* * *
With his long, flowing hair and flannel shirts — not to mention the guitar in his profile picture, which he can’t actually play — Alper looks like a classic rock disciple. In fact, he’s a musical omnivore, with rockist and poptimist energy morphed together. During the course of our conversation, he expresses fondness for Nickelback (“I know there’s gonna be snark out there”), Olivia Rodrigo (“love her!”), and the relatively obscure funk group 24-Carat Black (“I’m a huge Stax fan”). The only music he will admit to disliking is classical — and even then, he adds that he’d like to develop an appreciation for it someday: “I would love to go to a performance. I wouldn’t sit there angry, like ‘I don’t understand that.’”
His first concert was ABBA in 1977. His last show before lockdown was seeing The Chainsmokers with his 18-year-old daughter, Hannah Alper, an impressively accomplished activist and blogger. It was, he says without irony, one of the five best concerts he’s ever seen: “[The list is] like Genesis or My Bloody Valentine, where they almost made me s–t my own pants because of the bass, and then I’ll say, ‘The Chainsmokers.’ And [people] are like, ‘Really?’”
When Alper, who calls himself a “lifelong musicaholic,” says music is in his blood, it’s barely an exaggeration. He was born and raised in Toronto, growing up in a middle-income neighborhood not far from where his grandfather, Al Grossman, had opened Grossman’s Tavern, one of the city’s first bars to host live music with an alcohol license. During the Vietnam War, Grossman’s became a hippie hangout. “My grandfather would get the draft dodgers to stay there for free,” Alper says, “because he believed in the cause.”
Alper visited the bar often as a kid. But his own life changed when he was eight and saw American Hot Wax, the 1978 biopic about early rock-and-roll DJ Alan Freed. Alper was in awe of the musical legends onscreen. “They were like Star Wars characters to me,” he says. “From then on in, I started listening a little more carefully to the radio.”
At 11, Alper saw Genesis on their Abacab tour. They’ve been his favorite band ever since. By the time he was a teenager, he knew he wanted to work in the music industry, but didn’t know how. “I couldn’t play an instrument — I still can’t,” he admits.
The pieces fell into place when he was in college in the early ’90s, writing for a campus paper and getting to meet publicists who were pitching him bands like the Stone Roses. Alper liked the idea of turning his enthusiasm into a full-time job. “That was it,” he says. “I just wanted to become a publicist.”