The Day Ballard Died

The day Ballard died, 19 April 2009, I was twenty-six years old and newly single. I had heard the news late in the evening.

Standing in the antiseptic, anodyne Angel shopping centre. People smoked outside of the Islington Academy. I had quit two months previous. Propagandhi had just finished playing. The night was open to more drinking, talking.

A text message had come through, cutting through digital fog, imparting the news to me. Sweaty elation made somehow more finite. Everything ends. Heroes gone. No heroes.

We sat in a pub nearby, swigged on a pint of cider. I thought of the first Ballard novel I had read, ‘The Drowned World’. As I looked at my companions, sinking into various states of liquid oblivion, it seemed oddly appropriate. Ballard’s work – along with other leading lights of the British New Wave (Moorcock, Harrison, Aldiss) – had been a constant in my adult life, a writer who I would gush over whilst inebriated, a writer who female friends claimed not to ‘get’, a writer who had peered through all that seemed dull and unimportant in modern life and saw the insanity lurking there. A unique force. Gone now, made part of other people’s fictions, their real-life stories influenced by the truth that never was.

We had never believed Ballard was real, not really real. His life story so famous, his books so perspective-altering that he could never have lived in…Shepperton. But he did. We were happier now he was dead, resigned to history, now he could grow and swell into distorted flabby myth. A distended legacy.

The day Ballard died, 19 April 2009, I sat in a pub, sweat drying on cool skin after a ferocious punk gig. Thought about going vegan, of starting smoking again, of ex-lovers and future adventures, of atrocity exhibitions, car crashes, sexual openings, boredom and humdrum psychopathys.

Ballard died, and I was still alive.