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Sunday, 3 January 2010

Elvis and Ellis

Declan McManus aka Elvis Costello. At first glance, an unlikely musical colossus who started out as a knock-kneed punk rocker with Buddy Holly glasses, since long established and straddling all genres. With Elvis Costello, I experienced the unique instance of a book introducing me to the music of a singer-songwriter. Normally, it is vice versa.

'Less Than Zero' by Bret Easton Ellis, takes its title from an Elvis Costello song. Unlike Ellis' other novels, 'American Psycho' and 'Glamorama', Costello does not appear in the novel as a celebrity or a name-drop, he is represented as this poster image on the bedroom wall of the protagonist (above).

I wrote an essay on 'Less Than Zero' and bought the album 'Trust' as part of my research. However, most people on my MA programme did not share my enthusiasm and disregarded the book as nilhlistic and dated. Back then I viewed it as a period piece like 'The Catcher In The Rye'. But rereading it now, I realise that the youth culture explored in the book is not so removed from the present.  MTV back in the 1980s has exploded into the easy access of Youtube. 1980s amoralism and early 21st century paranoia induce the same political apathy and numbness. Answering machine messages are now text messages, tweets and status updates. Teenagers will always be the outsiders. Or perhaps we are all teenagers now, ensnared in a technological web of our own making.

I contributed three more flash fiction pieces for City of Shared Stories KL, both inspired by Ellis and Elvis:  'Clubland' is gathered from a series of late nights (not all experienced by me), 'Less Than Kosong' ('kosong' is Malay for zero) and 'Malaysian Psycho' were written as  parodies nine years ago. I was unaware at the time that the parodies were to become  observations of Malaysian society. The Patrick Bateman character in 'Malaysian Psycho' was originally called Patrick Budirman.

For the uninitiated, check out this online Bret Easton Ellis resource

For Elvis Costello uninitiates, listen to,  'The Very Best Of'.

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