Poet, writer and rock musician Jim Carroll was referred to as the Bob Dylan of the 80’s. Watching him perform was like witnessing history! After hearing his song,” People Who Died” on the World Famous KROQ,  attending his Los Angeles concert debut was a “must see”! The song resonated with such a high degree of poetic semblance it certainly stood out from all the other songs on the radio. His debut album, “Catholic Boy” was absolute genius from its lyrics to the actual production.

Jim Carroll expressed the feared anticipation, the optimistic nihilism and glittering darkness of the 1980s that we who were there felt; even if we couldn’t communicate it ourselves. When John Lennon was assassinated in front of the Dakota in December 1980, “People Who Died” was the second most-requested songs on FM radio, just after Lennon’s own “Imagine.”

Many magazines, including Newsweek and Rolling Stone printed that we was the new laureate of Rock n’ Roll! The 1980 release of his debut album, “Catholic Boy” coincided with the re-publication of his cult classic autobiographical book, “The Basketball Diaries”. It was even rumored that Carroll was to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The mainstream press was in awe that a punk musician would be considered for the highest regarded literary prize.

Jim Carroll had his “own voice” and he grew up the hard way. He was born in New York in 1950, the son of a third generation Irish bartender. At age 12 he moved to the Upper East Side where he started to keep a journal which later became the book “The Basketball Diaries”. The book was essentially talking about the ins and outs of his adolescence. Carroll, along with being a natural novelist, was a phenomenal basketball player. In fact, he won many trophies for his “hoops”, yet he lived a double life by becoming a heroin addict and succumbed to male prostitution to support his nefarious habit. At the young age of 13 he was rubbing elbows with the entire great “beat” writers of that magical time like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. All of them were amazed of his writing ability and even referred to him as a “born writer”.
As he finished his teens he started to pursue his fascination with music and through Andy Warhol he became friends with Bob Dylan and Lou Reed from The Velvet Underground. However, he owes all of his music credibility to fellow poet/rock singer, Patti Smith.

In 1973 Carroll fled N.Y.C. and headed west to California to finally kick his heroin habit. He was intrigued to have his own band but felt compelled to just write lyrics for other artist to put to music.
Patti Smith was performing in San Diego and invited Jim to fly down and come to the show. There was a “bru ha ha” with the opening act cancelling so Ms. Smith cajoled Carroll to perform with her band as their replacement. I was fortunate to attend this show at the Recreation Room at San Diego State University and I must admit that my attention was mightily given to Patti Smith and not Jim Carroll.
Jim Carroll’s talents started to spill-over into films. A young Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed Carroll in the film adaptation of the “Basketball Diaries” which was released in 1995. Interestingly the film also starred Mark Whalberg and Lorraine Bracco.

The power of the film was said to be responsible for two horrific shooting sprees at separate high schools in 1999 including the massacre at Columbine High School in Denver. Carroll was seriously empathetic to the families of the slain victims yet he wouldn’t assume responsibility.

Another great Carroll, song, “It’s Too Late” was used in the 1985 film, “Tuff Turf”which starred a young Robert Downey Jr. and James Spder. Carroll’s band made a cameo appearance in the film which had the ultimate High School showdown.

Jim Carroll, at age 60, died in September of 2009 of a heart attack while writing at his desk but his contributions in music, literature and film will be the cornerstone of his legacy.
Jefferson A. Laufer