What does Holden Caulfield mean to you? With his creator’s death yesterday, intense discussion of just how influential J.D. Salinger’s idealist protagonist was in shaping the mindset of the millions who devoured The Catcher in the Rye is inevitable. Without a doubt, some of this influence seeped into the music world, so we’ve compiled a quick playlist of tracks that are both explicitly and subtly inspired by the novel. You may be surprised at who felt the Caulfield connection enough to include it in song.
Considering source material that’s this iconic, it’s a safe bet we missed a few (or more) here, so let us know which other songs you see as directly inspired by Salinger’s classic in the comments.
Green Day – “Basket Case”
“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield” off of Kerplunk! has to be considered too obvious a choice, but “Basket Case” also draws heavily from the plot points in The Catcher In The Rye. References to encounters with an annoyed whore come straight from the novel, and those who never thought much of Holden Caulfield will relate to Billie Joe Armstrong’s nasal questioning: “Do you have the time / to listen to me whine?”
Belle and Sebastian – “La Pastie de la Bourgeoisie”
“La Pastie de la Bourgeoisie” name drops Judy Blume and Jack Kerouac, but certain verses seem to be directly addressing Caulfield’s awakening as he says “cheerio to school,” asking if he’d like to get away and “give yourself up to the allure of Catcher In The Rye.” The music itself sounds like a bouncy, encouraging soundtrack to a great westward journey.
The Lawrence Arms – “The Disaster March”
A melancholy intro that quick-shifts into a chunky power-punk grinder. Amid the whispered croak of a vocal, the song also capitalizes on Caulfield’s feelings of being godlike and powerful. “I was frustrated and angry / I was more than alive / a catcher in the rye.” The sound eventually gets whiny, but for many, The Catcher in The Rye sounds that way too.
The Hold Steady “Two Handed Handshake” ytaudio(tA7tIa5bSHo)
Though it doesn’t explicitly address Catcher, an offering from bar-band extraordinaire the Hold Steady could refer to Caulfield’s slow growth of cynicism and disgust toward superficiality. Craig Finn liberally sprinkles his songs with literary references, and when he talks about how “You dress like contestants / at some phony pageant,” it seems to spring straight from Caulfield’s attack on phonies.
Streetlight Manifesto – “Here’s to Life”
Caulfield knows no musical bounds, judging by how the references pop up in this skank-inducing ska cover of a Bandits of the Revolution song. Heavy horns and graveled screams anchor the propulsion, though it devolves into a mournful, down-tempo attack on Salinger’s reclusive nature: “Just when the world was looking at you / to write anything that meant anything / you told us you were through / and it’s been years since you passed away.”
Guns N’ Roses – “Catcher in the Rye”
Like most new GnR songs, “Catcher in the Rye” showcases Axl’s caterwaul pouring over the overdub madness. There are sly references to insanity and sociopathic leanings, as well as the obvious title, and the song supposedly is about the effect the novel had on Mark David Chapman. At least it’s comforting knowing that Axl probably spent just as much time laboring over this song as Salinger spent trying to write a Catcher In The Rye follow-up.
The Bloodhound Gang – “Magna Cum Nada”
When they rap/yell/whine “Most likely to suck,” you can’t help thinking about the song itself (which might actually be the meta genius of Bloodhound Gang). Still, the opening lyrics assure the listener that “I’m that guy / Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye / put away ’cause he wasn’t all there.” See, Bloodhound Gang are equally capable of doing like they do on the Discovery Channel and making sophisticated literary references.
Indochine – “Des Fleurs Pour Salinger” ytaudio(izh8ZINh6fU)
It doesn’t get much more literal than a song title that references the author (“Flowers for Salinger”) and directly quotes from the book, albeit in French. It’s also highly entertaining to imagine Salinger listening to a synthy subversion of his novel transformed into a thumpy, French new-wave dance wobbler.
Beck – “Volcano”
Beck’s mournful meditation of a wandering, uncertain life could have been Caulfield’s favorite song. An electronic screech supplements simple drums under Beck’s sleepy voice as he becomes “tired of people who only want to be pleased.” He’s lost on the streets for who knows how long, searching for a rope, questioning himself: “I don’t know if I’m sane.” Beck’s concerns of living in the modern world are also Caulfield’s; there is no final eruption, just a slow yielding up of life, still dying to avoid the fiery blaze.