You shouldn’t go anywhere alone. You used to, that is true, but you shouldn’t anymore. It should be clear by now. Because you were younger before. You had the bravado necessary to wander through crowds, to pick the places you wanted to go, to sit at a table-for-one and eat a meal, to then go out and have a drink at a regular place, to just happen to see a few people you know there at the regular place, to have another drink and a relaxed conversation with these people, to return to your flat where you lived alone, to feel content and sleep sprawled across your double bed diagonally. These days you are less capable of such acts. Your routine plays itself out on a grid, various branches lighting up as you play out your small scale dreams atop a network of people and relations you can certainly move within, but can’t deviate from. Of course sometimes you are compelled regardless. Perhaps there’s a thing on and you can’t interest any of your friends in it. Or the thing is on in another town (a state capital perhaps) and you have frequent flier points and a new found understanding of the importance of writing such ventures off as tax deductions… As you make your way there – this now the final rail based leg of the journey – without embarrassment you tweet ridiculous summonings to a list of people you don’t really know. You’ve just left your friends behind (an important dinner, but then also the lack of enthusiasm for this particular author, best summarised by these words: ‘I’ve never heard of him. And he’s never heard of me.’) and this is the first moment you feel that clichéd ‘isolation amongst the masses’. Your mobile coverage goes in and out with each train station and tunnel but you manage to get the tweets out anyway. You don’t care who you meet there. In fact at this stage a tendentious link is almost preferable.
Accordingly you enter alone. The bouncers look tougher in the city. The entry stamp, a red dinosaur, blurs almost immediately, mocking your enthusiasm (things should be more defined on such occasions). The dinosaur doesn’t have a facial expression, and perhaps because of this, you read its blank expression as sinister.
Inside it’s a mess of people and nothing is happening. You notice this now (although it seems more prevalent later): the preponderance of young guys sporting a scarf, glasses, and coiffured teased up hairstyle (with obligatory short back and sides). These young men look intelligent. Everyone is pushed together by the confines of the building, but regardless, all the intelligent people seem to be talking to others, close friends, people they undoubtedly came here with. They discuss important matters, perhaps relating to work, or to future artistic projects. You stand still for a moment and contemplate getting a drink anyway. You realise you are possibly in the line to get to the bar already, here near the entrance. There is no place to move to. Everyone stands and waits for a drink in response to the situation. Two bartenders attend to their job with little spark evident. They know the crowd has overwhelmed them. There is no point rushing hither and thither.
A more human response is a half hour communal in the park down the road. From this vantage, one might observe a lone figure seated at a desk, in a penthouse, starkly shadowed by a desk lamp. This proves poignant but un-photographable. An image in the sky.
Models are a band. They formed in Melbourne in 1978. They are often incorrectly referred to as The Models. They are noisy and messy. The tunes feel – to you, presumably of the wrong generation to know anyway – unrecognisable, even the last song, which provokes vague murmurs of what you would parse as recognition. Luckily they finish and the park sojourn is therefore evaluated a ‘good move’.
The bar isn’t messy or busy now and this allows one to stand close to it. You do this. You order some beers. You appreciate the way the swell of people has the look and smell of a mosh pit, even though they are all individually now turned inwardly, creating an interesting semi-circular mass, anticipating the presence of the author. This is something you have never seen before. There are no seats. You wonder if there should be security guards. You jumped on stage at a gig once, years ago, and you were thrown out straight away. It was an ill-timed jump at the start of the show. You spent a whole night sitting on some cold steps. You had a lot of time to think that night.
To you Bret Easton Ellis began his career with American Psycho. It’s somewhat boring, considering how many other readers have similar stories, entry points, but it remains the truth that you bought this book because it was wrapped in plastic. It was emblazoned with an R18+ rating and this was something you’d never seen before either. When you haven’t seen things before you tend to capitalise on the experience and make it into something. You purchased the book and read it.
It’s not the only book in existence with graphic sex and violence. But it is very readable, and this makes it worrying. You read the book and found yourself a little too close to the mind of the narrator. Why did you enjoy this book? The music reviews scattered within the pages are also worryingly exact – you enjoy them, and in some parts you even enjoy the way sex and drugs are rendered in such a natural way. Romance and morality just never coming into it. So where do you sit on the psychopathy scale? How far are you from anywhere? After this you read Less than Zero (which is easier, and less disturbing to stomach (after a pre-event re-read you even admire some of the overt techniques, the repetition of motifs, the careful articulation of an ethic of boredom), and within fairly quick succession the other works, Rules of Attraction (notably the book begins and ends with the word ‘and’… is this unique?) Glamorama, and The Informers. His work is compelling and if asked why you might cite the continually disturbing aspect of the reading experience. This keeps you reading. You want to be disturbed while you are compelled through the pages as if on some nonsensical Harry Potter rollercoaster.
