Real Detroit probes the mind of a true Renaissance man.
REAL Detroit: Why did
you start doing spoken word performances?
Jim Carroll: Well readings is
just another name for spoken word performance I guess. When the whole spoken word thing
happened, you know new things came along like slams and people doing more amalgamating
performance art with spoken word pieces. Usually in the old days, performance art
happenings, the best ones, were wordless and so its just like a combination of both.
I come from the old school where I think any poem worth its salt has to work on the page.
But I also think it has to have a natural lyrical quality to it and of course its
much better if you can hear the person read it but I still believe that you have to
delineate on the page by the line. Its just a matter of technique, short lines slow
it up and it just defines how it should be read. I have made concessions from what poetry
readings used to be.
In the old days there were certain
poets whose poems I really liked on the page who were really dreadful readers, which is
true to this day. I think John Ashbery is the best poet alive and hes a really
boring reader. At the same time there are other poets whose poems I didnt like on
the page and they were just fantastic when they read. Like Ginsberg, well I liked
Allens poems on the page, but he was a fantastic reader too. Other beats, more
obscure beat poets like Ray Brahms or somebody like that, whose poems I didnt like
on the page but when he read he had that jazz thing happening, but thats kind of an
old school thing.
Ive made certain concessions.
I did this spoken word record in 93 with no music, Praying Mantis, I put a couple of
pieces on that which worked when I read them but I didnt put in my next book because
they didnt seem to work on the page. I was doing a lot of readings so I thought, I
guess I am writing certain pieces for the ear rather than for the page or for the eye.
Im more aware of it and I guess through rock and roll I learned to perform better.
The other thing I started to get
into doing monologues. Id start out with a germ of an idea that wasnt written
down and its more like telling a story. Its difficult because youre
working without a net, you dont have any page to resort to; if you go off its
really bad. You really need energy from the audience for something like that. And a lot of
them, each time you do them, some new character comes or you get something different and
after a while some of them turn into short stories. You write them out and put (them)
through the literary machine. Sometimes they work as short stories, Im working on
some of them now and Ive done that in the past. Others dont and you just kind
of discard those and its just as well. Thats more of a spoken word aspect that
I wouldnt do at a poetry reading when I was young.
But aside from that, the other thing
is since I write prose and poems I always usually start with prose pieces, whether
its a monologue or a piece from a book. The problem is Ive been working on
these novels and its much different than from taking things like in Forced Entries
that are short diary entries and they read very well Its hard to read from these
books because you could go twenty pages and still not hit the germane parts. There are
some parts where I can take little fragments. Theres no real plot or anything,
theres just an image that works as a slice. For the most part I find it hard to read
from those. I usually like to read prose pieces and have most of them be kind of funny and
then the second part of the reading Ill read poems which are usually more serious
but Ive noticed it depends what poems I read. It seemed at the last reading the
poems were pretty funny too.
Most of the poems I read now are
from Void of Course, my most recent book. With poems, its like with songs, people
have certain favorite ones they want to hear and then dont mind hearing those over
and over again, youre just reading one time a year. But with prose, people want to
hear a different piece than they heard the year before. I dont know exactly what
prose pieces I read last year, but Ill find out and I wont read the same
pieces this time. I dont know what the difference is, thats just my way of
going about it. The main difference between spoken word and poetry readings, (spoken word)
has opened more doors. Im not really into poetry slams and stuff. Usually the poems
that win, and people will even admit it, are their weakest poems theyre just funny,
JC: Yeah. But it brings more
people into it and it makes poetry more accessible in different forms and people can just
get into it and then once theyre there they can neutralize it from their own taste.
In that sense its a good thing and all those things are welcome.
The whole thing of spoken word being
some phenomenon thats going to be there with rock and roll is total bullshit.
Thats never going to happen, people want a backbeat. I just know from doing both, I
could feel the difference from the audience. But there are certain similarities and
certain tricks you can bring from rock and roll. Writing a lyric and writing a poem are
two different things technically.
It always angered me when critics
would refer to the lyrics as poems because theyre very different (even if) in the
aesthetic sense you try and do the same thing. But I dont think that spoken word is
going to eclipse music in any sense. I see people incorporating it at different times in a
useful way and thats good. Someone will come along and put it all together in some
unique way but I dont who thats going to be.
