Let Patrick Bateman Enjoy Things!
The following is an essay I wrote for the book release party, held at the Bushwick Country Club, in honor of Drew Millard's new book, How Golf Can Save Your Life. Millard requested that all invited writers read something about sports. The essay, as it stands, is more a series of riffs than a coherent argument. But I think it's cute and people seemed to enjoy it. Hopefully I will eventually turn it into something larger and stranger. But I hope you dig it.
While I don’t pretend that my hobbies are morally superior, use terms like “sportsball,” or insult my wife’s intelligence by periodically feigning interest in the World Cup (any more than love and etiquette require), I do hate sports. I hate sports so much that I don’t make fun of sports like I’m on the playground hoping to get sports’ attention. I hate sports so much that I smoke to stay thin, shaving years off my life just to avoid any helpful advice that might lead to working out. And when I do occasionally lapse into going through more blocks of cheese than I do packs of Parliaments, and—for vanity’s sake—some exercise is required, I don’t stretch. Even opening with sports-adjacent terminology would be a lie. I don’t try to be a team player. I quit drinking outside to make sure that no one ever asked me to join a kickball league. My ideal notion of teams is the staff of Below Deck, and my ideal of team playing, put into real world practice, is the staff of Vanderpump Rules.
I do, however, see readings as competition. And you can’t win if you don’t play. So, in a tradition of athleticism that has been maintained in this space, since the day that Bushwick Country Club first opened, here I am; limbered up, and ready to trade—Mean Joe Greene style—my sweat for coke. In this case, the moist evidence of my labor will be a brief discussion of two Huey Lewis and The News’ albums—1983’s Sports and 1986’s Fore!—within the context of the Mary Harron film, 2000’s American Psycho. Specifically in the context of the famous scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale) murders the character of Jared Leto (played by Jared Leto).
All the reader needs to know is that there is an American musician named Huey Lewis. His band, named before the term became fraught, is called “The News.” They played a sort of rock music. In the 1980s, Lewis and his News were extremely popular. By all accounts, Huey Lewis is personally delightful.
In the scene in American Psycho that is under consideration, Patrick Bateman explains at length the virtues of the Huey Lewis and The News catalog, while doing a series of amusing dances, and eventually putting on a raincoat. This builds to Patrick Batemen taking an ax to Jared Leto, with Leto’s blood and body spreading across the disassembled pages of what appears to be at least a week of the NYT Style Section. The scene is played as horror (in that a man is killed), broad comedy (as there is the aforementioned dancing, plus some exaggerated facial expressions), subversive dramedy (in that music not typically associated with ax murder provides the scene’s soundtrack/topic of discussion), and pointed satire (in that the protagonist shares certain ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics with the film’s presumed target audience, but isn’t very nice). More than all this, however, the scene where Patrick Bateman commits homicide while blasting “Hip to Be Square,” is a Western. In that its most essential element is the showdown, with Bateman’s raised ax as the sun in Leto’s eyes. It’s a Western in that it shows something in American culture that is now obsolete, practically alien.
In 1959’s Rio Bravo, the director Howard Hawks attempted to rebut the anti-heroic High Noon. This was a last gasp attempt, doomed to failure as the following year would be 1960, to delineate the white hats from the black hats, in a culture that increasingly insisted that all hats were gray. Akin to Rio Bravo, the “Hip to Be Square” scene in American Psycho can be read as the last hurrah of something once taken for granted. Beginning with Patrick Bateman asking Jared Leto the simple question “Do you like Huey Lewis and The News” and resolving with a scream, a thwack, and a denunciation of both his victim’s elitist dining habits (“Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now,”) and alternative parentage (“you…bastard!”), the cinematic murder also signals an ending; the sun setting on another societal moor. This scene would be the last time in popular American media, alternative or otherwise, where having bad taste in music could be associated, even in jest, with being a sociopath. A year after the film premiered and failed, something else happened in America, and irony was henceforth declared dead by Graydon Carter, a man with hair that was strikingly similar to that of a number of American Psycho’s secondary characters.
Regardless of who we might consider to be American Psycho’s villain at the time, Bateman or materialism, the filmmakers clearly intended for Patrick Bateman to be unsympathetic. They make this clear when they have him prefer the boisterous sheen of Sports and Fore! to Huey Lewis’ earlier “new wave” work. They may as well have cast Lee Van Cleef, so antiquated does their rendition of villainy appear now. Were American Psycho to be made today, the audience would watch this scene with a collective understanding that as soon as Leto responded to Bateman’s enthusiasm for mainstream pop music with a dismissive “they’re ok,” he was dismissing the hard work of not just Huey Lewis, not just The News, but also the good-hearted people at Chrysalis Records and, in effect, all good-hearted people everywhere. Jared Leto—slouching like a podcaster, with his blown back hair a very caricature of impudent snobbery—turns up his nose at Patrick Bateman’s efforts to share something that gave him joy. In this—in his sneering at Patrick Bateman’s hobbies, at Bateman’s sensible raincoat—he may as well have, in the parlance of our modern space opera mythology, shot first. In his refusal to let Patrick Bateman enjoy something, Jared Leto deserves the pursing of the lips that only the blade of an ax can deliver; the final allowance to let others like what they like which only death can provide.
