Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – a literary mixtape

It’s had a squillion reviews on Goodreads; it was a re-read for me; and it’s packed with pithy one-liners – all good reasons for a literary mixtape for Jay McInerney’s eighties classic, Bright Lights, Big City.

If you haven’t already read it, get on it – it’s a brilliant snapshot of grief in its denial phase, set against eighties New York with its largesse, its cocaine, its filth, its beautiful people.

4/5 It holds up.


Saturday Night / Cold Chisel

The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two A.M. changes to six A.M. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet willing to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all is gratuitous damage and the palsy of unravelled nerve endings.


Somebody Dance With Me / DJ Bobo

You started on the Upper East Side with champagne and unlimited prospects, strictly observing the Allagash rule of perpetual motion: one drink per stop. Tad’s mission in life is to have more fun than anyone else in New York City, and this involves a lot of moving around, since there is always the likelihood that where you aren’t is more fun than where you are.


Loser / Beck

Here you are again. All messed up and no place to go.


All By Myself / Eric Carmen

Since your own marital Pearl Harbor, you have understood that sleeping alone goes a long way toward explaining nastiness and erratic behaviour.


Wanna Be Up / The Chantoozies

You are the kind of guy who always hopes for a miracle at the last minute.


Solitaire / The Carpenters

There is a shabby nobility in failing all by yourself.


Cannonball / Damien Rice

The place is haunted. Just this morning you found a makeup brush beside the toilet. Memories lurk like dustballs at the backs of drawers. The stereo is a special model that plays only music fraught with poignant associations.


When Will I Be Famous / Bros

You feel that if only you could make yourself sit down at a typewriter you could give shape to what seems merely a chain reaction of pointless disasters.


State of the Heart / Mondo Rock

You keep thinking that with practice you will eventually get the knack of enjoying superficial encounters, that you will stop looking for the universal solvent, stop grieving. You will learn to compound happiness out of small increments of mindless pleasure.


How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? / Bee Gees

Your heartbreak is just another version of the same old story.


You Weren’t in Love With Me / Billy Field

You did not feel that you could open quite all of your depths to her, or fathom hers, and sometimes you feared she didn’t have any depths. But you finally attributed this to an unrealistic, youthful idealism. Growing up meant admitting you couldn’t have everything.


Heart With No Companion / Leonard Cohen, sung by Ron Sexsmith

Everything becomes symbol and irony when you’ve been betrayed.


 Don’t You Want Me / Human League

‘Things happen, people change,’ is what Amanda said. For her that covered it. You wanted an explanation, and ending that would assign blame and dish up justice. You considered violence and you considered reconciliation. But what you are left with is a premonition of the way your life will fade behind you, like a book you have read too quickly, leaving a dwindling trail of images and emotions, until all you can remember is a name.


Sin, Sin, Sin / Robbie Williams

Under the spell of alcohol your differences recede.


9 responses

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