Where to begin? This may be the most convoluted post yet. I guess we’ll start with Less Than Zero, the novel, initially. I believe I saw it when I was 17, at the height of my teenage angst. Who am I kidding? I’m twice that now and still very much full of teenage angst. I had just read the book Generation X by Douglas Coupland and had never been so devoid of hope ever. That book was such a downer. Naturally, my impulse was to go even further down the nihilistic rabbit hole, so where better to turn than the works of Bret Easton Ellis.
If you ever want to read a book full of characters with no redeemable qualities, see Less Than Zero, the introductory dissertation. This is hardly exclusive to <0, however. The Rules Of Attraction and Glamorama are similarly difficult to get through because you have no rooting interest in seeing the characters do anything but self-destruct and die. The main character of American Psycho is equally unsympathetic because he’s a serial killer but at least he’s strangely likable.
The movie, which I sat down to watch recently, shines a neon light on the characters making them less menacing and interesting without making them any more appealing. Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Julian, is more a tragic figure in the movie than just a consummate fuck up and scumbag, as he was portrayed in the novel. We’re somehow supposed to feel sorry for this guy . Maybe this has more to do with RD2’s on-screen presence than anything in the script. In a nutshell, this movie sucks…and hard.
There is something worth saving from the wreckage of <0: the soundtrack. Then up-and-coming producer Rick Rubin was charged with the music and he used the opportunity to put a spotlight on his and Russell Simmons’s still fairly new Def Jam Recordings. Label alumni included LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Slayer, and just signed Glenn Danzig. The rest of the album is mostly throwaway except for the now classic Bangles’ cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” and a track from Roy Orbison. I know. Which one of these is not like the other? Well, fast forward seven years from <0 when Rick Rubin produces American Recordings for Johnny Cash. That, and the subsequent volumes, resurrected the Man In Black’s career and brought it to new commercial heights. On that first album is a Danzig-penned track called “Thirteen”. The performance is legendary and one of the true highlights on that extraordinary album. It would appear something similar might have been in the cards with Orbison.
The Big O’s contribution to this soundtrack is also a Danzig composition called “Life Fades Away”. You can tell that Glenn wrote it for Orbison as it has an old timeyness that we hadn’t heard from his Misfits or Samhain work. Ol’ Roy sings the fuck out of it too, ending on as strong a note as he had ever belted. Who knows if this wouldn’t have led to a career revival on the level of Cash but the world would never know as Orbison passed away the following year. Danzig would also deliver a similar sounding track, “You and Me (Less Than Zero)”, his first as a solo artist. Credited with the Power & Fury Orchestra, (and as “Glen” on the label) Danzig proves that he can do powerful without sheer brutality. His singing is still in full throat and you can’t imagine him standing still in the studio while trying to record it. His delivery is every bit as intense as any of his prior work or since but there is no distortion.
The soundtrack includes flat out stupid covers by Aerosmith and Poison, a lackluster “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” from Slayer, the non-Anthrax edition of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”, and a decent track from Joan Jett. But after Orbison, Danzig, the Bangles, and even LL Cool J, the album is just not terribly good. However, the fact that the Orbison and Danzig tracks only appear on this soundtrack makes it essential to own.
I hunted mine down on Gemm.com on May 19, 2010 from a less than honest seller. He claimed in the listing that it was sealed but it certainly was not. The cover is pretty fucked up but, to be fair, the record itself is in excellent condition. I would have raised a bigger stink but it only cost $6.10. I would have gladly paid even more for a 7″ featuring Orbison on the A-side and Danzig as the B-side (or vice versa) if such a thing existed. You hearing me, Def Jam? I would still buy it. Make it.
As for Bret Easton Ellis, his last two novels have taken his previous works and turned them on their head, in a good way. He’s gone so fucking meta, it’s ridiculous. Lunar Park is vintage Ellis only with using himself as the main character. Imperial Bedrooms is the sequel to Less Than Zero, only it makes sure to tell you that <0 is a fictional account of the characters within. The movie, laughably so. This allowed him to bring back the Julian character. It is my favorite book of his. I never re-read novels but I recently re-read this one and it is so deliciously twisted. For even more meta-ness, Andrew McCarthy (star of <0, the film) reads the audio book of Bedrooms, which is narrated by the Clay character than McCarthy played 25 years prior. Fucked, right? Yes, I wouldn’t have it any other way.