Ted Berrigan – “Jim Carroll” (1969)

July 23, 2011 at 6:42 am (Jim Carroll, Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles)

A 1969 article from Culture Hero #5 by poet Ted Berrigan about fellow poet Jim Carroll, who was just starting out, and years away from becoming a singer…

Jim Carroll has to be the biggest thing arriving in heroic culture right now. “How does it feel to be a famous poet?” “It feels . . .” No, no more. It’s beginning to feel famous? & half the population is under 25. The poems for the singing voice that pour from radios and record players, are turning kids on, and turning them on to poems for the talking voice, too. There are so many fresh and exciting and amazingly talented poets under 25 now, and what a pleasure they are! Thanks, beatniks! Thanks, Beatles!, and thanks, Bobby Dylan! Or at least I think thanks. 

Jim Carroll is beautiful. He says [in Organic Trains], “I was forewarned about the clocks falling on me, so all I felt was 8 colors as my wrist watch flew into the sky’s cheek. Watches are very symbolic of security, they remind me of Frank O’Hara. Frank O’Hara reminds me of many wonderful things, as does the vanilla light . . .” 

He’s 20 years old, stands 6’3″, and has a body like Nureyev (or would have were Nureyev Clint Eastwood). Across a party, or a poetry-reading one sees above a black swath of leather, Jim Carroll’s brilliant-red Prince Valiant cut quietly Read the rest of this entry »

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Jim Carroll – “I Want the Angel”

October 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm (Jim Carroll, Poetry & Literature)

I want the angel
Whose dreams are fatal
They cause the snake’s milk to run and curdle

I want the angel
Whose darkness doubles
It absorbs the brilliance of all my troubles

I want the angel
That will not shatter
Every time I whisper, “Girl it does not matter” Read the rest of this entry »

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Jim Carroll – “Catholic Boy”

September 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm (Jim Carroll, Poetry & Literature)

I was born in a pool, they made my mother stand
And I spat on that surgeon and his trembling hand
When I felt the light I was worse than bored
I stole the doctor’s scalpel and I slit the cord

I was a Catholic boy,
Redeemed through pain,
Not through joy

I was two months early they put me under glass
I screamed and cursed their children when the nurses passed
Was convicted of theft when I slipped from the womb
They led me straight from my mother to a cell in the Tombs

I was a Catholic boy,
Redeemed through pain,
Not through joy

They starved me for weeks, they thought they’d teach me fear
I fed on cellmates’ dreams, it gave me fine ideas
When they cut me loose, the time had served me well
I made allies in heaven, I made comrades in Hell

I was a Catholic child
The blood ran red
The blood ran wild

I make angels dance and drop to their knees
When I enter a church the feet of statues bleed
I understand the fate of all my enemies
Just like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

I was a Catholic boy,
Redeemed through pain,
Not through joy

I watched the sweetest psalm stolen by the choir
I dreamed of martyrs’ bones hanging from a wire
I make a contribution, I get absolution
I make a resolution to purify my soul

I was a Catholic boy,
Redeemed through pain,
Not through joy

They can’t touch me now
I got every sacrament behind me:
I got baptism,
I got communion,
I got penance,
I got extreme unction
I’ve got confirmation
‘Cause I’m a Catholic child
The blood ran red
The blood ran wild!

Now I’m a Catholic man
I put my tongue to the rail whenever I can.

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Gerrie Lim – “A Nod of Approval: The Music and Poetry of Jim Carroll” (1986)

September 15, 2009 at 11:24 pm (Jim Carroll, Music, Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles)

An article from June 1986 from Orange County Review. Jim Carroll sadly passed away from a heart attack Sept. 11th. He will not be forgotten… 


“I’ve always considered myself a poet first,” Jim Carroll says, his slightly cracked voice resounding clearly over the phone from New York. “That’s what brings tears to my eyes when I’m doing it right.”

Honing his craft to tearful perfection is something Carroll’s familiar with. Best known for his 1980 debut album, Catholic Boy, and the KROQ radio staple, ‘People Who Died’, for which critics dubbed him “rock’s new poet laureate,” Carroll has also released two more albums and published two books. The poems and prose of the books, The Basketball Diaries and Living at the Movies, have become cult favorites as chronicles of urban angst celebrating New York City’s mean streets.

“I want the angel whose touch don’t miss/Then the blood comes through the dropper like a thick red kiss,” he sang on that first album. “I want the angel that’s partly lame/She filters clarity from her desperate shame.” It was Arthur Rimbaud meets the Velvet Underground, a challenge to the notion that rock music couldn’t be literate. Anyone who thought that literature had no hip-swinging pizzazz simply hadn’t read Jim Carroll.

