Boy in the Bubble


November 1976, US TVM ‘The Boy in The Plastic Bubble’ starring a young John Travolta first aired on the ABC television network.

1984 JG Ballard’s ‘What I Believe’ first published in Science Fiction magazine.

 I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.
I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.
I believe in the genital organs of great men and women, in the body postures of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Princes Di, in the sweet odours emanating from their lips as they regard the cameras of the entire world.

1986 Paul Simon releases ‘Graceland’, the first song borrows its title from the TV movie and is also partly inspired by film clips of the Kennedy assassination, as well as Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassination.

And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and baby . . .

1991 Bristol Art-pop collective release a cover of ‘The Boy In the Bubble’. This is where we come in almost. Idly pondering the blizzard of accusations regarding liberal or social media bubbles in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, it’s their version that begins to play back in my head. I had forgotten how much I loved The Blue Aeroplanes. It was a smart choice, defended in all seriousness. I was pleased. ‘Boy in The Bubble’ was so odd, so striking and vivid that I bought the 7″ single back in 1986. The only Paul Simon record I have ever owned or most likely ever will. It wasn’t a hit. Between then and the release of their version I had become a big fan of The Blue Aeroplanes early records and dizzying live show. The songs tumble of imagery was like a more reserved and pointed version of Gerard’s word storms, even the riff suited them. Ahead of the curve, the song was subsequently covered by more Mojo worthy ‘serious’ artists like Peter Gabriel and Patti Smith. Apparently too ‘arty’ for the Late Show and too Rock ‘n’ Roll for a Peel session, forever in their own world. It may now be as many as 20 years since I paid them much thought, but they are back in action – playing nearby in January ahead of a new album. They are leading into this with a song about an Elvis festival. Of course. Gerard, like Travolta, is losing his hair. In all other respects they are essentially opposing visions of 20th Century manhood. Whatever that means.


November 24, 1992, Travolta was piloting his Gulfstream N728T at night above a solid undercast, when he experienced a total electrical system failure, while flying under instrument flight rules into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. During the emergency landing, he almost had a mid-air collision with a USAir Boeing 727, an event attributed to a risky decision by an air traffic controller….


1998 Travolta plays Jack Stanton, a thinly veiled Bill Clinton in ‘Primary Colors’.

2013 watch this jaw droppingly weird clip in which Travolta drives a plane into Oprah’s TV studio. Paul Simon also makes a surprise appearance. Sadly he does not perform ‘Boy In the Bubble’ but a song he wrote for Oprah. It is not too late for Travolta to play the protagonist in a shabby hollywood treatment of one of Ballard’s novels is it? It is not unthinkable that Oprah could be the first black female President either. I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world.

marking time using John Travolta’s hair


Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby. . .


JG Ballard – What I Believe


I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand,
in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light.


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