Harlequin's Slash Fic

In the Gutter, Dressed in Glitter, Looking at Stars

Title: In the Gutter, Dressed in Glitter, Looking at Stars
Author: Julien
Universe: Velvet Goldmine
Characters featured: Curt Wild/Arthur Stuart
Category, Word count: Short story; 9214 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Arthur is driven to follow his dreams. He finally quits his job as a journalist, and sets out to write a book about rock star Curt Wild.
Notes: This fic starts soon after the movie ends, in New York, 1984. For those who like endnotes, all the quotes are credited at the end of the story. Written for me and for one of my dearest friends (she knows who she is).
First published: 14 February 1999 in Homosapien 6 (omg I can’t believe that’s over ten years ago! just how old am I ffs?)

 

 

In the Gutter, Dressed in Glitter, Looking at Stars

 

there was something from the past spooking me back
– I didn’t realise it was you

 

Arthur Stuart the journalist sat at his desk staring at his computer screen, desultorily scrolling through report after report from the archives, pretending to be working, researching. The fingers of his left hand were occupied rather more pleasantly, in tactile exploration of the jewelled pin that Curt Wild had given him. He tended to wear it hidden, on his t–shirt under a sweater, or under the lapel of his jacket, for he had long ago learned how to camouflage himself. Now, though, in the relative privacy of his corner of the room, Arthur slid the pin free and stared at it lying there in his palm.

The green jewel glowed up at him from its ornate gold setting. He’d found that the thing would even sparkle occasionally, for no apparent reason; nothing to do with picking up available light, for instance. It was a mystery. Arthur hadn’t even managed to work out what the stone was. It wasn’t an emerald or a malachite or anything obvious like that, but he wasn’t prepared to have a jeweller assess it. The pin was a precious mystery that he couldn’t let out of his sight. It might be worth a fortune, or it might be a cheap brass–and–glass trinket, but Arthur didn’t care either way. It had what people liked to call sentimental value.

Curt Wild the American rock star had given it to Arthur just a few days ago. And before that Brian Slade the British glam star had given it to Curt, no doubt during their brief love affair back in 1973. Why Arthur deserved to be next in line, he had no idea. He often wondered what had moved Curt to give such a thing to an anonymous journalist in a bar – for Arthur couldn’t be sure that Curt recognised him. At the time Arthur had felt sure, but it was too easy to doubt himself. Why would Curt remember that nine–years–ago liaison with a scrawny little fanboy on a concert hall rooftop…?

Arthur smiled, and wrapped his hand around the jewel. It almost seemed to pulse against his skin, and it was warm, it was always reassuringly warm.

Ever since that night after the Tommy Stone concert, ever since he’d unexpectedly met Curt at that midtown bar – what wonderful serendipity – Arthur had felt swayed by wayward urges. He wasn’t quite sure what inspired it, maybe it was simply talking with Curt again, connecting with him against all odds, but these days Arthur was forever feeling moved to boldly do things. Crazy things. He hadn’t felt this way since he was a teenager.

Like right now he was physically fighting the impulse to walk down the barren halls of the newspaper’s headquarters and into his boss’s office and announce, ‘I quit.’ It was something he’d wanted to do for a long time, to be honest, but since that night barely even a week ago the urge had become almost irresistible.

Arthur looked at the pin again, found himself gazing down into its warm swirling depths. He smiled, thinking of Curt holding it out to him, this precious thing. He thought of Curt Wild the rock star, potent and true, with his black leather pants gracing his gorgeous body. With his long bleached–blond hair hiding a forever–startlingly pretty face. With his black–painted fingernails, passé now for everyone else but simply classic for Curt.

When Arthur looked up he discovered that he was already walking down the barren halls, and his boss’s office was behind the next door on his right.

 

don’t dream it, be it

 

His erstwhile career as a tabloid journalist and the paper’s token Brit had proved quite bleak, though it had certainly paid the rent, which after all wasn’t a bad result when living in New York City. But what Arthur really wanted was to write books. He’d hardly had the nerve to even contemplate such a thing until now.

A certain publishing house had even expressed interest in him writing a book about Brian Slade, though Arthur hadn’t taken that too seriously. They’d obviously read the expose on Slade that he’d written for the paper: a long retrospective on his short glam career, which basically ended after the truth came out about the faked onstage assassination. Slade hadn’t died, but he had completely withdrawn from the public eye – only to secretly metamorphose into Tommy Stone.

It seemed Arthur was the first journalist to suspect the connection between the 70s glam star and the 80s corporate superstar. He’d detailed his suspicions in the article, and generated quite a bit of heat. But Arthur had adored Brian Slade back in his impressionable teens, and this tawdry end just saddened him. To live such glory and then to fall to such pathos…

The Tommy Stone show was colossal and spectacular but had no substance, and Arthur really didn’t want to entertain the idea that Brian Slade’s glam music had been the same – all glitter and no meaning – for it had been far too significant at the time, it had truly liberated Arthur the teenager for a while. It would be even worse if the bit of Slade left in Stone’s heart wasn’t even aware of this defeat, and was simply content with the fame and the adulation of new legions of fans. But Arthur suspected that the loss of that most impudent and most beautiful of faces meant the inner beauty had been lost as well.

No, Arthur reflected, at home alone in his tiny grey Manhattan apartment. It seemed that the revelation of this pathetic end had purged Brian Slade from his system, and he knew in his heart that he couldn’t be bothered writing a whole book about him.

But Curt Wild… If that publishing house was interested in a biography of Curt Wild, that would be another matter entirely. In fact, bugger those particular publishers if they weren’t interested – Arthur would pursue the idea, and surely someone somewhere would pick up the project. He felt supremely confident about it.

Actually, Arthur Stuart was feeling quite invincible right now. It was such a strange and heady feeling that he giggled out loud for the first time in years. And his laughter echoed around the apartment, bringing a touch of colour to it, and then wafted gently up through the smog and clouds to find the sunshine far above.

