Monday, November 15, 2010

JG Ballard, The Crystal World and Syd Barrett

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JG Ballard's The Crystal World and Barrett

banjer and sax

Joined: 14 Jan 2010
Posts: 110

Posted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 8:22 pm    Post subject: JG Ballard's The Crystal World and Barrett
In reading JG Ballard's surreal tale the Crystal World (published in 1966) I noticed some similarities in subject matter and word usage between that book and some of Barrett's songs. The book has something to do with a leper colony among diamond mines in Africa. My thoughts were initially that Ballard and Barrett had some common vocabular proclivities, and that may very well be the only connection, but then I came across the line 'creepers entwined' in the Crystal World and thought that Barrett may have actually used the language in this book as source material for some songs.

'Swan Lee his boat by the bank in the darkness

loosened the rope in the creepers entwined'

sometimes mistakenly translated as creek was entwined

In just the first few paragraphs and pages of the book much of this similar imagery and more specifically use of same words is found. The Barrett songs 'If It's In You', 'Feel', 'Long Cool Look', 'Maisie' and bit further along in the book 'Astronomy Domine' 'Octopus' and 'Swan Lee'.

'leaching away'

'small passenger steamer'

'straggle of warehouses'

'a series of piers'

'rail of the passenger deck', 'drummed impatiently at the rail'

'French military landing-craft', 'the craft'

'weekly cargo of mail'

'emerald and diamond mines'

'luminous spittle'

(numerous references to the skeletal character Ventress) 'bony forehead', 'skull-like face', 'white suited figure and sharp skull'

'creepers entwined through the rafters', 'creepers and moss', 'dark creepers clustering'

'jetty with it's waiting throng'

'the sky remained a bland limpid blue'

colonel with gloves strauss? leeches

chugging along with a funnel of steam

straggled a bridge by the water

broken pier on the wavy sea

please hold onto the steel rail

she misees her craft

he isn't love on sunday's mail

diamonds and emeralds

luminous grin put her in a spin

skeleton kissed a steel rail

rope in the creepers entwined

throng on mossy seats

lime and limpid green

After 'Feel' Barrett says "that last one was diamond actually." I thought he might have been referring to the actual song title with that comment, however someone in this forum said that the reference to Diamond may just be a slang for that was a good take.

The 'creepers entwined' line from Swan Lee also bears relation to the Hindu classic The Ramayana and more specifically the content of that adventurous tale of Rama searching for Sita among the 'creepers' along the riverbank and in the forest. But the translations of the Ramayana with 'creepers' and 'entwined' strung together seem to be more modern translations than what was available in the 60's. but I'm no expert on this stuff and I have not read the Ramayana in full. Maybe these types of images are invited if one ponders the riverbed at night or modes of travel in exotic places.

Either way Barrett and Ballard share some strikingly common word usage. Whether or not Barrett ever read this book I don't know, it is a possibility though. The same kinds of stories of Europeans in exotic lands trading goods(a nice way to put it) and writing about interactions with hitherto unseen animals, plants, peoples, and religions. Similar to what a portion of WordSong brings up in my mind, Conrad, Silas Lang-like explorer John Smith, Kipling, Ballard, Ramayana, etc.

elephant, antelope, kangaroo, and sugar, teak, ebony, chameleon, fruit, pygmy, copper, gold, silk.

The fact that these associations can be made with Barrett's writing and world literature and history enriches the content for me, regardless of whether or not there is any direct link. Though I suspect Barrett was very aware of these associations.
banjer and sax

Joined: 14 Jan 2010
Posts: 110

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 6:07 am    Post subject:

Ballard's The Crystal World was printed in serial form earlier than 1966 as Equinox partly in Michael Moorcock's New Worlds periodical and containing the passages 'the dark side of the equinox' 'the dark side of the psyche'. Themes later taken up by the Pink Floyd in relation to the moon.

The title of the Waters song Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun,which Barrett did play guitar on, comes from the Moorcock novel The Fireclown, both Ballard and Moorcock's writings appeared in New Worlds during the mid to late 60's.

Link to a good article below by LJ Hurst

Joined: 16 Oct 2010
Posts: 16
Location: Planet Earth, Moonheaded

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 5:00 pm    Post subject:

Thank you for the link, very interesting reading!

And also interesting is the fact tha Ballard went to Cambridge in 1946 (Leys School) and afterwards went to King's College where he took up medical studies in a bid to become a psychiatrist, but after a few years of studying what he considered to be the interesting parts of medical studies (anatomy, physiology and pathology -- disciplines that would surface and resurface in all his later fiction), he decided he wanted to be a writer.

In 1946, Syd's father Arthur Max Barrett, who was already a pathologist at Cambridge was appointed to the newly created post of university morbid anatomist and histologist to Addenbrooke's Hospital, continuing in that post until his death.

And Syd was just busy being born...

Just found this:
"And what exactly is a dream, and what exactly is a joke"
banjer and sax

Joined: 14 Jan 2010
Posts: 110

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 11:20 pm    Post subject:
There has been much talk of musicians influenced by JG Ballard's writings, though the ones most often pointed out are from the post-punk and new wave era and refer to Ballard's writings from the 70's, people like Ian Curtis and Gary Numan. But there is an earlier bunch of musicians that were fairly heavily influenced by Ballard as well as being greatly influenced by Syd Barrett. These being Peter Hammill/Van der Graaf, Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music, Hawkwind, Brian Eno, perhaps Bolan, and David Bowie.

All of these figures/bands owe a great deal to Barrett's Pink Floyd and it appears that once again Barrett was one of the earliest pop music innovators to incorporate Ballard-like themes into his music. The cataclysmic imagery of Astronomy Domine with it's icy underground waters and frightening planetary movements can also be found in The Crystal World, which was one in Ballard's group of 4 1960's novels based on cataclysm and transformation by the elements, earth, air, water, and fire.

An informative interview with Michael Moorcock about JG Ballard, touching also on both his and Ballard's influence in the pop realm below. It provides a window into that middle 60's milieu.

Also an interview with music critic Simon Reynolds by Simon Sellars regarding JG Ballard and pop music with mention of the Barrett/Eno connection. An excerpt below and a link:

SS: While explaining his collage method in The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard said he wanted to produce “crossovers and linkages between unexpected and previously totally unrelated things, events, elements of the narration, ideas that begin to generate new matter.” Could you draw parallels to Eno’s formulation of “generative” music?

SR: I’m not sure about that. It seems more related to Burroughs, and perhaps also to Ballard’s debt to surrealism.

Eno’s generative music is much more cybernetics-meets-Zen, emptying out the authorial ego, setting up a process and then withdrawing. I don’t think Ballard has that Eastern mystical aspect. With Ballard, there’s always more of a violence bubbling up from below, even though the writing is cold and controlled. If Eno is a British Barthes, a languid sensualist, Ballard would be a British Bataille. I can also imagine Ballard enjoying Camille Paglia’s writing, which I can’t imagine Eno doing — it would be too passionate for him.

SS: Both Ballard and Eno inverted, retooled, and then abandoned the genre they started out in. As Richard Sutherland writes, “To call Ballard’s work science fiction is a bit like describing Brian Eno’s music as rock ‘n’ roll.”

SR: Yes and no. Eno is like the culmination or extension of certain ideas within rock to the point where they verge on un-rock. But when he started he owed a lot to Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, a certain English kind of psychedelia. And he could do the “idiot energy” thing with “Third Uncle.” As for Ballard, to divorce him from his genre is unnecessary. The methodology in his disaster stories and in the bulk of his short stories is totally science fiction. more at

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