Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Review - Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway

While there have been other Alice Cooper Band biographies (including Alice’s own Me, Alice and No More Mr. Nice Guy by guitarist/songwriter Michael Bruce) I would state that Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group is the definitive biography. It is, after all, written by the bassist of the group, Dennis Dunaway (with Chris Hodenfield) and we all know that bassists are often methodical beasts. Plus he had a journal and many letters written during this time period. In a friendly way, Dennis points out that Alice the man is prone to exaggeration and embellishment and during their heyday if a rumor sprouted up somewhere it was encouraged. For instance the chicken incident. Dennis notes that the band itself brought the chicken and you can see in some film of the event where Alice pulls the chicken from the bag. However it was never the bands intent that the chicken be killed by the audience, though when it happened the controversy was free press.

Dennis also clarifies the origin of many of the concepts and themes that made the band famous, usually attributing them to himself or his wife, who made the bands outlandish clothing on no budget overnight. Being the quiet fellow and thinking that it was a band effort, he usually did not speak up to defend his intellectual property, thinking that in the end it was all part of being in a band. Bass players are often like that. But he also gives mountains of credit where it is due, not only to the individual members of the band but also to their innovative lighting guru, management and roadies. There’s also the matter of how to divide writing credits when one is in a band kicking around ideas. As an example he quoted the original poetry that was morphed by the band into the song “Desperado.” No writing credit for Dennis on that one but there would be no “Desperado” without his initial page of inspiration. It’s refreshing that there’s no bitterness or “I told you so” in his tone, just a telling of how things happened. There are other clarifications throughout the book, though I’ll leave those for the reader to discover*.

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! is highly recommended. Even though I had heard most of these stories before, from multiple sources, it was nice to hear them again from a more objective viewpoint. As a music junkie it would have been nice to read more stories behind the creation of every album. Yes, I understand that the albums were cranked out about every six months under a dizzying whirlwind of touring and drugs and partying but still... I mean, the School’s Out album has some amazing bass lines on it (amazing songs, too) but the only song Dennis wrote about is the title track. I suppose you can’t always get what you want. Oh wait, that’s another band.

* But I have to say that Dennis puts to rest the idea that Bob Ezrin taught the band to play their instruments. Bob helped tighten their songwriting arrangements but they band was already very adept, as the two Zappa-label albums will attest.

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