 

fiercely and with screaming energy

 

As ever, the music was raw, powerful, sexual, loud, though somehow it managed to seduce rather than bludgeon people into submission. Going to one of Curt Wild’s concerts, and Arthur had been to many over the years, was like revisiting an old friend he’d known all his life – he trusted that his high expectations would be effortlessly fulfilled, and they always were. After a concert, though, he often felt unaccountably sad, almost as if he were grieving. In fact, now he thought about it, Arthur realised he hadn’t seen Curt perform since 1982, or perhaps it had even been 81.

Tonight everything was as it should be, though, everything was exactly as Arthur remembered, and he couldn’t possibly believe he’d feel sad afterwards. The heavy bass throbbed through him, while Curt’s voice plunged and soared, still pure after all these years. Arthur rode the excitements, beginning to grin like a crazed thing, hips gyrating and soul flying free. The words of every song were engraved in his mind – he joyously sang along. He hadn’t felt quite this good, or been quite so transported, for years. Tonight Arthur felt young again, alive again, and possibilities were once more raining down upon him like glitter.

As Curt often did, when not dancing and leaping and contorting, he spent the two hours of the concert working along the people in the front row, kissing each and every one of them who’d stand still for it, both men and women. And the kisses were genuine, too – full and damp and probing. Having known the real thing once, Arthur had remained aloof at previous concerts, letting the regular fans have their share. Tonight he was up the front, grasping the stage, guarding his place, waiting his turn.

Nine years since this man had kissed him, loved him, fucked him. Nine years since the Death of Glitter concert, and everyone began going their separate ways. It hadn’t felt like the beginning of the end back then, or maybe Arthur was just the last to realise, but finally even he’d had to admit it was over. Finally even Arthur had to wonder whether glam had been more dream than reality. And in defeat he crossed the Atlantic and let himself sink into this grey life.

Curt was getting close now, kissing a woman one person down the stage from Arthur. Two girls behind him mounted a campaign to usurp Arthur’s place, but he hung on as if for life itself, and the crazy urges he’d been getting gave him strength. Then Curt and his band the Wylde Ratttz launched into, of all things, a frenetic cover of Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot.

‘Here I go and I don’t know why,
I spin so ceaselessly,
could it be he’s taking over me?’

As the guitar launched into a frantic solo, Curt sank to his knees before Arthur, bent down to kiss him – and Arthur linked his arms around those shoulders, and returned the kiss with all he was, all he could possibly be. There was passion there between them, and for a moment the two of them were alone amidst five thousand screaming fans.

Curt pulled away at last – and Arthur prayed it wasn’t his imagination, but Curt seemed reluctant to let him go. The rock star stared down at his fanboy for a moment, curious. Maybe he saw the jewel pinned on the t–shirt at Arthur’s collarbone, maybe Curt even recognised him…

But the song demanded Curt’s attention, and he returned to the mike.

‘Oh god I feel for you,
oh god I feel for you,
oh god I feel for you…’

Then it was over. ‘Thank you, Wylde creatures of New York. Fuck you, and goodnight!’ This was, as usual, cried out quite happily.

‘Fuck you, too!’ people cheerfully yelled out in reply. ‘Fuck you, Curt Wild!’ The crowd reached a crescendo of approval, roaring their need. The band took their bows –

– and Curt came back to Arthur for another kiss. Dropping to his knees, grabbing Arthur’s shoulders, hauling him to the tips of his toes, and taking Arthur’s mouth with his own, belligerent and generous all at once.

Arthur was left breathless and glowing, staring hard at Curt as he walked off the stage. Dazed and pleased and almost too embarrassed to look around to see if anyone had noticed the uniqueness of that second kiss. As if he were eighteen again, and had never touched another man with love before. Surely he was too old now for the way his heart was singing…

The crowd demanded an encore, of course, and Curt and the Ratttz came back to cover their old standards TV Eye, Gimme Danger and a couple of others.

The girls behind Arthur were demanding that he give way, their tiny fists pummelling him, but he stood his ground. And he was rewarded, for after the band’s final farewells, Curt strode right over to him again, grabbed his hands, and lifted Arthur up onto the stage. Another kiss, a deep kiss, with Curt’s lovely body pressed up against Arthur’s, their arms and tongues entwining, the crowd roaring, laughing, some booing, jeering, some leaving. Arthur figured he’d died and gone to heaven.

 

and that’s the way that I want it to stay
and I always want it to be that way

 

Curt took his hand and led him, almost at a run, backstage, down winding stairs, a narrow corridor, to a tiny dressing room. Then the door was shut and they stood there alone, breath coming hard, staring at each other.

‘It’s Arthur, right?’

Arthur gaped. ‘You do remember!’

‘Yeah, I remember. A rooftop with London all around us. We spent the night there, and half the next day, and when we finally got dressed again we found they’d locked all the doors, and we were stuck up there.’

‘You broke the door down!’ Arthur finished the story with a laugh. ‘And you left them fifty quid to fix it. Desperate times, desperate measures.’

‘I wasn’t so desperate to get away.’ Curt indicated Arthur’s t–shirt. ‘I remember green’s your favourite colour.’

Arthur looked down at the shirt he’d bought especially for the concert that night. ‘It’s been a long time since I wore any colour at all.’

‘I know what you mean.’

‘I’ve been wearing this every day, though.’ And he touched the pin fastened by his throat. He ached for Curt to kiss him there. Suddenly Arthur blurted out, ‘I want to write a book about you. I want to write your biography.’

‘Yeah?’ Curt was looking at him, at Arthur and the pin he wore, with eyes that seemed to know exactly what was going on. ‘Cool. Yeah, if that’s what you want.’

‘That’s what I want.’ Oh, and there were so many other things Arthur wanted, too, but they could wait. Strange how patient a man could be once he knew for certain that all of his best dreams were about to come true.

‘You want it to be an authorised bio, you got it,’ Curt promised.

And Arthur found the courage necessary to step closer and kiss the man.

 

and we kissed as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
– and the shame was on the other side

 

‘Maybe they’re not my real parents, maybe I don’t even have parents. Because I was a foundling baby, the wolves came upon me in the woods, and took care of me like one of their own, and then left me on the doorstep of a silver Airstream in a trailer park where my so–called family lived.’

Arthur was enjoying these interviews, but he was particularly amused by this story. Aware that his fond smile might be interpreted as patronising, he asked, ‘You like that story of your origins, don’t you? The wolves, I mean.’

