J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn run off that crazy cliff

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

STsalingerI loved J.D. Salinger, and he died today. I’ve been out drinking among the phonies in his honor. First Vonnegut, and now Salinger. I don’t know how much more I can take. I hate being an adult. I hate seeing people I care about die. It’s especially painful when there’s no one worth a damn to take their places.

I fear that, now that Salinger is dead, there will be a Catcher in the Rye movie – something which, up until now, he’d been dead set against. I think it’s probably just a matter of time. In fact, I bet that producers have already started working on it. I ran the idea by my friend Jeff, and he suggested that Michael Cera would probably play Holden. I think he’s probably right. I’d thought that it would be someone younger, like one of the kids from Disney’s The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, or perhaps one of the Jonas Brothers, but, Jeff’s right, it’ll go to Michael Cera.

Whoever it is, it’ll suck.

The only good thing about Salinger dying… and I know that sounds terrible… is that we might now get to read some more of his work. Rumor had it that he’d been writing for these past 45 years, non-stop, and warehousing the stories in the rafters of his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. I can’t even begin to fathom what there might be, waiting to be published. Of course, he could have destroyed it all before he died. I wouldn’t put it past him. He was, from what I hear, a man with massive issues and a violent temper.

I was listening to hate radio tonight, driving home from work. Michael Savage was on. And he, in between insane rants, said something that I found interesting. He didn’t elaborate, but he suggested that Holden Caufield, the young protagonist in Catcher in the Rye, was a modern imagining of Huckleberry Finn. I liked that idea. I liked imaging an invisible line connecting two of the best books ever written in the English language. And it made me wonder who, if anyone, might come along to give us the third installment.

But, it isn’t just Salinger who died today. Progressive historian, and hero of the left, Howard Zinn died too.

And, in honor of Professor Zinn, I’d like to leave you with this lecture on the so-called “good” wars of America. If you’ve never had the opportunity to read A People’s History of the United States or any of his other books, it’s a great way to get to know the man and what he stood for.

If you didn’t watch it, you should. It’s enlightening. He talks about George Washington calling for the execution of mutineers in New Jersey, and other things we didn’t hear about in grade school. I’d love to go on, and tell you some more of the things that he mentions, but I’m tired. And I need to sleep. I will tell you this, though… I think it’s clear that he feels that we Americans have a predilection for violence. We’re short tempered, and impatient. He mentions that the Canadians, for instance, gained independence from England without bloodshed, and that every other country in the western hemisphere was able to rid itself of slavery without resorting to civil war. And, somewhere toward the end, he confesses to having dropped bombs on innocent Germans during World War II. It’s ugly and fascinating stuff – American history presented as a series of decisions meant to consolidate power among a ruling elite and demonstrate overwhelming power.

Goodbye my friends.

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  1. Mark H.
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Howard Zinn, may you rest in peace. An historian with passion, a citizen who voiced the demand for justice. He escaped the scholars’ sin of narrowmindedness.

    During WWII, Zinn served on a American bomber — and when he learned of the civilian loss of life that resulted from those bombing runs, he became a pacifist.

    His most famous book, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, always frustrated me: brilliant some points, poorly argued at others. But that’s OK — Howard understood that history was important enough to argue about, and to argue with, and to shape by our own choices.

  2. Lacy
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Mark, my sincere condolences on the loss of your father.

  3. Lacy
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Oops! Try again… the loss of your father.

  4. dragon
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    “I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetary. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”

  5. Posted January 29, 2010 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Is has occurred to me, Lacy, that the only reason he never opened the letters that I sent him is because of my damned last name.

  6. Larry Seven Larry
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait to see an animated Holden Caufield selling Coke. I’ve been waiting my whole life for it.

  7. Kim
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    The Zinn video is good. I don’t know that I agree with him that Hitler could have been stopped without WWII, but I think he’s absolutely right no the money when he says that we didn’t need to drop hydrogen bombs on Japan to beat them. Those bombs were meant to send a message to Russia, and everyone else in the world, that we were a nuclear power.

  8. Dan
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting the Holy Wars video.

  9. Brackinald Achery
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I have a new-found respect for you Mark. I can’t even listen to Michael Savage.

