An original Alice Cooper band members speaks up

Book reviews

DennisDunawayBook

 

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My adventures in the Alice Cooper group, Thomas Dunne Books, Dunaway Dennis, 2015.

 

For the longest time there had been no official account (so to speak) book or memoir on the subject of one of my all time favourite bands: the original Alice Cooper group. I’m talking of course about Alice Cooper the band, not the person who later found fame using that same name.

At last we have an original band member write a book (Alice himself did, but a lot of it was about golf) covering the journey of the original band from 1969-74 where this crazy band produced a string of fabulous and classic Rock albums and shocking, dangerous live shows all while being a parent’s worst nightmare. Former bassist Dennis Dunaway gave himself the duty of presenting fans with a such book that would essentially cover all aspects of the group from it’s inception to it’s imminent break-up. Dunaway set out to give fans something to really sink their teeth into.

Reading about the band’s personalities prior to their ascension in High School and the subsequent changes in band names was interesting, like you were there yourself. Their clubbing and moving to LA and the colourful characters they met (including Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) made for fascinating stories. Dennis’s relationship with drummer Neil Smith’s sister and future Cindy made for good reading as well although you’d think he would’ve talked of her more.

There’s a lot of alcohol, sex and debauchery as one would expect from a Rock N’ Roll memoir, but it’s not particularly glorified. Developing the Alice Cooper sound and creating the stage show and effects was a band effort, but clearly Dunaway had a major presence in terms of pitching in, coming up with ideas and making it happen. I sincerely don’t think he is given enough credit. I also believe he’s not trying to get more spotlight by sharing all the important things he did as part of the Alice Cooper group.

Dunaway can tell a story and keep you guessing. He dismisses some myths and tells is exactly where it came from (for instance, Alice Cooper always says he got the band name from a Ouija board, but Denis tells another story). Or how about the fact that Frank Zappa wanted to call the band Alice Cookies? Meeting Jim Morison alone is a few stories.

What’s truly amazing is how well he encapsulates his band members’ personalities into these pages. How vividly they come across. Almost as if you knew them your whole life, you don’t know them but you feel like you do. THAT is a rare thing in books, especially in the autobiography department. This is as much insight as you’ll ever get into the Alice Cooper Group.

One gets the feeling that there isn’t enough of Dennis Dunaway himself in the book. Sure, his output speaks for itself and he tells splendidly the tale and debaucheries of the early days. Yet the book begins and essentially ends with Alice Cooper, the band and person.

You get the feeling that his life leading up to meeting Cooper wasn’t much worth speaking of including and the boon would lead you to think that he barely did anything after the band was over (ever so casually mentioning he has two kids, did a side project and played in Blue Coop. The book essentially starts with meeting Alice and ends with the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame ceremony Dunaway’s book is focused solely and exclusively on his experience in the Alice Cooper band. So much that there are no pictures after 1974!

It’s great to read early tales of a young Dennis and his friend Alice -then known as Vincent Furnier- as fun and immature students in art classes. Some interesting moments such as Dunaway working on his grandparents’ farm to earn money to buy a bass. Or how his father was reluctant about his becoming a musician. Yet the book leaves you wondering what happened in Dennis’s life after the original Alice Cooper band’s implosion. Barely anything other than a wikipedia entry in that sense.

The tale itself is something hardcore fans will want to read, no doubt. They will devour it l’m sure with as much anticipation and intensity as l did… But end up finishing quickly and wanting more. More stories and wanting to know the author a bit more which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing.

Why not five stars? It’s a good read and some moments stand out it’s just that knowing how long Dunaway has talked about his book (since the late 90s) l was inclined to expect well, more. It’s a quick read that goes by all too fast. I thought after all these years it would be longer and have more content.

It’s one of those bios that although they cover the subject, leave you feeling like you don’t know them. It works much better as a biography of the Alice Cooper band but even then it’s very quick for the time spent on this project. What l like is how Denis is just focused on telling it like it was and he never says about word about anyone and doesn’t hold grudges; quite opposite, he’s thankful. The Alice Cooper band was a journey and a lot of the essence and aura is captured here. It was time we someone set the story straight and told the fans. 4/5 stars.

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