A Bad Case of the Holden Caulfields

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Anyone who likes to read must have read Catcher in the Rye – and loved it. It’s like Lou Reed said, “Anyone who’s ever played a part, couldn’t turn around and hate it.” Anyone who has been a teenager and felt lonely and isolated will have a part of that book which hangs in their memory like a grubby old hunting hat they just can’t throw out.

I remember Holden as a kind of saint. He’s the mature child who just can’t bring himself to travel through the portal into adulthood; the virtues intrinsic to being a child just won’t let him walk through the door.

All the adult rites of behaviour he describes as ‘phoney’ are too much to swallow, and his real problems that hang around the periphery – all the ‘David Copperfield kind of crap’ he can’t talk about because his parents would have ‘two heart-attacks apiece’ – sees him finish up in a nut-hatch at the end of the novel.

The most potent part of the book for me is toward the end when he’s walking the streets of New York and every time he crosses a road, he says to his dead brother, ‘Help me Allie; I’m afraid I’ll disappear,’ until he makes it to the footpath on the other side. Tragic OCD, indeed.

I was reminded of this the other day when watching the film clip for the song, ‘Pompeii’ by the band Bastille.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=pompeii+bastille&FORM=HDRSC3#view=detail&mid=F22D79476507E1636067F22D79476507E1636067

It’s a great pop song, and what I would describe as resolutely adolescent. The protagonist of the clip leaves his squat at nightfall to walk the city streets. All the people he comes across are zombies of a sort; not the flesh-eating Dawn of the Dead kind; rather, everyone’s eyes have become black spheres.

He spends the clip running around until he can steal a car and drive away into the night. Eventually, he makes his way into the wilderness and when his face is revealed at the end, his eyes have also become black, opaque and stony.

The clip is redolent of the novel I Am Legend in which the protagonist, Robert Neville, finds himself to be the last man alive in a post-apocalyptic world over-run by vampires. That novel kicked off the entire paranoid genre of the sole survivor beset by a world full of ‘phonies’, if you like. It’s a deeply compelling idea, re-emerging in many works since the fifties and standing at the cornerstone of the zombie horror genre.

I Am Legend has been described as the greatest novel written about human loneliness; even more significant than Robinson Crusoe. The difference between them is telling; Crusoe is stranded on an island, while Robert Neville is surrounded by hordes of people who aren’t quite right.

The latter is a very real conviction that rings the eyes of adolescents everywhere. The Bastille clip spells it out eloquently, though; black stones for eyeballs are opaque, impenetrable. Windows to the soul which are permanently closed.

Being an adult, as many of us who have crossed the line are aware, isn’t necessarily about becoming phoney. It’s about recognizing that the eyes of others are closed to you because you haven’t developed the ability to see into them.

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One Response to “A Bad Case of the Holden Caulfields”

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