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BOOK REVIEW: SNAKES! GUILLOTINES! ELECTRIC CHAIRS! My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway, with Chris Hodenfield

| 7 August 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: SNAKES! GUILLOTINES! ELECTRIC CHAIRS! My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway, with Chris Hodenfield
St Martin’s Press, rrp $34.99
June 2015
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
9 ½ /10

Snakes-Guillotines-Electric Chairs - by Dennis Dunaway book cover

Alice Cooper wasn’t always Alice Cooper. Back in Cortez High School on the outskirts of Phoenix in 1961 he was Vincent Furnier, son of a sometimes-preacher, and best friend of Dennis Dunaway, with whom he shared art history classes and ran in the cross-country team.

Even after they formed a band together – The Earwigs, which started as a joke for a school talent contest, then evolved into The Spiders, The Nazz, and finally The Alice Cooper Group – Vince was still Vince. It would take a few years before he evolved into the Alice Cooper character, shed his bandmates and went on to addictions, recovery and global fame.

It was a crazy time to be a rock n’ roll outcast in those early days, and Dennis Dunaway – “cursed,” he says, “with the gift of a vivid memory” – describes it all in excruciating detail: the larger-than-life personalities of bandmates Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Glenn Buxton; the abject poverty; the ostracism from normal society by virtue of having long hair and playing rock music; and the wonderful inspirations and collaborations between the band members, which changed the face of music as we know it – especially theatrical and conceptual rock music; and the decline into booze and drugs and groupie hell which inevitably led to grudges and eventually the dissolution of the band.

It wasn’t all internal pressures, of course. Dunaway readily admits he was deep in thought more often than not and didn’t raise all of his concerns when he should have. More importantly, the inability of the media and the band’s fanbase to comprehend that Alice Cooper was the band’s moniker and not just the frontman’s name focussed most of the attention on the by-then beer-pickled Vince. It’s hardly any wonder that he ‘became’ Alice.

Dunaway pulls no punches, nor does he accuse or speak bitterly of his bandmates – surprisingly zen of him given that he was the prime mover behind many of the shock rock concepts and stage thrills that Alice still uses to this day. He just tells the story as he remembers it happening, giving fair credit to everyone around the band who helped them evolve from their garagey, wannabe-art-Beatles beginnings. It’s a fascinating portal to a completely different time: a short journey into the twilight zone of a world where rock music was so new and not in any way ready for what The Alice Cooper Group were about to do.

By the time they went to record Muscle Of Love, Dunaway explains, “we had lost control of our art, and our magical formula had been disrupted, so artistically, we were crippled.” When Alice released his ‘solo’ album Welcome To My Nightmare, Dunaway says he, “could only reflect on the concepts that I thought were ours. More than that, I felt blindsided, and it tore me apart.”

The band – minus Buxton, who passed away in 1997 – reunited for a brief recording session and their induction into the rock n’ roll hall of fame in 2010, and again Dunaway documents the occasion descriptively and without bitterness.

There’s very little of Dunaway’s life after the band broke up – he married drummer Neal Smith’s sister Cindy, they’re still together and have two daughters, and nowadays he plays with a band called Blue Coupe – but I guess that’s not what this book is about.

Snakes! etc is a great read, not only to discover what really happened to the original Alice Cooper Group, but also to see how in the spirit of true collaboration, inspiration can add up to more than the sum of five parts, and create an artform which still resonates now, forty years later.

Shane

Category: Book Reviews

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