  10. Chelsea
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Although I felt no great admiration for JDS (KV was another story), I know he was a hero of yours, and I know how that is. Mine was John Lennon. I’m sure you know that his murderer was found with a copy of Catcher In the Rye. …And so it goes.

  11. Andy C
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    And I have no admiration for Jodie Foster because John Hinckley was obsessed with her when he shot Ronald Reagan.

    Don’t get me started on AC/DC, Judas Priest, etc.

  12. Elf
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    You can find some unpublished Salinger short stories here.


  13. Astra
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Sallinger’s son, Matt, was on “24” for two seasons. The character was called Mark Kanar.


  14. Astra
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I found that out by following links in this great MetaFilter post by nickyskye.

    Last November I was about a dozen miles from JD Salinger’s place in Cornish, New Hampshire, having a wonderful Thanksgiving with a fellow MeFite. Thought about him living there, a beautiful part of the world.

    A few months before I was conceived in January, 1953, my ‘mother’ had a brief affair with Salinger. It was the autumn of 1952, a year and a half after Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. (She was too old for his preferences in female companionship. He in his mid 30’s and she in her late 20’s. At the same time he was dating his soon to be wife, Claire, only 17 years old and a survivor of a lot of trauma in her life.) I’m deeply thankful that they didn’t hit it off and that Salinger did not end up being my father.

    However, For Esmé – with Love and Squalor felt intimately meaningful to me when I read it at 15, way back in 1969. I felt fiercely protective of those Nine Stories of his but especially of Esme, a bit the way I felt about the movie, Sundays and Cybele, also the story of a young soldier with feelings of intimacy for a 12/13 year old girl. I identified a lot with that pretentious, precocious little girl, who lost her father. In his writing Salinger conveyed my own provocative sullenness, loneliness and deep loss, ill at ease in the world, being “a small-talk detester”, feeling alienated but yearning, cynical yet romantic.

    Now, 40 years later, I read Salinger with different eyes, that he was projecting seductiveness onto the little girl, Esme, making the soldier a passive receiver. Phoebe Hoban wrote an excellent biographical article in New York Magazine. It’s readable online. It’s easy to understand that JD Salinger was not a well man on more disturbing levels than I thought back in the 1960’s. All his hinting in his writing at spiritual depths, the need for integrity, blunt honesty, his characters’ needs for better parenting, anti materialism and anti-consumerism. It feels so different now I know more about him, the sadistic, verbally abusive person, the abusive father. I can honor his writing but not with the glow of admiration I once felt.

    From what I’ve read both by his daughter, Margaret Salinger, and by one of his ex-wives, Joyce Maynard (she 18, he 53, marriage consummated on Salinger’s daughter’s bed), he would have been an horrendous father in about every way possible. “He hated sickness, which he tried to cure in his children with homeopathy and acupuncture practised with wooden dowels instead of needles; when they cried with pain or his methods failed, he would fly into a rage.” “Her experience as a critical reader and as his daughter help her argue that her father’s ‘special blend of ‘Christianized’ Eastern mysticism’ depends on “a demonization of womanhood and a sacrifice of childhood.”

    Perhaps he suffered from Schizoid Personality Disorder? He was deeply narcissistic, perhaps pathologically so. He did have a way more than usual dysfunctional family.

    It is uncomfortable to me now that a middle aged, older and old man who had an unhealthy interest in teenage girls should have written stories and novels most loved and cherished by teens of either gender.

    I mourn the loss of the author whose writing felt so true to me when I was a teen. But do not mourn the man I learned he was.

    My sincere condolences to his ex-wives, his son and daughter.


  15. Astra
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    My mother never dated anyone interesting.

  16. Chaely
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    If it absolutely must be, I would hope that a casting director would have the sense to pick Joseph Gordon Levitt or one of the Culkin brothers or maybe Max Record from Where the Wild Things Are; someone who would at least give Holden a shred of dignity & leave the Disney/Jonas teeny-bopper hysteria out of it.

  17. Gretchen Forshay
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    My money’s on Crispin Glover.

  18. Mr. X
    Posted January 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Stanley T. Madhatter passed away last night. I didn’t know where else to say it.

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