The Telegraph informs me that legendary author J.G. Ballard has died. Though the Telegraph obit leads one to believe that he was best known for his biographical novels Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women, in fact in my social set he was known as the author of perhaps the most bizarre, challenging, audacious, demented, and visionary apocalyptic fiction ever put to paper or pixels. Take, for example, his work “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race,” the title of which kind of speaks for itself. It was part of his larger work The Atrocity Exhibition, which I believe he originally wrote as a screenplay/multimedia presentation shown simultaneously on three screens. Probably his best-known speculative work is the absolute mindfuck Crash, which concerns the overriding eroticization of car crashes. It was made into what I considered a largely successful film by David Cronenberg, but the gaps of sheer vision between the film and the book are such that one viewing the movie hasn’t the foggiest idea what the book is getting at. It’s a work both bewildering, hilarious and utterly intoxicating. When it was published in 1973, people got kind of worked up about it.
About a year ago I went to see the Thrillpeddlers 2008 Grand Guignol program; as we entered, RE:Search Books publisher V. Vale, who has published many books about and by Ballard, was playing the piano. Before the program started, host Russell Blackwood held a contest, asking “What song was Vale playing when the lights went down?” The Hypnodrome fell silent: you could hear a pin drop.
I am an inveterate music geek. I waited politely to see if anyone else, particularly any of the weird precocious teens in attendance, was enough of a band nerd to have recognized it. Finally, I cried out: “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams!”
Applause! I had won. My reward? A copy of Vale’s RE:Search book Conversations, an amazing collection of interviews and dicussions with J.G. Ballard, handed to me by Vale himself and signed by the V-Man. What the HELL could be more appropriate than winning a J.G. Ballard book from V. Vale at a Grand Guignol performance for recognizing that particular song? It was eerie, I tell you. Eerie.
Upon reading it I said to myself, aloud, “Fuck a duck! I forgot what a motherfucking freak this guy is.” Which is my way of calling him a genius.
A year later, I change that “is” to “was,” and the world seems that much smaller. That’s the thing about getting older: the world gets small, not big. We soldier on toward the apocalypse, a doomsday vastly more mundane than any ever dreamed by J.G. Ballard. And without him, it just won’t seem the same.