RD: Do you think that poetry
has become more accessible to the public?
JC: Yeah. I think so, I mean
poetry as spoken word. I think rap has helped do that. In New York theres a lot of
rap guys who go to spoken word venues like the Nuyorican Cafe and theyve been taken
in. At first they was a separation and some antagonism but now a lot of rap guys are just
reading their pieces without any music.
I think it makes it all more
accessible because poetry readings (are) not something that everybody is going to get
into. Thats why Ill start off with a prose piece thats funny and more
accessible to people who are not used to it (poetry readings) because its an
acquired taste. I see it with all these kids.
I have this new audience of kids who
bought The Basketball Diaries after the movie came out, which surprised me because I
thought theyd just see it because of Leonardo or Marky or something. When it went
back on the New York Times Bestseller List my publisher and I couldnt figure out who
was buying all these books and it turned out to be all these kids. I soon started to get
all these letters from these kids like between 12 and 18 and they would show up at
readings. That was great because I always liked kids who were the age when I wrote the
book reading it. It certainly brought up some problems for me in the past couple years.
Most of the letters I get from kids, theyve read The Basketball Diaries and then
they actually did go out and buy my books of poems and they hadnt really read poems
before and they digem. Thats good from another direction. I think it is more
accessible now and it is bigger. I just mean not on the level of rock or anything.
RD: When you wrote The Basketball Diaries and when they were subsequently published, did you have any idea the
impact they would have?
JC: No. When I wrote them I
had no idea but you have to remember when I wrote them I didnt think about
publishing them. I didnt write them as a dear diary, I did write them for an
audience really even if I didnt know it at the time. I was addressing an audience, I
say it right in the book sometimes. But I didnt think about publishing it because
then I got into poetry and pushed that aside.
Then they had a prose issue of this
poetry magazine and they asked me if I had any prose, this was when I was about 17 or 18,
and I said, "Well I have these diaries I wrote and theyd be kind of camp in a
certain way." I remember Ted Berrigan, a poet who was like a big mentor of mine, a
big brother, he said, "This is a money book, man."
Then the people at the Paris Review
read them and said, "You should send us about thirty pages." So when they were
published there I got all these letters from publishers who wanted to do it, but I
didnt publish it then, this was in 1970. I just didnt think it was a good time
to publish it because it wasnt really a hippie book.
When I started to do music I looked
at the diaries, I had been in the recluse period in California for years and I hadnt
thought about publishing anything really. I had to go to New York and I brought The
Basketball Diaries with me because I thought that if The Ramones are writing songs about
guys sniffing glue and theres all these pieces about sniffing glue and cleaning
fluid in the Diaries, I think its much closer to the punk audience. So I waited
until then. I guess it was just a thing of timing at that point.
The way its gone on through other
generations since then has been interesting to me. The whole thing of the shit in Kentucky
and Columbine is weird and I dont know what thats about. I cant account
for the impact, the only thing I can think that separates it from other books like that is
it was written at the time when I was that age. It wasnt a book about youth looking
back. I mean they are great books like Catcher In The Rye that are written looking back
and thats just coming from another angle. That book certainly has spawned a lot of
havoc too. It also may be because theyre in diary form but still read like a novel
in a certain way. It lets kids read them (by) skipping around at first.
I remember when I first published it
and I sent a copy to Sam Shepperd. He sent me this letter, because hed read them in
magazines over the years. I was living near him in California and I said, "I finally
published the fuckin thing." He said send me a copy. When he first read it he
read them just skipping around and he thought he read them all and then hed find one
he hadnt read and it was like a bonus. But then he read it cover to cover and he
said it had a completely different effect. I thought that was really terrific.
I know when Bantam first published
it they did some kind of study on how many people had read different Bantam books for each
copy sold and The Basketball Diaries had the most people who read it for each copy sold
because it was borrowed from so many people.
Whenever I do booksignings people
are always saying, "Could you make this out to so and so because I stole his copy and
this is the only way I can become friends again, if I get a signed copy." You know
you can pick it up and just read two excerpts and stick it in your pocket and leave. (You
can) read it that way and then get a different take reading it cover to cover.
