Bret Easton Ellis was quintessentially himself in a guest slot on BBC 6 Music

He revealed a soft spot for break-up songs and the word “epic”.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The award for the overuse of the word “epic” goes to Bret Easton Ellis, during an hour-long guest DJ spot on 6 Music. “Well, that was an epic jam”, “epic and Baroch”, “epic orchestral chorus”, “epic, truly epic…”.

It’s quintessential Easton Ellis. The author of American Psycho (and now a new book dissing wokeness, White) has always been fond of taking one idea and pursuing it with extreme vigour. It might not be deep or wise, but he sure comprehends the power of singularity.

Quoting Orson Welles mid-way through his stint at the mic (“an artist only needs to be great once”) he also (amusingly) found more reasons to reject half his song choices. “I’m not the biggest Kate Bush fan - a little British for me, a little too art conscious - BUT she did make this song called ‘Love and Anger’”.

Of multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens he said “generally that whole naïf-sensitive-kook thing is somewhat underwhelming”, but still played the song “Chicago”, in which Stevens uber-sensitively sleeps in parking lots and makes “lots of mistakes/ in my mind”. At the end, a sigh; “the sound of the horns, the bells, it’s epic.”

He revealed a soft spot for break-up songs; songs wherein people appear to be turning suicide over in their hands; songs with a kind of fatalistic hyper-receptive-to-the universe half-smile; and songs with an air of benzodiazepine (“This the first song I’ve heard with a Klonopin reference”). Bearing in mind that the one thing you’re guaranteed to think when reading Easton Ellis is “this person knows exactly what it was like to be rich in Amercia in 1990”, his documentary accuracy for relatively high society came through clearest when picking a song (Busted’s “What I Go To School For”) that reminded him of his time at private co-ed The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, California, wearing a griffin insignia and a polo shirt and looking at his classmates a certain, young, abrasive way (thanks to the song’s “raunchy [...] male gaze”).

He sounded supremely American in that moment (even if the band is from Southend-on-Sea). There was something Norman Mailer about it, something Capote. That tendency towards both social-barometer-comprehensiveness, and scale. That sense of the aggregation of tiny societal details over a long canvas; the eventual subject being His Country. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.