Friday, 29 January 2010

I don't usually get upset when famous people die. I remember when Princess Diana and the Queen Mother and all that died, and were all over the news. I was mostly just irritated that I couldn't watch ANYTHING; we only had 4 and a half channels and every single one seemed intent on ruining my after-school schedule. Michael Jackson's death was probably the biggest media circus of the year, (closely followed by Jade "I still don't like her but kind of feel like I have to" Goody). For me, it was second to another headline which was listed above it on the BBC website: "STONED WALLABIES MAKE CROP CIRCLES" ( )

That was how I actually read it out- "Michael Jackson's dead. Ooh, and stoned wallabies make crop circles! LOL!". I guess I just didn't feel any connection to these rich, pampered media brats. Their lives weren't anything like my own, nor had they ever been. I wasn't a huge fan of them when they were alive, so why should them not being around have any great effect on me? I didn't even think Heath Ledger was that terrific aside from the occasional powerhouse turn in Monster's Ball (in fact, he is the only thing I remember liking about that movie. Don't watch it), Brokeback Mountain and of course, The Dark Knight. Oh, and, umm, 10 Things I Hate About You (sshhh.....). The only time I ever felt any profound feeling when a 'celebrity' died was Hunter S. Thompson's shock suicide in 2005. I was a huge fan of the film Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, and one summer, I read the book of the same name AND Kingdom of Fear. I loved them; I loved the style of writing and felt in Fear and Loathing especially the jerky tone perfectly suited the drug-induced dialogue. Reading it was clearer and more vivid than even the movie. He died a year or so later, and a (considerably more upset) friend and I had a night out in his honour. Basically it involved multiple shots and slurring "all energy flows according to the whims of the great magnet". Good times, and the first time I ever felt strangely affected. The same feeling came over me on Wednesday, when I read in the paper that JD Salinger had died. He was the same kind of strange writer I thought I'd be if ever I made money from my scribblings; although maybe not the kind I'd want to be. His 1951 novel, Catcher In The Rye, was such a huge success that he came under great scrutiny, and published his last work in 1965. He became pretty much a total recluse, appearing in the media only when involved in unfavourable legal battles. Catcher In The Rye, an instant success, tells the story of the now-iconic Holden Caulfield: he is 17, recently expelled from his exclusive private boarding school, and makes his way alone to New York City. The novel is told in first person, in Caulfield's disillusioned, alienated voice, freely discussing sex and anti-religious sentiments, referring to adulthood as "phony" and people as "morons". As you can imagine, it caused a bit of a stir. I first read it when I was 17, after watching the film The Good Girl. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a character who lives his life by the novel, even changing his name to Holden. I won't ruin the film, 'cause it's actually really good (Jennifer Aniston totally surprised me. She's actually a much better actress than Rachel would have you believe), but I'll just say things don't end up so well with poor old Holden. It's the kind of film that stayed with me for a while afterwards. I'd heard of the book, yeah, but didn't really know what it was about. It sounded like the kind of book people read just to say they'd read it; like people who read Animal Farm for standard grade English and then say they're well up on George Orwell. So off I went to- yes- Fopp, which sells every book you could ever hope to be seen reading. (Here, I have also picked up Breakfast at Tiffany's, Kingdom of Fear and The Princess Bride, aren't I cool?!). I bought the book and read it like I did with most things at the time- on the megabus. I was living in Aberdeen for uni and endured the torturous 4-hour bus journey there, and back again, once a month. If you've ever been subjected to the delights of the megabus tour of Scotland, you'll know there's not much distraction from the mind-crushing boredom and enchanting motorway scenery. So, I read, read again, and read some more. The thing which stuck about Catcher In The Rye was Holden's sense of diasplacement and alienation. Considering the circumstances in which I read it, I felt like I could relate somehow; constantly flitting between Aberdeen and Glasgow, getting to grips with a whole new life away from home, feeling an attachment to home while everyone else's lives progressed without me and, all in all, not really finding one particular place I classed as 'home'. Cliched as it sounds, it really struck a chord with me because I could see things in Holden Caulfield that I recognised about myself. His language is a little stilted, and largely his perceptions as a narrator are disjointed and unreliable, but it spoke to me, maaaaaan. In saying that, I didn't get alot of the interpretations and nuances fully until I re-read it. Alot of the book is taken up with tangents; and Holden's language, while historically accurate, is full of teenage colloquialisms from the time of publication, making it quite difficult to get involved in.

Still, sort-of-language barrier aside, it quickly took its place amongst my favourite books, and I felt a deeper affinity for it when I learned that it was actually semi-based on Salinger's own experiences as a teenager. It made the charcter seem like a fully-rounded person, rather than a generic creation of fiction pulled out of the air. It's the kind of book I pick up maybe once a year or so, just to remind myself why I like it so much. I think the reason I felt such like I actually cared when Salinger died, was because I cared about the character he'd created. It resonated with me personally; in the same way as Hunter S., I got totally involved in their worlds, through their words. Even the most common activities of Holden's experience were involving because his unpredictability made him an extremely readable character. The two examples might be complete opposites in terms of style and genre, but the way in which these authors expressed themselves was unique to them- it's totally their own distinctive voice, which is something I've yet to find in my own writing. But I like to think that I will.
So, yeah, I don't get upset when famous people die. They haven't added anything to my life. But when I feel like someone has really spoken to me, and made me feel a connection to their creations, I feel genuinely saddened. Which I suppose is all a good writer can ask for, really.

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