I like music but don’t like talking about it. It seems to be another way of talking about yourself, a prospect which makes me uncomfortable.

Music is the most emotive of art forms, the one most defined by the listener’s reaction to it. Musical tastes can get pretty weird: they’re like Bonsai trees, folded and wracked into confusing arabesques as the person they’re inside changes. A silent catalog of pasts and pressures. A person is a bottle. Their interests are a tree.

I’m more comfortable with books, which have an objective weight, and exist (to a greater extent) outside the reader’s mind. You can argue about what a book means, but you can’t change what it is: words, written in a certain order, circumscribed into language with a set meaning. Enjoying a book means accepting the iron tyranny of language: you can’t read an English book unless you understand English. You can easily enjoy music without understanding its “language”. It’s sensory experience, rolling over you like an ocean. A language-based encounter with music (“at t=3 there is leading tone X which moves into first inversion Y and…”) offers no pleasure at all.

A sentence’s meaning is confined by words. The bones of nouns and ligaments of verbs impose a skeletal structure of meaning—with limbs that can touch and be touched—and although their shapes can flex a little in the reader’s mind, they can’t do so infinitely. Most sentences (even tricky ones like “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher”) only have a couple of valid readings. It would be hard to read 1984 and conclude that George Orwell was writing pro-totalitarian propaganda. But countless people play “Born in the USA” and think a pro-American anthem is ringing in their ears. Music, far more than any other art form, is a mirror that shows the listener their face.

And mine is ugly. I am judgmental and narrowminded. I will hate a song for unfair reasons: because I was pissed off the day I heard first it, or because it reminds me of someone unpleasant. That’s my problem, not the song’s. Whatever. I can’t change who I am, and don’t want to. If personal preferences were mutable and could be changed on a whim, they would signify absolutely nothing.

A huge predictor of me disliking an artist is “they have annoying fans”. Taylor Swift mostly exists in my head as “that person with a billion-strong street team who try to bully you into liking her.”


This piece is written in an aggressive, almost confrontational tone, trying to batter some imagined Taylor Swift naysayer into submission with her sales and awards figures. Like “50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong!”, it seeks to cloak a subjective preference in a mantle of objective truth. Liking Taylor Swift is not an opinion! It is objectively correct!

Last year, Swift was the world’s most-streamed artist on Spotify, and five of the top 10 albums in the U.S. (including two rerecordings of old albums) were hers. This Sunday, Swift swallowed the Grammys, becoming the first artist to win Album of the Year four times and announcing her next album, The Tortured Poets Department—available April 19, preorder now—during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Album (just as she announced Midnights during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2022 VMAs). Next Sunday, her boyfriend will be in the Super Bowl, with Swift presumably looking on—which, in a sign of her status, is seen as a windfall for the NFL. In between, she’ll play four shows at the Tokyo Dome on the Eras Tour, which has broken revenue records both live and in theaters (and threatened to topple the ticketing cartel).

This writer is not a fan who loves a musician. He is a soldier in an army. He wants to win, and for his enemies (boomers, rockists, enemies of Taylor Swift in particular and millennial Girl Power in general) to lose. I find this sort of fandom incomprehensible and even a little scary. The pointless jabs at “right-winger” trolls and shoring up of any possible line of attack against Swift (“a cameo in Cats doesn’t disqualify her; that debacle clearly wasn’t Taylor’s fault”) make sense only through this lens: he’s a marine on the front lines of a culture war, and Queen Tay<3<3 must win at any cost. Just relax. You’re allowed to like Taylor Swift. You don’t have to dump her sales figures on me like a cop flashing his badge on a TV show. It’s cool.

If my dislikes are arbitrary, my likes are even more so. Often, I feel like I’m confabulating a logical reason for liking a thing, after I’ve already decided to enjoy it. In general.

