years out of rock scene, author/singer returns with latest album of songs, Pools of
Contributing Editor Colin Devenish reports:
After more than a decade
out of the rock scene, poet and author Jim Carroll is back with his latest album of songs,
Pools of Mercury. When asked why he's making music again, the lanky New York City
fixture said singing rock 'n' roll is one of the greatest highs around.
He should know. Carroll is
the author of the acclaimed, reportedly autobiographical book, "The Basketball
Diaries," which recounts the escapades of a young kid experimenting with heroin and
carousing on the streets of New York.
"Most poets should face a
rock 'n' roll audience for one night to keep them honest." -- Jim Carroll, poet and
"There's no better feeling
sometimes than when you're able to sing," Carroll, 48, said in a recent conversation.
"I once said a poet has the right to sing as loudly and vocally as he wants to. Most
poets should face a rock 'n' roll audience for one night to keep them honest."
Carroll pieced together Pools of
Mercury -- his first rock album since 1984's I Write Your Name -- with producer
Anton Sanko (Suzanne Vega) guitarist Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith) and a host of session
players. The result includes such catchy rock songs as Falling
([mp3] excerpt), originally written for the film
adaptation of "The Basketball Diaries." In addition, somber spoken-word pieces,
such as "Zeno's Law of High-Heeled Shoes," are accompanied by atmospheric
First published as a poet at the
age of 16, Carroll received critics' accolades in 1978 for "The Basketball
Diaries." But it took the punk-rock movement to inspire Carroll to sing.
He formed the Jim Carroll Band, and
in 1980, they released their debut album, Catholic Boy, on the custom-label
established by British rock legends the Rolling Stones. Carroll even scored an
alternative-rock hit with "People Who Died," a fiery, uptempo rock single from
"I can't sing that well, but
when punk-rock came along, it changed all that," Carroll said. To make up for what he
termed his "technical deficiencies," he used an understanding of phrasing he
gleaned from poetry. As a counterpoint to crashing power chords, he'd drop the volume of
his voice, thereby changing the dynamics of a song. These were "things that singers
who are technically much better might not do," he said.
Kaye -- longtime guitarist for
Smith, another punk-era-poet-turned-rocker -- pegged "Falling Down Laughing" as
the song that made Carroll decide to record his first rock record in 14 years.
" 'Falling Down Laughing' is
such a straight-ahead rock song, [and] it provides a bridge from [his earlier career as a
musician to the present]," Kaye said.
Producer Sanko, who also plays
several instruments on the album, said Carroll's main focus was, as one might expect, on
the lyrics. "Words are a lot more important to him than the average singer,"
Sanko said. "He's not the kind of guy that's going to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner'
at a baseball game."
Certainly, Carroll's writing has a
power and resonance, particularly in the case of a piece such as his 8
Fragments For Kurt Cobain
([mp3] excerpt). Carroll acknowledged some
basic similarities between himself and Cobain -- the late singer-songwriter with
grunge-rock icons Nirvana -- but added that he wrote "8 Fragments ..." as a way
to help himself understand Cobain's suicide.
"I wrote it right after he
died," Carroll said. "Usually, I would take some time, but it just happened very
Carroll concluded that Cobain must
have been in great pain. "That's real despair when your work can't even save you,
because there's always something more that I've wanted to do, artistically, that has
stopped me from thinking about that."