By Jeremy Miles
THE last time veteran shock-rocker Alice Cooper headed for Bournemouth the moral campaigners were predicting the end of civilisation as we know it.
They were horrified at the American showman's plans to stage his own mock hanging as part of a concert at the Bournemouth International Centre.
Entertainment bosses were accused of being "morally bankrupt" and the fevered objectors warned that the gallows scene could lead to a spate of copycat suicides.
Needless to say Alice romped happily through his concert, dishing up images of dismembered bodies, coffins and buckets of blood along with the dastardly deeds of the hangman. And, surprise, surprise, nobody died.
There was one technical hitch though. A last-minute replacement had to be found for Alice's most famous on-stage companion, a six-foot python called Salt Lake Sidney.
The recalcitrant reptile had got into a vicious strop and started shedding his skin just days before the show.
I caught up with Alice, alias 53-year-old preacher's son Vincent Furnier, as he prepared for the new Brutal Planet tour which brings him back to the BIC on Tuesday.
He cast his mind back nine years to that first Bournemouth appearance. It seems he was blissfully unaware of the prophets of doom mistaking his carefully choreographed theatrical gore for the works of the Devil but recalled only too well the sulky behaviour of Salt Lake Sidney.
"There are times when having a snake on the road can be a problem," he admitted. "If they're shedding or hungry then for about three days you suddenly start to look very much like dinner to them and it really isn't wise to get too close."
Finding a last-minute replacement isn't always that easy either.
"If you're somewhere like Bournemouth you can't just ask 'Hey where's the nearest Snakes R Us around here?'."
In the end Alice borrowed a boa constrictor from Dublin Zoo. At home in Arizona, he says, such matters are easily resolved. "I just go out in the backyard and turn over a rock."
Ha, ha, ha! It’s a good quote so I don’t question the fact that one is extremely unlikely to find a wild python in Arizona.
The new show - based on a series of marvellously doom-laden songs on Alice’s recent Brutal Planet album - has no snakes. It does not even have a hanging, although the ever=obliging Mr Cooper does have himself guillotined half way through the gig.
The Brutal Planet, he admits, is an awful place - a ghastly, barbaric and evil environment full of violence and malevolence where only the toughest psychos on the block survive.
As he talks me through this terrifying creation, I catch a glimpse of the schizoid artistic world that this extraordinary rock star inhabits.
There's Vincent -"Don't call me that or I'll think you're my mother" - the respectable middle aged entertainer. A writer of musical horror stories who likes nothing more than a round of golf with friends like former US president Gerald Ford.
Then there's Vincent's public image - Alice Cooper, the leather-clad, multi-millionaire rock star.
Finally there's the other Alice Cooper, the snake-loving, gore-guzzling anti-hero who brings his carefully-crafted nightmares to life on stage.
The two Alices, he assures me, are very different beings.
Alice the rock star explains: "I am actually the most optimistic person you could possibly imagine. Alice (the character) on the other hand is totally pessimistic.
"Where I can see all the good things that could happen Alice only sees the bad. In the long run though his take on things makes a much better show."
The on-stage version of Brutal Planet is by all accounts quite a production, packed with special effects, illusions and all manner of stage horrors. But Alice knows an audience can only take so much bad news. So half way through it's off with the bad guy's head and everyone's suddenly up on their feet and dancing to all the big hits.
"It's great. It's like the villagers celebrating that the monster is dead. It's a great party," laughs Alice.
He says he really enjoys his alter ego: "To be honest he's great to hide behind."
The songs on the Brutal Planet album were inspired by a variety of horrors ranging from cannabilism and mass shootings to road rage. But even Alice was shaken when he turned on the TV one night and found himself watching a news report which featured a man literally raking through the remains of what was once his home searching for the bones of his family.
"I was watching CNN and there was this guy walking through the rubble in Bosnia and he's got a pillow case and he's picking up bones and saying things like, 'This is my brother, this is my uncle and this is my sister'. It was horrible!
"I think the world is almost at the point of being desensitized and that's a big part of Brutal Planet.
"It's terrible the amount of apathy that exists. The fact that we can turn on the TV and hear someone say, '400,000 Rwandan tribesmen were slaughtered today with machetes', and we just go 'Oh well!'.
"It's because it doesn't really exist in our backyards. If that happened in London would there be any end to that story? Yet when it happens in Rwanda we sit there and say 'so what?'."
Part of Brutal Planet's purpose, he says, is to shove the unacceptable into people's faces.
"We are so insulated. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, where nothing really bad ever happens. You live in Bournemouth and I'm sure it's the same. Comparatively speaking, where we live is incredibly civilised yet there are 72 wars going in the world right now. Genocide is at an all-time high. What happened with the Nazis was just the tip of the iceberg."
He admits the world's worst atrocities are a valuable source for his writing. But I suspect even ever-optimistic Alice is wondering where it's all going to end. I am sure I detected just a tinge of anxiety in his voice as he told me: "What really amazes me these days is that for the first time reality is scarier than anything I can write."