture at Rivermead. Alice Cooper, without the makeup, without the grinding guitars, doing what he loves so much ... hitting a golf ball into the horizon, with all the tranquillity a quiet Saturday morning can offer. For nine holes, he shoots 39 ... getting a piece of his own little golf nirvana.