29 January 2010

He railed against phonies. That was Holden Caulfield’s mission, to expose them. There are few things more righteous in this world.

I was introduced to him my freshman year at Roycemore Juvenile Reformatory School though the novel, “Catcher in the Rye.” His words rang true in 1979 when I was 15-years-old and he was two years older. They still do in 31 years later.

Of course Holden wasn’t real; he was the brain child of Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger. He died yesterday at the cantankerous age of 91-years-old. He spent that last 56 years as a recluse in Cornish, NH.

More has been written about Salinger than any other 20th Century American author. He wrote professionally for 26 years and his output was something Stephen King could produce in a long weekend. One novel, two books, two novellas, nine short stories collected, and 19 stories uncollected are all Salinger wrote. There may be more in a vault, only time will tell if there is and if we will ever read them.

When the news broke yesterday, I went to Amazon.com to check the bestsellers list. Catcher in the Rye was #676. At 5:00 p.m. it was #24. At 7:00 p.m. it was #12. At 11:00 a.m. today it was number one. Not bad for a book that has never been out of print, is available at your public library and has been banned almost as long as it has been published, 1951.

It is estimated that the book has sold over 65 million copies. That is rare air usually reserved for religious books, reference books and Miley Cyrus tell-all biographies. As far as fiction go, the only books that have out sold it are: “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” “Le Petit Prince” and “The DaVinci Code.” It has out sold every Stephen King and John Grissom novel. In addition, it has bested: “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” “War and Peace,” “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Gone with the Wind.”

I did a check of local libraries and found that the Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb libraries not only have all copies checked out but there is a waiting list of up to 25 requests. Raburn County, GA, has all six of its copies but they are kept behind glass with armed guard standing in front.

As popular as “Catcher in the Rye” is, it is also infamous. Between 1961 and 1982, it was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. Most of the objections from the Christian right have to deal with – wait for it – obscenities! Oh the horror. I never heard the words “fuck” or “god damn” before I read this book. There are also, sit down for this, sexual references, blasphemy, the undermining of family values (I’m going to blog about that one day) and Holden being a poor role model due to drinking, rebellion, smoking, lying and promiscuity.

All of those seem tame in 2010. In fact my 16-year-old nephew Nathan partakes in all of this just about every day. I think my four and a half year-old nephew Aaron does too. In 1951, it was a different world and all this behavior, while going on, was not put in books. At least not books that kids may read.

When the book came out, Holden was not wholly a unique character. He was no more immoral than some in Dickens or Austen novels except his age was younger.

At one point or another, every teenage boy thinks of himself as Holden Caulfield. Most grow out of it. Some, no one in particular, have adopted the name when calling his gynecologist so she would know to take the call. (Long story, many scotch and sodas or frozen Daiquiris will be needed to explain it.) We all want to be unique and exterminate the phonies. Sadly, too many become the phonies they deplore. I hope in my life I would be considered unique and not a phony.

There are some similarities between us, we both went to prep school, he was thrown out and I tried my damnedest to get tossed. I was tossed out of my mom’s house a year after graduation that has to count right? In high school I was known as a “rebel with a cause.”  I set my own course much to my teachers chagrin.

Who is a phony and how does one become one?

It would be too easy to say anyone on the Christian right, so I won’t, but they are; so there. Politicians are the most blatant examples. Two who come to mind are John Edwards and Newt Gingrich. I couldn’t care less if you cheat on your wife, that’s your problem. What is phony is when you take the moral high ground and cheat on your wife. Another phony is Mark McGwire who finally admitted to taking steroids but claims it didn’t help him become a better hitter. Raoul Duke Jr. blogged about that a few posts ago. Religious leaders who extort money from gullible parishioners are definitely phonies. Salesmen, well maybe yes and maybe no. They are well aware that they are selling over-priced drek but they have to make a living too. Tech support people in India who say their name is John Smith are phonies. I guess it is a reality that some jobs will be in India forever but have some integrity and use your real first name. I won’t be offended if your name is Naresh. In fact I may listen to you more because you were being truthful at the beginning. HR people are phonies ‘true and true’. If you are trying to get a job they make sure you don’t. If you are in the company, they expedite your departure. No matter what they are always on the company’s side, like Jay Leno. He’s another story and a phony. Holden was also seen as a rebel. He inspired people like James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause,” Elvis Presley in his good movies and his overall persona, when he was thin, Marlon Brando in “The Wild Things,” Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” and Bret Easton Ellis in his public persona. Rock and roll by its definition is rebellious; it is designed to piss off your parents. People like Elvis, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick and Keith, Joe Strummer, Johnny Ramone, Kurt Cobain, Liz Phair and Joe Jonas all have varying degrees of Holden Caulfield in them. I think the message is lost though. Holden was a rebel but he was against the phonies. All those people in society who control everything and tell us what to do. If you look at all the problems this country is in you can trace it back to phonies; people who pretend to be one thing but are another. I am looking at you banking industry.

Maybe we should all take a cue from Holden and not deal with phonies. Cut them out of your life. Avoid them at all costs. Don’t become one. It’s not too late.


One Response to “Holden”

  1. Dan Callistein Says:

    Very well written..I really enjoyed reading this.

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