Salinger: don't tell anybody anything…

Scholars & Rogues honors JD Salinger as our 32nd masthead scrogue.

J.D. Salinger is dead.

If you want to know about his lousy life or how he treated his kids or his ex-wives and girlfriends, or any of that other People Magazine crap, look somewhere else. I just don’t feel like going into it. Too many jerks spend all their time reading that shit anyway, and it’s just not worth recounting it when you could read it all at TMZ or some place like that and besides Salinger himself was pretty touchy about people talking about him and he’d probably sue from the grave. I mean, the guy sued every goddamn body who ever said boo to him for the last 50 years or so.

Some stuff just isn’t worth the trouble.

So I’ll just talk about driving to town last night….See, I was driving into town tonight after I’d read about Salinger dying and listening to satellite radio and the station played Johnny Winter’s cover of “Let It Bleed” which  somehow tied into hearing about Salinger’s death: we all need someone we can lean on. And thinking about Salinger being dead started me thinking about how Salinger would write about it. I wondered then if maybe he’d had a ball glove that he’d written snatches of poetry on so he’d have something to read during the lulls in a ball game. But then I was listening again to Winter’s cover of the song by The Rolling Stones, so that made me think of that snatch of poetry attributed to Brian Jones (and to Gertrude Stein and to many an 18th century girl’s sampler) that’s on one of the early greatest hits collections, Through the Past Darkly:

When this you see, remember me/And bear me in your mind/Let all the world say as they will/Speak of me as you find….

I like to think Salinger would like that, but I can’t say. You can’t speak for other people.

R.E.M. came on the radio next – “Driver 8”:

And the train conductor says/Take a break, Driver 8/Driver 8, take a break/We can reach our destination – but we’re still a ways away….

I wrote a letter to Salinger back in the early ’80’s when he was appearing in the news with some regularity for suing people for talking/writing/thinking about him – or so it seemed. Reconstructing the letter took my mind off R.E.M. momentarily:

Dear Mr. Salinger,

I know you won’t answer this letter but I thought I’d write anyway. I don’t blame you for suing people who try to drag you (or at least your life) out into the public eye when you want to be left alone.  I’m a novelist myself (as yet unpublished) and I have some ambivalence about success myself. I thought you explained your position on this pretty well at the end of  Catcher in the Rye. Maybe people should be satisfied with that….

That isn’t the entire letter, but it’s the gist of it. I got a terse reply in return from a literary agency in New York that acknowledged that I’d written their client. I like to think Salinger told them to write me because he felt a kindred spirit.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.

Maybe all Salinger needed was to take a break. Then, when he got through with his break, he didn’t know how to come back.  Maybe he didn’t know how to explain that he needed to take a break, and maybe he didn’t know how to explain that he wanted to come back. Telling people what you really feel is hard.

Overcoat weather again, you know?

So I did my errand in town and headed for home – and what should come out of the radio but David Bowie’s “Fame”?

…bully for you/chilly for me/ Got to get a rain check on…pain….

I thought of Salinger – and of how lonely his life must have been – alienated from not just all the people he loved but from the public, too, simply because he didn’t want fame. His fame brought him in the end – pain and little else….

And I remembered that famous line I referred to in my letter, that line from his magnum opus. I wondered if he took the advice of his most famous character, Holden Caulfield:

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody….

7 replies »

  1. I’ll be anxious to see what comes of the writing we all assume he’s been doing all these decades. I hope that he continued being brilliant, although living in such isolation may have bent his mind beyond recognition.

    One thing’s for sure – I’m likely to buy whatever they release.

    Great piece, Jim….