Holden Caulfield is JD Salinger's main character in his novel Catcher in The Rye. He is revealed to be a very dynamic character over the course of the novel as he only seems to pursue fast girls and cigarettes, while smultaneously revealing universal truths about human character. He despises almost everyone he knows, everyone he doesn't know, and is extremely lonely but refuses to admit that it's because of the distance he places between himself and everyone else. The only people he seems to care for are his younger sister and english teacher, the only subject he is passing in school. Holden also tends to do seemingly nonsensical things on a tear, such as exclaiming to the mother of one of his loathed classmates, whom he just met, how great her son is, he then gives her an alias. Many things Holden does do not make sense but he somehow inspires a feeling of relation in adolescents and even adults who give him a second thought.
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Bob Dylan
"Make me change my mind and stay."
Throughout the novel we see the dynamic of Holden change a great deal. We see him be rejected and hurt and thus retreat further into himself. This happens a great deal, especially when he is rejected by girls. This is also seen to some degree in the beginning of the novel before he leaves Pency, his high school. He visits his english teacher, the teacher of the only subject he enjoys, perhaps to find some reason to try and achieve something where he is. We are also exposed to a side of him that wishes to be accepted by anyone really. This song does a good job of encompassing both of these aspects of his longings. The song achieves those aforementioned feelings through lyrics like "Still I wish there somethin' you'd do or say, to try and make me change my mind and stay" and "I'm walkin' down that long, lonesome road gal". Furthermore the sonic elements of this song help project the same meaning. The soft acoustic guitar that plays the same few notes over and over throughout the song give it a very reserved feeling. The guitar is also one of two instruments in the song, which gives a singular and lonely tone as well. The use of harmonica also promotes this singularity as it is often the only instrument being played in some parts of the song.
SIster Golden Hair - America
"I ain't ready for the alter"
Throughout the course of the novel we see several examples of Holden's pursuit of women. These experiences even lead him into the company of a prostitute, this experience does not, however, go as you might think. He refuses to have sex with her but offers to pay, she does not respond kindly. This experience is indicative of Holden's reluctance to have sex which ultimately reveals his fear of intimacy once confronted with the possibility of having sex. This does not mean that Holden does not desire female companionship as throughout the course of the novel Holden mentions a girl named Jane and a longing to be around her.
Holden met Jane last summer and held hands with her, an experience he holds in very high regard, He even says she was "terrific at holding hands." He compares her ability to hold hands to the lackluster experiences of past girls. Which reinforces the idea that he is not without want of a type of closeness. The song Sister Golden Hair expresses a similar view on females. With lyrics like "I ain't ready for the altar but I do agree there's times when a woman sure can be a friend of mine" we see this same view towards women expressed. Again we see the same desire for female companionship but a shying away from extreme intimacy that things like marriage and sex entail, that Caulfield clearly exhibits.
The fast paced tempo of the song correlates with the random and unrelenting stream of events that Holden goes through. The underlying and prolonged guitar notes at the beginning of the chorus slow down the song, which reminds me of how Holden seems to fixate on certain mannerisms and instances in the aforementioned fast paced stream of events.
Cocaine - Eric Clapton
There was an instance in the novel where Holden witnessed a girl getting water squirted in her face, which he immediately thought was funny. Afterwards, however he acknowledged that it was a "crumby thing to do." He then goes on to say that "it's a shame that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun." Here we see Holden acknowledge the human tendency to perpetuate behaviors that are harmful to others and ourselves in order to recieve the enjoyment that can be gained from them. Eric Clapton's song Cocaine does just this, albeit with a much more extreme vice than squirting water on people's faces but the point is still there. Clapton employs lyrics such as "if you got bad news, wanna kick them blues, cocaine", which touches on the same enjoyment that can be gathered from destructive behaviors that Caulfield acknowledged. Additionally Caulfield smokes cigarettes and drinks in excess throughout the novel which also suggests that he has no problem with pleasure at the expense of his own health as well, which is closer to Clapton's theme.
The very apparent use of electric guitar and low but strained vocals are similar to the persona which Holden tries to promote about himself. He wants to appear tough to those he encounters but deep down he knows he is "yellow". Holden uses this persona to help ward off those who he fears will reject him but this just makes everyone he encounters misunderstand him, with the exception of his sister.
