Beyond Basketball and Diaries
Hipster legend Jim Carroll comes clean with a new novel
image is burned indelibly into memory. Leonardo DiCaprio manning
the New York skyline from the top of an apartment building, masturbating
to the moon and the stars — free, as he says, of the need
for contrived sexual fantasy — and effectively rising above
it all. King of the world, so to speak.
was clearly not the point of The Basketball Diaries, as much
as it was never the path of its author, Jim Carroll. Instead, the
film — based on Carroll's best-selling memoir — painted
a picture of dramatic duality: strung up in basketball success and
strung out in junk-addled artistry. Already a basketball star at
13, and published in the Paris Review by 17, Carroll's story was
indeed unique, scarred with the speed-marks of precocious ascent.
Carroll was on methadone by his early twenties, and has spent the
remainder of his career (poet, musician, author) as something of
a hipster legend.
at 52, Carroll is toiling away on his next venture, a work of long-form
fiction that will be his first foray into the third person. On the
phone from his New York home, his voice winds and burns like stale
steam emanating from a subway shaft. There's wisdom, hope and sadness
in there, all wrapping around a prodigious 52 years of digging deeper,
and talking about it just beneath the pop-culture radar.
"I just keep
saying the same thing over and over again," he says. "So it's really
not that hard."
The book currently
in Carroll's head, and only partially on paper, details the rise
of a New York painter in society circles, doubtful about his own
inspirations and inclined to search his soul for a defining identity.
Not too far from the tree then?
"I guess so,"
he says. "But the character has no biographical markers for me except
that he's an artist."
The book's been
a long time coming, having been the focus of some discussion during
the Basketball Diaries press junket in the mid-'90s. Initially
it was two books, two different plot lines that came to Carroll
within a month of each other. But the immense workload of said multi-tasking
and the meticulous preparation inherent in Carroll's work (research
has taken the place of heroin), became a little too daunting.
"I had to do
a lot of research for these books, and I did that for like three
or four years," he says. "And finally, my agent and my lawyer and
I had lunch, and it was like a literary intervention. They said,
'You can't write two books at once,' which I was trying to do. 'And
you can't research anymore, because you become obsessed with research
— it becomes like an avocation to you.'"
Carroll's scope seems to have narrowed. His previous rock outfit,
The Jim Carroll Band — born out of a fortunate peer grouping
of Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and The Rolling Stones in the '70s —
garnered some radio play in the early '80s, namely with the stunning
punk diary, People Who Died. It was a natural progression
for Carroll, leaping from the poetry stage into the semi-messiah
posturing of a rock & roll front man. "Where are all the goddamned
poets who were going to change the world?" he once asked.
"That was from
reading this biography of Rimbaud, The Time of the Assassins
by Henry Miller, when I was in this recluse period in California.
That's what Henry Miller was talking about, that poets these days
are just writing for other poets, and not in the noble sense of
being vehicles to change the world."
Does he think
he achieved that?
"Not in any
didactic or any political way, for sure, because I was never a political
writer," he says. "In just, like, an aesthetic or heart sense."
much of the '80s optioning The Basketball Diaries to film
studios, who kept the ball in the air for over a decade. "I think
people just had a hard time getting an ending to the film," he says.
As a result, the part of young Jim bounced somewhat comically in
retrospect, from teen star to teen star nearly every year.
went from Matt Dillon in 1981, to Eric Stoltz in '83, then Anthony
Michael Hall, and then River Phoenix. That whole brat pack thing,
and then Leonardo [DiCaprio]."
his Tiger Beat prime, DiCaprio may have seemed an odd choice (although,
not odder than Anthony Michael Hall), but his popularity would go
on to ensure a whole new audience for Carroll's work. It did, however,
threaten his life once.
"One time they
were shooting on location in Hoboken, and some radio station must
have said they were going to be shooting," he recalls. "I thought
these girls were gonna lose it. They were breaking down barricades.
I was really scared. I mean, I ran up on the roof. I thought it
was gonna be a full-out brawl."
laughs. "He bears a heavy cross."
Where most might
cringe into the theater corner watching a teen heartthrob playing
their life, shooting up and falling down, Carroll's take is decidedly
myself on the screen, or somebody playing me, was not really any
different than when I would stand up on the stage and refer to the
kid in the third person," he says. "Once you already filter something
through any artistic medium like writing, it becomes a different
meaning, like an archetype."
And with the
filtering of his current work promising more fictitious projection
and less of The Jim Carroll Show, the archetype can live on through
his characters. Only a little bit cleaner now.
"At a certain
point, I realized that you can't rely on the electric youth, rock
& roll energy forever," he says. "I knew I had to come from
a more sober place, and I thought, I'm not gonna make this book
too funny. But y'know, humor has a way of showing up in funny places.
You can be postmodern and call it irony — it doesn't matter
what it is — but it seems to be sneaking into this book like
it does all of my other prose."
© 2003 Metro Times, Inc.
Billy Manes writes for Orlando Weekly,
where the full-length version of this feature appears. E-mail comments
The original article was found here: http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.php?id=4245