Home > Research > Interviews > Linking of 'Basketball Diaries,' Columbine Shootings Upsets Author (1999)

Linking of 'Basketball Diaries,' Columbine Shootings Upsets Author

Carroll refuses to theorize on gunmen's motivations, says book isn't responsible

Jim Carroll, poet, singer and author, is fed up with the link the media has made between his book, "The Basketball Diaries," and the carnage in Littleton, Colo.

Carroll, who comes to Milwaukee Friday night for an 8 p.m. spoken-word performance at the Y-Not II, isn't exactly the kind of figure you'd expect mainstream America to call on to be a pundit on today's youth.

Carroll recently released a new album, "Pools of Mercury," and a book of free-verse poetry, "Void of Course." And up until a few weeks ago -- April 20, to be exact -- he was busy simply trying to promote the book and album.

But ever since it was revealed that the teenagers responsible for the carnage in Littleton had seen and noted the 1995 film version of "The Basketball Diaries" -- which featured a fantasy sequence with lead character Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a black trench coat and using a shotgun to mow down six of his classmates while roaming the school's hallways -- Carroll says he's been swamped by requests from national media shows and figures eager to hear his thoughts on how media images connect with acts of violence and the roles and responsibilities of the artists who create them.

"I don't want to talk about it, period," Carroll said initially during a phone interview on Friday's show when the subject turned toward the shootings. "No offense, man, but I've said the same thing to everybody.

"It's amazing. '60 Minutes' has called, the 'Today' show has called, 'Good Morning America' has called, Larry King, CNN, Time, Newsweek -- you name it. And I'm telling them all the same thing: Artists have nothing to do with the deranged, vaguely connected actions of a few celebrated nut cases -- and that's it.

"To say anything more than that on a national podium can't help but look like I'm whining," added Carroll, "and it reduces the suffering of the friends and family of the victims."

Carroll refused to offer his five cents' worth on what deluded thoughts may have motivated the Littleton gunmen, but he did challenge the tendency to tie the cause of specific tragedies to works of pop culture.

"The ridiculous thing is that, in fact, books like mine and others have made a lot of kids feel less isolated, less alone, relieved to know that someone else out there understood how they feel," Carroll said. "I mean, if you deal with negative feelings and emotions in your writing or whatever medium you work in, it's always possible it will be interpreted in ways you never intended.

"But, ultimately, that doesn't make you responsible. Being associated with a tragedy like this merely because of some vague similarities written in a book more than 20 years ago is very troublesome to me."

The slender 1977 novel "The Basketball Diaries," with its free-verse style narrative and updated beatnik romanticization of white, working-class urban America, became a cult classic and propelled Carroll into the then-emerging status of punk god: the art-damaged hero, with his heroin chic-thin frame and paler-than-a-goth visage becoming the stuff of fantasy for a resurging anti-hero movement whose intensity had been unseen since the '60s.

Carroll questioned attempts to make the book or the movie based on it a scapegoat.

"Look at guys like Mark David Chapman," Carroll added with a rising tone. "When they took him in, they found a copy of 'Catcher In The Rye' in his pocket, and his crimes had at least five times more direct references to the book than mine. I mean, pick on Charlton Heston or something; he's standing there in an ad holding a gun and saying 'Join me,' and they're going to pick on me?"

Carroll said that, overall, he wasn't happy with the movie version of "The Basketball Diaries." The scene where DiCaprio guns down his classmates, he says, wasn't even in the book.

"But like I said," Carroll continued, "I don't want to talk about it, because it only looks like I'm whining."

Following Friday's show, Carroll says he might answer questions from the audience -- "but, no, I won't be commenting on anything beside the poems, the books or the music," he said.

Jim Carroll brings his spoken-word performance to the Y-Not II, 706 E. Lyon St., at 8 p.m. Friday. Admission is $15.

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