But Curt returned his smile, not taking offence. ‘Sure. Don’t you?’

‘Your parents did something awful to you, something so atrocious I wouldn’t believe it if it were fiction.’ Curt remained silent, so Arthur elaborated: ‘Eighteen months of electroshock therapy when you were thirteen years old to cure your homosexual tendencies… I’d rather be brought up by wolves, too.’

‘I am what I am. I don’t have any regrets.’ Curt shrugged, unconcerned.

‘You’ve forgiven them?’

A brief pause. ‘I haven’t even thought about them in years. I live my own life, and they used to be part of it, but they’re not part of it any more. And I have no regrets.’

Arthur gazed at the man. ‘I envy you your peace of mind.’

A grin curled Curt’s lips. ‘You envy me my wolves.’

‘There is something wild about you,’ Arthur admitted. ‘The wolves left you at the door of a family with exactly the right name.’ His mouth curled, too, as Curt began stalking him. ‘You’re ravenous like a wolf–child…’

Curt pounced on him, and the interview was put on hold for a while, as it often was. Arthur left the tape running, recording their grunts and groans and cries and crudities for posterity. ‘Howl for me,’ Arthur whispered fiercely when Curt was on the brink of coming. ‘Howl like a wolf.’ And the man did so – a beautiful long triumphant howl as Curt arched back, his whole crazy wonderful self intensified in the pleasure of orgasm.

Afterwards they lay naked together, damp and sticky and happy. ‘Tell me about your parents,’ Curt murmured.

‘Oh, there’s not much to tell.’

‘Tell me anyway.’

Arthur turned away a little, remembering the shame of it. ‘We lived in Manchester, me and Mum and Dad and my brother. I had posters of you and Brian Slade and Jimi Hendrix and Jack Fairy all round my bedroom – well, mostly Brian Slade – and I’d play your music loud so they couldn’t ignore the lyrics. They didn’t like any of that.’

‘Go on.’

‘But it was when you and Brian fell in love… The newspapers were full of it, the photos of you kissing and all. They knew I was like you. And they couldn’t ignore what that meant any more. So Dad threw me out. I was barely seventeen. And Dad threw me out of home.’

Curt reached a gentle hand to Arthur’s face. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be sorry,’ Arthur whispered brokenly, adamantly. His tragedy paled next to Curt’s, but it allowed them to better understand each other. ‘Like you said – I am what I am. No regrets. I went to London, I was living with two of the guys from The Flaming Creatures, remember them? They were great. It was the best time of my life. I met you that night after the concert…’

They kissed, fierce, because the words were too raw to be spoken.

‘Did you ever see them again?’

‘My parents?’ Arthur asked. ‘No. But after I came to New York, after I got a respectable job, I started writing to them, for their birthdays and for Christmas. And Mum writes back, just short notes. I don’t reckon she even shows my letters to Dad.’

Curt wrapped Arthur up and held him, and began singing to him quietly, as he sometimes did.

‘There’s no regrets,
no tears goodbye,
I don’t want you back,
we’d only cry again,
say goodbye again…’

Then Curt began playing the solo on air guitar, his genuine poignancy slipping into exaggerated earnestness. Arthur couldn’t help but laugh at such a show. And, having achieved that, Curt began making slow love with him again…

It was enough. It was more than enough.

 

Johnny is a guy who can’t make up his mind,
he says ‘I like it both ways’

 

Arthur took a deep breath, because he suspected there would be potholes and hazards along this road – and he didn’t mean the highway currently racing away under the tour bus they rode in. He said, ‘Tell me about Brian.’

Curt contemplated his cigarette for a moment, then took a long drag. ‘You know the story already, the whole thing was played out right there in the spotlights. The entire world was watching, Jerry Devine saw to that. I read that article you wrote for your paper – you didn’t get anything wrong.’

‘Then what did I miss?’

‘Nothing. Really, nothing. You go ahead and write that chapter, and if there are any gaps I’ll fill them in.’ Another long drag on the cigarette. ‘The thing is, the affair didn’t last very long. There wasn’t time for much to happen.’ Curt shot Arthur a grin. ‘Maybe you noticed, Brian had the short golden hair when we first went to bed together – and he had the short turquoise hair when we argued and I walked out on him. One change! Not that I gave him much time for haircuts, but he used to change his image as often as he changed his underwear.’ A last drag, and Curt stubbed the cigarette out. ‘And there was Mandy to take into account – they both had whoever they wanted, but this was different, this wasn’t just sex, this was a love affair. Something had to end. Didn’t know it would be the whole damned show…’

‘All right,’ Arthur said, frowning a little.

Curt noticed, and drew him into an embrace. They were on a double seat up the back of the bus, and the band members and crew had tactfully left a couple of vacant rows between them. ‘You think I’m holding out on you?’

‘Yes. But you’re allowed to.’

‘For the book, or as your lover?’

‘Both. Either. I don’t expect you to tell me everything.’ Though Arthur was finding it hard to hide his disappointment. He even felt a little hurt, which was ridiculous. Completely un–cool. ‘Everyone has their secrets.’

‘I try not to.’ Curt pressed a kiss to Arthur’s hair. ‘I’ll think about it, I’ll think of things to tell you. You need details, right? You want an exclusive. The important stuff is that he was very beautiful – which you know – and I loved him very much – which you also know. And it hurt when it ended, but I can’t wish it didn’t happen. I would have gone through worse than that to get what he gave me.’

Arthur found himself swallowing down a lump in his throat, lost in a thousand bittersweet contradictory emotions – poignancy and jealousy and love and resentment, and a heady rush of the adoration Arthur himself once felt for Brian Slade. He even felt relief and a sense of wonder to know that Arthur hadn’t been the only one to believe in glam so wholeheartedly – Curt had obviously given himself over to its dreams and freedoms, too.

‘Here’s something you probably don’t know,’ Curt was quietly continuing. ‘After we broke up I went back to West Berlin, right? The night Jack Fairy found me there, I had an ounce of good heroin in my pocket. This was almost a year after I got onto the methadone. I was planning to shoot up as much of it as I could that night. I was gonna die the quickest, easiest way I knew how.’

