RIP Jim Carroll
Poet, literary sensation, diarist, musician, cultural influence Jim Carroll died Sept 11 of an apparent heart attack while writing at his desk in Manhattan. Through his poetry, books and music, Carroll updated the outlaw poet ethos for the punk rock generation, and also made Catholicism seem really hot, sexy and damaged. The stark contrasts of his teenage life–basketball star and Catholic schoolboy/heroin addict and bisexual street hustler/poet enthralled the art and literary world and made him an underground pop culture icon.
I read The Basketball Diaries in 1980 and it had a profound influence–for art very good; for some lifestyle parts, maybe not so much–and saw him play and read several times in Los Angeles, first at the Lhasa Clue where he read an essay about heroin taking the best minds of America and turning their ambition into a non-stop scramble for the drug, and another piece which was simply a list of exercises from a tai chi book.
The last time I saw him read, years later at Club Largo was a blur to me. What I recall most about it was the club owner taking me aside right before, ashen faced, saying
Jim Carroll was upstairs in my office and I gave a couple margaritas and then I heard a crash and there he was lying at the bottom of the stairs! He’d fallen and I thought ‘Oh shit just I killed Jim Carroll and it’s sold out show !’ But he got up shook himself and smiled then walked out front.
Carroll became famous for chronicling his Catholic schoolboy/basketball payer/heroin addict/street hustler lifestyle with fierce, colorful language in his books and later channeling raw musical energy in his songwriting. As a teenager, he was embraced by Patti Smith (her guitarist Lennny Kaye went on to play with Carroll), Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsburg, Lou Reed, and others in the New York art world and literary scene.
Though a junkie by the time he was 15, he still attended poetry workshops and wrote non-stop while on a basketball scholarship to Trinity and elite Manhattan prep school. Organic Trains, his first collection of poetry was published when he was 16, and excerpts from The Basketball Diaries were printed in Paris Review that same year.
Carroll’s biggest hit song "People Who Died" was used in the opening scene of E.T.: The Extra -Terrestrial and featured as well in the 1995 movie version of The Basketball Diaries which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
Jim Carroll’s words and music, how he lived his life, changed my life and the lives of many people I know–some of whom were close to him personally, some who were fans. I send my condolences and love to them, knowing that his effect, his words, his songs will continue through everyone who encountered him whether in person, on the page or through his performances.