This book came together—compared to the earlier two—in straightforward fashion. I wrote the Prologue and the Epilogue kind of in the middle of the composition process. But the body of the book rolled out in mostly chronological order, with almost no rearranging in the final proofing.
This is in dramatic contrast to the methods behind BALLARD motor court and BALLARD the republic of dogs. Those books were both significantly “cut-up,” to use a Burroughsian term; and in neither case did I know exactly where the story was going to end until approximately halfway through.
But with BALLARD bonus expeditionary force there were some documentary influences which made it easy for the story to flow to its inevitable conclusion. This book is in no way “factual,” but at its core has certain consistencies relating to two historical events:
In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression a group of WWI veterans journeyed to Washington, DC, and camped out in protest. They had been promised a “bonus” for their service and, times being what they were, had come to the capital to ask for it now, rather than in another five years when it was legally “due” them.
The crowd grew to thousands. The US gov’t got increasingly nervous. Eventually, the Army was sent in and tanks rolled. Douglas McArthur was among the most zealous of the officers leading the charge; Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton were more conflicted about their roles in rousting the vets from their encampments. Fires were set—or broke out—and many people were injured and a couple of klds died.
In November, 1969, on the back of their classic Beggar’s Banquet and the unreleased but soon-to-be-classic Let It Bleed records, The Rolling Stones embarked on their first tour of America in over three years. Anticipation ran high. The Stones were at their peak, both musically and as cultural touchstones. There was an air of danger about them, a touch of the satanic (which was mostly clever marketing, of course).
After a series of solid if unspectacular dates, the tour moved eastward and the band rolled into Detroit on November 24th. From the 24th through the 29th of November, they played over six CONSECUTIVE nights EIGHT of the most incendiary shows in the history of rock’n’roll in Detroit, Philly, Baltimore, New York, and Boston. The tour then concluded with a free concert at the Altamont Speedway on December 6th. At that show, an audience member was murdered by Hells Angels hired to provide security and the decade of the 60’s ended on a sour, nasty, apocalyptic note.
Two other factors are “mashed-in” to the phantasmagoric soup that is BALLARD bonus expeditionary force:
1) Barack Obama’s drone program. (It’s not really his program, of course, but given the extent to which he has expanded it beyond its original, more modest origins, I think he can be said to have laid claim to a certain “ownership”!) I was not thinking of the recent NSA/Prism revelations; those happened after I wrote the book. I was more just imagining a time in which drones became a significant element of domestic policing. I become more convinced every day that this will happen here within the next five years.
2) Francisco Goya’s “Black Paintings.” Sometime around 1820, Goya, then an old man, moved into a house outside Madrid, Spain. Over the next several years, he painted 14 paintings directly onto the plaster walls of the two-storey house. It is said that he never intended them for public display. (After Goya’s death, they were transferred to canvas and now hang in the Prado.) The subject matter of the paintings ranges from pastoral to utterly horrifying. I like to think that Goya made these paintings from a very deep place and that he thought of them as the ultimate expression of his artistic purpose.
So, there you have it. Those things informed what BALLARD bonus expeditionary force became.
Oh, and Joe’s talking motorcycle? The 1922 Indian Scout? Of course, that is totally a nod to the wondrous Japanese “light novel” series, Kino no Tabi!