‘Oh god, Curt,’ Arthur murmured, grief and sorrow swamping him. ‘Oh god.’

‘It’s all right. You’re my main man now, Arthur. You’re my main man. I’ve been clean ever since Berlin, and a year before that, too. Except I like a beer buzz, you know? That’s enough to keep me high these days.’

‘Oh god… I’m glad you didn’t.’ Knowing the words were inadequate but blurting them out anyway. ‘I’m so glad you didn’t.’

 

the character he played was his own;
the role itself which his everlasting demon
kept prompting him, was a sincere one

 

‘Tell me about Tommy Stone,’ Arthur asked a few days later.

Curt just shook his head. ‘I don’t have secrets. But if my friends have secrets, I keep them.’

Which Arthur really couldn’t argue with. He remembered the night they met after the Tommy Stone concert – a wary Curt Wild had only started talking with him once Arthur made it clear he didn’t expect Curt to decipher the mystery. They’d both known the answer, anyway.

‘You’re on your own for some of this book,’ Curt said. ‘I authorise you to write whatever you think’s best.’

Arthur smiled. ‘Then you don’t mind what I write about the night after the Death of Glitter concert?’ A chuckle greeted the question, so he continued, ‘You don’t mind if I tell everyone about you fucking a fanboy on a rooftop for all of London to see?’

‘I don’t mind if you don’t mind.’

Silence fell for long moments as Arthur contemplated the nature of secrets. ‘Actually, I never told anyone about that.’

‘You didn’t?’ Curt seemed surprised.

‘I didn’t want to brag. I didn’t want to… share it with anyone. I wanted to keep the memories all to myself. Because I knew what the truth was, but other people might see it differently. Other people might change it, cheapen it.’

Curt pressed a kiss to his hair – a lovely gesture that had already become familiar.

‘I didn’t get home until late that day. We hadn’t slept, I guess I was kind of dazed. I felt like I was walking six inches off the ground. You know all those love songs about walking on air? It’s actually really true.’

‘I know,’ said Curt. And Arthur nodded – of course Curt knew, for once upon a time he had fallen in love with Brian Slade.

‘And I was grinning from ear to ear, I couldn’t stop grinning. We hadn’t eaten, but I was too happy to feel hungry. My friends, they wanted to know where I’d been, all they knew was that I’d disappeared from the party after the show, they waited for me for an hour before driving home. They teased me for days. I didn’t exactly hold the world record for getting laid. But I didn’t mind them teasing. I was blushing like a beetroot the whole time, but I didn’t mind. Because that helped keep it alive for me, that helped me remember it wasn’t a dream.’

Silence again, pregnant with emotion.

‘What I’m getting at, Curt – if you don’t mind me saying this – I think I fell in love with you that night. I mean, really fell in love. Though I kind of forgot about it afterwards. Everyone went their own way, and glam was over, and I guess I left you behind along with everything else. But I did love you, for treating me so well.’

Curt leaned in to kiss him, a slow careful grateful generous sort of kiss.

‘The thing with Brian Slade,’ Curt quietly offered a while later, ‘was that he was always playing a role, but that role was always himself. I don’t know who he is any more. Maybe he doesn’t either.’ He sighed, and sank a little closer against Arthur. ‘You can write that I said that.’

 

it’s only now I see how you patched through my walls
and entered my life

 

Another concert in another mid–west American town. Curt insisted on continuing to play the smaller venues and smaller towns, preferring to do several gigs on a long tour rather than just doing a few stadium–sized concerts in the larger cities. And Arthur approved wholeheartedly, for these all–American towns were full of Curt’s most faithful fans. There was something fine in Curt not forgetting where his roots were.

On the other hand, there were always young faces in the crowd, new fans who didn’t recognise the old standards. Curt Wild’s career could certainly be called an on–going success. Arthur figured that was partly because Curt didn’t mind pushing the boundaries, refusing to be easily pigeon–holed – and also that it was due to Curt’s never–ending exuberance. The raw energy of him on stage never failed to confront, seduce, delight, excite. And then of course there were the kisses, still given out freely to everyone in the front row. Who could resist?

The last song of the main set each night was usually something different – a cover of something old or something new, always something borrowed, occasionally something blue. Lately it had been The Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night or a rocked–up version of The Police’s Synchronicity or The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant. All good British songs. Tonight Curt said to the crowd, ‘I’m gonna do a love song for ya.’ Arthur, enjoying the show from the wings rather than in the audience for once, smiled, wondering what was coming. The guitar kicked in, and it was immediately obvious this was a rock ballad, though Arthur didn’t recognise the music.

‘I’m a desert, I need your rain,
wash me away, scourge me with pain.
I need your words, I’m a blank page,
write love on me, hate on me, give me your rage.’

Arthur frowned. The lyrics were annoyingly familiar, but he couldn’t quite place the song or the original artist. He hated it when that happened.

‘I’m in the dark, I need your star,
my heart’s a vacuum, pierce it from afar.
I need your song, I’m deaf dumb and blind,
blow me away, dear god blow my mind.’

Before Curt had reached the refrain, though, Arthur was gaping in horror. He’d worked it out.

‘And when you’re done with me,
if there’s anything left of me,
scatter me carelessly,
throw me recklessly,
toss me speedily
– let me be nothing, let me fly free.’

‘You bastard,’ Arthur muttered under his breath. And then, because no one would hear him over the music, he yelled it: ‘You bastard!’ Curt Wild had been reading Arthur’s journals dating back to when he was a teenager… Arthur seethed, having assumed his privacy would be respected. It was his own damn fault for not keeping stuff like that locked away in his suitcase. But watching Curt out there giving his beautiful angsty soul to the mawkish gawky words – realising that Curt must have gone to some trouble to write the music and rehearse it with the Ratttz without Arthur knowing – well, Arthur couldn’t help but feel touched. Surely this was intended as a sweet surprise, a lover’s tribute, no matter how terminally embarrassing it was.

Surprisingly, the crowd seemed to enjoy it well enough. Some of them were even swaying to and fro with the flames of their cigarette lighters held aloft.

