1950 in New York,
New Wave, Punk
Kill Rock Stars,
Mercury, Atlantic, Giant (more)
To rock audiences, Jim
Carroll's crowning achievement was the hit "People Who Died," a brutally
emotional punk record saluting the victims of the New York drug culture. In truth,
however, Carroll's artistic legacy is considerably more complex and far ranging. An
acclaimed diarist, poet, actor and spoken-word performer, Carrolls work has appeared
in Paris Review, Poetry, the Yale Literary Review, the New York
Times Magazine, and Rolling Stone, and his books have been translated into a
dozen languages. His formative years even served as the subject of the film The
Basketball Diaries, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The product of a working-class background, Carroll was
born and raised in New York City. At the age of 12, the highly-touted basketball prospect
to begin keeping a journal; later published in 1978 as The Basketball Diaries, his
early writings vividly chronicled his teenage addiction to heroin, which led him into a
life of crime and hustling. By the time he was 16, Carroll was a published poet. Gaining
recognition as a prodigy, he worked at Andy Warhols Factory, collaborating on
the play Pork. 1973's Living at the Movies further established his
reputation and funded a move to Northern California, where he was finally able to shed his
Inspired by the success of his friend Patti Smith,
who also married a background in poetry with a career in rock music, Carroll began writing
songs. In 1978, backed by his San Francisco-based band, he cut a handful of demos and was
signed to Rolling Stones Records by Keith Richards himself. Produced by Bob
Clearmountain and label head Earl McGrath, the Jim Carroll Band's debut album Catholic
Boy, featuring the groups definitive song, "People Who Died," appeared
in 1980, achieving significant critical acclaim.
After a move back to New York, the Jim Carroll Band
returned in 1982 with Dry Dreams, followed by 1984's I Write Your Name,
which received lackluster reviews. With his three record contract fulfilled, Carroll
dismissed the group members and resumed his prose and poetry work. After an appearance in
the 1985 film Tuff Turf, he published The Book of Nods in 1986 and Forced
Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973 a year later.
During the remainder of the eighties, Carroll balanced
his poetry and prose material while writing tracks for other artists such as Blue
Oyster Cults Club Ninja and Boz Scaggs Other Roads.
He also made appearances on John Giorno's Dial-A-Poem spoken word albums.
As the 1990s dawned, Carroll was frequently approached to
return to music, but he was firmly dedicated to his spoken-word work. His first solo album
was Praying Mantis (1991), a collection of spoken-word performances, not new songs.
While he occasionally performed as a musician, his primary focus remained his literary
pursuits. Notably, Carroll was one of the first poet-rockers to break down the barriers
between poetry and spoken-word and mainstream rock music. He's participated in various
readings since the mid-eighties but his 1994 performance on MTV's Unplugged was
most moving: his now-legendary poem "8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain" was a
In 1993 he published Fear of Dreaming: The Selected
Poems of Jim Carroll. In 1995, both The Basketball Diaries and the short story Curtis'
Charm were adapted into films; he also contributed lyrics and vocals to Rancid's
And Out Come the Wolves (1995). A year later Carroll
also appeared on the benefit release Home Alive: The Art of Self-Defense and in
1997, Carroll was one of a number of high-profile writers, musicians and actors who
contributed to the Kerouac tribute album kicksjoydarkness, where, backed by Sonic
Youth's Lee Renaldo, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye and Anton Sanko,
he read "Woman." 1998 was a monumental year for Carroll. He released a brand new
collection of poetry in his new book Void of Course as well as returning to rock in
his own cathartic way with the release of his first album in nearly 15 years, Pools of
Mercury, which combined his classic wounded poetry with song. In 1999, a comprehensive
tribute release entitled Put Your Tongue to the Rail: The Philly Compilation for
Catholic Children showcased 25 local artists from Philadelphia empowered by the work
of Carroll. Two years later, Carroll issued the Runaway EP, which featured live
cuts of material from Pools of Mercury and an eclectic cover of Del Shannon's
pop hit of the EP's namesake. There was also talk of collaborating with The Doors' Ray
Manzarek for a possible record.
*This article has been edited for accuracy.
©2000 All Music Guide