In July 1991, I dropped acid and watched Alice Cooper perform at Cal Expo in Sacramento, California. Years later, I saw video footage of Cooper singing “Welcome to My Nightmare” on The Muppet Show. The former was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, while the latter was (intentionally) absurd and hilarious.
But that’s Alice Cooper for you: part funny creep, part scary clown.
I lunged greedily at the chance to read Dale Sherman’s The Illustrated Collector’s Guide to Alice Cooper. Judging by the title, I’d expected a coffee table hardcover filled with vivid, colorful photos of obscure Alice Cooper merchandise. What I got was both less and more than what I’d anticipated; as a fan of photography and book design (and copy-editing), I was achingly disappointed in The Illustrated Collector’s Guide to Alice Cooper, but as a fan of Alice Cooper, I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Behold its back-cover summary:
Bringing together biographical information, insights, stories, and detailed descriptions of his music, this fan guide to Alice Cooper covers his early bands in the 1960s as well as his solo career that continues to the present day. Devoted to each of the various directions of his career, this guide includes a biographical time line about his personal life, recordings, tours, films, television appearances, and insights into his diverse and distinctive career. A complete review of collectibles and events, such as albums, tour memorabilia, and related comic books, are also included.
I wanted a mere picture book, and instead I received a loving, inviting, comprehensive biography of one of the most lasting and influential careers in music history. But before I allow my journalistic objectivity to be consumed by giddy fanboy glee, let us discuss the book’s design and copy-editing, to the extent to which they exist.
The photos that make up the book’s “illustrated” component, firstly, are simple black and white thumbnails, and in a somewhat misguided spirit of thoroughness, Sherman cheerfully fills page after page with redundant batches of these tiny, uninspired little avatars; it is not uncommon to navigate one’s way through 10 or 20 subtle variations of a given album cover, made all the more maddening and superfluous by Sherman’s decision to also describe all these variations in his text.
Then there is the copy-editing (or the lack thereof). Reading The Illustrated Collector’s Guide to Alice Cooper is a distracting chore at times; it would be less daunting to count the pages that are free of typos than to count the pages filled to bursting with typos. I have read uncorrected proofs of unpublished books, and one must accept typos and grammatical errors in such a volume, because it is not a finished product. The Illustrated Collector’s Guide to Alice Cooper is not just a finished product; it’s a 10th anniversary reissue!
That said, neither the book’s essential ugliness nor its sloppy text slowed me down; Sherman’s knowledge of Alice Cooper’s career is nothing less than encyclopedic, and the revelations and anecdotes cannot help but be compelling.
I never knew, for instance, that Jon Bon Jovi wrote a song for Cooper called “The Ballad of Alice Cooper”, or that Alice Cooper was recording music as far back as the late ‘60s, or that Operation Rock n’ Roll, the rock festival at which I saw Cooper perform (along with Metal Church, Dangerous Toys, Motorhead, and Judas Priest) was considered a financial and creative failure.
My familiarity with Alice Cooper’s discography basically begins and ends with his ‘80s material and the Greatest Hits compilation that collected highlights from his ‘70s peak, and so I also enjoyed reading Sherman’s commentary on Cooper’s more recent works, including a pair of albums that emulate the garage rock sound that was all the rage for three months or so a few years back. (To be fair, Cooper’s early sound was somewhat garage-like, so he’s as guilty of self-plagiarism as anything else.)
In a career spanning five decades, Alice Cooper has produced heavy metal, glam metal, garage rock, new wave, and most every genre in-between. His “shock rock” theatrical productions revolutionized the art of rock concerts, and he has always boasted a self-deprecating sense of humor despite his legendary status. He has appeared in the Decline of Western Civilization series and the Nightmare On Elm Street series, and he has performed alongside towering, furry Muppets.
He is, in short, deserving of a much more attractive and polished tome than The Illustrated Collector’s Guide to Alice Cooper, which offers more than anyone could ask of a collector’s reference but which falls far short of what it could be as a full tribute to Alice Cooper.