Alice was a boy who looked like a girl trying to look like a boy.
This was a progression from David, who was simply a boy who looked like a girl. But such gender specific details were unimportant in the early days of our relationship. As with David before him, Alice was not love at first sight. But it was love at first listen.

That August the three of us - mum, Tom and me - took a camping holiday down through central France into the Dordogne valley, where it rained for ten days solid. Unable to sleep for the thunder, unable to drive anywhere for the mud, we spent much of the time playing canasta and listening to the portable radio. I kept trying to tune to Radio 1 despite the poor reception. It wasn't that I was homesick, just that my growing obsession with pop music necessitated that I know what was in the charts. There would be new copies of Disco 45 on sale when I got back to England, and I could not bear the thought of being caught out by the words of some hit which I had never heard.

But I hadn't expected this. Sat glued to the radio on a Sunday afternoon, intent on hearing the chart rundown for the first time in weeks, I was bombarded at the show's conclusion by a simple screaming guitar riff announcing itself with enough confidence and clarity to cut through several hundred miles of static, quickly giving way to a rousing, sneering verse and a celebratory, rebellious chorus. Louder than the daily soundtrack of thunder trapped in the valley, more relentless than the constant rain bulleting against the tent canvas, more participatory than an enforced nightly game of cards, and certainly more hedonistic than spending the middle of August on a mud-ridden hillside, this was not the plastic teenybop music of David Cassidy. This was real music, something alive and contagious, and in falling instantly head over heels for it, I felt myself ageing several years in the process. Devoting myself to David had meant acting like a silly girl; jumping up and down in a wet field in France during the summer holidays to the chorus of 'School's Out' made me feel like a real boy.

The fact that copies of 'School's Out' would be sitting in the prestigious number one slot in that record store in Crystal Palace was almost too much to bear. I only hoped its singer would still be waiting for me when we got back to London.

He was. Or she was. There was some confusion on this count. Alice Cooper, the British media informed us as they reeled from the shock of his anti-educational tirade topping the charts, had had a sex change. He killed babies on stage. He made love to a snake. He even hung himself during his live show. This was a lot of information for an eight year old to take on board, some of it beyond his comprehension, but none of it interfered with the pleasure of playing 'School's Out' on my stereo for the rest of the summer - despite the fact that I had nothing but love for my own school and couldn't wait for it to be in again.

That same summer, I went further with Alice than I ever had with David. Visiting the Yorkshire town in which I was born, I saw a copy of Alice Cooper's School's Out LP in the town's solitary record store window and determined to have it. I could not afford it - especially as my one pound was still being held under the counter of a store back in London. So I tried the obvious alternative: begging and pleading. My mother, understandably, did not want me buying one album when I already had a deposit down on another. You see, she tried to tell me, you're no more serious in your musical interests than in your board games.

My godmother, with whom we were staying, and who had no offspring or spouses of her own to finance, came to the rescue. She only saw me a couple of times a year and was happy to treat me. It was good that a boy developed a taste in music, she told my mother as she handed me a couple of pound notes, folding my fist over them against my mock protestations.

Later that day, I brought back to her meticulously kept terraced house near the edge of town an album sleeve that opened up like a school desk, with fold-out legs underneath. The desk top was covered in graffiti, its photographic 'drawer' filled with juvenile paraphernalia including catapults, flick knives, and a picture of the Alice Cooper group sitting on trash cans smoking and drinking. My godmother seemed rather horrified by what she had invited into her home but put a brave face on it. She was more concerned with what the album might actually sound like. Fortunately for her, she only owned an ancient portable mono record player, and the inside of Alice Cooper's desk came with a clearly printed warning that the record be paired with a stereo cartridge. The devoutly religious spinster was duly spared the sound of songs like 'Public Animal' and 'Gutter Cats vs The Jets.'

My brother and mother had no such luck. Back in London, Alice Cooper and his self-named group dominated the stereo like a pillaging army. This was rock music I had discovered. And rock music demanded to be played loud. At all times.

"Alice Cooper, the British media informed us as they reeled from the shock of his anti-educational tirade topping the charts, had had a sex change. He killed babies on stage. He made love to a snake. He even hung himself during his live show. This was a lot of information for an eight year old to take on board."