One of my favorite styles could be described as “it lasts for 10 minutes and the ending is sad because you want it to keep going.” Tangerine Dream’s “Stratosfear”, Bowie’s “Station to Station”, Metallica’s “Orion”, The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”, Neu!’s “Hallogallo”, and DragonForce’s “Soldiers of the Wasteland” all scratch this itch for me.

But I also appreciate brevity, and doing more with less. It’s easy to create a sense of depth by padding songs out with section after section. But it’s fake depth. Phony depth.

I like old music, that conjures a different world. Like “She Wears Red Feathers”. How weird to think that popular music sounded like this once. Lonnie Donegan’s “My Old Man’s a Dustman” has a moment where he says “flippin'” and a woman in the audience squeals in delighted shock. Times have changed. The 50s weren’t so long ago. I like songs where, if I listen closely, I can hear the sand of an alien beach.

But I don’t enjoy classical music. I like it when it’s repurposed in a modern context (like the Bach references in Yngwie Malmsteen), but actual classical? Not a fan. This also applies to world music. For me, it’s most enjoyable as coloring in Western music.

Music has to walk a lot of lines for me. It can’t sound too sincere. Or too ironic. It has to be accessible. But not so accessible that I feel clearly pandered to. Maybe these are all post-hoc rationalizations, and I like whatever I like. If an artist is “in” with me, I excuse anything. When an artist is “out”, I forgive nothing.

My Favorite Songs

My actual tastes are a bit broad. I imprinted on metal when I was younger. I listened to only David Bowie for a couple of years. Lately I’ve listened to German Krautrock. But it seems strange to stick all these songs stuff in one list.

These are interests that exist inside little silos, unaffected by each other. I like books written by French decadents/surealists, and can rate their works. (A Rebours > Torture Garden > Les Chants de Maldorer). But I also like 90s cyberpunk (Vert > Snow Crash > Burning Chrome). And I can’t compare, say Torture Garden with Vert. It’s the same with music. It’s like picking your favorite sex position. You enjoy a good Reverse Hitler. But after a hard day punching the clock, sometimes what really hits the spot is a nice Pedo-Vore-Necro-Unbirthing session with Jeremy Clarkson Roleplay, done with someone you love. How can you rank them? You can’t.

Heavy/Power Metal

Most of these songs are very old. I went for variety: otherwise the list would be mainly Metallica/Priest/Running Wild songs.

Industrial Metal

Some of this verges on nu metal or kiddie music I liked as a young teenager.

David Bowie

Big artist for me. A lot of his discography is incongruous with any other part, and only works in context. I ended up listing songs in chronological order, otherwise they tended to form accidental and undesirable patterns.

I picked only one song from each of his albums. This meant skipping over obligatory hits like “Changes” and in favor of odder songs that mean more to me. Gotta give it up for a track like “Win” or “Suffragette City”, though.

Miscellaneous Other Things

I think I’m pretty judgmental with music.

Music I Abhor and Abominate

  • JUMPDAFUKKUP nu metal
  • JUMPDAFUKKUP hardcore
  • JUMPDAFUKKUP brutal death metal
  • this cancer
  • djent
  • Panterrible or any band more than faintly inspired by them (I do think Power Metal and Cowboys from Hell are great albums, but overall they were not a good influence. Metal would have gone to hell anyway, but Pantera sent us there in the HOV lane.)
  • Japanese “kawaii” nonce-core for people who belong on a police watchlist
  • “Pitchfork/Coachella metal”, aka a token metal band who Anthony Fantano hipster types gush over (Mastodon/The Sword/Myrkyr/Chat Pile)
  • “Remember the 70s?! Back when music wasn’t afraid to RAWK!” (Wolfmother/Greta Van Fleet/The Darkness)
  • late 90s post-grunge, a’la (the 2nd most boring style of music imaginable. This is so, so, so, goddamn boring).
  • smarmy, smirking shit like Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5 who sound like they hate every second of what they do and would press a button marked “DROP OUR ENTIRE AUDIENCE INTO A VAT OF ACID” if you wrote them a big enough cheque.
  • contemporary Christian music (the #1 most boring style of music imaginable. Some bands like Reliant K and Flyleaf actually combine CCM and post-grunge in one easy-to-hate package)
  • soulless, generic power metal with AI generated thumbnail pictures of dragons on Youtube
  • commercial alt-rock like REM and Foo Fighters

There’s also a lot of lyrical themes that really irk me, even if I do like the music.

