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Interview and Photos by Mary Andrews
Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding
Alice Cooper relaxed and speaking candidly his Christmas Pudding and Rock Solid
December 13, 2014
LiveWire managed to catch a busy Alice Cooper in the green room to chat about his pet project, The Solid Rock Foundation, and other things. He is busy preparing for one of his major fundraisers for the Foundation, Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding.
Alice: We've got all new people this year. Nils has been here before. Jonny Lang is new. POD is new. Night Ranger, we've had a couple of the guys from Night Ranger, but never the whole group. And we are doing the whole show. We've never done the whole show. We will have the guillotine with Christmas lights on.
LiveWire: No one's head coming off.
Alice: Oh, yeah, my head's coming off! We are doing the full show. We are pulling out the punches, the snake, of course. And the syringe, she gives me a shot when I'm in the straight jacket. Instead she is licking my face with mistletoe. I'm thinking of keeping that in the show. That's even funny without it being Christmas. Instead of stabbing me with knives, she going to stab me with candy canes.
LiveWire: So is this the 14th annual Christmas Pudding?
Alice: Yes. We started Solid Rock 15 years ago. The idea was that we were a foundation and our target age group was going to be between 13 and 19 years old. That was we would provide money for an alternative to what was going on in the streets. Kids grow up and when they hit the streets, there are guns, gangs and drugs. That's what's out there. That's everywhere. That is not just the West side. That's everywhere. Everybody thinks it's just kids in one area. Kids who have money and live in the big houses have money to buy drugs. So everybody is at risk. Things that I have realized is the there are two big decisions to make. One is very destructive and one is very creative. Kids need to make the creative decision. So, open up a 30,000 square foot place and make it free. All you gotta do is come and learn guitar, bass, drums. It's a safe place to go after school where you are not going to get shot at or beat up or bullied. We did work with neighborhood ministries and I'm sitting there watching a 15-16 year old kid doing a drug deal on the corner. I'm from Detroit. I know what a drug deal is. I'm going, "How does that kid not know he could be the best guitar player or the best drummer or the best bass player? He has never had a guitar. Why don't we provide that?" It is certainly not going to happen in school. There is no art or music in school anymore. We need to be that. We need to be the creative outlet. Kids are always very weary. So, what's the catch? We are a Christian, non-profit organization. We're not going to beat you over the head with a bible. The catch is that you show up! It's that easy. You show up and you play. Now, we have two or three kids who can really play.
LiveWire: Have any of the kids over the years actually played with you?
Alice: My son's band, Co Op is going to play and they are bringing up two kids who are going to play. One is a guitar player and one is a bass player. Three of these kids just shine. These kids can really play. This year we are going to show off a couple of good ones. The dancers, Sheryl's dance group are professionals. Foot Clan usually shows up to dance with them. We add our kids so that they know what it feels like to be up on stage in front of an audience. That's something that they now go for.
I tell them we all started where you are, exactly where you are, except I didn't have a place like this, where people are actually teaching you. We learned by listening to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and practicing in the garage. We were a pure garage band. The other thing is, we're going to do or the next phase is a recording studio, lighting and sound. The kids who aren't musicians, I tell 'em when we go on stage, there's five musicians and myself on stage, but there's 25 other people running the show like lights, sound, roadies, amps everything. Those people make between 50 and 100 grand a year. The whole thing is if you are not musically inclined, we'll teach you how to run lights. We'll teach you how to run sound. We'll teach you recording. And so the young bands that get together go into the studio with the same kids who are learning how to record and they are all learning together. If you change one kids future, you don't change just one kid, you change the neighborhood. Not just his family. The neighborhood.
LiveWire: I was here a year ago and we talked about accomplishments and goals. What has been accomplished in the last year?
Alice: We are getting between 50 and 100 kids in there a day. Before they were just dribbling in. People coming in and saying, what's going on in here. We get a steady flow now of kids that come in right from school. We have people waiting for us to open. Unfortunately we have kids who feel safer here than they do at home. One of the stories that really affected me was with one of the kids. I said if you come in every day to learn the guitar, after a year, we will give you the guitar you can take home and practice. We trust you to go home and practice. The kid said, "I can't do that. My dad would hock it.' The kid was smart enough to know that he couldn't take a guitar home because it would be gone. Somebody would steal it. I'd rather just come here and play. That's what you are dealing with in a lot of the cases. On other cases the families are dropping off their kids and are happy their kids have a place to go. They are all sultry teenagers. Other teens are like 'I can't wait, yeah lets go!'
