Magazine article The Spectator

J.G. Ballard Was a Man of the Right-Not That the Right Really Wanted Him

Magazine article The Spectator

J.G. Ballard Was a Man of the Right-Not That the Right Really Wanted Him

Article excerpt

Rod Liddle says that the great writer, who died this week, always espoused the pessimism about the human condition that is the mark of a true conservative. He even wanted American missiles stationed in his garden 'I believe in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen on her lower lip; in the melancholy of wounded Argentine conscripts; in the haunted smiles of filling station personnel, in my dream of Margaret Thatcher caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel, watched by a tubercular filling station attendant.'

The drug-addled, leather-faced rock star from Detroit, Iggy Pop - ne James Newell Osterberg - whose contribution to the canon of modern popular verse includes 'Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell' and 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', once wrote and performed a song called 'I'm a Conservative'. Most of the lyrics to this number are incoherent psychotic drivel, but there was a certain force to the title refrain, repeated over and over again in a characteristically vehement and snarling manner. The music press thoroughly enjoyed this chunk of satire from one of rock's most nihilistic and extreme performers, until Iggy - a mite confused - put them right. No, it's not satire at all, he said. I really am a conservative. A true conservative. Just recently Mr Pop has been doing voiceovers for Donald Rumsfeld and starring in big corporate T V ads: maybe now they'll believe him. Truth is I don't think the Right wanted James Newell Osterberg any more than the counter-culture Left wanted to give him up.

The perplexing and somewhat uncomfortable quote at the beginning of this article is not from Iggy, but from the writer J.G. Ballard, who died this week at the age of 78. There was a period between about 1978 and 1989 when the most unexpected cultural luminaries on both sides of the Atlantic swung sharply to the right, captured, one supposes, by the Reagan-Thatcher revolution. Indeed, the more strongly these luminaries had been previously associated with what was considered a leftist counter-culture, the more likely they were to begin espousing free-market economics and/or 'traditional' values: Bob Dylan suddenly resurrecting as a born-again Christian; the ultimate peacenik Neil Young expressing a preference for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter (and later pledging support for Ross Perot) and writing gung-ho songs about the American hostages in Tehran. John Updike, a lifelong registered Democrat of a moderate hue, taking sly digs at feminism and multiculturalism;

Saul Bellow expressing his disquiet at life on the Chicago frontline; even Lou Reed, who once described himself as a liberal fascist, outraging public opinion with the somewhat un-PC anthem 'I Wanna Be Black' (the lyrics to which cannot, in all good conscience, be reprinted here) and later sticking it good and proper to the emerging Democratic party firebrand Jesse Jackson.

Over here, our two most inventive, imaginative and brilliant novelists since the second world war, and maybe beyond - J.G. Ballard and Anthony Burgess - nailed their colours very firmly to the mast. Burgess, we had always known, was further to the right than a soup spoon - but just in case we doubted it he produced the fairly crude, if prescient, chunk of pro-Thatcherite dystopic propaganda, 1985. …

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