Patrick Somerville

from the April 2011 issue

Near the end of the opening paragraph of his 1984 debut novel Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney writes, “Somewhere back there you could have cut your losses, but you rode past that moment on a comet of white powder and now you are trying to hang on to the rush.” The novel, which starts fast and reads even faster, begins at an indefinably late hour in the middle of the Manhattan nightclub Heartbreak, where our second-person narrator talks to and is trying to get away from “a girl with a shaved head.” Sometime near 6:00A.M., our narrator stumbles out of the Heartbreak and into the morning, but things don’t much calm down for the rest of the 182-page romp in which he loses his wife, his job, and a lot of respect while trying to “gather up loose odds and ends.”

Few albums pair better with the experience of being dropped into the speeding heart of someone’s weeklong coke binge and yearlong downward spiral than Ratatat’s Classics. Entirely instrumental, Classics also takes off quickly with “Montanita” and the heart pumping “Lex,” and really crests by just the fourth track, “Wildcat.” Classics is its own sort of unpredictable comet, which is why it lends itself perfectly as a soundtrack to Bright Lights; once you’re enjoying them, you don’t want to get off until they’ve run their course.

You would be forgiven to think that with a flimsy plot into which McInerney has stuffed a lot of (by which I mean almost constant) drug use, tomfoolery, workplace drama, and bad luck, Bright Lights doesn’t offer much in the way of redeeming social commentary and/or sensitive introspection. The same could be said of Ratatat’s music, which is probably what makes it a great pairing for the book. Not unlike slim books involving prostitutes, ferrets, separation, death, fact checking, bread, and briefcases, energetic records usually derive their vigor from screaming, overdone guitar riffs, or simply overwhelm their audience with noise. Ratatat and McInerney enjoyed together, though, present a delicate blend of having a (really, really) good time, while also celebrating the fleeting, softer moments between all the grand, fast-lane bullshit instances of flailing and failing. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if you played all four Ratatat albums back to back to back to back and tried that old Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon trick with them and Bright Lights, Big City, you would be in for a wild, but ultimately touching, one-night read. —Evan P. Schneider

Evan P. Schneider is the editor of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac. His first novel, A Simple Machine, Like the Lever, will be published in fall 2011.