But if Curt had read this poor attempt at poetry, then he’d also read Arthur’s outpourings on the subject of Brian Slade – the yearnings of a hopeless unrequited crush, the clumsy words and the ballpoint illustrations – and on the trials and tribulations of being a repressed teenager. It hardly mattered that Curt had also loved Brian, and had also suffered through growing up queer. The point was that this was Arthur’s soul being flayed alive.

At last the agony was over.

‘Thanks for taking a walk on the wild side, Cedar Rapids!’ Curt acknowledged the roar for a moment. Then he said, ‘I want you to meet the man who wrote the lyrics for that last song, Let Me Be Nothing.’ And he was beckoning Arthur onstage. ‘Come on, Arthur!’

Well, he had little choice but to go out there. The crowd cheered as Arthur walked across the stage, but not real loud because they didn’t know who the hell he was. Curt met him halfway, and slipped a firm arm round Arthur’s waist.

‘This is Arthur Stuart. He’s writing a book about me, so if you want the whole sordid story you’ll know where to go. And he wrote that song.’

Arthur leaned into the mike’s range. ‘I wrote it when I was fifteen – I promise I can do better now.’ Which earned him some laughter and ironic cheers.

‘I’ll hold you to that,’ Curt announced.

Arthur looked at him levelly, wishing Curt had asked under any other circumstances. ‘All right,’ he eventually agreed.

‘This is our last song tonight, Cedar Rapids. What’ll it be, Arthur?’

‘Uh, the Hallelujah chorus?’

‘Something we’ve rehearsed, Arthur.’ A delightfully droll tone of voice.

Dancing Barefoot,’ he said, remembering that night in New York, months ago now, when they became lovers again. Curt hugged Arthur close for a moment, planted a kiss on his temple, and then mercifully let him go.

The guitar throbbed its song, the drums ricocheted in, and the music swallowed them all whole.

‘She – is benediction.
She – is addicted to thee.’

Arthur had already fled to hide once more in the wings, almost having to clutch at the curtains in order to remain upright. He stared out at his lover, though, moved by what the man had been trying to do. For Arthur knew Curt’s true secret – not that it was really a secret, for he hid it about as well as he hid his homosexuality, which was not at all – but the real truth about Curt Wild was that under the uncultured exterior of this white trailer–trash boy he was a never–say–die romantic. No doubt Brian Slade had loved him for that. Arthur certainly did.

He realised now that he’d started this journey a long time before that rooftop liaison. Arthur had first fallen for Curt when he’d seen the look in Curt’s eyes as Brian kissed him. ‘You’re my main man, too,’ Arthur whispered to him from afar. And Curt chose that moment to turn around and blow him a kiss.

 

we can be heroes for ever and ever,
what d’you say?

 

‘I meant it about you writing new songs with me,’ Curt commented as they lazed around in their hotel bed the next afternoon.

Arthur subjected him to a low–level glare. ‘I still can’t believe you did that.’ Though he found he actually had deeper concerns. He fumbled around in his bag by the bed for the tape machine, pressed the record button, and said, ‘One of the things that’s so wonderful about you is that you’re still Curt Wild after all this time. It’s very appealing. You’ve been damaged, and everything and everyone around you has gone through so many changes, and yet you continue. You remain who you essentially are. That’s precious, Curt.’

‘Sounds boring.’

‘But it isn’t at all. You’re still alive, you’re still invigorating, you’re still startling, you’re never boring. You don’t need to constantly reinvent yourself when you’re so damned fine to begin with.’

‘So I stay alive by expanding my repertoire. There’s still plenty of me to explore. Write songs with me, Arthur.’

‘I just don’t want to –’

‘What?

‘I don’t want to change you.’

‘You already have, you’re my main man.’ Curt ran a hand back through his blond hair and smiled. ‘It doesn’t matter, Arthur, I promise.’

‘It does to me.’

‘I’ll tell you a story. You can put it in your book, if you want. But no one will ever really believe you.’ Curt reached across Arthur for the green jewelled pin that lay on the bedside table, taking the opportunity to kiss Arthur along the way. ‘This is a charm. It used to belong to Oscar Wilde, but he lost it. Did you know he actually brought all that trouble down on himself by suing his boyfriend’s father for libel when he called Oscar a sodomite?’

‘Yes,’ said Arthur, who had been completely familiar with all the tragic details ever since he was fourteen.

‘I figure he got used to being invulnerable, lucky in all he did, but then the luck was gone and his life was ruined.’

‘How do you know that Oscar Wilde once owned this?’

‘Jack told me all about it, I don’t know how he knows. But it is a charm. It brought Jack Fairy to me on my blackest night.’

Arthur clutched Curt’s hands around the jewel. ‘If I ever meet him, I’ll fall on my knees to thank him.’

‘Of course you’ll meet him,’ Curt offhandedly replied. ‘Jack’ll find me again – he always does. Or I’ll find him. And you’ll be with me.’

‘So it was Jack Fairy who gave you the pin? I thought you meant Brian –’

‘Yeah, Brian took it from Jack before Brian became a star. Mandy used to say we were living our dreams, and I figure that was the charm. Then Brian gave it to me. But soon afterwards we broke up, and he staged that stupid assassination, and Brian Slade lost all his fans. D’you see? He’d given the charm away, and he didn’t keep it near him.’

Arthur stared at the man. ‘If you think it’s so damn powerful, why on earth give it to me?’

‘You looked like you needed a change in luck. And I wanted to keep you near, Arthur. I figured it would lead you back to me.’

‘You figured…?’

‘Well, I hoped it would,’ Curt cheerfully asserted, as if he’d simply known it would happen.

Arthur was left metaphorically scratching his head. ‘I don’t know what to think about all this. But I will write you a song…’

Curt lay back on the sheets and smiled up at him. ‘Yeah?’

‘Yes. It’ll be a tragedy. I’ll call it The Ballad of Oscar Wilde.’

 

sometimes you get so lonely,
sometimes you get nowhere

 

‘Tell me about your first main man.’

‘My older brother, Michael. Mike…’

Arthur started, almost spilling his beer. ‘is that story really true? About why your family sent you off for shock treatment?’

