Feb
03

No Banana Fever at the Grammys

I’m a big fan of J.D. Salinger, who passed away this week at 91, and of the Grammy Awards, which celebrated music in its stunning spectacle of creative performance on Sunday. Now, Holden Caulfield would likely take issue with the superficial celebrity culture of pop music. As you may recall, Holden, the narrator of Salinger’s classic novel Catcher in the Rye, detested “phonies” and gave voice to that part of us that resists conformity and the inauthentic compromises of growing up. I’m sure he would have been disgusted by the idolatry and image-consciousness of the Grammys.

But here’s the thing: Holden suffered from “Banana Fever”—as described in Salingers’ unsettling “Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the first tale of his Nine Stories, one of only four published books which reflect the writer’s brilliant combination of uncanny dialogue, telling detail and conflicting angst of a post-World War II privileged generation.

In “Perfect,” Seymour Glass (who really is the central character of Salinger’s work, a zen-like genius whose New York family populates many of his stories) is explaining the “tragic life” of an imaginary species of “bananafish” to a young girl named Sybil as they look out onto the ocean. “They swim into a hole where there’s lots of bananas,” he says. “Once they get in, they behave like pigs…after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole.” “What happens to them?” asks the unsuspecting Sybil. “They die,” Seymour replies. “They get banana fever. It’s a terrible disease.”

While the symbolic significance of banana fever may be debated forever, I take it like this: Holden—and many would-be creators—take in and feel so much from life and relationships but can’t find a way out of their hole to express themselves. The love that Holden felt for the most authentic and uncorrupted people (Salinger the hermit too—sadly, he seemed to feel there were few left on earth) was so trapped inside him that he became more and more bloated. He suffered from the resentment, frustration and likely gastric reflux common to all of us who aren’t able to relieve the pressure by sharing our talents and creativity with the world.

And that’s why I love the Grammys–a show where no one ever suffers from banana fever. Instead we get to revel in the full flowering of talent, creativity, nerve and courage. Whether it’s the ravaged and riveting Lady GaGa, joined by the still-inspiring Elton John (video below) or the high-flying Pink, her voice perfectly modulated despite the fountain of her body spinning in mid-air (this video is currently unavailable but it’s worth finding), the Grammys provide the forum for demonstrating how some of the greatest musical performers of our time get completely get out of their holes and show us what’s inside.
It’s easy to be a critic about music or fashion or art, but I can’t be when watching the Grammys. I love that the performers do not play it safe, that Taylor Swift is joined by Stevie Nicks, that the costumes and choreography of the Black Eyed Peas make my eyes stop blinking. There they are, the Peas, screaming out, “Fill up my cup. Mazel Tov!” and manifesting in celebration the love that incapacitated Holden. This is authentic creativity—full expression, no repression, often with freak flags flying—and, come to think of it, I believe even Salinger would approve.
Creative Commons License
Resource Center for Arts Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur The Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.