Its also one of the most
stolen books apparently. The guy at Barnes and Noble told me. In a lot of bookstores, with
Charles Bukowski and (William) Burroughs and (Jack) Kerouac I think, its in the
information section because its stolen a lot.
RD: Wow, thats cool.
JC: Yeah its kind of
RD: Does it bother you that
the Basketball Diaries is your most well-known work?
JC: Yes. Thats why
Im working on these books now. These novels, the one Im working on now, is in
the third person, its not autobiographical at all. Of course it bothers me, I mean
my first album was the most successful album by far too. I mean that happens. It happened
with On The Road, well On The Road wasnt Kerouacs first book but the Town and
City didnt sell at all. It happened with Pattis (Smith) first album, well at
least it was more successful commercially. I mean its her fans favorite album. I
dont know what that has to do with it, but it pisses me off at times, you know? What
are you going to do though?
RD: Do you think of yourself
more as a poet rather than a diarist or a novelist?
JC: Yeah I always thought of
myself as a poet. Thats what I made up my mind I was going to be when I was like 15
or 16. And you know I had success very early, I was kind of the token prodigy at St.
Marks (Poetry Project) which is a good thing and a bad thing. Early success can lead
to an arrested adolescence in a way which is not good. But Ive always basically
thought of myself as a poet.
With rock and roll it was a complete
fluke how I got into that. I was writing some songs for other groups and then, since with
punk you really didnt have to have a good voice or anything, there was a local band
all ready-made when I was on the West coast who wanted to do something with me. It just
went over really well and then we started to work together. I came to New York and got a
record deal. I never would have imagined I would have been doing that.
With prose, I have a sense of prose
that brings me enjoyment. Since Im working in total fiction, the characters are
entertaining to me and theyre like real people whereas poetry Im dealing with
taking myself out of my day to day life in a much different way. But actually in Void of
Course the poems are much more about dealing with myself than in my earlier poems where
they were more erudite in a certain sense. (Theres a lot of) angst, betrayal -
its not a happy book. (A poet) is just always been what I thought I was and was
meant to be. These other things just seem to come up you know?
I think if I was starting all over
now being a writer, Id probably be dealing with film. All the young writers I know
who are really talented in New York are all into film. They either write screenplays or
directing. Actually Im kind of working of this screenplay myself now you know, but I
cant throw myself into it like these guys can. Also being around film now I see that
any half-ass can direct, you just need a good director of photography, a good
cinematographer and youre fine. So thats not such a big deal.
When Harmony Korine first sent me a
copy of the screenplay for KIDS I read it through and it was like a fucking novel to me I
never read a screenplay like that. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. Hed been
trying to get in touch with me for years and I called him up immediately and said,
"This is fucking great." Hes incredibly well-read but he doesnt
really have much interest in writing novels or anything like that. He published a book of
little short surreal pieces but I think that was just because he was doing them and he was
hot and they gave him a lot of money for it (laughs). I mean even guys who started out
writing books like Sherman Alexie, hes totally more into film now it seems to me.
Richie Price, whos a big
screenwriter, hes a contemporary of mine, and he always said when he went out to
Hollywood, "You should come out here, man. Theres a fucking fortune just for
writing a three page outline." And its true, but he could write rewrites really
fast and Im not really that good at that. So its a different thing for me. I
just feel like if I went out there, Id just be stuck there so I try to avoid it at
RD: You worked with and hung
out with a lot of seminal people in the art/literary/punk scene, did that influence your
work at all?
JC: Well not really. I mean
when people started to make it or deciding what their best medium was, I left New York (in
73 when Living At The Movies came out) and went to California. (I) was kind of away
from that whole scene. I mean it depends on the people. Do you mean the older people like
Allen (Ginsberg) or are you talking about people like Patti Smith from the punk scene?
RD: Both, I mean you were
sort of in both werent you?
JC: Well yeah. Poetry-wise I
liked Allens poems and I was influenced by his mind. I talked to him a lot about
politics and stuff but I wasnt into the Beats so much poetry-wise. I was more into
the New York School guys. The Basketball Diaries kind of has that Beat writing thing, but
I wrote that so young.
