It may seem poignant that the death of Jim Carroll at 60 was reported by his ex-wife. But Carroll was about people and things left behind. “It’s too late/To fall in love with Sharon Tate,” he wrote in one context, “But it’s too soon/To ask me for the words I want carved on my tomb.” His best known book, The Basketball Diaries, was about the urban and obscene Catholic baller boyhood he motored through and beyond, leaving a residue of anger and poetry. His best known song was “People Who Died.” A friend who wasn’t really getting the punk rock thing called us when the song broke: he said that when it came on his car radio he had to pull over and hold his hands over his mouth. “Most people felt that I went to California [in 1973] to get off drugs,” Carroll said in an interview, “but that was only one part of it. Also, it was to gain a sense of control.” In 1991 he still felt compelled to show an interviewer that the pills he was taking were aspirin. (He tells that interviewer about an NBA All-Star Game he reported in Forced Entries, “I screwed up, I fucked up… I’m looking at guys that I used to seriously damage scoring double figures in the All-Star Game.”) As a fledgling he met all the poetry big guys — Jack Keroauc, Ted Berrigan, Larry Rivers — and became a big guy himself; we saw him once at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project: painfully thin, sepulchral, a ghost that walked. Compare that with the successful ex-ballers you see on TV. Maybe he gained control by purging himself till there was little left but spirit and words. A lovely appreciation by Rob Harvilla appears at Sound of the City.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 14, 2009