Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Alice Unchained

Alice Cooper to break ground on Phoenix youth center.

In full ...

Imagine Alice Cooper, the gender-bending, shock-rock legend of American music, establishing a teen center where kids can learn to play guitar, shoot hoops and find Jesus.

Outrageous as a blood-splattering concert by long-haired men in makeup?

You bet.


Yep. The 58-year-old cross-dressing musician is teaming up with Grand Canyon University in Phoenix to establish a $3 million youth haven featuring a school of rock 'n' roll, a concert hall and sporting attractions similar to a Boys Club.

"It's a sanctuary where they don't get shot, they don't get stabbed, they don't have to worry about somebody trying to sell them drugs," said Cooper, whose songs include hits such as "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "Welcome to My Nightmare."

Cooper conceded that some parents might view him as unlikely, if not objectionable, in the role of a philanthropist bringing morality and religion to America's youth.

He has been labeled one of the "bad boys" of rock, and even his New York publicist, Cheryl Lawson, described the scenario as "just weirdly strange."

"It's a great juxtaposition," Cooper agreed. "Trust me, I walk that tightrope every day . . . Part of the fun is the edge of it."

The Alice Cooper Group was renowned for drunkenness, debauchery and morbidity. It's revolutionary rock theater - featuring snakes, guillotines, executions and all sorts of ghoulishness - was condemned by the likes of Tipper Gore and Ann Landers.

But Cooper said those who understand his shtick recognize that the show has always been a blend of farce and satire. They also know that the band's leader became born-again 16 years ago when he quit booze.

Since 1995, Cooper has overseen Solid Rock Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides funding to children's causes and college scholarships to Christian students.

Cooper insists that his stage persona is the polar opposite of his personal life: He's been married 30 years "without cheating" on his wife, Sheryl, and they've raised three children who are not criminals, druggies or dysfunctional.

The son of a Christian minister and grandson of an evangelist, Cooper said America "needs a good hypodermic needle shot of morality."

That will be one goal for his 20,000-square-foot recreational hall, to be known as The Rock, on the Grand Canyon University campus at Camelback Road and 33rd Avenue. Cooper said the place will be open to kids 12 to 18 at no charge. While church groups will be part of the mix, he said, the prime target is at-risk teens, those whose parents may be in jail or on drugs, and whose siblings are thugs.

"Even kids who grow up in gangs have a creative place in their body," Cooper said. "They have a choice between a 9 mm and a nine-iron."

Cooper, who still tours with his band five months each year, hosts a radio show on rock and is a restaurateur. He said alcohol, tobacco and drugs will be banned at The Rock. There won't be a chapel, he added, but counselors will proselytize by example and offer religious guidance to kids who want to learn about the faith.

"We are overtly Christian,'' Cooper said, "but we're not going to beat you over the head with a Bible."

The project still is in design stages and not fully funded. Sign-up requirements and security measures for participants still are being developed.

Cooper said he is looking to begin construction next year, and hopes for The Rock's grand opening by year's end. An artist's rendering shows a concert hall, recording studios, game rooms, a basketball court and a rock-climbing wall.

"That sounds pretty awesome," said 14-year-old Korena Biddle of Phoenix, who added that she would like to learn drums or guitar.

Biddle and other teenagers embraced Alice Cooper's concept, even though none of them could identify the rock star. They said a musical hangout sounded cool.

"I'd go," said Jonathan Martinez, 13. "I played sax for a year and then stopped. There was no place to play or anything."

Joan Isaac, 15, said he's an aspiring drummer looking to hook up with other musicians. Asked if the Christian theme would be a turnoff, he said, "Of course not. I really wouldn't care.''

Cooper said he's seeking corporate sponsors to provide everything from musical instruments to construction materials. In the meantime, his foundation will raise money with an annual golf tournament and a Christmas music show.

Lawson said the operating budget has not been developed. She said those expenses will be covered by Cooper's Solid Rock Foundation and additional private contributions.

Grand Canyon University has committed the land, security and some of the financing, said Brent Richardson, chief executive officer at the nondenominational Christian school. Richardson conceded that some of the university's 10,000 students and boosters might be leery of the shock-rock image. However, he noted that Cooper has an honorary degree from the university and has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students through Solid Rock Foundation.

"Look at his actions," Richardson said of Cooper. "I think it's a great thing, and I don't worry about it at all."

Stephanie Garcia, 20, a Grand Canyon junior, said she was skeptical of having ties with a rocker, and of having teenagers on campus, until The Rock was explained in detail.

"It was kind of scary . . . but I think it'll be a good place for kids to go, like an after-school program," she said.

Elise Glukert of Phoenix said she'd have no qualms about sending her 16-year-old daughter, Lila Dunn, to a place like The Rock. "I'm very big on music for kids, as long as it's supervised by people who aren't proselytizing for Satan," she said. "If it was Marilyn Manson, I'd have a big problem with it."

Even during years of drunkenness and materialism, Cooper said, his shows featured no foul language, nudity or devil glorification. In fact, he added, more than 30 of his songs assail devil worship.

On the other hand, there were songs about necrophilia and sadomasochism from a performer whose theme was "Nothing in moderation."

Born Vincent Furnier, Cooper started out with a garage band in Phoenix during the late 1960s. He said he quickly recognized that the group needed a gimmick to succeed - and that other bands were not exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage. So he invented the mascara-slathered, evil, leering Alice - mimicking the hyperbolic bad guys of professional wrestling.

"I said, 'Where's the villain?' I created Alice to be rock's Moriarity," Cooper recalls. . . . "We slapped on this makeup and made this gigantic music . . . and I did become Rock's villain . . .

"All of the stuff that goes on with Alice Cooper - if you're not laughing, there's something wrong."

Cooper said he and his family intend to be regulars at The Rock, working with kids and helping to produce shows.

He said no decision has been made on an iconic emblem for the school, but he would prefer that it not have anything to do with Alice Cooper. Then, with a mischievous grin, he suggested, "How 'bout a cross through my heart?"