They’re now being given another chance. Carroll has a new volume out, The Book of Nods, published by Penguin Books in April 1986. There are 95 “nods,” “dream-like prose poems on Carroll’s favorite themes: survival, love and friendship, obsession, memory, time, good and evil, paradise and prison. It’s territory he has explored before, now expanded. Like his metaphorical
angel, Carroll’s new book aims to filter clarity.

“I’m not trying to say anything, I don’t write with any particular intent,” he insists. “What I do is make the images abstract enough to evoke a personal response from the reader. The more the person works at it, the more they’ll get out of it.

“I like to create a mood where it always seems like something’s about to happen. If the readers think something’s going to happen, then in their minds it already has happened. If it turns out to be different than they expected, that’s just an added surprise.”

The new book is full of surprises, with song-like titles such as ‘Guitar Voodoo,’ ‘Dead Salamander’s Song,’ and ‘Music Television.’ In a section called ‘California Variations,’ Carroll strays from the beaten urban path to convey instead the landscape of Northern California. Pastoral images segue into darker, more somber elements – a surrealism for imaginative readers, with lines like:

At night when the wind is slow my dreams
they tangle me in red nets beneath bridges
where water does not flow it chains my eyes…
There is so much invested in the shields
and wired fingers circling the edge
the way gravity reverses time
at the rim of a black hole in space.

“I was living in California for the first time in my life,” Carroll recalls. “It was in Marin County. I went there with a girl in 1973, right after Living at the Movies came out. I didn’t feel like publishing any more for a while, so I went into a real recluse period. I was living in kind of a bucolic setting for the first time, so I used the landscape.

“I feel it’s strong lyrically. The sustained metaphors like the shields and the edge, those are timeless subjects of poets breaking into some purer state. I was dealing with solitude and being in the country, so it was a kind of coming to terms with the landscape, with the actual geographical landscape and also with the spiritual landscape inside of myself.”

Carroll says he felt the need to push his writing into a “purer reality” after he had received critical acclaim. When Living at the Movies came out in 1973, he was 22 and had already been published in the prestigious literary journal The Paris Review. The publication of The Basketball Diaries, written when he was 15, saw him being hailed as a sensation. It also drew attention to his private life, his battle with heroin addiction fraught with rebellion against a working-class Catholic background, and a tempestuous relationship with punk poetess Patti Smith.

He got his first taste of playing rock ‘n’ roll when Smith asked him to open a show for her in San Diego. He discovered that playing music gave him “an incredible rush that you don’t get from poetry readings.” Catholic Boy brought him a larger audience, though the albums that followed, Dry Dreams and I Write Your Name, didn’t do as well. His poetry, however, led critics to compare him to the French poet Rimbaud, an acknowledged influence on such respected rock artists as Bob Dylan and Rickie Lee Jones.

Carroll, however, is uncomfortable with the comparison. “I think the comparisons of me and Rimbaud are simply out of the fact that Patti Smith fostered it when she spoke about me in interviews,” he remarks. “When Patti and I lived together, she was a clerk in a bookstore and she had a total obsession with Rimbaud. And I was a very young poet who had published his first book. I was 19 at the time. It had more to do with that. I never even read Rimbaud till I was a little bit older.”

The influences do show up now. The Book of Nods includes pieces entitled ‘Rimbaud’s Tooth Ache’, ‘Rimbaud Sees the Dentist’ and ‘Rimbaud Running Guns’. Lucid with Carroll’s irreverent wit and caustic observations on life, some of the pieces are based on Rimbaud’s biographies.

Another piece, ‘Dueling the Monkey’, was written on board a plane at 35,000 feet. His close friend and fellow rocker Lou Reed, a tai chi enthusiast, had given him a book on the Chinese martial art. Carroll based the poem on a list of tai chi body positions and exercise movements, which he now says “came out sounding very erotic.”

Music is still important to him; he has just recorded five new songs for an album with former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. The record will also feature ex-X guitarist Billy Zoom and may be released in September 1986, pending negotiations with a major label whose identity Carroll would not divulge. No producer has yet been named, though Carroll reveals he may hire Bob Clearmountain, who’d co-produced Catholic Boy.

“We have such a good band, including this kid named Jeff Scott who plays really fast guitar parts,” he says. “The songs are also more melodic. In the past, I used my voice more as a rhythm instrument. Now I sing more, so I’m using backup singers to tighten-up and brighten parts. I think I understand phrasing in a way that most singers don’t. I understood from poetry the way to get the most from a lyric.”

Carroll’s passion for poetry remains; this summer, he will conduct workshops in Boulder, Colorado, with poets Allen Ginsburg, Anne Waldman and Robert Creeley. Following that, he may give readings in San Francisco and Los Angeles, depending on the progress of a film he’s slated to act in, a campy love story starring a very motley crew: Meat Loaf, Isaac Hayes, Leon Spinks and Divine.

