The Basketball Diarist Jim Carroll Speaks Out
He's a well-known poet and was the frontman
of the '80s band that gave us the quirky hit song "People Who
Died," The Jim Carroll Band. But what Jim Carroll is probably
most famous for are his diary entries written between the ages
of 12 to 15, better known as The Basketball Diaries. The Basketball
Diaries, a compilation of stories from his time at Trinity
High School as an All-City Basketball star and a heroin addict
from 1963 to 1966, was published in 1978 and made into the 1995
film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Wahlberg. The movie
was directed by Scott Kalvert and was partially filmed in Hoboken.
now off of heroin and very much into writing, has developed his
career as an author with six books of poetry and two books of
diaries and prose, and has been included in numerous poetry anthologies.
In addition to publishing, Carroll does some touring every year
to perform his poetry and prose pieces at spoken word shows. In fact, he'll be coming to Hoboken this Saturday, March 10 at 7:30
p.m. to speak at Maxwell's.
The funky floor at Maxwell's
I do a reading in a place like Boston, New York, Washington D.C.
or places that I do every year or twice a year, I always have
to have some kind of new prose, because I figure that there will
be an overlap in the audience," Carroll said last week. "I've
read some sections of this new novel I'm working on, but it's
hard to take out a piece of it and get the whole story idea along
with the writing. You might have to read 30 pages, and that's
too much. I mean, I don't think people, even if they're used to
readings, have that much of an attention span."
Carroll said that this will probably be true at Maxwell's "because
people stand up." He added, "They don't even sit on the floor.
I don't know why. I'm sure it's funky, but I've read in funkier
places where people have sat on the floor. I just noticed that
one time when I was reading there."
Carroll said that he never reads from the Basketball Diaries.
"It's hard for me to get the voice of it," he said. "I haven't
read any of it at a reading in a long time. I should just bust
it out one night."
Spoken word and publishing
said that spoken word performances can be "tricky" because it's
easy to "fall on your ass."
"Spoken word is much more emotional too," he said. "If I have
to do two sets of poetry in one night, that's much more exhausting
to me than doing two sets with a band. In a band, in the second
set, you can just f*** around and come at the songs a lot looser
and in a different direction musically, and those could be the
best shows you've ever done. But you're just drained after you
do a reading. That's how you know the energy is different. It
doesn't have as much as a sexual pulse to it, as much as an intellectual
thing coming out you. Not to say that there's no sexual aspect
to a spoken word thing, because there is, but you're not crawling
on the stage tongue-kissing girls in the front row and stuff,
although that might not be a bad idea."
Carroll also talked about getting into the writing business."
Carroll said that he remembers the struggles of trying to get
"When I was a young poet and with the people around the St. Mark's
scene, where I was kind of like the token prodigy I guess, you
always sent your best poems to the Paris Review," he said.
"And everyone wanted to publish at least one poem in Poetry
Magazine, which was the bastion of academic poetry, just to prove
that they could get published in it. They took a long poem of
mine the first time I sent one, and everyone was really pissed.
But when you get published, you don't want to have anything to
do with the magazine again. You realize everything else in the
magazine sucks, but you just want to prove that you can do it.
I remember getting that over with pretty quickly."
Mixed feelings on movie
said that he had mixed feelings about "Basketball Diaries," the
movie. In fact, he was sometimes at odds with the director.
"I thought the performances were good, but I just really had a
problem with the direction," he said. "The guy kept telling me
how passionate he was to do it. I mean, he passed up so many other
bigger projects and stuff, but he was basically a really hot MTV
guy. I believed he had this passion, because I think he read it
in college like in a time of his life when he was really coming
into himself. I liked the screenplay on paper, but he totally
f***ed it up by being so worried about shots. He wouldn't make
any changes, and I only had a few once we started shooting. I
just saw ways that we could initiate certain aspects of the character,
because you weren't getting too much, except for seeing him scribbling
in his notebook, about where he was going with his poetry, and
I knew ways that we could do that. But this guy just didn't get
it. That was a night that I really had a real blow out with the
guy, and Leo actually backed me up and left the set, but he just
had a crème brulee and returned. Once I lost his cache, my leverage
went way down."
Carroll said that he liked Trainspotting, which was also
about heroin addicts, better. "I wasn't event that blown away
by Trainspotting, but it was so much better," he said.
"And [in Basketball Diaries] they left out one of the biggest
aspects, which was the War Baby thing. They didn't want to set
it in past time; they wanted to set in 'no time,' but that means
the present to people. The fact is that the character's whole
sense of defiance in the book of fatalism, of not caring if the
bomb comes because I don't want to survive at this point, that
sense of fatalism of really believing that I wasn't going to live
to be 20, is what gave me entrance to get into drugs - that and
the fact that I hated drinking and I found something that I liked.
He made it so dark, too. After the scene of jumping into the river,
it got so dark. I mean, things weren't really that bad. Just because
you're doing heroin, doesn't mean you have dirt on your face.
When I did that little cameo, they put dirt all over my face."
Carroll also didn't like the ending. He said that in the original,
"It was pretty ambiguous and you didn't know whether he was going
to get back on drugs or stay with poetry. That got totally changed,
and he winds up being this kind of a pompous [person] at the end
and everything is just great after the poetry reading. It just
didn't really work, and that was unfortunate, but what the hell."
A whole new audience
can't deny that the movie put the book back on the Times' best
seller list," Carroll said. "My publisher couldn't believe it.
It always sold well, but we couldn't figure out who this whole
new audience was. I thought these kids that were going to see
it were going to see Leo and Marky Wahlberg; they're not going
to buy the book. But it was actually kids who were buying the
book, and I started to get this flood of mail from kids with drug
problems or who got off drugs because of the book. I got blamed
for the whole resurgence of heroin in America in a Newsweek
cover story about a year after the movie came out. And that wasn't
the worse thing that Basketball Diaries was blamed for,
because it got blamed for that whole Columbine thing." Carroll
talked about some of his new addictions.
"I'm trying to cut down on smoking," he said, "because I have
a cold and I'm not the kind of person who can hack and smoke.
But I quit for a cold for two weeks, and then I go back. It was
something I planned on not doing after I was 30, but it's a worse
habit than heroin. I started smoking fairly late compared to all
my friends who were smoking when they were about five. I held
out, because I was still into basketball, even when I got into
poetry, I was still enough into basketball 'til I was about 20.
But the minute I realized how pleasurable cigarettes were while
you were doing heroin, it was amazing to me why I didn't smoke
before that. When I stopped heroin, I should have stopped smoking,
©2001 The Hudson Current
The original interview was found at http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=1501814&BRD=1299&PAG=461&dept_id=152223&rfi=8