In poetry I wanted to get away from
that. I was a little snot. I wanted to be more erudite and I was more influenced by Frank
OHara and (John) Ashbery and the New York School who were coming from the French and
German poets. But in a way I definitely learned a lot from Allen. Burroughs, out of all
those writers, I think I learned a lot reading his books.
But with Patti when I first knew her
she had just left art school and she was mainly doing drawings. Then she started to write
poems and she would show them to me. She was just starting to put a band together when I
left New York. I saw her first couple of shows and I thought, well this is the medium for
her. I always knew Patti, just from being with her, had this vacillation from this
sweetness to this total rage and magic thing happening so I always knew she was a great
performer just from her first poetry reading.
Her poems to me were much better,
the words to me, were much better set to music than they were at the page. I think
shes written some good poems and theyre really unique. I could see, this was
when she just had Lenny (Kaye) playing guitar and Richard Sole playing keyboards, she
didnt have a drummer or anything.
My only connection when I was in
California was reading the Village Voice. In about three years the whole thing was
happening at CBGBs and the Mercer Arts Center and Patti was just a huge star, I mean
it surprised me on that level but it didnt surprise me. She was made for rock and
roll and it was made for her.
Then people like Richard Hell, who
was Richard Meyers when I left, just hanging around the poetry scene and stuff. I wonder a
lot what would have happened if I stayed in New York. If I would have gotten into music
too. I dont know if I would have. My little snot-nosed tendencies (laughs) might
have made me say, "No, Im not going to do that." I think that it was just
the right thing for me to do at that time, to get away. That was the best influence for me
and just being by myself alone and in the country for the first time in my life and having
a dog. My dog was my biggest influence on my work (laughs).
Of course all the poets like Ted
Berrigan and Anne Waldman who were around St. Marks were I guess the biggest
influences on me, I learned a lot. But (when) the whole burgeoning of the punk scene
(happened), the highlight of my day was going to the post office in this little town in
California while everybody was being wild at CBGBs. I kind of miss it, the fact that
I wasnt there.
All those people were influences on
my life and since my life was pretty much so connected to my work, it was kind of the same
thing. Just from being with Patti, I had this Apollonian craft thing and she was
completely dionysian just let it all blow out. A lot of that rubbed off of me as much as
it could, so in that sense it was a big influence just in a personal sense from all those
people. But then I was away, so I cant say it was a huge influence like in a direct
RD: When you got started in
rock and roll, how did you keep that persona different from Jim Carroll the writer?
JC: I had to put the writer
thing aside. I cant stand doing things in any dilettantish sense and I thought the
first thing people were going to look for was, "This is just some fucking pretentious
shit" or something. I was really conscious of that and I just thought if I was going
to do rock and roll, I just got to throw myself into it completely.
The thing I really always liked
best, and maybe thats why I did side projects often in different mediums, was I
liked to learn new things. It was just great learning about music. I always could play the
guitar in a limited sense but not well at all, enough to write music to songs. Music
always influenced my writing a lot, inspired it and I listened to a song and it would
inspire me to write a poem more than it would if I had read a poem when I was a young
But when I started to actually do
rock and roll, and certainly when I started to do rock and roll I think the freedom for
that was just given to me by what people were doing in New York at CBGBs. I just
felt that I had put aside the writing aspect and just write songs and, like I said,
theres a difference in the craft, but thats just a technical thing.
It wasnt really that hard. It
was just trying to get the most out of the tension between the music and the lyrics,
counterpoint was always really important to me in any art form, either by opposites or
cross currents with chords and stuff. I was just learning a lot and put myself into it
completely when I was doing it.
And then by my third album and when
we were finished touring, I didnt want to do it anymore. I wanted to get back to
writing. I didnt regret it at all, it was a really great time. I felt like I was a
musician during that whole period, but I didnt have a musicians attitude. The
guys in my band they would have toured 360 days in a year. I like performing a lot, but I
didnt like being on the road and all the psychological paraphernalia. It was a lucky
thing I started relatively late because all the drugs and things that were available, I
would have killed myself when I was younger.