Curt grinned at him. ‘Who’d you think I’d say?’

‘I don’t know. A boyfriend at school, a guy from the original Rats, something like that.’

For a while Curt stared off into the distance. They were sitting in the chairs on their hotel room balcony, drinking beer and soaking up fleeting shards of sunlight. It seemed like they’d been on tour forever, and would be on tour forever more, and they didn’t want it to ever end. Neither of them had a place they called home any more. Arthur had never felt such wonderful freedom.

Eventually Curt snagged one of the spare chairs, dragged it closer, and put his feet up on its seat. ‘This is off the record, Arthur. Mike has his own ordinary life, or he did last I heard, and he don’t need all this brought up.

‘But if it’s what actually happened –’ Arthur found himself at the receiving end of a don’t–be–any­more–stupid–than–you–have–to–be stare. ‘OK, all right. I gave up being naive a long time ago. Really.’

‘He wants it kept secret, we’ll keep it a “no comment”. I loved him, you know.’

‘And you’re loyal. You really are loyal.’ Arthur loved Curt for that.

Curt swallowed the last of his beer, and reached for another bottle. ‘I loved doing that stuff with him, touching him, going down on him. Even though everyone else said it was a sin or a crime. Mike was there for me, you know? He passed the time with me, he made things bearable. Even when he was giving me hell, or teasing me, or not taking me along when he went out with his mates, at least I knew I was part of his life.’ Curt turned his head to look across at Arthur. ‘Didn’t you do sex stuff with your brother?’

‘God, no!’ Arthur blurted out. He squirmed a little, on the inside and the outside. ‘No, he wouldn’t have – even if I’d wanted to, he wouldn’t have. He wasn’t kind about… faggots.’

Curt simply nodded, took another swig of beer.

‘Uh, so what happened when you were caught, um –’

‘Red–handed?’ Curt supplied with a smile. ‘Red–cocked. Red–mouthed.’ He almost seemed wistful, as if the memories of his brother remained untainted by horror and cruelty.

‘How was Michael punished?’

‘He wasn’t.’

Arthur gaped. ‘He let you take all the blame?’

‘Oh, it’s every man for himself when you’re that age, isn’t it? When your parents are judge, jury and executioner. I would have done the same.’

‘No, you wouldn’t.’

Curt looked at him, calm. ‘Did your brother try stopping your Dad kicking you out of home?’

‘Well, no, but it wasn’t his fault that –’

‘Better one of us suffer than both of us.’

‘You’re rationalising away what he did,’ Arthur argued. ‘When you really did suffer for it. It’s not like they just grounded you for a week!’

‘I don’t know what rationalising is. Maybe I just understand how it all went down. I knew them, they were my family, it’s not like there were any big surprises.’

But Arthur was furious with Michael Wild, whoever the hell he was, whoever he’d been and whoever he’d become. He stood up, and went to lean against the balcony railing, staring sightlessly across whatever damnable city they were in.

Curt came up behind him, pressed a kiss to his hair, put his hands on the railing either side of Arthur’s waist. He even laughed a little. ‘You’re getting all protective. That’s real sweet, Arthur. But there’s no need to hold a grudge for me.’

‘Tell me about the electroshock therapy,’ Arthur ground out.

‘I can’t remember much. I’d just wake up after a treatment, a long time afterwards, and my brains were fried and my memories were on the fritz. I was in and out of that place for a year and a half.’

‘And you were only thirteen when it started, my god…’

‘I’d never exactly been a star pupil, but that pretty much put an end to school for me. There were three ways out of the trailer park – learning and sports and music. Though even scholarships were like an impossible dream. Well, I was never gonna learn enough, and I was never good at sports, they told me I just wasn’t a team player. But I had music.’

‘Music saved you,’ Arthur murmured.

Curt pressed closer against him. ‘They taught us the basics at the institution in between treatments. Something about music soothing the savage beast. Before that I’d just liked singing along to the radio, and dancing along, too – when my Pop didn’t belt me to shut me up and sit me down. I took to it. I took to it like I hadn’t even known how to talk before, like English wasn’t really my language, you know?’

‘I know.’ At least Arthur could guess – it made perfect sense that Curt Wild would feel almost mute if he couldn’t sing.

‘Songs made me understand more than books ever did. They still do.’

Arthur stared some more out across asphalt, bricks, concrete, corrugated iron. ‘And you want to write songs with me…’ He had a tear in his eye, though it was probably just an involuntary reaction to a sudden shaft of bright sunshine.

‘Yeah.’ Curt’s warmth left him, but only for long enough to grab a cigarette and light it. ‘So, anyway, it wasn’t all bad. I formed the band, a garage band, The Rats – we weren’t so pretentious back then. I told you about that already. We were doing all right. A few years later we were doing so all right that I didn’t know what to do with my little bit of fame and fortune. That’s when I met my second main man.’

‘Who?’ Arthur asked.

‘Heroin.’

‘Ah.’

‘You ever shoot up?’

‘No. I never did anything very heavy.’

‘It was the sweetest thing… There’s nothing like it to ease the pain.’ And Curt softly crooned the Rolling Stones song, making it a seductive lullaby.

‘I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like,
you should have heard me just around midnight.
Ah, brown sugar, how come you dance so good?
Ah, brown sugar…’

Arthur asked, ‘How long were you on it?’

‘Not too long. It felt so good, but it almost killed the music for me. I almost lost everything. So I switched to methadone, started getting my act together – and along came Brian Slade.’

The jealousy that stabbed through Arthur was manageable now, even though it was still double–edged. ‘Your third main man?’

‘Yeah, but who’s counting?’ Curt asked with a quiet laugh. ‘I always had a firm hold on the difference between songs and real life, which probably saved me a couple of times. But then it all became one thing. Falling in love with Brian was like all the sweetest love songs coming true. And breaking up with him hurt like the songs, too.’

Love hurts,’ intoned Arthur, ‘love scars, love wounds and mars.’

‘Yeah.’

‘So who was next?’

‘You. There wasn’t anyone for years, not really, until you found me again in New York.’

Arthur frowned. He knew enough about Curt now to guess that Curt Wild functioned best when there was someone in his life he could love. ‘Weren’t you lonely?’

