sep 14

People Who Died: Remembering Jim Carroll

Jim CarrollThe first time I met a writer was the first time it occurred to me that one could be a writer.

I was a college sophomore who, through a random set of instances, walked into a very large auditorium containing a very small audience. Jim Carroll was on a dark stage reading from a collection of stories, Praying Mantis, that he had just put out. His crackling, stuttery, affected voice filled the room as he said, "This is 'Tiny Tortures' (mp3)." I actually counted the number of people in the audience: eight.

Carroll had survived modest success in the '70s as a rock singer. "Catholic Boy," which sounded a little like The Clash meets the Stones, and "People Who Died" (mp3) were small hits in 1980. But after that he lived in relative obscurity for over a decade, until Leonardo DiCaprio came along to play him in The Basketball Diaries.

When I walked into that dark room, Carroll was reading something called "A Day at the Races" (mp3). I grew up in a town about the size of your apartment building, so this was the first time that I ever heard someone read their own work. And I was mesmerized.

I happened to know the student council person who booked him at this random midwest college, so I asked her if I could take Carroll out for the night. Frightened by his stories of heroin abuse, she was relieved that I would entertain him. So at a bar called Whitey's on a cold winter night in North Dakota, Jim Carroll drank with me. He told me a hundred stories about people and places I had never heard of. And he frequently snuck in the bathroom to do I-don't-know-what.

I had never met someone like Jim Carroll, but his writing eventually led me to people like William Burroughs and Patti Smith. I never talked to him again after that night, but every time I walked down St. Mark's -- 10, 15, nearly 20 years later -- I thought of him. It was one of those incalculably small events that probably changed me forever.

Update: NYT obit.


All it takes to write is creativity, a strong command of the English language, and if you're writing a novel, a lot of time. That's the killer for most people. If they have the first two qualities but not the third, they never see their projects through to fruition.

posted by SciFi at 8:34 PM on September 14, 2009

hey I just ran across your Jim story - thanks for posting this. Isn't it amazing how chance meetings with some people affect the rest of your life?

posted by antiplath at 4:46 PM on September 15, 2009

That is an awesome story.

posted by Rick Webb at 11:14 AM on September 16, 2009

Cool story. I think I first heard him over college radio airwaves in Davis, CA. Also remember him read at 1st ave. Dig the new redesign! When?

posted by juice at 1:37 AM on September 17, 2009

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