There were certain nights I just
didnt want to be in front of an audience. I didnt have that feeling (of) no
matter how sick you are, when you get on stage youll feel great. If I felt shitty
physically or mentally ... certainly at the beginning songs would take me out of myself
but after a while, doing it night after night, youd just be performing and
youd have to learn how to be an entertainer. That was a difficult thing to do and I
felt uncomfortable doing it. And after a while there were nights that I just didnt
want to be in front of people performing, it wasnt fun. For the guys in the band it
was great. Thats when writing books started to come back into my mind.
RD: Recently youve
collaborated with younger musicians like Rancid, do you see any difference between the
JC: Not really. They were
completely professional and when I did a reading out in Seattle a couple of months ago, I
did some songs, these guys from different bands had rehearsed some of my old songs and
some new songs from Pools of Mercury, and it was great.
I dont know, its a
Seattle thing. I think its a real communal thing with musicians there, they
dont backbite. I think thats the way it was in New York from talking to Lenny
Kaye. When I was starting music, it was in San Francisco and most of the bands would
really bad mouth other bands and hated each other. And if you got a record deal, they
really hated you. It was just this whole jealous backbiting thing. I couldnt get
that because at the poetry scene at St. Marks it was always everybody supporting
everyone in this real communal way. So it seemed like bullshit to me.
I didnt really know
Rancids music when they asked me to do this and I couldnt believe the guitar
playing, it could have been Joe Strummer singing the vocals for all I knew, but
thats just where they were coming from.
The only thing about, and it
doesnt have anything to do with musicians its just the technology, I
cant stand digital recording. I just like recording on real tape. I just think that
you really lose a lot with all these binary pixels and stuff. Its just a physical
fact that drums and bass just stick on magnetic tape and compress and you just dont
that sound digitally. When I was doing Pools of Mercury it was all digital. Everything
going through a computer, it was amazing the stuff you could do. You know in 83
vocoders and stuff were amazing to me too, it really doesnt matter. I dont
like the whole digital thing, Im much more of an analog person.
RD: Its more natural
JC: Yeah. Just as far as the
musicians, collaborating with them. I collaborated with Boz Scaggs, how weird is that? I
just admire people who are really good at their craft. And, like I said, I like to learn
new things and if theres nothing to learn (laughs) there then you dont learn
anything. You just throw it away, but you usually do if youre looking for it.
RD: A lot of great art
whether it be writing, music or painting has been made under the influence of alcohol or
drugs. Why do you think that is?
JC: (laughs) I guess because
its a very lonely thing and because it drives you crazy after a while. I never liked
coke when I was growing up. We had a perverse amount of big cocaine dealers who were fans
of the band, for some reason. It was a different drug, it was so much purer out in San
Francisco. The fact was everyone was doing cocaine then and it was a real musicians drug.
It was a real insidious drug. I got to see pretty soon (that) it was kind of demonic in a
certain way, real selfish. It didnt have any warmth to it, its a real cold
drug. Boy you got me going (laughs).
When I was doing a lot of hard drugs
when I was young, thats when I typed things up. Id get really neat and I
actually didnt really write that much on heroin. Boredom is the best high to me and
thats when I write best.
I cant drink at all. I cannot
understand like when Kerouac would say, "If you get stuck when youre writing,
just have another shot or something." If I got stuck when I was writing and had
another shot, by the second one or maybe one and a half Id just might be underneath
the typewriter (laughs). My metabolism doesnt work that way, it just knocks me out.
So I cant understand the alcohol syndrome with writing.
I see it with certain writers where
they can work for days by drinking and it just keeps them level in a certain way.
Thats a genetic thing (laughs). Just like the way with heroin, people always think
of it as naughty now. With me, if I did enough Id nod out or eventually I would
after a few hours but (usually) it would give me bunches of energy and, like I said, most
of the stuff I wrote then was rewritten later, but it was good for typing up things I had
already written and it made me very precise in a certain way and it gave me energy to do
this shit work. In the sense of making me precise it would make me see that I was wasting
words so it would be good for editing and just getting rid of a lot of crap. But ideas and
stuff did not come to me, there was no Kubla Khan thing happening.