‘Well, yeah, but I had the charm Brian gave me, I was making music. Jack’s been a good friend. And, you know,’ there was a smirk in Curt’s voice, ‘when the opportunity arose I had companions for a while.’

‘The opportunity must arise quite a lot for a rock star,’ Arthur commented, unable to help adding a touch of sarcasm.

‘Yeah,’ Curt happily agreed. ‘The weirdest thing was one morning – I was spending time with a model, a real gorgeous girl – I woke up beside her and in a certain light she looked just exactly like Brian. She was that pretty. It was strange.’

‘So what did you do?’

Curt laughed. ‘Nothing. I kept seeing her until she got a better offer. I’m happy being with girls. But when it really matters, it’s always a guy.’

Arthur nodded. He understood the allure of bisexuality, and thoroughly endorsed it. But for him it had always been guys, full stop. There had been times during the past nine years when he’d wished himself otherwise, but there was never any use in trying to be what you weren’t.

‘You matter,’ Curt murmured in his ear, pressing closer. ‘You’re even better than the songs, Arthur.’

This was so unexpected that Arthur embarrassed himself by snorting with laughter.

‘You’re more real, more solid.’ Curt tightened his arms around Arthur. ‘What’s so funny? Meeting up with you again was like… was like the good luck this pin always brought me. It just felt right. Don’t they call that fate?’

Arthur recovered enough to say, ‘Thank you, Curt, but –’

‘But nothing. Didn’t anyone ever say this kind of thing to you before?’

‘No.’ He could say that with wry humour now rather than bitterness.

‘Tell me about your main men.’

‘Well,’ said Arthur, ‘there’s you.’

A pause lengthened until Curt realised that was the extent of the list. ‘What about the guys in The Flaming Creatures? One of them must have wanted you. Hell, all of them must have…’

‘They were my friends, they were the best friends I’d ever had. But none of them became my lover.’

Curt spun Arthur around within his arms, so that at last they were facing each other. ‘Why the fuck not?’ He seemed absolutely mystified.

Arthur laughed ruefully, shaking his head. ‘Steve tried to explain it to me once when I was high. It was the best time of my life, but I used to get so damned lonely. He said everyone knew I’d get hopelessly devoted to a lover, and none of them felt right in taking me on. Because they couldn’t return how I’d feel. I thought it was just an excuse at the time.’

‘The hard–hearted bastard.’

‘Well,’ said Arthur, ‘seems they were right, doesn’t it? You had me once nine years ago, and there was never anyone else, not that really mattered. Not that I let myself really remember you or think about you…’ He’d never let his heart break – he’d just dulled it into submission. ‘I always knew it was a one–nighter, no more, no less.’

Curt stared at him for long moments. And then, ‘It’s all right now,’ Curt murmured, taking Arthur into an embrace. ‘Everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna be fine.’

‘Yes, it is,’ Arthur confidently replied, before kissing the man. He’d always felt fractured, as if he’d been two people – the glam fanboy, happy and free, and his real adult self. But the longer he spent with Curt, the less he felt he even grasped such a sad concept. Maybe, with Curt as inspiration, Arthur could fuse himself into a third person, the best of all possible Arthurs…

 

disobedience is man’s original virtue

 

On another night after another gig, Curt and Arthur headed for the rooftop as they often did for old times’ sake. Arthur unbuttoned his shirt as they left the stairwell, hoping for a river breeze to cool the heavy southern heat. He didn’t take off the shirt, though, as he thought it the nicest piece of clothing he’d ever owned – it was green silk, and Curt had given it to him. The jewelled pin weighed down the collar, its sheer substance reassuring.

‘You look good in that,’ Curt said.

Arthur smiled at him. ‘That’s because it makes me think of you.’

‘Nah… You look good wearing anything or nothing.’ Curt shifted closer to him, smoothly stalking Arthur where he leaned back against the parapet. ‘You look good thinking of anyone or no one.’

They were kissing then, the humidity only adding to the hot damp excitement they always found in each other.

‘I remember the make–up you wore that first night we fucked,’ Curt murmured when he broke away. ‘The green in your hair, your glossy lips, your painted eyes…’

‘Don’t remind me.’

‘I liked it!’

‘Talk about excessive! Your mate Brian Slade could wear anything and still look pretty, but for the rest of us mere mortals… You know, I used to wear make–up to school. I couldn’t wear it at home, so I took my eye shadow and mascara and blusher along with me in my schoolbag, and I’d get there early and put it all on in the toilets at school. It was… terrifying. There’s nothing crueller than kids. I don’t know how I escaped a good beating. Ten good beatings.’

Curt was smiling at him, apparently impressed. ‘You were brave.’

‘I don’t know. More like defiant.’

‘Brave,’ Curt insisted, and kissed him again.

‘The worst time was once when I forgot to wash it off before I went home. I had to go a mile out of my way, walking defiantly through the suburbs, blushing like a beetroot, before I found a public toilet where I could clean up. I was late home…’ Arthur chuckled. ‘That was about the time I was supposed to be writing an essay about Dorian Gray and Oscar Wilde, but I wrote it about Brian instead.’

‘That’s not such a stretch, the way Jack tells it,’ Curt observed. ‘Dorian Gray was in a book, right?’

‘Yeah. I got a good mark, so I guess the teacher made some kind of sense of it. The problem was, we were meant to show our parents all our major projects, and get them to sign a card to say they’d seen them. And I just wasn’t quite brave enough…’

A silence stretched for a while. Curt pressed close against Arthur despite the heat, slipping his arms inside the green silk shirt, winding around Arthur’s waist. Even through Curt’s leather pants and Arthur’s jeans, Arthur could feel that generous cock of Curt’s beginning to respond to him, harden. He took a deep breath of the heavy air, letting his head fall back, letting a slow southern throb fill his heart.

‘I was thinking,’ Curt softly announced a while later.

‘Yeah?’

‘That book you’re writing. It should be about both of us, not just me. It should be about you and me and all of us, the whole glam shebang – but mostly about the two of us, and everything that happened to us afterwards as well, everything that’s happening now.’