“It’s going to be called Medium Rare. I play a rock ‘n’ roll guy who gets lobotomized by a microwave oven,” he says, laughing. “I did a Canadian movie two years ago called Listen to the City with Martin Sheen, in which I played a guy who comes out of a coma after 20 years. I keep getting all these great parts.”

Meantime, The Basketball Diaries has been optioned for a forthcoming Columbia Pictures film starring Anthony Michael Hall. Carroll is currently working on a follow-up to that book, due next year, which covers New York City’s downtown scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the scene that made famous Max’s Kansas City, Andy Warhol’s Factory and the Chelsea Hotel. He has just read The Book of Nods at a festival in Bremen, Germany, returning to the United States to find the book on the Village Voice bestseller list.

An angel has arrived, and Carroll’s hoping her touch won’t miss.

Gerrie Lim

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Jim Carroll – “8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain”

September 16, 2008 at 1:56 pm (Jim Carroll, Poetry & Literature)



Genius is not a generous thing

In return it charges more interest than any amount of royalties can cover

And it resents fame

With bitter vengeance


Pills and powdres only placate it awhile

Then it puts you in a place where the planet’s poles reverse

Where the currents of electricity shift


Your Body becomes a magnet and pulls to it despair and rotten teeth,

Cheese whiz and guns


Whose triggers are shaped tenderly into a false lust

In timeless illusion



The guitar claws kept tightening, I guess on your heart stem.

The loops of feedback and distortion, threaded right thru

Lucifer’s wisdom teeth, and never stopped their reverbrating

In your mind


And from the stage

All the faces out front seemed so hungry

With an unbearably wholesome misunderstanding


From where they sat, you seemed so far up there

High and live and diving


And instead you were swamp crawling

Down, deeper

Until you tasted the Earth’s own blood

And chatted with the Buzzing-eyed insects that heroin breeds



You should have talked more with the monkey

He’s always willing to negotiate

I’m still paying him off…

The greater the money and fame

The slower the Pendulum of fortune swings


Your will could have sped it up…

But you left that in a plane

Because it wouldn’t pass customs and immigration



Here’s synchronicity for you:


Your music’s tape was inside my walkman

When my best friend from summer camp

Called with the news about you


I listened them…

It was all there!

Your music kept cutting deeper and deeper valleys of sound

Less and less light

Until you hit solid rock


The drill bit broke

and the valley became

A thin crevice, impassible in time,

As time itself stopped.


And the walls became cages of brilliant notes

Pressing in…


That’s how diamonds are made

And that’s WHERE it sometimes all collapses

Down in on you



Then I translated your muttered lyrics

And the phrases were curious:

Like “incognito libido”

And “Chalk Skin Bending”


The words kept getting smaller and smaller


Separated from their music

Each letter spilled out into a cartridge

Which fit only in the barrel of a gun



And you shoved the barrel in as far as possible

Because that’s where the pain came from

That’s where the demons were digging


The world outside was blank

Its every cause was just a continuation

Of another unsolved effect



But Kurt…

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



If only you hadn’t swallowed yourself into a coma in Roma…

You could have gone to Florence

And looked into the eyes of Bellinni or Rafael’s Portraits


Perhaps inside them

You could have found a threshold back to beauty’s arms

Where it all began…


No matter that you felt betrayed by her


That is always the cost

As Frank said,

Of a young artist’s remorseless passion


Which starts out as a kiss

And follows like a curse.

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Jim Carroll – “Dry Dreams” (1982)

September 15, 2008 at 6:42 pm (Jim Carroll, Poetry & Literature)

Each night, they surround me
With the lights and the microphones . . .
With their bodies and the mile of cable
Like a magic ring of bone

Every night I have the same dream:
A man behind the door
With a tattooed erection
And no reflection
And his eyes like a Chinese whore . . .

Every night I have the same dream

The madonnas at the crossroads,
Dressed like future spies
They shine their lips with android sperm
And the riviera skies . . .

But every night I have the same dream
It’s a vision of the dead . . . the way
They stare into space
And never see a human face.
But just the back of their own heads

Every night I have the same dream

Earth, water, wind and flame
The designers of my fate . . .
Every night they come to me
Release me with their weight . . .

Every night I have the same dream
A dome upon the shore
Where some method actors
Bomb the big reactor
And it melts right through the core

Every night I have the same dream

Each night, they surround me
With the lights and the microphones . . .

With their bodies and the miles of cable
Like a magic ring of bone

Every night I have the same dream
White crows in an empty sky
When I call they descend, the young trees bend
And the dream is always dry . . .

Every night I have the same dream.

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