You Are My Sunshine - Johnny Cash
"You make me happy when skies are grey."
Holden visits a museum that he frequented in his childhood and finds it exactly as it was years ago. "The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish." This experience gives him comfort and exposes the portion of his innocence that has been preserved from his childhood, much like the unchanging nature of the museum. He is reverted back to a safe place in his mind. In Johnny Cash's cover of You Are My Sunshine we see a similar theme projected through lyrics like "you make me happy when skies are grey." With some inspection we can take this to mean that the singer feels a certain calm when in the presence of another person, even when things are changing for the worst in external situations.
Holden also feels a certain calming when he visits his sister that is similar to what is described above. He wishes to preserve her innocence as well when he sees that someone has written "fuck you" on a wall at her school. "Somebody'd written "Fuck you" on the wall of her school. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it", Holden hates the idea that someone would try to take away something as precious as someone's innocence. We can only conclude that he values his own innocence and wishes to have at least part of it back.
While the upbeat message and sound of this song may seem misleading given Holden's disposition, it is important to remmebr the patience and seemingly loving attitude Holden has regarding his sister. The soft guitar notes create a warm feeling when listening to the song, a feeling that I can imagine Holden felt regarding his sister. However Johnny Cash's voice here is what makes the song even more relatable to Holden's story. The song was recorded late in Cash's life and you can hear the subtle quivers in his voice, which give the song a somewhat somber tone that reminds one of Caulfield's dark attitude towards "phonies" and the rest of his events and people in his life.
He Stopped Loving Her Today - Johnny Cash
"As the years went slowly by, she kept preying on his mind..."
Holden often discusses the topic of life and death, which stems from the loss of his younger brother, Allie, to leukemia years before. He loved Allie a great deal and admired his intelligence, he brings up Allie's old baseball mitt covered in poetry and explains that he did that so he'd have something to read while waiting for the batter. Holden's discussion of this reveals another caveat to Holden's dynamic persona. In one such instance this aspect of Holden appears in a metaphor when he asks his cab driver "You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?" This is not just a simple question about ducks, but it reveals the larger, deeper issue of Holden's questions about mortality. The ducks are a metaphor for life and their flying away in the winter represents the fleeting nature of life and its eventual end, death.
Johnny Cash's cover of He Stopped Loving Her Today is a ballad of a heartbroken character, similar to Holden's scarred perception as a result of Allie's death, who doesn't quite get over his heartbreak until he dies. "As the years went slowly by, she kept preying on his mind... he still loved her through it all" depicts said characer in the middle of his heart break, which is where we pick up with Holden's story. The song ends with the death of the character and his final happiness, which brings to mind the question of Holden's true happiness being achieved only at death. The voice of Cash gives resonant, stubborn tone to the song, which embodies much of what Holden appears to be. The slow guitar and piano also seem to parallel with the sad results of all of Holden's attempts at adolscent love.
Adam's Song - Blink 182
"I'm too depressed to go on"
Adam's Song is about sadness, lonliness and the misunderstood feeling that accompanies being an adolescent. No wonder it works well for Holden Caulfield's story. When he visits his sister in the middle of the night she tells him "Because you don't. You don't like any schools. You don't like a million things. You don't." which Holden denies. He is obviously depressed, which might be the result of his extreme dislike of everyone and everything. He is self depricating in that he distances himself from everyone and feels lonely and depressed as a result, but refuses to admit this to himself. "I'm too depressed to go on, you'll be sorry when I'm gone" and "I couldn't wait till I got home, to pass the time in my room alone" both seem like things Holden Caulfield would say, especially since he frequently changed boarding schools and made comments about never saying goodbye. He also refers to everyone as "phonie", which is essentially his way of distancing himself from society and the formalities it enforces. However the two quotes mentioned in the preceding sentence are Blink 182 lyrics, which portray the same theme of isolation and self induced lonliness.
The lead singer's voice itself is reminiscient of what you would expect a young teenager to listen to when they are experiencing issues related to parents and just rapidly changing circumstances in general. This is also the plight of Holden Caulfield. The crescendo of the drums as well as the undulation in their sound also promotes this angsty view, while the piano that we during the last bridge of the song gives the song a depressing note. This depressing tone is first introduced by the quick and low electric guitar notes, at the beginning of the song.