This last week, I did a few things I should have done before. I watched Dominik Moll's excellent Lemming, which is about infidelity, suicide, flying webcams, the nature of reality and, above all, plumbing. I listened properly to Stephin Merritt's Showtunes album, which is fey and funny and prickly and good. And I read JG Ballard's Crash.
The last one had been the most serious omission, not just because it's older than the others (first published in 1973) but because I referred to it in some depth when discussing 'Airbag', the opening track of OK Computer, in my forthcoming book. (Sorry, but I haven't mentioned it for a few hours.) The sexual/spiritual rush that Thom Yorke's narrator seems to achieve from near-annihilation on the road is prefigured by Ballard's deadpan prose. Many people have also remarked on the extent to which Ballard seemed to foresee the extent to which Princess Diana's fatal crash became a media event, riddled with psychosexual potential, even as she lay dying. Try this:
"A middle-aged cashier at the airport duty-free liquor store, she sat unsteadily in the crushed compartment, fragments of the tinted windshield set in her forehead like jewels. As a police car approached, its emergency beacon pulsing along the overhead motorway, Vaughan ran back for his camera and flash equipment. Taking off my tie, I searched helplessly for the woman's wounds. She stared at me without speaking, and lay on her side across the seat. I watched the blood irrigate her white blouse. When Vaughan had taken the last of his pictures he knelt down inside the car and held her face carefully in his hands, whispering into her ear. Together we helped to lift her on to the ambulance trolley."
It's as if the various stages in the narrative arc of Diana's life are scripted by different writers: Barbara Cartland for the introduction and development; Jackie Collins for the crisis and its immediate fallout; and a bizarre switch to Ballard for a highly unlikely (but, in retrospect, utterly inevitable) finale.
Which opens things up to you, dear reader. Take a historical or contemporary figure, and decide which writer or, even better, which peculiar combination of writers could best have written his or her life. And no conceptual gewgaws this time. As penance for the implication that I'd read a book when I hadn't, the author of the best one will receive a signed copy of my Radiohead book when it comes out.