People have been comparing Marilyn Manson to Alice Cooper ever since the shock-rock disciple turned up in the early '90s with the goth makeup, scary eyeballs and "Antichrist" shtick.
Musically speaking, though, it was questionable whether the two belonged on a stage together. Now, nearly 20 years later, they face off on the Masters of Madness Tour.
"It's the dream tour for theater," Cooper says in a phone interview. "Everyone wants to see Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson together and see what happens. One show is going to be sort of dark and high-tech and industrial and it has that edge, whereas Alice Cooper is going to be vaudevillian and sort of classic rock. You have two entirely different shows that work really well together.
"And I think both characters are mythical," he adds. "I think people have heard so much about Alice Cooper, so many stories, so many urban legends, and now Marilyn Manson, that we're almost comic book characters."
Alice Cooper pioneered the theatrical rock genre in the early '70s with his makeup, guillotines and creepy baby dolls, while also producing great glam-rock songs like "I'm Eighteen," "School's Out" and "Under My Wheels." It was the antidote to the peace-and-love hippie generation.
"The Alice Cooper thing was rock 'n' roll's consummate villain, but it had a sense of humor to it," says the 65-year-old Cooper (whose real name is Vince Furnier). "To me, that was the important thing -- rock 'n' roll and comedy and horror all in bed together."
Or all on an electric chair.
Coming along two decades later, Canton, Ohio-native Manson (Brian Warner) amped it up with a caustic industrial sound inspired by Nine Inch Nails and a more gruesome anti-religious, anti-authoritarian agenda. You have to look pretty deep for the comedy, and you still might not find it.
"Manson's humor is a little bit more disguised," Cooper says. "But I talk to him all the time. He's a very funny guy. He gets it. At the same time, when you are the villain of rock 'n' roll and it's working, you want to keep being the villain, and so you have to keep going further and further and further. And sometimes going further and further and further is what makes it funny. You have to go to such an absurd level to keep it going. Any time you pick up a metal magazine in Denmark, it's absurdly funny because all these bands are either going to be the most evil band in the world or they're Vikings."
As Cooper will tell you, being the villain got the best of him at certain points in his life, particularly from the late '70s through the mid-'80s when he battled alcoholism.
"There was a period of time when I thought I had to be Alice Cooper all the time," he says. "My big brothers were Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon and every party animal that ever was. And so when you're trying to stay with those people who all died at 27 years old, from excess, it kind of teaches you a lesson that maybe I don't have to be my character 100 percent of the time.
"There was a very big gray area with me for a long time, of where I began and where Alice ended. When I got sober, I decided, first of all, I want to play golf every day, I want to go to the movies, I want to go shopping, I want to go out to dinner with my wife, and I don't want to wear the makeup. I want to play the character on television, on stage -- that's when I'm Alice. Then, it's fun to be Hannibal Lecter, But being that character all the time is not fun at all. In order to be that character, you have to fuel him with alcohol or drugs, because it's not natural to be that insane, makeup-wearing, snake-charming villain at all times. But it's infinitely fun to play that character."
Although Alice Cooper's hitmaking days are behind him, he continues to be prolific, having released six albums since 2000, including 2011's "Welcome 2 My Nightmare," which featured contributions from Ke$ha, Rob Zombie, Vince Gill and Patterson Hood. He's at work on a covers album that will be released early next year.
"I've never done a covers album before. I said, 'Geeze, Bowie's done two of them.' Everyone in the business has done a covers album except me. So I said, 'Let's do one.' First of all, everyone we're going to cover are guys that we know or have played with or have had some relationship with. So it will be fun to pick songs that I grew up with, songs that I liked during that era. I was a big fan of the British Invasion. So there's so many great songs of that era to pick from."
He'll get to that when he finishes this tour, which he's excited about, not only because of Manson, but because of his trio of guitarists, which includes the first female member of Alice Cooper -- Australian sensation Orianthi.
"[She] is one of the finest guitar players I've ever played with," he says. "She plays my kind of rock 'n' roll. She really gets into the middle frets, and she really nails it. She plays like an angry guy, but she can also be very melodic doing it."
After not playing in Pittsburgh for nearly a decade, this will be the third year in a row Cooper has headlined Stage AE, which is just a stone's throw away from his second home as a kid.
Obviously, he's well known for being from Detroit, but, he says, "When I was a kid I grew up in Uniontown. My grandparents lived there. So when I was a kid in Detroit, I spent every summer living in Uniontown. So I'm kind of a Pennsylvania kid."
His grandparents, who were married for 76 years, have passed away, and he's not sure if he still has relatives there. His memories from that time include his grandmother supporting his music and even joining his band for rehearsal on piano.
"My granddad was an evangelist, and my grandma, she was as tough as nails. She watched 'American Bandstand' every day when she was in her 80s, 90s. She loved rock music. I never had anyone in my family that was anti-rock 'n' roll."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.