I hear…a devilish angel ringing…
Alice Cooper was raised in Glendale, on the Valley’s working-class West Side, before making it big and returning to a ritzy home on the upper-crust East Side.
These days, as he drives around some of the Valley’s rougher hoods, say on the way to a downtown concert, when he sees tough-looking kids hanging out on the streets, he doesn’t see drug dealers and gang bangers.
He sees R&R: rockers and rappers.
(As he told me for a Mesa Tribune story earlier this year, “How do we know the kid out there selling drugs isn’t a great guitar player? He doesn’t know that - he’s never had a guitar in his hands.
“So what if we pull him in off the street and say, ‘Look, you can get just as addicted to a guitar as you can to meth. And you can be in a band, not a gang.’
“And it works.”)
The idea for starting a music incubator came to him years ago, when he was cutting his teeth in far-rougher Detroit. After hitting the charts with the song “School’s Out” in 1972, the album “Billion Dollar Babies” in 1973 and selling millions of nearly two dozen subsequent albums (including this year’s appropriately-named “Detroit Stories”), Cooper stockpiled the resources to fund his dream.
Enter the Alice Cooper Solid Rock Teen Centers, where kids can learn how to play guitar, get recording tips or just hang out in Phoenix and now Mesa (site of a second teen center).
While “Elected” and “Under My Wheels” are crushers, maybe the best of his hits is the snarly black-comedy of “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” The irony is that, though he says he was quite a self-centered, immature handful (the word “jagoff” comes to mind, but that’s the Pittsburgh in me) in his boozing days, a sober Alice Cooper emerged as probably the nicest guy in rock and roll.
Rather than enjoying his fame and fortune, he continues to push for opportunities for the next generation of musicians.
According to the center's website, “The Rock Teen Center inspires teens (12-20) to grow through music, dance and art. We provide vocational training in sound and recording, lighting and staging, video production, as well as a computer lab and a cool, supervised facility for the teens to engage with their peers. In a time where public schools are cutting funding for empowering programs like music, dance and art, The Rock cultivates a love of the arts to inspire and challenge teens to embrace artistic excellence and reach their full potential.”
And it’s free to all comers.
While donations are gladly accepted, the centers rely on a big annual fundraiser: The star-studded “Christmas Pudding” concerts.
This year's show is Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Celebrity Theatre.
Alice will rock out, with support from rock-star buds like Ace Frehley (KISS), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals), Ed Roland (Collective Soul) and Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray).
The show also features a performance by Isaiah Tilson, who not only isn’t a rock star—he isn’t even a rocker.
A Justin Timberlake type, young Tilson mixes in R&B originals with covers of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Nina Simone.
Tilson was the top soloist in this year’s Pudding Musical Talent Competition, getting a spot at the big concert.