"How can you kick the bucket if you're writing a book? Every time I'd read something about Alice Cooper, I'd complain aloud 'ah, that's not how it happened! And my kids had to put up with that for years, and years, and years. Finally they said to me 'Dad! Shut up and write a book!"
My hot-blooded Sicilian mother oft warned me that there were three sides to every story "his, hers, and the truth!" The same loving women who doted on her only son also made a habit of tearing Alice Cooper posters off my bedroom wall in the 1970s- thankfully she never discovered the panties that spilled out of my vinyl copy of School's Out (1972) back in the era when a certain band was re-imagining the art of album packaging. She also warned me that these degenerate creeps whom I worshiped and inspired me to join a band were actually Russian operatives on a mission to rot the minds of American teenagers. Nowadays my mom's behavior is commonly referred to as "menopause."
Behold the third side of the story of a bona-fide American rock 'n' roll legacy. Dennis Dunaway, bassist, songwriter, conceptualist for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Alice Cooper band - that's right, Alice Cooper was a group before he, the former Vincent Furnier, emerged as a Hollywood Square, celebrity golfer, and singular show business entity - has composed the definitive and most truthful tome detailing the groundbreaking collective that also included Michael Bruce, the late Glen Buxton, and Neil Smith.
Aptly entitled Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group (Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press, 2015), and written in collaboration with veteran rock journalist Chris Hodenfield - Dennis vividly details in the first person how the Alice cooperative of five endearingly misfit pioneering adolescents put the Woodstock generation to rest; and the rest, as they say, is history. Kiss, Marilyn Manson, Guns 'n' Roses, arena rockers too numerous to mention, and even MTV took their cues - and then some - from the original Cooper clan.
Dunaway laughs as I bestow upon him the new title of "literary lion." He revels traveling in writers circles in New York City too. "I'm meeting all these famous authors...individuals who wrote books about such important historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln. I wrote about a band who threw a chicken at an audience!" I remind Mr. Dunaway that he too is an important part of history and that his new book documents the missing link between the transformations in American pop culture from the 1960s to the 1970s - an era that continues to resonate.
Among the unsung heroes afforded due recognition in Snakes! is his wife, Cindy Smith, sister of drummer Neal Smith. "Cindy created the look that set off the whole gam rock thing...other people got credit for it, and accept credit for it...and it's not that they weren't part of it...but Cindy was doing it way, way, before anyone else..." Dennis also speaks lovingly and reverentially of the band's dearly departed guitarist, Glen Buxton. A true rock 'n' roll outlaw with a razor sharp wit to which Dunaway often quotes, it was Buxton who created many of the group's signature riffs which every player who followed in his platform boot-steps is required to replicate, and air guitarists young, old, and middle-aged continue to mime.
Effectively re-writing the script to a vital period in rock 'n' roll history as demanded by the Dunaway brood actually commenced for Dennis during Easter of 1997 - the same number of years ago as the age of a rather distraught young adult who can't figure out if he's a boy or a man as per the libretto of the band's first hit. But first he had to overcome a life-threatening disease. "If I was going to write a book," Dennis recalls, "I had to survive the surgery. That sounds strange, but that's what drove me as well." Dunaway also had to conquer moods of bitterness borne by the age old injustices of the music business, and a feeling that the fans had forgotten him. Truth is, the hardcore fans always held Dennis and the original Alice Cooper band to close their hearts despite the fact that the Cooper brand continued without them.
"We were overshadowed by the monster we created," emphasizes Dennis. "There are a lot of newer Alice Cooper fans out there that don't even know that I or the band existed!" During our conversation I note that oft times in my career as a musician - my band-mates and I would refer to the sounds and mixes of the original Alice Cooper albums for our producers and engineers - all of whom nodded their heads with respect and approval. Even without the theatrics, the Alice Cooper band canon was Hall of Fame worthy.
My comment flatters Dennis, who is quick to point out that "we also upstaged ourselves as musicians with the visuals in the Alice Cooper band." Ditto the boa constrictor which infamously slithered around the body of Mr. Furnier during concert performances. "Journalists would write half an article about the boa and not even mention the great songs we wrote for the snake!"
That was then, this is now. Mr. Dunaway, author and bassist, currently plies his craft in a kick ass trio dubbed Blue Coupe - which is made up of former Blue Oyster Cult members Joe and Albert Bouchard. They record, tour the world, and to my ears, they put guitar slinging bands (more than) half their age to shame.
At the official release party held in the Rare Books section of The Strand in New York City - Dennis and Blue Coupe tear the house down much like his old band did when a certain type of music was indeed a threat to society. To thunderous applause from glam grannies, young rockers, and Strand employees spattered in black eye-shadow akin to Dennis' former singer, the bassist bellows "no more pencils...one more book for your summer!"
Dennis and Blue Coupe ripped the joint with rousing renditions of "I'm Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," Blue Oyster Cult's 1976 anthem "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," and close with "School's Out" -abetted by the backing vocals of New York City legends Tish & Snooky.
During the question and answer segment for attendees, co-author Chris Hodenfield speaks eloquently of his time touring with the band for his well-known Rolling Stone magazine feature in 1972. He quips "Dennis has an appallingly good memory....everyone in the band was a comedian who tried to outdo each other." Reminiscing how Groucho Marx and George Burns were Alice Cooper band fans,
Dunaway praises his wife, the band's former managers, his beloved band-mates, the road and lighting crews from years past, and of course, his loyal fans.
"Rock 'n' Roll," proclaims the author to me - "if it doesn't kill ya' it will keep you forever young!"
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield is out now on Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press, 2015