Home > Works > Uncollected Works > Brian Marnell (1983)
He Overcame Heroin, Then Died on the Way Back
By Joel Selvin, Pop Music Critic
1983 (source unknown)
Note: the majority of the article is a letter written by Jim
Carroll to Marnell's family.
Brian Marnell: The creative
force behind SVT.
Songwriter-guitarist Brian Marnell died last month, ironically, after fighting and
overcoming a heroin habit. As the creative force behind SVT, Marnell was a real talent and
could have been a contender. His song, "Heart of Stone," while only released on
a small local label, made plenty of noise--and was later recorded by Marty Balin.
Shortly before his death, Marnell traveled to New York to record a song he wrote with
Jim Carroll, whose new album is expected later this month. Carroll, author of the
acclaimed "The Basketball Diaries" and a Pulitzer Prize noininee while still in
his teens, wrote an emotional tribute to his friend and musical associate and sent it to
"I felt sadness," wrote Carroll. "I felt confusion . . . I felt anger at
the theft of another talented musician and another friend. That very week, two or three
days prior to his death, I spoke with at least three common friends who had spoken to
Brian and commented on his good spirits and his desire for more work. He had been writing
new songs, expressing renewed ambitions. There are other angers I felt, other contributors
to the theft. There are no reasons I feel it necessary to name them here and now . . .
suffice to say that these robbers have claimed too many. Brian should have been spared.
"He had outdistanced this enemy to life and spirit, had put months between it and
himself. The gossipmongers will have their tales to wag, but the facts contradict all
that. Brian Marnell was clean. His body was simply weak. He was inexperienced in the
process ... in the motions of outrunning the insidious manifestation of a notion all
pervasive and WRONG. That is the tragedy; it was that inexperience that killed . . . he
let his weight drop drastically, even as his spirit began to rise and fight and win. Brian
loved life. He was giving . . . innocent and naive as a teardrop. It is those who want to
escape that become escape artists. Brian wanted to escape nothing; he wanted to plunge
straight ahead. He was taken only by a misguided notion, guilty only to the allure of a
false romance. His body was too weak as he tried to reclaim it. A toll had been taken. A
lesson should be learned.
"I, in a selfish sense, lost a lot. Brian was a newfound and powerful
collaborator. We had been friends for years, and always spoke of working together. It was
only in this past year we got it together. I sent Brian some lyrics for my new LP. He sent
back a demo of incredible force. He came to New York to play on that song, and wound up
playing a spare stinging lead on another song and backing vocals on what seems like
everything on the record. To me, the song we wrote together is in many ways the strongest
on the album . . . it is surely my personal favorite.
"I wanted more, but I'm glad we got what we did. There was a strong chance that
he was going to become a member of the group when we began touring on the record's
release. We lost that, as well . . . but, again, his work is there, preserved by the
grooves. His spirit is there, too. In these ways, Brian did leave the thief quite far in
the distance. The last word was his . . . in his music, his spirit, in the friends who
mourn his death, their loss. Think about his song 'Heart of Stone.' It's pure craft and
inspiration. It comes from a timeless place, that type of music. I demand he is not
forgotten, in each and all of many ways, in his life and in his death."
To close one song on his album, Carroll picked pieces of five poems and five musicians
read them slmultaneously into one microphone. He gave Marnell some lines from
"Seasons in Hell" by Rimbaud: "Am I to be carried off like a child, to play
in paradise, forgetful of all sorrow? ... Spiritual combat is as brutal as the battle of
men, but the vision of justice is the pleasure of God alone . . . Meanwhile, this is the
vigil. Welcome then, all the influx of his vigor and real tenderness. And, in the dawn,
armed with ardent patience, he shall enter magnificent cities."