They say never judge a book by its cover but you can regarding Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway. The cover image of the band inside a large pair of pink panties is the perfect visual metaphor for summing up the tales that I have read. Free love and no shortage of devoted groupies fill the pages as does amusing anecdotes and heartbreaking life changes.
It begins with the aptly titled ‘School’s In’, where we are introduced to Dennis and Vincent Furnier (Alice) as school buddies in an art class. They peruse the painting ‘Soft Construction With Boiled Beans (Premonition Of Civil War)’ by Salvador Dali. Much later on in the book Dennis gets to spend time with Dali and you cannot help but wonder if he imagined he ever would as a schoolboy back in Phoenix.
As the story unfolds it becomes obvious why the original Alice Cooper Group were so theatrical and why their image was as important as their music. Dennis and Vince from the outset are like artists trying to paint a picture using the medium of music. Their enthusiasm is embraced by the rest of the band. From their first musical outing as The Earwigs, to the creation of the Alice Cooper group, it is all about shocking and being memorable.
The book is littered with stories involving big names like Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Iggy Pop. Each big name brings a story or almost comical element to it like when Jim Morrison removes his boots, throws them over a cliff and goes for a twenty mile hike through ‘snake-twisty Topanga Canyon’ and then into Beverly Hills. All because the Cooper boys told Jim that they had done this journey by foot and he wanted to up the ante. It’s a great image. They also play in front of Frank Zappa’s bedroom door until he opens it and says he needs coffee and then he will listen to them.
There are haunting moments in it like when Dennis tries to speak to Syd Barret but finds “somebody whose drug use might well have sent him into a dimension from which he could make no return.” Graham Buxton and Vince’s alcohol addiction are also an unsettling, forever present problem that Dennis tries to steer them through.
As Dennis talks about the development of the music of the band we also read about the development of the relationship that he forms with the sister of the drummer, Neal Smith. Cindy Smith and Dennis eventually abandon their open relationship to commit to each other and finally marry and have children together.
The end of the book is an emotional rollercoaster ride where Dennis discusses the decline and death of Graham Buxton and the band being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame after Buxton’s death. The book is in fond memory of Buxton.
Throughout the book you can feel the tension but love that Dennis has for his childhood friend, Vince, who became the star, Alice. Dennis wants the band to stay together but success seems to tear them all apart. The more success they have the less time they have together until The Alice Cooper Group becomes the man, Alice Cooper.
Chris Hodenfield (writer) has helped make this a wonderful read and as Dennis is “cursed with the gift of a vivid memory” this is as close as you can get to living the bands’ experiences without having been there.
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group’ is out now on Omnibus press