Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! by Dennis Dunaway (BOOK REVIEW)

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dunaway2“I haven’t told you everything from the book,” former Alice Cooper bass player Dennis Dunaway teasingly told me during an interview in 2013 about the book that now sits on book store shelves. After years of tweaking it to perfection, Dunaway has unveiled the world of the original Alice Cooper group as no one really has before. “That was the goal,” explained Dunaway about Snakes! Electric Chairs! Guillotines!. “I’ve spent a lot of years to get it to read the way that it does.” In other words, from the inside out, as if you were there, sitting on the couch watching Cooper first apply the liner that would manifest into his trademark eye makeup, hanging out at Galesi Estate, the band’s communal home in Connecticut, and hearing the development of “School’s Out,” and watching Dunaway jump back as drummer Neal Smith dangles a snake down in front of his face. It’s all there as Dunaway wanted it to be: “You feel like you’re in the car with the band, that you’re on the stage with the band.”

Dunaway lets the reader know from the very beginning that he has stories to tell and he remembers them well. “I was cursed with the gift of a vivid memory,” he writes in the prologue. Yet what he shares for the next 291 pages is not reminiscent of something like Motley Crue’s The Dirt. This has an innocence about it, a golden sunset glow, as if the naive young teen who started Cortez High School in Phoenix in 1961 was telling the story and not the rock star bass player with a lot of mileage under his fingernails. That love for the life and times of the Alice Cooper band is still intact, although it could very well have coagulated into something more dark and sinister, full of spite for how some things played out. But Dunaway stands clear of such vindictiveness and instead keeps the rhythm of the tome on a nice even keel making it hard to put down.

What Dunaway does brilliantly is show us the true essence of himself, Cooper, Smith, and guitar players Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton as real people: silly jokes and goofball pranks, temper tantrums and braggadocio, alcohol and egos – all captured without the over-exaggeration that often infiltrates published memoirs. It’s almost like reading a diary with the detailed “nasty” parts erased to trigger the imagination, allowing what was really meaningful to stand out. In this case, that being the conception, gestation and cessation of a band that changed the music world.

Developing a friendship in high school as members of the track team, Dunaway and Cooper, then known as Vince Furnier, would take their mutual love of music and turn it into a band, starting with the Earwigs and eventually Alice Cooper. You follow them from Phoenix to LA to Detroit; through “I’m Eighteen,” “No More Mr Nice Guy,” “Under My Wheels,” “Black JuJu” and “School’s Out;” passing amongst Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, the GTO’s and Salvador Dali as their evolution unfolded before them.

Getting to know these real life characters, it’s sad to see the unravelings begin. Dunaway doesn’t shy away from this and we can see each step as it leads to the final bow. “After ten long, hard years, it appeared that Alice Cooper had ceased to be ours,” Dunaway writes. “Everything that we had created for that name had slipped through our fingers.”

The story of from here to there is one Dunaway has lovingly given to us, not sparing the bad but giving more light to the good. It has been well worth the wait for it.

Check here for more of our interview with Dennis Dunaway (which includes a few stories he didn’t include in the book)

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