I bought Alice's next single, 'Elected.' Finding it no less entertaining and energetic than 'School's Out,' I decided, as I had with David Cassidy, that I needed to go back as well as forward. The difference was that this time I saw my intentions through. My mother retrieved the one pound for me from the Norwood record store now that I had no intention of ever owning a Partridge Family album in my life, I added it to my other pocket money and took it to the Crystal Palace store instead. There I picked up a copy of the album that I knew preceded School's Out, and handed it to the sales girl. I want to buy this, I said.

She took the album cover and studied it, initial bemusement turning quickly to horror. The album was called Killer. On the front cover was a twelve-inch picture of a snake's head, its forked tongue poised to strike. On the back were Alice and his boys, them all with long hair, earrings and necklaces like girls but sideburns too, and then Alice with no such masculine facial hair but instead this dreadful eye make up shooting off in different directions.

Uncertainly, the sales girl opened up the album cover to reveal a fold-out, tear-off calendar for 1972 which showed Alice with a noose around him, on the gallows, head cocked to one side, tongue lolling out, eyes closed in eternal sleep. Dead.

Do your parents know you're buying this album? She asked me, leaning over the counter to study my rather round frame a little closer.

They gave me the money, I replied. This was true, if a little misleading.

She looked at the record again. There was nothing on the sleeve that said the album should not be sold to children and my money was certainly as good as anyone else's. She had no choice but to let me buy it.

I went home elated. Killer had songs about all kinds of wild subjects, even one in which Alice sung about being the singer in a rock'n'roll band, which seemed like the ultimate in making the world revolve around you. But best of all was 'Dead Babies,' which over the course of a full six minutes told the story of hapless infants dying through casual neglect. It was slow, sordid, mean and malicious. ("We didn't want you anyway," sneered the parents in the chorus.) I loved it.

There were new Alice Cooper singles to buy too. 'Hello Hooray' and 'No More Mister Nice Guy.' Each as epic as the last. And there was another album coming up. Billion Dollar Babies was, so they said in Disco 45, the most expensively-produced album cover of all time. It came in a gatefold sleeve with a pocket for a pull-out two-foot billion dollar bank note; a wall of perforated cards to cut out and keep; and an inner sleeve with the lyrics on one side and on the other a full-color photo of the group, ominously cuddling live laboratory rabbits in front of a billion dollars worth of bank notes and a chubby baby with Alice Cooper eye make up.

I bought Billion Dollar Babies with money received for my ninth birthday. Now I owned three albums. They were all by Alice Cooper. And they all came in these elaborate sleeves that opened up in incredibly imaginative ways to provide exciting and appropriate free gifts. I had no reason to think other album covers would ever provide less value or entertainment.

My love for Alice was serious. But as our relationship developed and in many ways deepened, I learned not to to take him seriously. The Liberace strip on the inside of the School's Out cover, the song from 'West Side Story' with the bottle fight at the end of it, the lyrics of 'Dead Babies,' the calendar of a well-hung Alice Cooper that took pride of place above my bedroom desk, the necrophilia of 'I Love The Dead,' the dentist's drill on 'Sick Things,' the pudgy naked baby in Alice eye make-up, the snake on the cover of 'Killer' that looked more like a willy the more I thought about it....much though it all served its purpose in shocking the self-appointed governors of our conscience like Mary Whitehouse, I came to view it all as but a musical presentation of Tom and Jerry. It was fantasy. Alice was entertaining in the extreme, theatrical, majestic, anthemic, intelligent, brazen, offensive, horrific. He craved your attention and rewarded your devotion. He was a genuine rock star to David Cassidy's prefab teen idol, and his group was a real American live rock band with a long-term history, towering in stature above the British glam acts that were rumored not to play their instruments.

For all these reasons, Alice would always hold a special place in my heart. Besides, he was the first that I ever went all the way for - something no one else would be able to claim of me for as long as I lived.

But he could never be my only love. It was impossible to imagine spending my whole life wrapped up with this one cartoon character. Not when there were so many others out there to fall for on television and radio, pick up in record stores and newsagents, bring home to the privacy of my bedroom and play with at my will.

I stopped going steady and started to play the field.




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What is this?
Put simply, Coming And Going is a bunch of short stories I've been writing over the years, which follow the progression of the narrator from wide-eyed idol worship, through childhood and pubescence in 1970s south London on into... something else I haven't fully realised or concluded. Until I do, and to keep myself inspired, I'm happy to post the first few chapters as a 'work-in-progress.' Enjoy them as you will, for what they are. And feel free to comment.