LiveWire: What is the ratio of dancers vs. musicians in the school?
Alice: We've got a very big dance division. You'd be surprised. My wife (Sheryl) is the head of it. Hodgie Jo, one of her students, is the choreographer. When you see the dance tonight, he spends all year building this thing up into the show. He does it in sections. It is unbelievably complicated. Sheryl comes in and she watches. It is usually the opening part of the Christmas Pudding show.
I'll tell you a great story. When it first started, some of the girls that come in are real street dancers. Chicano girls who can really dance and they are walking by and Sheryl is doing a ballet class in French. And they are going "what is that?" They had never seen ballet. "We gotta try that." And Sheryl teaches them in French. She said, you have to learn French terms. I'm not going to feed you pabulum. I'll take you as far as I can with this." Sheryl is one of those teachers that she goes to Monte Carlo and if there is a really good ballet dancer who wants to go to the next level, Sheryl comes in and takes her to that next level. Somebody else will take her to the final level. Sheryl is that one who will say, okay, you are really good. Do you want to be great? I've got to take you to that level. When she was dancing with the Joffrey Ballet, she said, with the Russians when she was 15-16 years old. We think we are big tough guys. We'd be on point four or five hours and we'd take our shoes off. If there wasn't blood in your shoes, we'd have to do more. Our calves were like rocks because of being on point all day. And you had to bleed because the Russians figured you weren't dancing if you weren't bleeding. We don't take it that far.
When we first started out, we went to Maryvale High School and we did a questionnaire. We wanted to get a feeler. First question was, what are the three most important things? And these were all teenagers answering this. The first thing was, "is it safe?" Yeah, it safe. There is actually an auxiliary police department connected to the building. There is always police presence there. The second response was, "Is there child care available? I went "well it is for teenagers." And they said well yeah is childcare available? A lot of these teenagers have babies.
LiveWire: Arizona has one of the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country.
Alice: Well now there is childcare provided. White guys from Scottsdale are going okay. We need it. The last question they had was: "Are there going to be a bunch of adults around?" I said yeah we have adults, but they won't be standing over your shoulder. They responded, "You don't understand, we don't have adults in our life. We really need to ask questions. We don't have dads. We need people around we can go to for counseling. We need adults" That's the last thing I would have guessed. It was just the opposite of what I would have thought. It's a different world than when I was a teenager. It's a more dangerous world now. When I was in high school, you had a fight. Somebody had a bloody nose and someone had a black eye. The next day there was no problem. Now someone drives by your house with a machine gun. If you had a problem with a girl, it was usually a penicillin shot. Now you die. Drugs were like you get caught drinking a beer. Now it is heroin. So the world ante is up in this poker game. The teenage world right now is a much more dangerous world. It is easier to get heroine right now than beer. The world of drugs is being glorified now.
LiveWire: Yeah like "Breaking Bad," but in the end Walter White got his.
Alice: laughing. It's a great show though. I got addicted to that show! In reality, you saw what idiots they were.
LiveWire: The moral to that story was to pay teachers more.
Alice: I said that 10 years ago. If I were president, I would triple the salary of teachers so that the profession was looked up to. All of a sudden there would be more respect there.
LiveWire: What are your goals for the future?
Alice: It's really about getting the kids through. You want to get the kids through to the age of 20 with some new thing in their life than what's out there. Some kids will breeze right along. They will go to school and get a job, go to college and everything will be fine. There are a lot of kids out there that are trapped into a blueprinted world that will not change unless something changes for them. In other words, there is a kid that is born into a gang. Mom and dad are not arguing about him being in a gang, but instead which gang he's going to be in. There's a 14-year old kid that doesn't have any say over it, except if he has an alternative.
LiveWire: Do you want to increase the population of the center or do you want another center?