  • “ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME!” (Alanis Morissette, Marina Diamandis)
  • “my life as a wealthy, beloved musician is SO DIFFICULT, you guys” (Pink Floyd, Eminem, Lady Gaga)
  • “activist” bands whose message is trite shitlib applause-begging of the lowest order (war is bad, pollution is bad, racism is bad, Trump is bad)
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A movie based on a British comic book series (that I haven’t read), starring Lori Petty (who I’m not familiar with), made in the year 1995 (which I was barely sentient for). In other words, I’m bringing what’s probably the right amount of baggage to Tank Girl: none. I’m not some comics fan whose childhood is ruined. This movie might as well have been made by aliens.

I had fun. Tank Girl is a weird and special movie. It’s either really good, or a profoundly fascinating failure that rises above pitiful conceits like “good” or “bad” like Gautama Siddhartha attaining enlightenment. The colors have a raucous Bava-esque pop. The script dangerously mixes Loony Toons gags with riot grrl punk energy. The visuals blow holes in your retinas. The set designers either spiked their morning cocaine with Viagra or their morning Viagra with cocaine. The actors are freaks (sometimes literally), and the lead plays her role like it’s a choice between this movie and porn, which it may have been.

It’s not perfect. The second half is far worse than the first, and a studio clearly fucked the whole project in the ass (if you’re going to imply a human-kangaroo sexual relationship, you don’t get brownie points for keeping it PG-rated), but that only adds to its delirious, warped quality. It’s like wandering through a cinematic junkyard; trash-strewn and ugly, littered with broken things that are barely recognizable as treasure.

It’s supposedly set in Australia. I say “supposedly” because the very first thing we hear is a chick saying “IT’S TWENNY FIRRY-FREE AND THE WORLD IS SCROO’D NOW!” in a foghorn of a Bronx accent. A comet has hit the earth, and it has not rained in eleven years. I hate it when that happens.

The narrator proves to be Tank Girl. We see her riding a cow through the desert (the first of many nods to Mad Max 3), though we never discover where she pastures it. She later upgrades to a tank that has spoilers, stickers, and even a BBQ grill. Her motives are to find (steal) a birthday present for her boyfriend, who lives with her at a kind of hippie commune, stealing water and avoiding the totalitarian Water & Power company (whose acronym, with a little imagination, is WAP). They live in riotous squalor. Everyone fucks and looks like they smell bad.

Everyone is Beautiful and No-One is Horny remains an insightful piece of writing on what’s wrong with modern superhero films. They are packed with ludicrously attractive people, but don’t allow them to do anything gross, ugly, or vulnerable. Ironically, this includes have sex: the purpose of attractiveness. What’s left is cold, inert marble: beauty for the sake of beauty (Captain America doesn’t look hot to attract a girl, but to attract an audience—it’s a classic Keynes Beauty Contest). Modern Hollywood is so irreversibly neutered that young people get angry and uncomfortable when there’s a nipple on screen. Did Oppenheimer really NEED a sex scene?? Was it really NECESSARY??? Everyone wants beauty, nobody wants bad smells and ruptured condoms. Tank Girl flips the script: everyone is horny and no-one is beautiful. It has an ugly, gross animal to desire to shock you with biology. Midway through the movie, Tank Girl is captured by W&P goons for stealing water, and straitjacketed with her arms behind her back. She throws out a line about how it’s hard for her to jerk off. There’s a lot of that kind of writing. It’s just an attempt at realness.

