Innocence Lost; Solidarity Found
A Personal Encounter with Jim Carroll
at the Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA 11 September 1996
By Liz Kato
9 December 1999
Fast becoming my new idol, Jim Carroll--author of The Basketball Diaries--is an
icon, in certain respects, of how I want to be, in writing, speaking, and making music. As
the night of his spoken performance in San Francisco approached, I became increasingly
aware of what it would mean to me. Jim and I are connected in that he had a friend who I
was acquainted with--Brian Marnell, a brilliant young San Francisco rock musician--who
died in 1983, due to a heroin addiction.
When Brian died, my youthful ideals were deeply shaken. What made it worse for me was
that I never had anyone really to grieve with. I felt the loss sharply, and alone, as one
who had missed her chance to establish a firm connection with him. And so Brian died,
unaware of my devotion, oblivious to the mark he would leave upon my heart.
I came to realise that Jim could be the one to help me deal with these feelings, once
and for all. These many years I have felt a certain unrealness about this pain, as if it
were somehow insignificant, because no one else was concious of it- kind of like a tree
fallen in the forest, with no one around to acknowledge and say, "There, now. A tree
has fallen." But I have been fortunate anyway. Before the show, I talked with Jim for
a good half-hour. He was so patient--it was time for him to go on when I got there, and he
still needed a few minutes alone beforehand. I remained unconscious of those facts at the
time, perhaps on purpose--I needed to talk. So, with his permission, I explained my plight
Jim then went on to tell me about how he and Brian came to know each other and work
together. As I cried (not hysterically or anything but, yes...), he stressed how I needed
to close this case, having felt the pain and now shared it with someone who totally
understands--from now, I need only keep in mind the good things Brian offered, in his
capacity as a musician, and as a human being. Jim loved him too. He felt the world was
robbed of a great and advancing potential. He added that, of course, all people possess
some great potential. It's just that Brian was at a stage where he was really manifesting
his. He had left heroin behind, too--but his body just could not withstand the lack of it.
At one point, while tears streamed down my face, Jim actually put his arms around me
and held me firmly (for about 20 seconds--not that I was really counting at the time!) and
said how sweet it was of me to keep these feelings for Brian for so long.
I wanted to talk about many more things, but was definitely stumped on the Brian
factor. And by the time I finished with that, Jim really had to get on stage! He had asked
the stage manager to leave the dressing room because I meant to discuss something personal
with Jim. That guy was a little pissed when we emerged from the room half-an-hour later,
having totally screwed up his timing--Jim was scheduled for nine o'clock and didn't get on
'til after nine-thirty!
I am so stoked that Jim took that time to help me release my feelings, and to offer me
the sense of connectedness I went there for. I mean, I would have gone there just the same
for his performance, but over the preceding two days my purpose had become intensely
pointed on resolving these deep-seated feelings of loss, regret, and isolation. By the
time I arrived at San Francisco, I could feel with all my heart I was ready for that
resolution. Hence, I believe, my uncanny ability to open a path to the backstage, as every
door opened with ease, and I slid, smooth as a serpent, to Jim's side. And he was there,
alone, as if awaiting my arrival. It was like magic. I was charmed.
I couldn't have asked for more, really. I feel I could just spend endless hours with
Jim but, of course, things do not permit. It was enough, then, that I made it even that
far- almost two hours from home in my sporadically-functional automobile--to see and hear
the poetry and prose spilling from the lips of a favorite conscience. It was enough that
he held me and let me cry. Enough that he gently and compassionately helped me extract
these embedded blades of sorrow that have stifled me for years, muting some sweet strains
of yet unknown tunes in my heart.
There is still sadness, but the greater weight of it is lifted now, blown away like a
puff of smoke. So simple, really, that's all it took. I can't even thank Jim enough for
providing me with this direct antidote to human misery: empathy. It should have been done
years ago. But so young, shy, and naive as I was then, I could not process Brian Marnell's
death, nor was I equipped to express my feelings about it. In addition, I was compelled
immediately to move far from the City, and in so doing, lost touch with our mutual
friends. I set it all back on the unconscious burner, and it insidiously eroded my every
sense of well-being. But it's all coming to the surface now, erupting outward, much like
the pus of an infected sore. All for the better, though. Transformation hurts.
Props and more props to Jim Carroll, for precipitating this monumental process of
change within me through his supreme kindness and consideration. I feel my connection to
humanity is becoming firmly established. I feel I'm going to be okay, because Jim is out
there somewhere--even Brian exists somewhere--and we are inexricably linked.
Through my relations with these people, I have awakened to the common bond I share with
everyone: the condition of "dependent origination"--all connected, all dependent
upon the existence of others. I can really feel now, for perhaps the first time in my
life, that I am not entirely alone.
© 1999 Liz Kato / CatholicBoy.com