Faithful Departed — Jim Carroll

(1949 - 2009)


It is impossible to create and not expose yourself. In fiction, music or memoir, there is the beating heart of the writer’s own life experiences between every line. Fear of exposing themselves in the way that is necessary for others to connect keeps some writers from ever being publishing, or taking their talent to the next level. Jim Carroll did not have that fear. He was a creative force who exposed himself in words, music and even basketball.

To the uninitiated, Jim Carroll was a punk rock icon, singer, writer, spoken word artist and poet who inserted Catholic imagery whenever he could. “Catholic Boy”was his first song to be released, in 1980. It is a raucous story of survival, swirling in phrases like “extreme unction” and “Garden of Gethsemane.” It depicts the tremendous polarities of his early life quite beautifully. Carroll spent his teenage years being a star basketball player for a top Catholic high school in New York, and a life-decimating addict at the same time. One extreme had to win out.

Hope in the desolation

In his two memoirs, The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries, Carroll lays bare the results of the “extreme life.” In the pages of his journals from ages 13 to 23, Carroll depicts himself as a young disaster who chooses drugs over his talent for basketball or even a normal teenage life. Also, there is a Bret Easton Ellis quality to the prose that makes you wonder if there is hope in the desolation.

When I read the books there was hope; Carroll was alive and still writing somewhere in New York’s Lower East Side. In the New York Times, his close friend Patti Smith had described meeting him: “I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation. The work was sophisticated and elegant. He had beauty.”

In 2009, he died at the age of 60 writing at his desk. The teenage disaster of a Catholic boy had lived to late middle age and with words surrounding him. He more than exposed himself in his art and survived to continue doing so. His eclectic combination of talents is an inspiration to artists who feel the ideas and interests that make up their lives won’t make sense to other people. Individuality is its own gift.

Rest in peace, Jim.