Obits and pieces

12 02 2010

Recently we were encouraged to write an obituary for a living person of our choice. I used the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the best authors alive today, Bret Easton Ellis. Here is what I would have to say about the great man if he died today.

IN HIS 1987 novel The Rules of Attraction, Bret Easton Ellis wrote: “You will never know me.”

Now, after his mysterious death, the 45-year-old Californian author leaves behind more questions than answers.

And an unexplained passing, prompting wide-reaching explanations from a multitude of friends and acquaintances, is surely the way he would have wanted to go.

Forever an enigma, Ellis rocked up on the literary scene in a wash of overpriced denim and exuberant metaphor.

A cocktail of sex, drugs and hyperbole made his debut novel Less Than Zero an instant hit, while the rushed Brat-Pack film adaptation only served to demonstrate the unreplicable quality of his prose.

No one could explain the secret to Ellis’ writing.

Blending pity and envy, his portraits of privileged existence allow readers a glimpse of something they will never be part of.

Yet, far from offering simple escapism, Ellis has consistently shocked and disgusted his audiences to the point that a snapshot is all they could feel comfortable with.

The gaps between his later novels, often as long as five years, were punctuated by speculation about his private life.

By dealing with the vulnerability of celebrity in Glamorama and developing a fictionalised self in Lunar Park, many felt they were being invited to probe into the existence of a surprisingly secretive individual.

The truth is far more intriguing.

Ellis at a Lunar Park book signing

Just like his characters, Ellis invited reverence and revulsion in equal measure.

And his semi-autobiographical novel Lunar Park only added to the aura of mystery set up by the morally-ambiguous American Psycho and Ellis’ own morally-ambiguous existence.

The overlap between his life and work, culminating in their disturbing convergence in Lunar Park, will leave fans holding out hope that his death is just a plot-device, or even a valuable sub-plot in a much larger and hitherto unread story.

Publishers Knopf have not yet announced whether they will release Ellis’ final novel, Imperial Bedrooms, which was set to hit bookshelves in May.

All that is known of the work, a long-awaited sequel to Less Than Zero, is its opening line: “They had made a movie about us.”

Surely the mystery of Bret Easton Ellis’ life will be unravelled on the silver screen.

He would surely hate the commodification of his life, but secretly love the attention.

*Disclaimer: My details of Ellis’ death and the future publication of Imperial Bedrooms are fictionalised this article was just written as an exercise.


Music to write copy by

7 02 2010

Here at CJS we have recently dived head-first into the relentless routine of production days.

Unforgiving deadlines, strict word limits and gripping features are now the order of the day, and we need to be focused on the job in hand.

While a clear mind and a readiness to communicate are musts within the confines of the newsroom, many of us will no doubt find ourselves constantly on the go, chasing stories and writing features away from the order-in-chaos.

I cannot be alone in using music to help focus the mind, and in this post I will share with you just some of the bands and artists I turn to when I have work to do.

Be it revising for a testing public admin exam or writing a 750 word feature on Formula 1, music tends to help my productivity. I’m sure it does the same for some of you too.

At the very least, I hope I can introduce a few more names to your Spotify playlists and provide a gift that stays with you for years to come.

1. Electric President

I was introduced to Electric President just over a year ago, and  the Floridian duo instantly won me over with their blend of haunting vocals and mellow beats.

Alex Kane’s electronic input perfectly complements Ben Cooper’s vocals, both providing a subtlety lacking in the work of may of their peers.

They have been compared to Postal Service and The Weakerthans, but such comparisons do an injustice to a band whose music will engross but not engulf the listener.

2. Mogwai

As far removed as possible from the energetic Gremlin with which they share their name, Mogwai are on a level which most bands can only dream of.

For more than a decade they have treated fans to expansive post-rock so grand in scope it makes Lord of the Rings look like Superbad.

They went some way to getting the recognition they deserve after being asked to compose the soundtrack to Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait in 2006. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength with recent album The Hawk is Howling showing the band’s unerring ability to captivate observers with every movement, much like Zizou himself.

3. Jurassic 5

Of course, I appreciate that different people work best when listening to different genres of music. As such, I feel it would be both ignorant and inappropriate of me to omit hip-hop in my discussion of music to write by.

Kings of the genre, in my humble opinion, are California-based act Jurassic 5. Showing more versatility than many of their peers, J5 span all elements of hip-hop, often providing more relaxed and mellow music but never being afraid to show more aggression and panache on live favourites such as A Day at the Races.

Their music might not seem conducive to writing at first glance, but check them out for yourselves and you may well be pleasantly surprised, even if hip-hop isn’t usually your cup of tea.

4. Explosions in the Sky

The word ‘epic’ is used all too frequently when it comes to today’s music. But one band which really does merit that description is Explosions in the Sky.

The Texan quartet have spent the last decade or so making music you thought couldn’t be bettered…and then bettering it. Their crashing guitars and vocal soundscapes add an unquantifiable sense of grandeur to whatever you are doing while listening to them.

So stick any one of their albums on, be it one of the earlier classics or the new groundbreaking material, and it will feel like that MPs’ expenses story you’re writing is the next Ulysses.

5. Sigur Ros

Perhaps the most famous of the five bands I have mentioned here, Sigur Ros have still taken far too long to gain the recognition they deserve.

No one else makes music quite like the Icelanders, whose vocalist Jonsi Birgisson sings in an invented language – Hopelandic – as well as in his native tongue.

It is perhaps the use of Hopelandic which give the quartet their almost magical quality. But the whole-hearted desire to experiment also has something to do with it.

Their music puts you in a state of mind so peaceful all other concerns will be brushed to one side, letting you focus your energy on almost anything.

If you are yet to discover this masterful band, I urge you to sit back, relax, and enjoy.