Music has been helping people stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, and shock-rock legend Alice Cooper has used his time in self-isolation to write a song encouraging his fans to keep their chins up. His new single “Don’t Give Up,” released May 15, addresses the crisis head-on and speaks directly to fans. But there’s nothing “sappy” about it, according to Cooper.
“It almost sounds like I’m threatening the virus,” he says.
“It’s a really powerful hard-rock song,” the rocker adds of the half-spoken, half-sung lyric. “I’m telling [the virus], ‘Well, yeah, you’re going to be around for a while, but this is the human race. It’s hard to kill all of us.’ And to [the listener], I’m saying, ‘I know we’re all hanging on by a thread, but don’t give up. Let’s fight and we’ll get through this.’ ”
Cooper put the song together by having his band work on it remotely, with longtime collaborator Bob Ezrin producing the track. Cooper then asked fans to participate in the video for the single by sending him images of themselves holding up signs featuring a lyric from the song — and 20,000 of them replied.
“We were expecting maybe 2,000 people to be interested in doing it,” he admits. “Then I remembered everybody’s at home with a computer and everybody wants to be a part of something right now. It was amazing.”
The end result is a video that features a globe with Cooper’s face prominently displayed alongside footage of his band while thousands of fans revolve around them with handmade signs singling out the words as he sings them: “You know it’s so hard to cope/ When you’re just hoping there’s hope … We’re all staring at the razor’s edge/ But we’re not going to step off the ledge.”
So how does someone like the 72-year-old Cooper, famously known for elaborate black eye makeup and classics such as “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” stay sane during these difficult times? With music, family and, surprisingly, a little bit of tap dancing.
Cooper (born Vincent Furnier) has been holed up in Arizona with his family, including his wife and two daughters. “It’s been great for us in some ways,” he observes. “I never have extended periods of time off. So to have maybe six months [where I’m] forced [to be] off is kind of OK with me, especially because my youngest daughter is expecting a baby in July. It’s fun to have everybody here at my house, where the biggest decision of the day is ‘What are we having for dinner?’ ”
Enjoying meals together isn’t the only thing his clan has in common. “You know that Geico commercial with the whole family clogging?” asks Cooper. “That’s us. We have a friend who’s a great tap dancer, and every Wednesday night, he has an hour-long online class. So the whole family goes in the backyard where we have all this plywood on the ground, and everybody’s got tap shoes on. My wife and daughters are professional dancers, so they’re way ahead of me. But every Wednesday night is tap night.”
Still, even when he’s relaxing, Cooper can’t resist working. “I’ve got three studios in the house running at all times,” he notes. “And then I have my radio show studio, where we’re up recording something almost every night. Plus people are always asking me to do things for charities and graduations. ‘Could you do this? Could you do that?’ We end up doing four or five things a night.”
As soon as the world starts putting the pieces back together again, Cooper is ready to hit the ground running. He already has finished his next album, Detroit Stories, which is an homage to his hometown. “Everything on it is Detroit, Detroit, Detroit — the musicians, the songs, everything,” he says.
The Ezrin-produced album is a follow-up to 2019 EP Breadcrumbs, which was also Detroit-centric, and features such local talent as members of MC5, Grand Funk Railroad and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. (No release date has been set yet.)
Cooper also hopes to get back on the road by October after having to cancel a string of spring and summer dates, including some European shows with his side project Hollywood Vampires, featuring Johnny Depp and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.
“Once things clear up, I think 70 percent of the normal rock audience will come out for concerts; they’re starved for live entertainment,” says Cooper. “It’s weird to have this much time off, but the powers that be are doing all the renegotiating, and I imagine next year we’re going to be touring for 12 months straight just to make up for everything.”
While touring remains in a holding pattern, Cooper is making sure he takes care of those who work for him.
“Guys in my position in rock ‘n’ roll, we can’t complain — money has been put away, and there are no financial problems,” he says of the gap in work. “And if you’re in a position like I’m in, you have to take care of your people. You’ve got all these people that work for you all year — truck drivers, lighting guys, the sound guy. You have to put money away for those guys because they’ve got to pay the bills and they’ve got a family to feed.”
In addition to taking stock of what’s important to him — family, looking after his crew — Cooper also has had time to reflect on his career, which began more than 50 years ago as the lead singer of the Alice Cooper band. When the group broke up, he legally adopted its name as his own and released his career-defining debut solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare, in 1975.
In the 45 years since then, Cooper hasn’t strayed much from his sound or style, and has proven to be one of hard rock’s most resilient artists. Each time the genre is declared dead, he rises again — and COVID-19 isn’t stopping him either.
“I was born in the right era,” he says. “I came in during that golden age when everything depended on how good your quality was. I was competing with Bowie and Elton and The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and that competition makes you sharp, and you never give that up. We were required to write great songs. And those songs still get played every night on the radio, all over the world.”
“Bob Ezrin would never, ever let us put filler on an album. He says, ‘Every song has got to be a gem,’” he continues. “You don’t just throw something in there and say, ‘OK, there’s a song.’ To this day, we don’t let anything on an album that’s not high quality — and that has really paid off in the long run.”