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Jim Carroll Speaks His Mind

Jim Carroll will always be associated with the written word, thanks in large part to his book The Basketball Diaries, which told of his Manhattan youth as a basketball star and a junkie.

But Carroll also knew how to rock, coming up with one of the classic albums of the New York punk scene, his 1980 debut Catholic Boy, which featured the minor hit "People Who Died."

The Jim Carroll Band lasted for two more albums before dissolving in 1986. Since then he's only occasionally delved into music, devoting most of his time to his poetry and a novel that he's readying for publication.

After the third album, I pretty much decided that would be it, Carroll said in a recent phone interview from a Manhattan studio. I liked playing live, but I didn't like touring, all the psychedelic paraphernalia of it.

"After a while, I just didn't want to perform in front of people every night. It was just wearing on me. I just didn't want to give that out. When I'm out there I'm really into it, but when it's over, it's like the worst crash you can have."

In 1998, Carroll's most recent book of poems, Void of Course, was published and he was pulled back into the rock 'n' roll world, albeit unexpectedly. His album, Pools of Mercury, was supposed to be a spoken-word record with background music supplied by a group of musicians from Seattle. But things changed in the studio.

"We had really good musicians to play music behind the poems", Carroll said. "Then the guys from the band all came in with songs that they had that needed lyrics, so [the record] wound up having about four or five actual songs on it. Not spoken-word pieces with music, but real songs."

The connection with these musicians also led to Carroll's Runaway EP, released last October on the Kill Rock Stars label.

"That's mainly live stuff with the band that I played with in Seattle -- one guy from the Posies, one guy from Soundgarden, one guy from this band Truly. We did this half-[hearted] version of that Del Shannon song Runaway.' I did it very slowly in this speak-singing voice -- I wasn't going to try to sing like Del Shannon -- and it sounded real cool. The EP was just kind of built around that. . . . It was just something that was kind of thrown together real fast."

A highlight of both Pools of Mercury and Void of Course is "8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain," his ode to the Nirvana singer-guitarist who committed suicide in 1994.

It reads, in part:

Didn't the thought that you would never write
Another song, another feverish line or riff
Make you think twice?
That's what I don't understand
Because it's kept me alive, above any wounds.

"I just thought back to when I was doing drugs and I could never think of killing myself, because writing was too important to me, Carroll said. I always thought that my best work was yet to come, so that was what always what kept me going. I couldn't imagine a guy so talented not having that as some last-minute voice in his mind. "

Carroll's misspent youth was revisited in 1995 when director Scott Kalvert made a movie version of The Basketball Diaries, which starred a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio and a pre-Boogie Nights Mark Wahlberg.

"I think the performances were pretty good, but I think the director just had a completely different take on it, said Carroll, who played a small role in the film as a junkie. He didn't have any literary sense at all. He basically made it like an action film or something.

"It didn't have any of the sense of fatalism that the character in the book had. The whole war baby, Cuban Missile Crisis fear and its effect on the character is totally absent from the movie. It gave the character the whole sense of fatalism that made him feel that he wasn't going to live to be 20 years old so he might as well do drugs.

"Without that sense of fatalism, you kind of wonder why this guy -- he's a good basketball player and stuff -- is doing all these drugs. That whole aspect is missing."

But the movie did do something very positive for Carroll; it gave his work a whole new generation of fans.

"[The movie] sold a lot of copies of The Basketball Diaries' and put it back on the best-seller list, he said. That was quite surprising, actually. It gave me this whole new audience. I thought all these young kids would just go to see Leo and Mark Wahlberg, but they actually bought the book.

"My publisher was wondering who are the people that are buying all these books. The book had always sold very steadily and we thought It can't be the kids, they don't buy these books.' And it was. I started to get all these letters from kids.

"And they would buy my books of poems and my records and stuff, too. It was surprising and taught me a lot. I kind of underestimated the kids. So that was a good thing in that sense."

Carroll will be in New Haven Saturday night at 8:30 for a spoken-word show at Tune Inn (772-4310) that promises to be a mixed bag of his literary endeavors.

"I'm going to read some prose, maybe Forced Entries," he said. "Then I'll probably read a bit from this novel I'm working on.

"And then I'll read some from my newest book of poems, Void of Course. I'll probably read some poems from Fear of Dreaming, too, and a few new poems that I've written that aren't published yet and I might also do one or two song lyrics.

"I don't know, I might just do a monologue or something instead of reading prose. Sometimes it just depends on the audience. "


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