Lunar Park is the best of Ellis’ works, and accordingly this is the one you have in your bag, ready for the chance of a signature. Lunar Park begins with a dissection of the previous books’ opening lines, and then proceeds on to a dissection of the author himself. What is revealed? That a faux-version of Ellis is the one he is more comfortable with. So much seems real though, that you go along with it. You actually read this book as if it were a Stephen King novel, compelled onward not to find out if Harry will defeat Voldemort, but because you want to find out what horrors Harry himself is capable of. Specifically, Ellis seems now to be writing with an awareness of himself and the depths his books are taking people too. Paranoia looms large. People are calling him, stalking him. Is it Patrick Bateman? That doesn’t really matter. He’s putting himself in your place, reading the previous books, feeling disturbed, feeling compelled to go on. There’s an infinite regress of human nature at play, of unavoidable uneasiness, but you don’t mind that lack of logic. It’s kind of real, definitely sexy. The repeated emphasis on ‘absence’ is only natural and you even allow that to work for you in the predictability of any conclusion.
The last book in your mind is Imperial Bedrooms. There are the mandatory references to i-devices. Surprisingly or not, the morality of Clay becomes even more blurred. Things are blurry.
Bret firstly expresses surprise at the ‘nightclub’ setting for this author talk. It is pretty cool. And his words, they then help you to imagine that perhaps this isn’t a normal thing for Bret. He is a celebrity author, sure, of the type that will be talking on JJJ radio the next day about his books but also his favourite songs (a friend txts you to suggest he sounds arrogant – you quickly fire one back claiming the whole ‘humble’ thing is overdone these days, Bret’s style is a breath of fresh air, etc etc). But then maybe all his previous talks have happened at bookstores, at sober literary events where people have allocated seats, and just maybe you are here in Sydney where the crowd and venue has impressed the famous author.
It doesn’t matter for long though. Bret answers questions responsibly and generously. Of some interest to you are the following parts:
Bret tells everyone he doesn’t usually do these events, not unless he has a book out to promote (he thereby positions himself as different to other authors, those he says are always ‘on’, always talking about their ‘process’). You wonder briefly what this means. The other authors are presumably also successful authors, writers that sell books. They possibly don’t need to constantly accept invitations to speak, but they do. Is it a need for public acceptance – acceptance of the person that is, not just the literary end product?
Bret cites this as a somewhat pivotal moment in his life: he met Elvis Costello. Elvis was polite, congenial. Later Bret reads interviews in two separate magazines, interviews where Elvis Costello is asked how he feels about having a novelist use his image and lyrics in a book. As a response, Elvis parodies Ellis’ own writing style – something like ‘I met Bret. He was drunk. We did lines of coke in the bathroom. I was bored.’ – clearly indicating he is not a fan of the work. This, Bret claims, will be quite a moment for anyone. Realising that someone who has been extremely influential on you does not have any admiration for you work, and in fact will publicly satirise your style, is a big thing. You have to wonder after Bret’s finished saying this though, is there any sort of embellishment here? Are they friends? Like his story featuring Tom Cruise (he’s never heard from him since inviting him to a party; they both own apartments in the same building) it could be exaggerated for the purposes of interview. But then that would be suitable, wouldn’t it? Like you said or did not say, we’ve all read Lunar Park.
Bret treats the audience questions (drawn randomly from a fishbowl) lightly. There are a couple of answers giving off a certain American contemporary enuui: ‘What does that even mean…? but otherwise he answers well, giving you insight into his process (it probably wasn’t planned).
Bret claims that at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival his perceived ‘bad behaviour’ was a result of Ramona Koval’s questioning. He say Ramona asked a question that well, wasn’t really a question, but then it went on for about five minutes, and then it had some question in it, but it turned out to have about eight questions within the one question, and then it didn’t even end with the questioning part. Bret is lost, and instead lightens things up with ‘So, what do you think of Delta Goodrem?’
One of Bret’s observations is that Australia has a strange love / hate relationship with Delta. You are inclined to agree, in retrospect considering the amount of time devoted to discussing her, then the future possible time that will be spent discussing her in Bret’s future appearances.
You stand in the line to get your book signed for 45 minutes. (When the talk ended you stupidly went up the wrong staircase, and found yourself directed to the end of the line.) At the end of this 45 minutes you have only progressed halfway through the line, if that. You question yourself. Is this worth it? Yes, you did bring your copy of Lunar Park to be signed, your favourite Ellis book, and yes, it would be really cool to have it signed (it even has an appropriately anecdotal red wine stain right across the cover). But you are your own person. The guy next to you talks about Bret sporadically. He is bored, but remains in line. You leave. You manage to catch the 11 o’clock train back to Stanmore and meet your friends just before they lock you out of the house for the night. On a blow up mattress you dream wearing a hooded sweatshirt, following a man through some dense scrub, and then fighting him.