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After I wake up I check Twitter to find that Bret Easton Ellis has published the unedited, full-length version of his Newsweek article, “Notes on Charlie Sheen and the End of Empire” to The Daily Beast. The Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack remains looping as it has been throughout the night and suddenly the sullen sitar of Shankar Jaikishan just won’t cut it. The speed of this music is most definitely not, Go.
Reading through “Notes on Charlie Sheen” I’m reminded of a scene in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) walks into the writers’ room to find everyone messing around and wearing the sartorial composition of a student’s bedroom floor. ‘Part of my job is to decide what’s cool,’ Albie says before reeling off a rant about acting your age. Deciding what’s cool has certainly been a favourite pastime of Bret Easton Ellis. Maybe it was the fact that his first novel was published whilst he was still in college (undoubtedly cool, and it has put any wannabe writer to come after him to shame), but my guess is that it existed long before then.
Through Less Than Zero we learn that GQ (although unfortunately the American edition), MTV, sex, Calvin Klein Jeans, Coca-Cola, cocaine, disillusionment and L.A. are all cool. In The Rules of Attraction, we learn that the Talking Heads, Diet Coke, sex and cocaine (again), disillusionment (still), college and smoking Gauloises are all cool. In The Informers it’s Phil Collins, weed, the music industry, and again L.A. American Psycho, enriches us with J&B, Talking Heads (still) and lessons on business cards. Glamorama is a shopping list and encyclopaedia of cool that only Kanye West has attempted since. Lunar Park liked to remind us, if we didn’t know already, that Bret Easton Ellis is cool. Finally, in Imperial Bedrooms, we’re reminded that Elvis Costello, Calvin Klein, Phil Collins, cocaine, weed, disillusionment, sex, L.A., and Diet Coke are still cool. Yet we’re also introduced to new concepts: the BlackBerry, the iPod, Xanax, and Bat for Lashes; all laying the foundations of 21st century Easton-Ellisist cool. It was, in fact, the pop culture references in Imperial Bedrooms (which started on page 2) that eased any worries I had that the book was going to be awful. In a full career-revisiting swoop I could have been reading Less Than Zero for the first time.
Like Matt Albie in Studio 60, Bret Easton Ellis has taken it upon himself to decide what’s cool. If he was channelling Charlie Sheen he would say that he couldn’t help it, that you couldn’t handle this level of cool. But I like to think it’s the former, rather than the latter. Which is why almost half of his “Notes on Charlie Sheen…” essay is basically a list of who’s cool (John Mayer, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg, and Lady Gaga) and who isn’t (Tom Cruise, Christina Aguilera, Aaron Sorkin, and Les Grossman). It is all written under the guise of deciding who is still a member of the “Empire” and who is “Post-Empire,” but the Bret Easton Ellis, who for six novels dictated coolness like the gospel, is here throughout.
Easton Ellis to a certain extent played it rather safely declaring his love for Charlie Sheen; this is the man after all, who gathered a million followers on Twitter within 24 hours and who over the course of a week became the most talked about person on the planet. But if half of this article is carefully deliberated list of members that make the cut for his current
cool Post-Empire list, then the second half is a defiant argument for why Charlie Sheen should be included. Easton Ellis in this essay, like with all of his works, talks to his reader like you already know what he is talking about (and if you don’t, you won’t ever admit it). This concept of ‘Empire and Post-Empire’ might be as conceited and ludicrous an idea as any Wikipedia-sociologist might come up with, but you won’t think it.
“Notes on Charlie Sheen and the End of the Empire” under the illusion of the Post-Empire list and the disillusion of the modern celebrity, reminds you that Bret Easton Ellis hasn’t gone away and his observation is still razor-sharp like ever. Mostly, like no-one else he will tell us who is cool, in whatever form he sees fit. But then, we knew that already, didn’t we?