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River Rocks #1: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," "Rock & Roll," and Canicular

I’ve enjoyed writing for many years. I'm dedicating more time to the craft in my retirement days.

River Rocks #1


Every installment of River Rocks features a tidbit each from the vast universes of literature and music. Included as well is a researched word, term or expression you might not have heard before.

The totality of my job is to assay one, some or all of the following when it comes to the various works and words discussed herein: admiration, appreciation, assessment, analysis, advancement, advocacy.

I’m no authority, and I’m not the arbiter of good taste. I make no claim to be. Indeed, I’m the very opposite of that. I’m a dabbler, a consumer, an appreciator. I do have aspirations, though, to be a perpetual student of life, the universe and everything. More than anything else, that’s what this adventure is all about: learning.

Too, however, it’s about doing a little something to combat the information overload phenomenon of our time. There is so much out there, everywhere, and in all manner of media. With so, so, so much to consume, how do we pick and choose where to go, what to look at, what to look for? I have found the past couple years that my daily and weekly reads, the shows I watch, the movies I see, the podcasts I listen to, my corner hangouts—virtual and not—are mostly from family, friend and colleague mentions and recommendations.

In River Rocks, I am sifting through just some of the many sands, holding up for consideration a few grains. Maybe as I do, you'll find among those grains something of interest yourself. That is the hope and the objective, anyway.

A (wo)man can do all things if (s)he will

— Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72)

The River Rocks Promise

I offer the reader no guarantees save this one: if it’s featured in RR, I’ve consumed it. I’ve read it, watched it, listened to it, researched it, wrote about it previously, engaged with it in some way, shape or form. That’s the only guaranteed offer in this digest. In general terms, then, when I write about it, I've been there, done that to some degree. I can offer no more than that.

Consider this an invitation to join me, if you're so inclined. No RSVP required. Let's just see where this venture might lead.

Literature: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," by J.D. Salinger

If you’ve read any of Salinger’s works, chances are you’ve read Catcher in the Rye, perhaps even took in Frannie and Zooey somewhere along the way. I read the former long ago—probably in high school American Literature class—but never found or heard of the latter until it was mentioned in the movie Carrie Pilby, which I watched in 2020 when I was waking up daily at 0330-0430 in the morning to a hungry cat who thought the height of a pandemic was a good time for her to start getting fed before the sun came up. It took a long time to “train” her out of that really awful habit, but eventually we did. Meantime, however, I watched lots and lots of streaming movies at wild hours for months upon months. One of them, as I mentioned, was Carrie Pilby, and after watching that movie I decided I needed to read Salinger’s Frannie and Zooey (watch the movie, you’ll understand why). After reading Frannie and Zooey and then surfing for other Salinger works, I happened upon this really great short story of his: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

Minerva deserves the cat's share of the credit for helping me find "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."  Still...if she'd sleep at night she wouldn't have to nap on packing material all afternoon.

Minerva deserves the cat's share of the credit for helping me find "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Still...if she'd sleep at night she wouldn't have to nap on packing material all afternoon.

Originally published in The New Yorker all the way back in early 1948, it is said this work firmly established Salinger’s status as a writer of consequence. Like it would most writers who want to master the craft and who aspire to matter, learning this short story sent one of the greats “to the show” made me want to read it right away myself.

I was able to locate a .pdf copy online so I could resolve my pique in an instant. I still remember how I felt that day in 2020 on my inaugural reading of it, too. My first reaction was, “OMG. Wow. No wonder.” Or something substantially to that effect, anyway.

If you’ve not read this classic short story of Salinger’s—which has been published again in his book Nine Stories, and also in at least one other hardcover multi-author anthology—go read it as soon as you're done here. Don’t pass go, don’t Google anything about it, just go read the story. It won’t take you very long, and you absolutely won’t regret it. I've included a link to it in the references block at the end of this article.

World Class Prose

The descriptive details put you in the scene of a Florida beachfront vacation community, and the dialog—the dialog!—is so realistic and captivating it tells its own kind of comprehensive, revelatory story about the few characters we get to meet and know in this relatively short snapshot in time. It is the realism of the conversation, the natural flow of the narrative as it unfolds in what feels like real time, that makes us feel like it could be happening right now, right before our very eyes.

And the dialog! Did I mention that? It’s easy to see why it captured the attention of New Yorker editor William Maxwell and the rest of the magazine’s staff. This, too, is what makes me (and likely many others) go back and read it again and again when I am crafting conversations in my own works.

Quite simply, and in summary, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is one of the all-time great, critically acclaimed short stories by a highly accomplished and well-known author. That it was the first of Salinger's published works is another reason it earns a proud place of prominence in my reading collection.