Tank Girl was made in an era that can be identified with a laser’s precision: the mid 90s. Post No Doubt, but pre Spice Girls (in a legendary piece of SG lore, Geri and Victoria met in the lineup at a Tank Girl casting call).

It’s definitely a movie of its time, stuffed with dreadlocks and neon and Kandi raver bracelets. The visual design is as pungent and earthy as the performances. It benefited from a brief period American interest in Australian culture, provoked by the likes Paul Hogan, Yahoo Serious, Steve Irwin, and Outback Steakhouse (not that the movie has anything to do with Australia—if it had come out in the age of New Labor and Cool Britannia, they probably would have played up its origins as a British comic strip instead). Lori Petty is heavily made up to look like Gwen Stefani. After she gets captured by the W&P, she gets a splat of paint (or blood) on her head. It looks kinda like Stefani’s bindi.

In the pre-Spice Girls clip above, Geri Halliwell introduces herself as “Geri, as in Tom and Jerry.” This is an outstanding segue from Ms Estelle Halliwell-Horner, because I am burning up inside to talk about Tom and Jerry.

Whatever emotions you feel for T&J, come on…can we admit it’s obviously a cartoon that was conceived in five minutes, tops? It’s the most generic and obvious idea there is. “One animal chases another animal!” And what animals, pray? “I dunno. A cat and a dog? Is that good?” Tank Girl has some of the same “character created in thirty seconds with a gun to the writer’s head” quality. She’s a girl. A girl with a tank. It’s a concept that writes itself. You can even imagine like five jokes that are actually in the movie (her tank makes men feel inadequate, etc). Tanks are impressive but not particularly conducive to stellar action scenes, and the movie struggles to integrate Tank Girl’s tank (an M5A1 Stuart) into the action believably. (Apparently, the Stuart’s reverse gear was broken, so if they needed to do another take, the tank had to drive around in a huge circle to get back to its starting mark.) So while I haven’t read the Tank Girl comic, I’m suspicious that the movie ruins too much. It may have been ruined to begin with.

I like that it has no reverence or respect. I watched some Zack Snyder thing once and had to stop, partly because of all the slow zooms on Superman’s somber face, dramatically lit, while stirring music swells in the background. Enough. Superman is a Depression-era funnybook character who wears his underwear on the outside and Schuster and Siegel were paid $130 to create him. Can we please have some fun with this character, for the first time in 50 years?

And that’s where Tank Girl wins me over: it’s just fun, particularly if you’re tired of sterile perfection. Movies like this do not get made now. It’s a relic from the before-days (pre Raimi Spider-Man), when there were no rules for making superhero movies, after all, they usually bombed and got 1 star out of 5. But that’s dangerous. When failure’s inevitable, you’re free. You can take risks. Things like Barb Wire and Spawn aren’t good, but I’d rather watch them than BLACK HOLE AT THE CENTER OF MY BRAIN THAT PROBABLY DENOTES THE LAST MARVEL MOVIE I SAW. But now that superhero movies are reliably the highest-grossing films of the year, they cannot take risks. They sag at the gunwales with investor cash, and they cannot be allowed to sink. They must be as safe as blue chip stocks.

Tank Girl has some really frustrating moments. Like its spirit animal Mad Max 3, it opens strong but then kind of falls over in the latter part. The kangaroo characters cleverly designed but just tiresome, sucking up precious airtime. The villain gets defeated something like three separate times, each time returning (cackling) from the grave. You roll your eyes. But even at its worst, it’s a thousand times more watchable than modern superhero fare.

Some people are campaigning for a Tank Girl remake. Be careful what you wish for. There is no chance that Tank Girl and “2024” could collide without the results being unmitigated shit. Tank Girl would be an aspirational girlboss who rolls her eyes when men say she can’t do stuff. The zoophilia and pedophilia jokes would be replaced with “So that happened.” All the rough edges would be gone. The animal lust and bonkers tone would be replaced with a neutered, PG-13 aspect, with every joke focus tested. The studio meddling that compromised the movie in 1995 would have ruined literally every single frame. The movie would pitifully crip-walk into theaters, watched by nobody, hated by all. At best, it would be a Moebius-esque joke. In six months, it would be gone. Instead, it was made in 1995 and made like this. Fucked up. Glorious. Kind of eternal.

