Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

08 Apr 2011

(Novel) The Vampire Lestat by: Anne Rice

(Reaction) Rebellion, Blood and Rock n' Roll by: Michelle Rose Solano

Lestat, the vampire, slept underground for fifty-five years, still as the corpse that he is. But he was shaken awake by the din of the 1980s. He claimed that there are two things in the 1980s that stirred him from his eternal slumber, that no other time that has passed him contained:

What brought me up were two things. First - the information I was receiving from amplified voices that had begun their cacophony in the air... I am referring here to the voices of radios... and later television machines... The second thing that brought me back - the decisive thing really - was the sudden presence near me of a band of young rock singers who called themselves Satan's Night Out.

In the novel, The Vampire Lestat, these two elements overshadow others that describe the 1980s: technology and rock n' roll music. The prologue of the novel made mention of these two in passing, creating a background for the story itself. Yet the 1980s as a time for technological advances and pop culture does not remain mere background. Its values are integrated into the story. The reference to technology and rock n' roll in the beginning of the story, therefore, is not a backdrop to the time of the novel but an introduction to the very contents and themes of the story itself.

Technology and Rock n' Roll in Lestat's America

During the end of the 1970s, the music industry experienced a draught - sales of recorded music dropped by almost $1 billion. Live concerts likewise suffered, experiencing a decline in ticket sales. In the coming of the new decade, technological advances led to a revival in the music world. New media formats such as the music video, introduced by the Music Television (MTV) network in 1981 and the compact disc (CD) in 1983 renewed public interest in music.

Soon music was no longer in draught but in plenty. It became embedded in the American culture as people not only listened to music but made it their lifestyle. Other mainstream rock hits of the 1980s came from a group of charismatic artists, each of whom attracted mass-audience followings extending across traditional social boundaries. Rock stars are treated as the new gods of the age.

Lestat himself became a rock star because he found it fitting not only to his character but also to his vampire nature. Lestat in his red velvet coat or his black leather jacket with his androgynous vampire looks and flowing blond hair does not stand out in the 1980s. On the contrary, he is actually at home with other icons of the time such as David Bowie, George Michael, Prince, The Village People and other bands prancing around in glamorous costumes and ambiguous physical beauty.

Rock n' roll not only sells music to its avid fans, it also sells an ideology: rebellion. Closely connected with youth culture, rock music and musicians have helped to establish new fashions, forms of language, attitudes, and political views. The irony of rock music is that its image of the rebellious rock musician symbolizes freedom as it is viewed in the 1980s yet it still answers to the machinations of corporate control. Rock n' roll originally moved outside the margins of popular music but became a mass-produced, highly-priced capitalist commodity in the end. Thus, the very mechanism in which rock n' roll seeks to rebel from is assimilated by it. Vampires share a similar fate - their existence rebels against the laws of nature, they are no longer bound to the laws of man, yet their survival still depends on co-existing with humanity.

In the novel, Lestat, despite the fact that he is free from any mortal cares, still finds it important to acquire legal advice whether he is in 17th century Paris or 20th century San Francisco. His mother, Gabrielle, mocks him for bothering with human cares despite the fact that they are no longer human but he states the significance in having a lawyer, legal documents, several bank accounts and real estate property.

In one part of the novel, Lestat wished to see his human lawyer, Roget, to explain his mother's disappearance and talk to his human best friend, Nicki, and explain to him as well. Gabrielle asked why Lestat still clung to the human world despite the fact that he could escape with all the power he had:

'I have to go to Roget,' I said under my breath. 'I have to take care of Nicki, tell them some lie about what's happened to you...,' She turned and her face looked small and cold suddenly... disapproving... 'Why tell them anything about me?' she asked. 'Why ever even bother with them again?' I was shocked by this... I wanted to say Nicki sat by your bed when you were dying, does that mean nothing? But how sentimental, how mortal that sounded, how positively foolish. Yet it wasn't foolish.

Lestat's dilemma portrays the dilemma of the 1980s, which seeks to rebel from the system yet still benefit from it. Despite his vampire nature and his separation from the human society, he knows that he still lives in the human world and although he is severed from it, he can only survive by continuing to follow the rules of the human world and hiding the aspects of his life that is unacceptable to the human eye.

This unique quality of Lestat, his ability to live in the human world and manipulate its hype and trends to meet his needs, makes him a creature of the 80s. His ability to become a darling of the media upon becoming an 80s rock star is another form of rebellion - rebellion from the rules imposed by vampire tradition that vampires should stay away from the prying human eyes and most of all, never allow themselves to be photographed or filmed lest someone discovers their secret just by looking at their luminescent and pore-less skin.

The superhuman abilities that the ancient vampires and fledglings try so hard to hide, Lestat used in his videos to make his acrobatic performances and vocal gymnastics stand out from other bands. Lestat, in trying to be himself, embodies the true rebel - a rebel to humanity for his vampire nature and a rebel to vampires for his human impulses, his need to be recognized, his thirst for stardom and his search for himself.

Lestat represents the 80s movement and the character of the 80s generation: a generation looking for itself, wanting to be unique by rebelling from tradition, but failing to escape the entrapments of a capitalist world fuelled by media, technology and newly-confident sexuality.

Review:

Before the Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries and The Sookie Stackhouse novels was Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles. The Vampire Lestat can be lauded as an authentic coming-of-age or coming-into-vampirism story. Written with the intricate details and nuances of each period in history, the reader ultimately falls into the story. But what makes it authentic is the creation of the characters in all their human and inhuman flaws. Lestat, Louis, Marius and Nicki are not deified as beautiful, perfect romantic heroes created to feed the reader's thirst for romance like the vampire heroes of today (see Edward of Twilight or Vampire Bill of True Blood and you'll know what I mean). Lestat reacted to his vampirism as any human being would once thrust upon such a tremendous, unlikely situation. He struggled and fought for his sanity, his morality and his humanity as painfully as it should be.

Anne Rice writing style is very character-centered, which may seem tedious reading for some who want to get to all the gory action. This approach in writing, though, allows the reader to become closer to Lestat and see what has made him the vampire he is at present: the 1980s vampire rock god narrating the story. Brat prince that he is, you will root for Lestat to the very end of the book, and wish him a happy ending - if there is such a thing for a vampire.

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