Song: "Rock & Roll," by The Velvet Underground

I arrived late to the discovery party on this one, too, having only recently found it on YouTube and Apple Music. Here's how I made what has turned out to be a wonderful discovery:

Due to all the smoke in the PNW right now (July-August 2021), I came up with an idea to create a motivational/inspirational playlist I could listen to while riding my indoor bike. I decided to pick songs that included the words "Rock & Roll" in the title (including all variants of 'and', 'n', and '&'). Velvet Underground's 1969 classic came up frequently on personal Top 10 lists and anthologies across the interwebs, so I gave it a go. Here's why it found a home on my Rock and Roll spinning playlist:

Jenny’s life was saved by rock and roll. She was pretty young, I think, to feel her existence was threatened. After all, she was merely five years old. Still, she felt threatened, and the reasons why included:

Her mom and dad were gonna be the death of her (of us all) with their two Caddies, their two televisions. That, and just the overall cold hard fact that there was "nothin' goin' down, nothing happenin' at all. Not at all."

And then? And then Jenny turned her radio to a New York station...and started shakin', started dancin' to that fine, fine music, that Rock and Roll. And that changed everything for her. It was all right.

"Rock and Roll' is about me. If I hadn't heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating - to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from. That would have been profoundly discouraging. Movies didn't do it for me. TV didn't do it for me. It was the radio that did it.

— Lou Reed (liner notes, Velvet Underground's "Peel Slowly And See" box set)

I love this song not only for Jenny's story—that is to say singer/songwriter Lou Reed's story—I Iove it also for the smooth guitars on the intro, the rapid-fire drumbeat throughout, the lead vocals that shift between steady, gentle enunciation and the occasional high-pitched screaming 'adjectivation.' The guitar solos along the way epitomize classic rock, and the lyrics beg irresistibly for the listener to sing along. I enjoy the overall happy-go-lucky feeling I get from listening to it.

At the end of the day, "Rock & Roll" is rock and roll at its participative finest: I not only love spinning along to it, it makes me want sing and dance, too, just like Jenny (and Lou). That, then, makes it much more than all right.

A Word You May Not Have Heard



Canicular is generally accepted to mean, literally, “of, or pertaining to, the Dog Star (Sirius).” This gives rise to its most common, most well-known definitions:

1: immediately preceding and following the heliacal rising of the Dog Star

2: of or relating to the dog days

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary includes the literal definition of the root word canicula as “small bitch,” though it is defined simply as “small dog” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In all cases, including scads of internet references, the word canicular is primarily associated with the dog days of summer. In particular, and as just one prominent example, typing “canicular” into the Google search bar will produce exact dates for the dog days: 3 July to 11 August. It will also bring up the two definitions listed above.

There is, however, one obscure definition of the word you may not have heard or seen before, and which is a much less common return in search engine results. In the Oxford English Dictionary, reference is made to the ancient Egyptian canicular cycle or canicular period. This is also known as the Sothic cycle.

The canicular cycle is 1461 years long, with each year lasting exactly 365 days. The effect of such a calendar is that when a cycle is complete, any given day of the year of 365 days would have passed successively through all the seasons of the natural year (defined as 365.25 days). Intriguing, though perhaps not necesssarily very useful during a normal human lifespan.

Additionally, lest there be any confusion, note that the canicular cycle is different from the ancient Egyptian canicular year, which was computed from one heliacal rising of the Dog Star to the next.

Canicular Used in a Sentence:

“Some latitudes have no canicular days…as Nova Zembla…for unto that habitation the Dogge-Starre is invisible.”
— Sir T. Browne, pseudepigrapha, 1646, included in the Oxford English Dictionary

"Maggie had from her window, seen her stepmother leave the house—at so unlikely an hour, three o'clock of a canicular August…. It was the hottest day of the season…."
— Henry James, The Golden Bowl, 1904

"On weekend days in the canicular season, the wait at the town's only ice cream shop was often 20 people deep."
"He comprehended the pagan superstition, the holy horror of canicular noon-times on the shore inhabited by a cruel and occult god."
The Triumph of Death, Gabriele D'Annunzio [2]

canicular: of or relating to the dog days


Until Next Time

Those are the morsels of media for this edition of River Rocks. I’ve made it easy for you to access the consumables—Salinger’s story is linked below, and a YouTube link to VU’s “Rock & Roll” is, of course, embedded above. The song is also available to purchase on iTunes, or you can listen to it for the price of enduring a brief advertisement on Pandora.

Good week, everyone. See you next time.


© 2021 greg cain

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