The fact that the actor Jared Leto would go on to form 30 Second From Mars and then portray the Joker in the first Suicide Squad movie—two of the most iconic slopbuckets of liquified shit that the mandate to allow people to enjoy things both allows and encourages—just shows that even the most strident snob has the capacity to learn from their mistakes.
Of course, it can be argued that any discussion of the music which provides both the soundtrack to this scene and the inspiration for its literal text, is either redundant or silly. The entire joke, besides the dancing and homicide, is that he’s talking about Huey Lewis and the News. To attempt to gild the lily of Bateman’s monologue is to drink from the same twice-poisoned water as the writers of South Park during the Trump administration. The absurd cannot be satirized.
Conversely, to analyze Bateman’s monologue critically, taking it at face value—seriously and literally—is to play Bateman’s game, to become his fool. It is to take his bait, man. It is to risk becoming Kate McKinnon on SNL, singing Hallelujah with the wide-eyed gravity of a Margaret Keane painting.
For Huey Lewis’ part, he sidestepped the entire issue, and he managed to do so twice. First, he never saw American Psycho. Not because he was a poor (no pun intended) sport, but rather because he resented the promoters of the film trying to cast Hip To Be Square’s omission from the official American Psycho soundtrack as Lewis being uptight, rather than the licensing issue that was the real cause. I know this bit of trivia because, in an interview this year (with the member of Blink-182 least associated with either ancient aliens or Machine Gun Kelly) Huey Lewis said so. And I know he said so because—within a week of his discussing the topic with the member of Blink-182 with the greatest degrees of separation between himself and the lizard people—there were ten separate music sites with the headline “Huey Lewis Still Hasn’t Seen American Psycho.”
The second way he sidestepped being dragged down by either the film or Brett Easton Ellis’ initial use of his catalog as shorthand for capitalism, was by doing a spoof of the scene with Weird Al Yankovich, one of the few people of any cultural import (besides maybe the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, Gritty, and Dolly Parton) who have managed to remain above Capitalism's ax-murderer/ax-murderee divide.
Brett Easton Ellis has gone on record as saying he somewhat regrets putting Huey Lewis in this position in the first place. The author, who like most libertarians is more a Springsteen fan, told Billboard that he “liked them more than the implied criticism of them that’s in the text.”
I’ve read one or two Ellis books, but have never read more than ten pages of American Psycho for the same overlap of reasons that I never had a thing for Nico and I’ve never eaten at Dimes; there are some male pursuits that can only lead to a messiness of spirit. I’ve seen what happens to secular Jews who think that, if they can assimilate into the larger abnegation, they’ll be rewarded with a record label and lasik surgery that sticks. But from the ten pages I did read, before throwing the book across the room, I’m delighted with the author’s use of “implied” in relation to anything he’s written. Brett Easton Ellis is not a subtle writer. When she contorts her back and really goes to town, the existence of my cats’ anus is likewise implied.
Later in his career Christian Bale would achieve a certain aleatoric notoriety for providing the male vocals, in a duet with Barbra Stresand, for a truly iconic piece of Musique Concréte-techno. But he would become most famous for playing the role of Batman, in the Batman movies. It may or may not be a coincidence that the character of Batman is another nocturnal fabulist with a propensity for violence and physical fitness, who differs from the protagonist of American Psycho by merit of Batman largely confining his acts of violence to psychotherapists or mentally ill clowns or Italians, his being born into a level of wealth that Patrick Bateman could only dream of, and for dropping the “e” from his last name. I won’t claim that any of these films would have been “better,” per se, with more Huey Lewis and the News, just that had they had a couple scenes (say, for instance, Heath Ledger visiting Aaron Eckhart in the hospital) where songs off of Huey Lewis’ Sports (“Heart of Rock and Roll'' comes most immediately to mind) were playing in the background, it wouldn’t have been entirely unwelcome. And it’s not as though the addition of a few minutes of Huey Lewis in a vermillion blazer—at the helm of a speedboat—lowering his sunglasses to survey the endangered babes of Gotham, would make any noticeable difference to any of the movies’ runtime.
In the writing of this essay, I did revisit both Huey Lewis albums. “Walking On a Thin Line” sounds like Joe Jackson until it doesn’t. “Stuck With You” sounds like a less ethnic Kokomo. “I Want A New Drug” still goes hard as hell. And “Hip To Be Square” (which Lewis now claims was indeed meant to be taken ironically) still deserves credit for predicting normcore, and still sounds like an ad for Triscuits or the Marine Corps. On “I Know What I Like,” Huey Lewis sings that he “likes the sound of breaking glass” and, because he’s such a likable fella, I choose to believe the nod was intentional, and I’m never not glad to be reminded of Nick Lowe.
As to the rest—to quote American Psycho’s line of demarcation between pop culture critique in the 20th Century, and what might/should befall said critics in the 21st—”it’s ok.”
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