This story was originally published in 2010.
For a couple of menacing-looking shock-rock icons, Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie like to laugh. A lot. Over the course of their hour-long conversation, which they did for this article before touring together, the self-proclaimed "Gruesome Twosome"—a name they used for their jaunt together earlier this year—share guffaws at the expense of Cooper's friend, comedian Groucho Marx, Zombie's grade-school PTA, and indie rockers Vampire Weekend. Their sense of humor is just one of many common traits shared by Cooper—the 62-year-old face-painted ghoul responsible for hard rockers like "I'm Eighteen" and whose onstage antics include being beheaded by his bandmates with a guillotine—and Zombie—the dreadlocked 45-year-old who fronted industro-metallers White Zombie, forged his own solo career, and directed movies like The Devil's Rejects.
But of course it goes deeper. "Rob Zombie somehow, I don't know how, but is probably a long-lost younger brother of mine," Cooper says. "I've never met anybody that had the same sense of humor, had the same reference points as me—it's way too similar."
"And I've realized that, from this photo we took once in a photo booth, we have the same nose, too," Zombie says with a chortle.
Their brotherhood is something they've recognized for at least the past 14 years. After Cooper made a surprise appearance at a White Zombie gig in '95, the pair collaborated on the Grammy-nominated "Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)," a track for the 1996 X-Files soundtrack Songs in the Key of X, which, incidentally, was Zombie's first solo song. A year later Zombie provided guest vocals on a couple of songs on Cooper's 1997 live album, A Fistful of Alice. The duo would perform together again on Cooper's "School's Out" for Spike TV's 2007 Scream Awards. And most recently, the friends presented the Best Underground Band award to the Dillinger Escape Plan at the 2010 Revolver Golden Gods, before hitting the road for their Gruesome Twosome tour.
Since then, Zombie has revamped his band to include new drummer Joey Jordison of Slipknot and the Murderdolls, coheadlined the 2010 Mayhem Fest, and rereleased this year's Hellbilly Deluxe 2. Meanwhile, Cooper wrote some new songs with Zombie's bassist, Piggy D., and has begun work on what he has called a "shriekquel" to his first albums. He's even getting some help from the original Alice Cooper group's bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith, as well as producer Bob Ezrin, who worked on Cooper's '70s hits. In the meantime, he just released a live DVD, Theatre of Death, filmed last year at London's Hammersmith Apollo.
Cooper and Zombie most recently teamed up for the Halloween Hootenanny tour, with Murderdolls as support, this October. By all accounts, their friendship was meant to be. But don't take our word for it.
ROB ZOMBIE I remember I did a giant painting of you once in third grade for the art show, and it was a big face of you, and I had written in dripping blood letters, "I love the dead." And the PTA took it down out of the art show.
ALICE COOPER I am so proud of that.
ZOMBIE I was so disappointed. I went there that night all ready to win my blue ribbon, and my piece had been removed from the show.
COOPER I guarantee you at some point one of the teachers said, "psychiatric help."
ZOMBIE "Help? This child is beyond help…" It's funny. As a kid, growing up, I loved you. It's funny when you have a total disconnect as a kid or as a person, but you sense something like, There's something about that guy I know I have a common thread with.
ZOMBIE And then, strange enough, as time goes on, and if you meet them and work with them you go, Wow, how did I know that when I was 8? There's something about that guy. Even when I go back and I see pictures of you in your track-team uniform and the team picture and I have the matching picture that goes with it and just these weird, bizarre connections. One thing we both have is we have this love of entertainment. Like old Hollywood and the razzle-dazzle—that it's show business. And that's not a bad word.
COOPER That used to be a dirty word. If you said "showbiz" back in the '70s, people used to go, "Oh, man. This is rock and roll. This isn't showbiz." Yeah, it is.
ZOMBIE Whereas all the legends totally get it, though.
COOPER Groucho [Marx] used to say, "You're Vaudeville," and I've always looked at that as a great compliment. Fred Astaire came to the show during the Welcome to My Nightmare tour, and there's our four dancers and they're doing tap-dancing skeletons in top hats. And at the end of the show, he goes, "Hey, you kids are great." [Zombie laughs] Our dancers were floored. Because that was Fred Astaire. Now, I guarantee you that 90 percent of your audience have no idea who Fred Astaire is.
ZOMBIE And they don't care… What's so weird, though, is that I loved all that stuff as a kid, but it wasn't current to me. It was already 40 years old. But somehow it still seems… I guess because Groucho, he was sort of doing the college circuit in his later years, and something about it was still hip to kids or something. But now it's just all gone.
You've told me this story, and I've repeated it enough times—obviously saying it's your story—but I've probably messed it up. You gotta just repeat for everyone to hear the story about you going to Groucho's house and him thinking that you were Charles Manson. [Laughs]
COOPER Oh yeah, yeah. And this is after he'd known me for years. I mean, it was one of those things—I think he was slipping in and out of a few realities there. And he told me to come over to pick up this giant bed—this big round bed that was in his house. It'd been there since the '40s. He gave us a tour of the house and he saw this big, round bed and he said, "Hey, you want the bed?" And I went, "Sure." And he says, "OK. Well, I hope you have more luck on it than I did." [Zombie laughs] And so, myself and two or three friends came over to move the bed. And he looks through the door and he sees these four guys. And he panics. He thinks we're, like, the Charles Manson gang, whatever, somehow come back to life. Finally he opens the door and he's got a robe on and he's got Mickey Mouse ears on and a cigar. And he goes, "Oh, for a second there, I thought you were, you know…" But moving this bed out of his house was a scene out of [1935 Marx Brothers film] A Night at the Opera, because he's directing us. [Zombie laughs] And we're trying to roll this bed out of the house. And he's going, "A little bit left, a little bit left." And you would hit the wall, and a picture would fall off the wall. "No, no, no. Right. I mean right." I wish I had a video of that. Because it was a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie. I think he was intentionally directing us in and out of the walls.