Alice:I would love to open another place. I would love to have this center so packed that you couldn't get anybody else in. It's slow now. It's a certain kid that is going to come in, not going to be every kid. It's going be the kid that sort of disenfranchised. It's always been my audience anyway. The artistic kid that's kind of the outcast. That's what we want. We want that kid in here. We're going to show them how to make it creative. At least he's got something to do with it. I want to start doing a lyric writing class. Because rap is just lyrics. Everybody is into rap and this and that. I'm gonna say go ahead, write. I want to read it. Let me see it. Lets read it to the class. Let's see where you are at. At that point say if this song was in four:four and that kid over there is playing guitar and you put these two together in a room and write a song. All you do take rap, put a melody to it and it's a song. That's something I know how to do. I couldn't teach them psychology. I couldn't teach them guitar, but the one thing I do is lyrics. I am a lyricist. I can take that and show them how to write a story in three minutes. So, I'm kinda excited about that. If there is one thing that kids do is they write. They write down their feelings. That's a song. What do you think songs are. It a write writing down their feelings. And mostly its about his girlfriend. Laughing. Almost every good 45 in the world or records has been about a guy talking about his girlfriend or a girl talking about her boyfriend.
LiveWire: What are this year's plans to do with the proceeds?
Alice: It goes right to Solid Rock to keep the place running. We've got a coffee shop we want to open. The coffee shop will be run by the kids. I want them to be able to make the coffee, sell the coffee, and operate the register. Everything in here, I would love to be run by the same kids that started here. We could sit back and let them run it. We will always be overseeing everything. It would be great. Right now our sons are the teachers here. They are the guitar teachers. Drums is Mark Sebal. He's the drummer for CO OP, my son, Dash's group. Dash teaches her. Cort teaches here, guitar. So, basically, our sons are running it. When we can't run it anymore, our family will run it. All the sons will. I would like to step back and see the kids run their own place. We're never going to run out of teenagers. That's the whole thing.
Hey rehearsal's at 3 o'clock, not 315. You're gonna have to sit down today. This kids going to play guitar today because that's the way the world is. If you are 15 minutes late, there is always somebody in line to take your place. Get used to it. It's reality. In that case, the kid goes to another room and just practices. It's not punishment,. In a place like this you have to give them ownership. You have to give them a feeling that this is their place. This is their clubhouse. They belong here. We're not just coming here and hanging around. We belong to Solid Rock Foundation. There's an ownership there that they have to buy into and be proud of.
LiveWire: What does it cost a year to run the Solid Rock Foundation?
Alice: I don't exactly know. Jeff would know. But we raise a couple hundred thousand dollars just with the golf tournament. And the show tomorrow night should raise another 100. And we get a lot of contributions. A lot of people send money in. There are 30,000 more square feet on the other side. When we get the money we will open that up. Skate boarding, skate board park, basketball, teen sports. Also, when bands do show up, I would like to do concerts over there. We could put a stage over there and once a month, we could put three bands up there.
LiveWire: What's next for Alice Cooper?
Alice: Oh, man, I just finished 85 shows with Motley Crue. More coming up. There's a mini-tour coming up in February where we end up in Nassau on a boat. It's sold out already. The Monsters of Rock thing that goes to Nassau. We play two shows on the boat. Then we're done till May or June. We go back out again.
LiveWire: When is the golf tournament?
Alice: The golf tournament is in April. That's a big money maker for us too. The one thing we know how to do. My wife and I have been married for 38 years. She's been in show business since she was 15. I've been in show business since I was 15. The one thing we know how to do is put on a show. That's in our blood. When we used to do the Hopi Elementary School talent show, when our kids went there, and it was in the cafeteria, we did not have a PA. We had to go home and bring a boom box in for a PA. It was cute to watch it. The next year, why don't we bring some lighting in? By the seventeenth year it was in the Celebrity Theatre. There were 300 kids from Hopi in the show! We were at the Celebrity Theatre where you had to buy tickets and asking ourselves, how did we get here? How did we get so far with this thing? It's an elementary school talent show! The children are going 'this is tech-rehearsals.' Sheryl turned this thing into a monster! It used to be a little talent show.
We ended the interview at this point. Alice graciously consented to do some photos with us. We went in the hallway area where his wife and daughter-in-law were holding Alice's newborn twin grand babies. Alice lit up, pepped up his step to go see these babies. In Conclusion: Alice Cooper is doing his part to try to alleviate a critical problem in this entire country today. Over the last year, there is more and more deadly crime involving our fragile youth. Alice and his wife have found the key. Unfortunately, they cannot do this alone. More cities need to get this program started and funding should be spearheaded by musical celebrity. Cities like Austin, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles have the resources! This needs to go VIRAL! Obviously, love of family is the key to the power, energy, and the generosity of this legendary star! For many, he is Santa in disguise. He is the real "deal."