J.G. Ballard—one of the most widely read authors among musicians, especially post-punk rockers—died in London this past Sunday. He was 78.
For a short time in the late-'70s, Ballard was arguably the most influential author in music, the cold and bleak tunes of the first wave of synth-pop especially owing to the writings Susan Sontag called “subtle, brutal, cerebral, intoxicating." Everyone from Joy Division to Gary Numan (who I'm pretty sure read nothing else, besides David Bowie's press) wrote songs directly inspired by Ballard's proto-cyber punk. By the turn of the decade, the ubiquity of his influence was such that the first video played on MTV was for a song inspired by his short story about a kind of sonic vacuum cleaner—the Buggles' enduring dystopian dirge "Video Killed the Radio Star".
But perhaps the best musical distillation of Ballard's impact on his readers was the first single released on Mute Records, recorded by the label's founder Daniel Miller as the Normal. "Warm Leatherette" is an intense yet concise adaptation of the legendary fetish novel Crash, later made into a movie by David Cronenberg. The song, from 1978, is posted below.
"Warm Leatherette" - the Normal (1978)
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!