Today J.D. Salinger passed away. The author of the Catcher in the Rye was 91. The Associated Press released the obituary for the author just two minutes after 1 p.m. today. They said his son broke the news in a press release.
Just as much as most people knew him for his 1951 book, they also knew him as a recluse who hated the spotlight. All kinds of craziness was published about the mysterious writer in the wake of his self-imposed exile from the public. That never concerned me much. I’ve only read that one book by Salinger, but it had a profound influence on me since I read it in high school. At the same time, the book was well known to have been banned in many schools since is publication. I remember my 11th grade teacher warning us that it was for the use of the word “fuck” toward the end of the novel, but I later learned it was deeper than that. The many bans on Catcher was more about the deeper social fear of the possible romanticism of a rebellious and, in my opinion, an independent thinking teen in the protagonist of Holden Caulfield.
Sure, the book was blamed for the notable evil it supposedly inspired in Mark David Chapman who called John Lennon a “phony” before shooting him dead in 1980. But, God, do we live in an era surrounded by so many phonies who brainwash or have had their brains washed. Today’s society celebrates as many phonies as it produces: those who strive so badly to assimilate into whatever the popular culture is dictating, a news media more interested in bandwagon jumping than giving people the information they need, etc. I could go on, but I shan’t rant. This is not to say anyone should be shot dead, but they should be called out (my list is too long and dull, but I welcome you to post any thoughts on who I might be thinking about).
My celebration of independent thinking artists in this blog, would not be possible, if it were not for the effect the Catcher in the Rye had on my persona. It is not solely responsible, but it without a doubt a part of it.
So in that spirit, let us hope that Salinger enjoyed his last days knowing he held super creative control over the use of his iconic book, clinging too the movie rights to the bitter end (Salinger never allowed for any movie producer to take his book and adapt into a film, and he never even liked the idea of cover art on a novel, saying the words should speak for themselves, so to speak). But now, with his passing, the possibility remains that his kids may inherit the movie rights (dear reader, correct me if I am wrong in this assumption). Because they are less precious about Salinger’s work, it might just be possible to see a movie adaptation?
Before you call me a sell out, let me say that I would never consider a film adaptation in any way a substitute for the experience of literature or vice versa. They are completely different mediums that one experiences in utterly different ways. I would never say “the book was better” about any movie that was adapted from a literary source, and I have no patience for those who do. I do think the proper question to consider in film adaptations is whether or not they do justice to the spirit of the source material or even raise that material to another level.
That said, I doubt anyone could raise the Catcher in the Rye to a higher level than the literary masterpiece that it already is, but I think there are directors that can capture the spirit of the book and should be allowed to try. One director who immediately pops into my head is Gus Van Sant, whose recent works on youths and melancholy rebels (see Elephant and Last Days respectively) have been unparalleled in the manner they capture the spirit of young people in the throes of cynicism. Do you have any other ideas on which directors should take such a job and to what effect it might have, interpretation-wise? Do share…