‘No one’s interested in my story,’ Arthur protested, even though something about this idea had immediately quickened his pulse. He absently lifted a hand to feel the green jewel glowing.

‘Yes, they are, because you were part of it. The fans were part of everything just as much as the stars and the bands, and you know all about both sides. It wouldn’t have been the same, one without the other, me without you, the Brits without the Americans. It was, what do you call it –’

‘Synergy.’ Arthur was staring at the man, flabbergasted and excited in equal measure. ‘I think you’re right.’

‘I know I’m right,’ Curt said. And they kissed for a crazily inspired moment. ‘And do you know what else?’ he murmured against Arthur’s throat. ‘It’s about you and me, and it’s a love story.’

Arthur groaned in surrender, knowing he could never feel more fulfilled than he did at that moment. The two of them were on their knees now, kissing with passion, pressed so close together, skin igniting and sliding against skin, arms embracing each other so strong they could never break apart. Then Curt was turning him, pressing up against Arthur’s back, unbuttoning his jeans with the arrogant ease of a lover who knows he won’t ever be refused.

And that cock was slowly filling him, making him whole, and Curt’s hot mouth was kissing and biting across his shoulder–blades, and Arthur came so hard he could have sworn he saw the stars move.

 

on raising their heads they both saw God
who smiled at them from his azure balcony:
love one another, said he, it is for that
I have clothed your path in velvet;
kiss one another, and if you are happy,
instead of a prayer to thank me kiss again

 

‘Look,’ Arthur whispered when they were both done, as they lay on the rooftop together in a tumbled sprawl of damp limbs and half–shucked clothing. ‘Look at that…’

There were lights in the sky, a circle of pretty lights hovering over them. And the southern rain fell lightly down upon them like sprinkled glitter of gold and green. They stared up in wonder, remembering that exactly such a thing had happened on their first night together in London.

‘It’s another charm,’ Curt said. ‘It’s our charm.’ He stroked a finger across the green jewel he’d given Arthur. And they turned to each other and kissed again.

After a moment the lights lifted high into the clouds, apparently satisfied, and sped away…

 

to speak the truth is a painful thing
– to be forced to tell lies is much worse

 

‘When’s that book of yours gonna be finished?’

Arthur Stuart the writer didn’t turn away from where he’d got his portable typewriter set up on the tiny table in their Paris hotel room. ‘Soon. I’m just doing the introduction. I might even be done by the time we go see Jack tonight.’

Curt laughed, and shifted on the bed. Even the sound of him rustling across the cotton sheets was provocative. ‘Isn’t that what you write first?’

‘No, last. As a summary. You have to know what your conclusions are before you can introduce them.’

‘How long’s it taken? Almost two years? It’s about time you were finishing.’

‘That’s great coming from you,’ Arthur protested, turning now to grin at his lover. ‘Like you weren’t distracting me at every opportunity. Always demanding something. Lyrics. Sex. Fun ‘n’ games.’

Curt stubbed out his cigarette, grabbed Arthur’s hand, and dragged him down onto the bed. Arthur went happily enough. ‘That’s great coming from you,’ Curt mock–growled. ‘Like you ever complained.’

They kissed, and distraction threatened once more.

But Arthur drew back, and looked at Curt for a moment before saying seriously, ‘It’s an important book. It’s about our lives, Curt. It takes time to write something like that. But it’s gonna be ready soon.’ He grinned, knowing his eyes were sparking with excitement. ‘I forgot to tell you, I’ve got yet another deadline – Rolling Stone wanna publish a series of extracts from it.’

‘Cool! That’s really great, Arthur.’ They celebrated with another kiss. Curt began tugging at Arthur’s sweater – but even as he bent to nibble at the waist he exposed, he asked, ‘Got a title yet?’

‘Yeah. True Colours.’

Curt contemplated this, and smiled. ‘Cool.’ And he began singing the current hit of that name, softly, just for Arthur – who was continually amazed by the range of songs that Curt knew and loved. Never mind being continually amazed that Curt Wild the rock star was forever singing such things to him. And no matter how thoroughly fulfilled he’d thought he’d been a hundred times before, Arthur felt even more so now…

 

don’t be afraid to let them show,
your true colours are beautiful like a rainbow

 

 

endnotes:

there was something… and it’s only now… spoken by Arthur in Velvet Goldmine 1998

don’t dream it… sung by Frank N Furter in the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show written by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman 1975

fiercely and with… written by Walt Whitman in a notebook 1850s, describing what he’d like from an American opera

here I go… and oh god I feel… and she is benediction… sung by Patti Smith in the song Dancing Barefoot written by Patti Smith / Ivan Kral 1979 (I admit I was mostly inspired by the 1989 U2 cover, but that would be anachronistic)

and that’s the way… sung by The Kinks in the song Lola written by Ray Davies 1970

and we kissed… and we can be heroes… sung by David Bowie in the song ‘Heroes’ (the longer version on the album) written by Bowie / Eno 1977

there’s no regrets… sung by Midge Ure in the song No Regrets written by Tom Rush 1982

Johnny is a guy… sung by Supernaut in the song I Like it Both Ways written by Burnham / Twinn / Burnham / Murphy 1976 (Supernaut were an Australian glam band obviously happy to sing about bisexuality; in concert they did kick–ass covers of Bowie songs such as The Jean Genie and Suffragette City; obviously I thought they were really cool!)

the character he played… written by André Gide in If It Die 1920, describing Oscar Wilde

sometimes you get… sung by David Bowie in the song Be My Wife written by Bowie 1977

I’m no schoolboy… sung by The Rolling Stones in the song Brown Sugar written by Jagger / Richard 1975

disobedience is man’s… written by Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism 1891

on raising their heads… written by Walt Whitman in a notebook (but I can’t track down the date)

to speak the truth… written by Oscar Wilde in De Profundis 1905

don’t be afraid… sung by Cyndi Lauper in the song True Colours written by T Kelly / B Steinberg 1986

and the story’s title of course borrows from we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars written by Oscar Wilde in Lady Windermere’s Fan 1892; and also from the sequins were lying in the gutter, attributed to Michael Des Barres 1970s, describing one of the Real Life concerts that inspired the movie’s Death of Glitter concert

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