ZOMBIE [Laughs] That's so funny.
COOPER And at the end, it was just one of those… He was so bizarre. But if you would have known this guy, you would have loved him. He was like your crazy uncle.
ZOMBIE It's funny. I really do think that this "show-business" thing is just affecting bands, too. Not to talk about the good old days or something, but I think that they get confused that they can just wander onstage in their street clothes, do nothing, and somehow that's entertaining. And it's not. And I think they'll look at certain bands that have done that, whether it's Nirvana or Metallica, but that was, that in itself was their shtick at the time. Their shtick was, "We don't have a shtick," even though they did.
COOPER Nirvana made that their show. To me, it was interesting how odd Kurt Cobain handled it. Sometimes he'd show up in a dress. And just make it nonplus, like, Eh. So what? He must have had a very strange sense of humor, I think. I never met him, but I think that he had a very warped sense of humor. Or it might have been the drugs talking.
ZOMBIE I think in a weird way I feel like rock music still never recovered from it. It was almost like the glam bands took it so far in one direction and then the grunge took it so far in the other direction that it never really came back down.
This is my theory: The grunge rock, except for the few bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam—there's always bands that break out way beyond the genre that they're from, and they become something so much more, like the Beatles or the Stones and the British invasion—but I feel, for the average kid, grunge music became so boring because you had the stars, the Eddie Vedders and the Kurt Cobains and the Chris Cornells, but then it got down to just four boring guys staring at their feet with no show at all. And I think that that's when kids started thinking, Oh, that's rock music? It's this totally boring thing of guys that look like they're not even cool enough to be the road crew anymore.
ZOMBIE And then rap music comes along, and everybody's, like, a superstar. Even if they're flat broke, they're wearing fur coats and diamond rings. And now, I feel like rock music is something you think of as just…boring. [Laughs halfheartedly]
COOPER Well, recently, my biggest pet peeve is that it seems that all the bands… I pick up magazines and they go, "Greatest Band of All Time," and it's like Arcade Fire. Or it's Vampire Weekend. And I'm going, Boy, I can't wait to see these guys. This is going to be great. Vampire Weekend? That's gonna be really fun to watch. And there's these four guys up there, and they've got, like, Gap shirts on, and two of them are playing Farfisa [organs], and I'm waiting for something to happen, and I go, That was it? I go, What?
ZOMBIE Yeah, I'm expecting something.
COOPER If you're gonna be called Vampire Weekend and you're wearing Gap shirts, at least have blood all over the shirts. So that at some point, you were a vampire. That would be funny. It's just so bland. It's almost like, "We're afraid to offend anybody."
ZOMBIE The whole point was I wanted to offend everybody. [Laughs] I kind of got into it because I hated everybody and I wanted to prove something.
COOPER The very first time I saw you guys, White Zombie, it was very funny. Everybody was covered in dust. [Zombie laughs] And it was sort of like, every time anybody moved, it would be, like, a cloud of dust. It was like Pig-Pen, from Charlie Brown. And I said, "That is such a great idea, because every time you move onstage, you're leaving a cloud of dust somewhere." It looked like somebody had just drug you guys all up from the grave.
ZOMBIE Yeah, we loved playing festival shows, too, because we loved the idea that once we left the stage, it was just a destroyed mess. Like, "Enjoy the bloody, dirty stage. Next."
COOPER You know, that happened to us. And we don't even realize how much crap we leave on the stage. There's money with blood on it. And there's confetti and pieces of balloons, and body parts and things lying on the stage. And we open for the Stones. And, you know, the Stones get onstage and they're looking around the stage like, What happened up here? It's so normal to us, that anyone going on after us has to look around and go, "What just happened?"
ZOMBIE A couple years ago, I saw you do this and I was like, I've gotta try that: I got a huge feather pillow, and we're doing a one-off in a club, so we busted open the pillow in front of the fan—unbelievable. You couldn't even breathe. And we still have feathers in all of our gear. This was, like, four years ago. It's so funny. [Laughs]
COOPER We did a show back in 1969, honestly 1969, in this theater in Minnesota with Frank Zappa. We finished the show with two pillows. Two pillows would fill Madison Square Garden. This was a thousand-seat theater. We had no idea how many feathers that was. The audience was covered in feathers. And I've had people tell me to this day—[singer] Engelbert Humperdinck will be in the middle of a song and you'll see a feather come down from the rafters. And everybody goes, Oh, that was from 1969, Alice Cooper show. [Laughs] So they linger and you can't get them off of your amps. They stick and they stay forever.
ZOMBIE [Laughs] They're still stuck inside all of our monitors and everything.
COOPER Yeah, it's a mess. We only did it two or three times. But once you do it, you leave your mark. People will never forget that. So pick the times when you're gonna do that.
ZOMBIE We'll do it the last night of our tour together. We'll both do it. [Laughs]
COOPER Absolutely. [Laughs] That would be great. Have both bands in a pillow fight.
ZOMBIE That would be good. And then we get the $70,000 cleanup charge afterwards.