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Jim Carroll: From Poet to Rocker--and Back

There was one problem with the ad touting the upcoming appearance of the Jim Carroll Band at an Atlanta theater: the Jim Carroll Band wasn't appearing there.

"Our advertising is always real specific that I'm doing a reading and not a concert," the 38-year-old Carroll said during a recent phone interview. "But one time, there was this Atlanta club owner who tried to get away with making it look like it was me playing with a band. . . . So when I went up on stage, I told the audience it was just me, and I said, 'If you want your money back, you can do that. But at least wait for a few minutes before you decide.' And then I read some of my funniest stuff, the stuff I knew was real accessible, and everyone stayed. It was great."

For Jim Carroll, writing has always come before rock'n'roll. Carroll, who appears tonight at the Spirit club, has been reading and publishing poems since he was 16. At 17, the New Yorker became a celebrity of sorts when excerpts from his streetwise teen diary--which chronicled his days as a basketball-playing heroin addict--were published in the highbrow Paris Review.

The full account of those times was published in 1978 as "The Basketball Diaries." And just as the slim, harrowing book was becoming an underground classic, Carroll traded his pen for a microphone and became a rock'n'roll performer.

After the release of three albums ('Catholic Boy," "Dry Dreams" and "I Write Your Name") and another diary collection ("Forced Entries"), Carroll went back to the literary life, with a twist. These days, when Carroll does a reading, he is likely to do it in the same clubs where he used to bring his band.

"Doing poetry readings in rock clubs is great. There's a spirit of rock 'n' roll there that I really like. You don't need music to get that. There is one definition of rock 'n' roll, that it is music derived from rhythm and blues. But there is another definition that has nothing to do with music, and you can get that in the readings."

Carroll stopped recording albums a few years ago after a falling out with Atlantic records, and he is not sure if he will ever record with a band again. These days, the former club crawler is a recluse who spends most of his time holed up in New York City, perfecting the trade he picked up 23 years ago.

"In New York, I don't go out to the club scene. I can't even imagine it now," said Carroll, who is working on the first draft of a new novel.

"Nothing exciting is going on in my life. Basically, what's inspiring to me is the characters in the book. They've taken on an energy of their own. And that's the fantastic thing about writing."

(Jim Carroll will read prose and poetry tonight at the Spirit club, 1130 Buenos Ave. Tamela Glenn, the Restraints and others will open the 8 p.m. show. Call 276-3993 for information.)


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