Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Rock Lit - Holden Caufield Thinks You're a Phony - The Hipster is Born

In recent years, though its appeal is obviously waning, The Catcher in the Rye has been a hipster Bible, an emo set text. To own a copy when you're young is to signal that you are an unsettled soul, an underachiever but brainy with it, a misfit not a nerd. In some ways, Holden Caulfield invented the teenager, more specifically teenage angst and the idea that anyone cared to hear about it: damaged, hyper-sensitive, infinitely cool, creative, hungry for sensation, an authentic voice in a world of phonies (well, except for hipsters' carting around a vintage Royal typewriter to the Starbucks – oops, sounds like Holden today is a model for posers). Still, Kurt Cobain, Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen, Gerard Way, Ben Gibbard (even Jay) are all Holden Caulfields in their own way. Thom Yorke, with his "lost child" shtick, on songs like "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," comes to mind most specifically – the thin-skinned loner wandering the streets at night, adrift in a sea of heartless modernity.

Often the influence of the novel is less than subtle: Green Day's "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?" from their 1992 album Kerplunk, is named for the novel's protagonist. The book is a favorite of the band's lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong. In answer to Green Day's query, Screeching Weasel released "I Wrote Holden Caulfield" from their 1994 album How to Make Enemies and Irritate PeopleThe Guns 'N' Roses song (if you can call it such) "The Catcher In the Rye" appears on Chinese Democracy, the pseudo Guns LP from 2008, though the track has more to do with John Lennon's murder than with Salinger's novel - Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his possession when he was apprehended (so did John Hinckley, Jr.). The Ataris "If You Really Want to Hear About It," references the first line of the novel.

The title of The Old 97's song "Rollerskate Skinny," from the 2001 album Satellite Rides, comes from Holden Caulfield's description of his sister, Phoebe: "She's quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and that's what she is, roller-skate skinny."

There are also many musical references to other works by Salinger or to the author himself: A song called "Polar Bear," from Ride's 1990 album Nowhere, mentions Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. The same novella lent its name to a Chicago-based band.


The Cure's 1984 album The Top features a song called "Bananafishbones." Robert Smith confirmed the song's connection to Salinger's story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," from his collection Nine Stories, in an issue of the fanzine Cure News: "The title, for some no-reason, from 'a perfect day for bananafish' - a short story by j d salinger .. again me hating myself..."
The title of the 2005 debut album from We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor, refers to Salinger's story "For Esmé with Love and Squalor," available in the Nine Stories collection.
For a time in the 1990s, Lisa Loeb's band was called Nine Stories, after Salinger's collection.
The Winona Ryders released a 1995 album called J.D. Salinger.


Like Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, Catcher is a radical portrayal of disillusionment with America, disguised by its author as a tale of childhood adventure, a Coming of Age, American Style. Critics and scholars have remarked on the connections between the two novels with their white boy protagonists since Catcher was published (by the way, one can understand the depth of a novel, song, band, etc. when its title gets a nickname). Huck’s running away with the slave Jim is the equivalent of Holden’s screaming, "Sleep tight, ya morons! " as he leaves Pencey Prep. Their upthrust fingers in the faces of their worlds, their attacks on what their societies most value—slave property and a secure, upper-middle-class future—in both cases, rebellion preserves the boys' innocence and dramatizes their refusal to conform, to accept the compromises adults make with their respective societies. Each novel became a part of the popular culture of its era even as it offered a serious comment on the limits of that culture.

In the 1950s and 1960s, mass culture gave some young white Americans a glimpse of redemption. Rebels and outsiders were out there. Other possibilities existed. A novel or rock and roll song or a film could be a vehicle for expressing feelings of alienation, for thinking about a different kind of life. Holden Caulfield may not have had the answers, but he suggested how some white middle-class white kids could start asking the questions.

Click the Pic for a Fun Quiz From SparkLife

Though my critical mindedness questions Holden's continued direct influence on American youth, there is no doubt the far-reaching effect of his voice; indeed, my own novel, Jay and the Americans is an extension of the ideology, a fictional memoir. You can buy both at Amazon along with all kinds of David Copperfield crap.