(It stars one actor I recognize: Malcolm McDowell. I’d previously watched him in Caligula and A Clockwork Orange. It’s nice that he keeps his pants on in this one. I guess he finally reached the level of Hollywood fame where he no longer had to sordidly strip for money. To all you young actors and actresses, let that be an inspirational story. If Malcolm McDowell can escape the casting couch, so can you.)

What’s the

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Ballard described Crash as a “pornographic novel based on technology”. It could also be called a pornographic novel based on math. But is there any other kind? All porn is mathematical, because sexual desire is mathematical. Follow the tidal pull of lust, passion, and desire back to its source, and you will find, not a mystery of the heart, but a number. A certain amount of visual stimulus. A certain excitatory threshold to neurons. A certain amount of blood flow to the genitals. Whatever mystic significance we attach to eroticism, we’re ultimately aroused by numbers. Math: the universal fetish.

On the internet, math-fetishism becomes incredibly literal. Porn sites dismember girls as if with a buzzsaw, reducing them to heaps of bloody numbers. What is the essence of Mia Malkova? According to Boobpedia, it’s 34″ (bust), 26″ (waist), 36″ (hips), 5’7″ (height), 123lb (weight), and so on. These sites barely have any pictures of girls, just numbers and numbers and more numbers, as though female flesh is just an tediously necessary scaffolding for hot hot hot math. It’s disturbing: men calculating themselves into an orgasm.

Crash is a postmodern effort at explicating this sex-math link—although not it’s not the Imperial math of a seamstress, but the metric math of a structural engineer. It eroticizes mechanical destruction, portraying a community of “symphorophiliacs” who are aroused by car accidents, and seek to exist forever inside the moment of impact—the shattered glass halo exploding out over the road, the steel momentarily flowing like liquid, assuming a new position around (and through) the occupant’s body like a twisted cocoon. But how can these people exist in a world that’s exactly one heartbeat long? And which so often kills the participant?

Because they don’t. Symphorophiliacs aren’t real. Or they’re real but very rare; a Google search returns only dictionary definitions and results relating to Crash. The internet is an agar plate exhibiting all manner of bizarre fetishes—girls with giraffe necks, girls sinking in quicksand, Christina Hendricks photoshopped to be blue—but car crash aficionados seem hard to find.

Maybe Ballard thought that basing a book on a nonexistent (or barely existent) fetish would lead to fewer outraged letters (“Mr Ballard, your book promotes offensive and harmful stereotypes about our lifestyle…”) But there’s also something intrinsically Ballardian about car accidents. Like sexual desire, they are complex but ephemeral: like smoke rising from an math-fire. If you die on the road tonight, it will be because a number was wrong. A break pad wore 1 mm too thin. The friction coefficient of a tire against wet asphalt fell beneath some threshold. A truck driver slept for six hours instead of seven. This is true for any car accident in history, whether it’s James Dean’s, Jayne Mansfield’s, or the one that crippled my father. Whatever elaborate flowers of pain and heartbreak crawl from this dark soil, they are fertilized by slightly wrong numbers. In a similar vein, Crash is a porn narrative that’s slightly off. An android would not find it repellant. It might be more disturbed by the descriptions of conventional sex. As with Ballard’s Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan, it’s built on taking well-worn synaptic pathways—Cars! Fucking!—and twisting them until they appear monstrous and alien. Often, it doesn’t take much twisting at all.

Crash’s (tiny) story involves a man who shares the author’s name. Having survived a car accident, he falls in with a gang of car crash fanatics, led by one Robert Vaughan. These are an odd bunch. Their bodies are wracked and twisted by many accidents. Their minds are worse. They drool over scientific papers with names like “Mechanisms of Occupant Ejection” and “Tolerances of the Human Face in Crash Impacts”. They meet on moonlit roads to restage historic car accidents, acting out the roles of Camus and Kennedy and Mansfield and Dean. Sometimes method-acting, if you catch my drift.