Artists are always going to look for
some kind of way to break through some other door and you have to move around your
consciousness now and then to see things from different angles. Unless you want to go off
and be a yogi for 80 years and write maybe one book and it probably wont be too
interesting, then the easiest way to do it just take drugs. Well actually I was thinking
of writers I liked that didnt take drugs, but they were total drunks and thats
certainly a drug.
I cant smoke grass in New
York, I wish I could. I get too paranoid, the grass is too strong. I wish I had crappy
grass or something. I could never write on grass either. I wrote one good piece on grass
once I think. I loved smoking grass to be able to not write though and just put it out of
my head and watch movies and be entertained. In that sense I kind of miss that. Maybe
Ill move somewhere where theres crappy grass. If this applies to Detroit I
RD: Theres crappy grass
JC: Well, thats what I
RD: Youve been called
the "Keith Richards" of poets, is that a fair comparison?
JC: I never heard anybody
call me that. Cmon (laughs). I dont know if thats a good thing. I
cant imagine what Keiths poems would be like and Im sure Keith
cant imagine, well he can imagine what my guitar playings like - its
terrible. Im sure its probably coming from a certain presence on stage at
times. I take exception to this, well maybe its not true, maybe I dont take
exception to it. I dont know the way I carry myself on stage, you know I dont
think about it consciously, but I remember someone once commenting that I was all over the
place. And then I remember someone writing about a benefit for a musician who hurt himself
here in New York City and Lenny Kaye organized it and Patti played at it and the Dictators
and Marshall Crenshaw. The guy wrote that hed seen me read a lot but hed never
seen me with my band. But he said that I came off looking so healthy and together and that
I was really straight up and I looked really good. So I think Ive overcome the Keith
Richards analogy there.
RD: Well I think this guy was
getting at when you started you were the rebellious poet, you werent in the
classical school maybe because you were so young.
JC: I dont really see
that, that doesnt just point to Keith. The thing about Keith is completely not
giving a shit - well yeah so in that sense its like that in a certain way, but I was
little snot. I was rebellious in the sense that I wouldnt show up to readings when I
supposed to because I was stoned and shit. Yeah I was a fuck-up too, I was little snotty
fuck-up. Yeah in that sense Ill accept any comparison to Keith. Even flopping around
like a fish on stage, I dont care (laughs). But I was pleased when I saw that review
that I looked very healthy and had it together.
RD: Almost as if you had put
that past to rest in a way.
JC: Yeah, I was dancing
around like Mick (Jagger) instead of falling down to my boots.
RD: Growing up Catholic is
there any spiritual aspect that you put in your work?
JC: Yeah absolutely I think
my work is very Catholic oriented. I cant stand the politics of the Church but
Ive always been fascinated by the mythology of the church and the rituals of the
church. I once said on some talk show once, I got a lot of shit for it, (that) Catholicism
and punk rock were very much alike. What could be more punk rock than the stations of the
cross where this guys getting whipped and has to wear a crown of thorns and weeps
into a veil and leaves his image behind and then gets crucified and rises up? I meant it
in a really good way. I just thought the analogy was valid and all these idiots called
But I do think that whole blood as a
metaphor for life, Christs blood as a metaphor for this kind of homeopathic balm of
redemption is just something thats always fascinated me from when I was young. And
also, especially with Catholicism, the feminine side, the whole cult of the Virgin which
is not in the other Protestant churches, not just with the Virgin Mary but with Mary
Magdalene too. That feminine side, I find it very sweet and its also reassuring.
But the hideous part, I mean I liked
most of the stuff that came out of Vatican II, but getting rid of Latin was the worst
thing that you could possibly do. You cant have a valid ritual without some kind of
mysterious language. I can remember saying the mass in Latin and it was just so fantastic.
I wanted to know what these words meant, it still sticks with me. It made me take Latin
for six years in school.
I thought that was a big mistake. I
think that the Church would be a lot better off with (Latin). It just seemed like some
cheap ecumenical conciliation and I thought that it just takes away from the ritual of it
and any real sense of ritual.
