R.I.P. Jim Carroll

I had been searching for two years for a copy of Patti Smith’s concert from CBGB in October of 2006. It was the last show ever at the famed punk rock venue which closed forever following the show. It was broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio at the time, and bootleg copies circulated, but were difficult to find. Finally, last Friday I stumbled onto a digital download of the entire show, over three hours long.

Patti has been one of my rock and roll icons since her emergence to punk rock prominence in the mid 1970s with her albums “Horses”, “Radio Ethiopia”, and “Easter.” Patti has always been about the poetry of her songs and a burning, passionate attitude. I had the chance to see her in concert in 2007 and it is one of the highlights of my fifty plus years of attending live music shows.

But this isn’t about Patti. On the same day that I found the concert from CBGB, Jim Carroll died of a heart attack at the age of 60. It wasn’t announced until a couple of days later, and that explains my late chronicling of it.

Jim Carroll was a poet, author, and punk rocker. He wrote the cult favorite, autobiographical, The Basketball Diaries, gleaned from journals he kept from the age of 12 until he was 16. The book has not gone out of print since its introduction in 1978, and has been required reading at a multitude of colleges and universities. It was made into a popular movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 1995.

Carroll, while still in his teens, had a seminal book of poetry published in 1967, “Organic Trains.” That was followed by “Four Up and One Down,” in 1970. His place in literature would have secured him all the fame and notice he would ever need, but he tried his hand at another craft, rock and roll music.

At the urging of his friend, Patti Smith, Carroll formed a band and recorded three albums between 1980 and 1984. His most famous, influential, and important album was “Catholic Boy,” his first. The album is still considered as a landmark record. It provides a dark, bold, and honest look at the New York scene in which Carroll lived, and by transference, a gritty look at life in America in the years of loss and disconnection that followed the Vietnam War, Watergate, and a general disillusion.

Carroll was in the crowd at CBGB the night Patti played the last show there. He didn’t get up and perform with the band like Richard Lloyd, another early punk friend of Patti’s did. Carroll preferred to just be there, to experience the moment, to see his old friend and supporter.

I hadn’t listened to “Catholic Boy” in so many years I can’t remember. This morning I put it on. It’s more alive and fresh now than I remember it being in 1980. More significant and meaningful than almost any record now being played on the radio or on most people’s iPods. And as soon as I finish this posting, that’s where “Catholic Boys” is going, on my iPod.

I lost track of Jim Carroll over the last twenty years or so. Now that I’m reconnected via this great album, I can only wish that he had done more that would have come to my attention. As is too often the case, we forget those people in our lives, or who influence our lives, until we read their obituaries. That’s a pity.

One comment on “R.I.P. Jim Carroll

  1. Kim King says:

    So sad to hear Jim Carroll passed away. I also owned ” Catholic Boy” and enjoyed the wordiness of the songs as well as the music. R.I.P. Jim.

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