Vaughan (“nightmare angel of the expressways”) is one of the bleaker and more ambiguous figures in literature. His name is faintly suggestive of a car brand (Vauxhall. Vespa. Volkswagen. Volvo), and his stated profession of “TV scientist” sounds like a fake job created by a fibbing child on the playground (“your dad works at Nintendo? Ha! Mine’s a TV scientist!”). There are a few textual clues that Vaughan may not even exist—that he could be a Tyler Durden sort of figure, created by the narrator to express ideas that he is too afraid to own.

I saw no more of Vaughan. Ten days later he died on the flyover as he tried to crash my car into the
limousine carrying the film actress whom he had pursued for so long. Trapped within the car after it jumped the rails of the flyover, his body was so disfigured by its impact with the airline coach below that the police first identified it as mine. They telephoned Catherine while I was driving home from the studios at Shepperton. When I turned into the forecourt of my apartment house I saw Catherine pacing in a
light-headed way around the rusting hulk of Vaughan’s Lincoln. As I took her arm she stared through my
face at the dark branches of the trees over my head. For a moment I was certain that she had expected me to be Vaughan, arriving after my death to console her.

We had heard nothing of Vaughan since he had taken my car from the garage. Increasingly I
was convinced that Vaughan was a projection of my own fantasies and obsessions, and that in some way I
had let him down.

Descriptions of Vaughan’s “death” bookend the novel at front and back. His dual-obliteration spent “drowning in his own blood under the police arc-lights” is the book’s framework, two steel pins holding together a shattered bone of manuscript. “James Ballard” has found his people. He might not be with them for long. Not long after Vaughan’s real or imagined demise, he starts planning his own car crash. Not a car crash, the car crash. The final one. For hundreds of pages in between Vaughan’s death, we are treated to many descriptions of smaller accidents, related in Ballard’s chrome-iridescent prose.

Vaughan propped the cine-camera against the rim of the steering wheel. He lounged back, legs apart, one hand adjusting his heavy groin. The whiteness of his arms and chest, and the scars that marked his skin like my own, gave his body an unhealthy and metallic sheen, like the worn vinyl of the car interior. These apparently meaningless notches on his skin, like the gouges of a chisel, marked the sharp embrace of a collapsing passenger compartment, a cuneiform of the flesh formed by shattering instrument dials, fractured gear levers and parking-light switches. Together they described an exact language of pain and sensation, eroticism and desire. The reflected light of Vaughan’s headlamps picked out a semi-circle of five scars that surrounded his right nipple, an outline prepared for a hand that would hold his breast.

The entire book is written like this. Long erotic paeans about the least erotic things imaginable. The plot is minimal, because it’s porn—how much backstory does the pizza delivery guy in a Skinemax flick really need?—and instead the interest is thrown toward’s Ballard’s creative juxtopositions. Shaft sticks compared to erections. Semen in dead testicles compared to cooling engine fluid. That sort of thing. The endless detail is sort of enervating, but also sort of inspiring.

Many horror writers describe their universe as little as possible—Lovercraft’s old line about “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”—but Ballard was a rare exception. He didn’t just try to describe the alien, he tried to capture it, like a bug in a glass jar, and he often succeeded in doing so. Crash does feel exquisitely foreign. But the question remains: do you want to read 300 pages of this?

I remember my first minor collision in a deserted hotel car-park. Disturbed by a police patrol, we had
forced ourselves through a hurried sex-act. Reversing out of the park, I struck an unmarked tree. Catherine vomited over my seat. This pool of vomit with its clots of blood like liquid rubies, as viscous and discreet as everything produced by Catherine, still contains for me the essence of the erotic delirium of the car-crash, more exciting than her own rectal and vaginal mucus, as refined as the excrement of a fairy queen, or the minuscule globes of liquid that formed beside the bubbles of her contact lenses. In this magic pool, lifting from her throat like a rare discharge of fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine, I saw my own reflection, a mirror of blood, semen and vomit, distilled from a mouth whose contours only a few minutes before had drawn steadily against my penis.