All these things are ingrained in my
work, especially in my poems. Theres a lot of religious imagery either overt or a
somewhat more subtle sense. Its a big part of me. The whole aspect of the Church as
politics is a whole other thing. As far as my own sense of faith and belief, I would love
to have to have absolute faith but I cant say that I do. I admire that in a certain
way from certain people. Im going to go into my own sense of faith or anything but
yeah just the whole ritualistic aspect of it.
Ive learned a lot from
Buddhism, but I cant really understand people like Ginsberg going off and becoming
Buddhists even though Tibetan Buddhism is really fascinating. I think its almost
like language. If youre trained in a certain religion by a certain age you kind of
have to walk that path no matter what. Its just put on you, unless you have some
complete epiphany or seizure on the road to Damascus. It would have to be something of
that magnitude to really change it around in the sense of it being really integral to your
heart. Thats another thing about Catholicism, it has that heart sense to it
especially through the cult of the Virgin. Its not just an intellectual thing.
RD: New York City is also
really important to your work and influences a lot of your writing, how do you feel about
the sterilized New York of late?
JC: Well its terrible.
Guilianis really out to lunch but I cant blame it all on Guiliani, I mean the
whole cleaning up is all Guiliani, its just almost impossible for people to live in
Manhattan anymore. Its just ridiculous. I have friends living in two story houses in
L.A. who are paying half what Im paying for my fucking apartment in New York. And
fortunately I make a living from writing. Theres so many writers who are friends of
mine who cant afford to live in Manhattan unless theyve been living in a rent
Even the outer Boroughs, after
Tribeca and Soho got filled up with artists living in lofts then it moved to Williamsburg
in Brooklyn and now the prices there are outrageous. I mean Staten Islands next.
San Franciscos kind of the
same way but even though youre paying the same amount you get more bang for your
I felt really blessed to always have
grown up in New York but I also felt one of the best times in my life was when I lived by
myself in California and I just was able to filter all this learned trivia into some kind
of wisdom. Actually, I can write better about New York when Im outside of New York
than I can when Im here in a certain way, not poetry-wise but prose-wise. So it
doesnt really matter to me where I live as a writer and I dont make the scene
anymore. I dont really go out. I keep telling myself I should. I was in a real
hermetic period for a while but now Ive moved back downtown. I feel like I should be
going out more. Actually I went out last night so that should take care of a month or
RD: Do you miss that
community of artists that used to exist in New York?
JC: Well I think it still
does at St. Marks. St. Marks had their big New Years Day marathon
reading like they always do. I did the one last year and it was so packed. It was like
playing with a band at some theater somewhere. It was really scary, people were sitting on
the stage. This year I missed it because I had the fucking flu. So I felt bad about that.
But that sense of community is still
there at St. Marks and I do miss it in a certain way and I feel like I should be, in
some ways, apart of it but its not just a matter of place to go, its a matter
of intersection of time and place in your life. There was a time when it was the right
time and place for me to be in that recluse period in California or to be hanging around
St. Marks. I dont feel like this is the time for me now. I go out and I just
get worn very quick by things and I just want to split. Im turning into this boring
RD: If there was fire and you
only had time to grab three things, what would they be?
JC: Actually I was in an
apartment that had a fire about five years ago. I know a grabbed this stash of cash that I
had in this place because I had some money that I hadnt put in the bank. I know I
got that (laughs) that was pretty pragmatic. I took these, they're made by Zen monks in
Japan, they're kind of like Zen rosaries and theyre carved meticulously,
theyre so realistic. Theyre these little skulls and you use them every year to
say a prayer for each monk or friend of yours that died.
Somebody played to the Dalai Lama
"People Who Died" at this Zen retreat and he thought it was a funny song
(laughs) and he gave me these things as a present. So I grabbed those, you know you got to
take something from the Dalai Lama. And then I took a flashlight too because the power
If I had to take a third thing
looking around my apartment, shit. Id take those prayer beads. Id take this
drawing I have thats hanging up near the door actually (laughs) maybe in case there
is a fire. I guess Id have to take the manuscript to the book Im working on.
Id have to take that and hopefully be able to get the notes to the other book too.
©2000 Real Detroit Weekly
The original interview was found at http://getrealdetroit.com/archives/011300/carroll.htm