Oh, the irony.
Back in 1972, Alice Cooper scored a smash hit with “School’s Out,” smothering an old anthem with a devilish warning:
“School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces”
Forty-nine years later, school’s out for summer – and a teen center is open. And Vincent Damon “Alice Cooper” Furnier has become a solid, even respected educator.
Last week, he opened The Rock Mesa at 122 N Country Club Drive – the second Alice Cooper Solid Rock Teen Center following the successful original center in Phoenix.
And yes, he sees the irony.
“Yes,” he said with a laugh, when an interviewer called his anthem “the ultimate anarchy song.”
Shortly after heading to Los Angeles to try to make it, Cooper and company started wearing extravagant makeup and filling shows with gushing fake blood to accompany “shock rock” hits like “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “I Love the Dead” (“I love the dead before they’re cold/They’re bluing flesh for me to hold”) and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
He smiles slyly in recalling his time as “every parent’s worst nightmare;” but now, with his positive-focused teen centers, the grandfatherly rocker is almost officially Mr. Nice Guy.
Slender and athletic at 73, Alice Cooper (his legal name for 40 years) visited his new Mesa teen center Wednesday of opening week.
He was thrilled to see the finished product, a bright, colorful center with a professional-level recording studio, spacious dance space and multiple classrooms.
When he was attending Cortez High in Glendale, the East Valley was the other side of the world to Cooper. “Mesa might as well have been Los Angeles,” he said with a cackling laugh.
The then-Vince Furnier had his first lightbulb moment at 14, when he was painting a house and heard his first Beatles song on the radio.
He called his friend Dennis Dunnaway, and the two taught themselves how to play, recruiting Glen Buxton to round out a band they called the Spiders.
A few years later, the band became Alice Cooper and the lead singer became a rock star.
He did his best to live up to the image, partying with the likes of John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon. Cooper called his unofficial drinking club the Hollywood Vampires (he later formed a supergroup of the same name, with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and movie star/musician Johnny Depp).
In the early 1980s, Cooper noticed something about his partying pals: They were dead.
He sobered up, kept cranking out albums and touring. Except for a year he used to focus on sobriety, the pandemic was the only time in his 50-year music career he wasn’t on the road for at least half of the year.
Eight years ago, the father of three decided to start nurturing the youth of Phoenix.
“That all had to do with my religious experience. I was a prodigal son. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a pastor. I was a Christian. The band came along and I went as far away as I could get from that. I became the poster boy for everything that parents did not want to see.
“And then I came back,” he said, patting a long, varnished table at the new teen center, where kids will soon be joining forces to tap into their creative spirits.
“This is kind of the result of that. 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.”
He said he loves to drop in and watch the young performers having their own lightbulb moments.
“You can’t get the kids off the stage ... And the other kids cheer them on. It’s great to see,” he said.
You can’t beat the “cover charge”: The Rock is free and open to anyone 12-20 years old.
Hours are 2-7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Registration is required at alicecoopersolidrock.com/the-rock-mesa.
Classes include guitar, drum and even ukulele instruction. Teachers will also share tips on making hip-hop beats and how the music industry works.
And the teen center isn’t just about making music, as classes are offered in dance (a nod to Cooper’s wife of 43 years, dancer-choreographer Sheryl Goddard), art, fashion and mask making.
The Mesa Solid Rock space is 12,000 square feet compared to the existing Phoenix center’s 28,000 square feet but it will include numerous studios, rehearsal rooms and a performance stage, as well as a basketball court and game room.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member stressed he wants to give teenagers the confidence to tap into their creative spirit:
“Search for that thing that makes you unique … Everyone has it. It’s just finding it and mining it. That’s the whole idea behind Solid Rock. Come in, find your talent and then work on it. Nurture it. That’s what we’re here to do: to encourage that.”
In January 2020, Cooper unveiled his plans for a second teen center at Westwood High. He said eight years of the original Solid Rock produced solid results, in surprising ways.
“We’ve noticed there were kids coming in and parents would say to us, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but my kid’s getting better grades. My kids are talking to me now. My kids are wanting to do things at home with us because when they get into that school, they open up’,” he said.
“It’s easy when you’re a teenager to get introverted because you’re, ‘Everybody’s against me,’” he added. “I was a teenager. I was like that.”
“Kids can come in here and find what they’re good at,” Cooper said. “They might want to be a tattoo artist. Or maybe they’ll pick up a bass and think, ‘Wait a minute, I can play this!’
“And then they’re here every day.”
For more information, including how to donate and/or volunteer, call 602-522-9200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. ′