Literary Mixtape: Clay from ‘Less Than Zero’


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Clay, the apathetic protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’ first novel, Less Than Zero.

In Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of teenage anomie, the wealthy Clay returns from his first year of college to find his high school friends just as he left them — sort of. These children of LA royalty and their corresponding hangers-on, some back from college as well, some having never left, while away their time at drug-fueled parties that get progressively more sinister as the vacation wears on. He sleeps indiscriminately with the boys and girls that are part of his privileged, bored social set, but doesn’t find much joy in any of it. The only person who inspires him at all is his ex-girlfriend Blair, but even that he’s not too sure about. We think Clay would listen to mostly shiny west coast music with a mournful twist — here’s what we think he would lean against the wall, keep on driving, and disappear here to.

Note: this playlist has been compiled with heavy suggestion from Flavorpill’s resident Bret Easton Ellis expert, the venerable Russ Marshalek.

Stream the playlist here.

“Bizarre Love Triangle (12′ mix)” — New Order

Though the love triangle between Blair, Clay, and Julian was mostly fabricated for the film, we can still picture Clay putting on this track as he alternately pines after her and pushes her away. “Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday?”

“Disappear Here (Song for Clay)” — Bloc Party

Just this: “I come to a red light, tempted to go through it, then stop once I see a billboard sign that I don’t remember seeing and I look up at it. All it says is ‘Disappear Here’ and even though it’s probably an ad for some resort, it still freaks me out a little and I step on the gas really hard and the car screeches as I leave the light.”

“Watching the Detectives” — Elvis Costello

After all, the novel was named after Costello’s song “Less Than Zero” — so we have a pretty good inkling that Clay would be obsessed with the king of the suit-and-hipster-glasses look.

“Girls on Film” — Duran Duran

It is LA, after all. And what better song to soundtrack them all walking by?

“Slow Show” — The National

If there’s a better song about being at a party that buzzes around you, not quite part of it but not separated either, we don’t know it: “Looking for somewhere to stand and stay/ I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away… I better get my shit together, better gather my shit in/ You could drive a car through my head in five minutes/ from one side of it to the other…”

“All Tomorrow’s Parties” — Nico

Because only tomorrow’s parties matter, after all. Tonight’s are pretty much gone.

“L.A.” — Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith’s classic mournful ode to the city is something every disaffected teenager living on the west coast has hummed along to: “The gentleman in green/ Paying off, out on the street/ I can’t go home, it’s not on my way…”

“Bitter Branches” — PJ Harvey

We think Clay would think PJ Harvey was cool, I mean, whatever, but we don’t know if he’d totally get her. Nonetheless, he’d probably relate to this song enough to have it front and center — and the cred-boost would just be a bonus.

“Intro” — The xx

Because this track is perfect for contemplating the meaning of life/staring at your ceiling/becoming completely, irredeemably numb.

“Straight Into Darkness” — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

“‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been around. Went to that Tom Petty concert at the… Forum. He sang that song, oh, you know, that song we always used to listen to…’ Julian closes his eyes and tries to remember the song. ‘Oh, shit, you know…’ He begins to hum and then sings the words. ‘Straight into darkness, we went straight into darkness, our over that line, yeah straight into darkness, straight into night…’ The two girls look over at us.” Sure, Clay pretends he doesn’t like that song anymore, but we know he’s lying.