Sexual kinks are fascinating when you have them, dull when you don’t. And this is a fetish nobody has. It’s porn that forces the reader into compulsory asexuality. So why has Crash become a classic? What emotions does it rouse?

Initially, disgust. But soon even this recedes behind a stronger (though less acute) kind of horror. The actions are fucked up; but so’s the fact that someone would spend so many pages describing them. We live in a strange world. All these people have a dark bruise punched into their brain, one so dark it’s like a black hole, consuming first their thoughts and then their existence. Of course they love accidents. That’s what they are.

But 224 pages is a long time to spend in this world, and with these people. There’s no real evolution or change to the fractured-metal narrative. Crash is aptly named: it has all the forward momentum of an Aston Martin wrapped around a tree. The book presents a single, unvarying scenario. At times, the pages and chapters seem like they could be jumbled around in any order.

Ballard clearly intended the book as social commentary about car-obsession (from the foreword: “Crash, of course, is not concerned with an imaginary disaster, however imminent, but with a pandemic cataclysm that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year and injures millions.”). But this doesn’t really land: the book’s so weird and out there that it never truly feels like it’s striking a nerve. Yes, cars kill hundreds of thousands of people. But this isn’t because of some timeless Freudian death drive, but because there are a lot of cars and a lot of people and a lot of carelessness. Because of math, in other words. And this is not some horrible technological fate accompli that’s an inevitable consequence of the world we live in. We could easily make cars safer and laws saner. Then fewer people would die.

Furthermore, twisting human sexuality around cars seems a bit interesting. Yes, there are similarities between lust and the emotions roused by cars. But are they really a match? Sexual desire is timeless and atavistic. Cars are a techno-toy that didn’t exist for most of human history. There’s no symmetry here. Why cars?

Probably because the story’s not really about cars. It’s about the things a car symbolizes. Freedom. Mobility. Power. These are timeless desires that we hug close, even when they’re stinging us to death. Cars are just boxes strapped to wheels. They attain something more by the parts of ourselves we invest into them. We are the cars.

All of the good things a car offers is matched by a correspondingly steep cost. They let you be free…but sometimes they make you unfree—they turn you into a prisoner, shackled to a hospital bed, a wheelchair, a coffin. The sex appeal of sports cars is matched by a complete loss of sex appeal—car crash survivors often have horrific scarring and mutilation. The open air blowing in through your convertible top is matched by the poison billowing out behind. So there’s a dichotomy to car ownership. “Fast cars and fast women” turns into “wrecked cars and dead women” as quickly as a Vauxhall crosses the median strip. The faster you go, the faster you stop when you hit a wall.

One thing stands out about Crash, and its endless autopsies of metal and flesh. Huge slabs of books are actually about celebrity worship instead. Vaughan’s sick flock continually re-enacts the last moments of celebrities—at first this feels like a distraction from the book’s “real” purpose, but then you wonder if it is the book’s true purpose. Nobody cares about cars, just about what they symbolize: if you own a luxury car, you are rich, have abundant leisure time, and high sexual market value. All of these people are living out a fantasy where they are someone famous, using the cars as a “hook to hang your hat on”. After all, not everyone has James Dean’s haunting parasocial affect or Jayne Mansfield’s cans, but a violent death splattered into a dashboard is a fate no man is too poor to buy. Vaughan’s followers are role-playing as celebrities through the only means available to them: car accidents.

So that’s Crash. Flawed, somewhat overlong and overrated, but definitely compelling. Ballard has other, better work, but this is him at his strangest, most fearless, least endurable, and most alien. Crash and burn after reading.

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