Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll, 1949-2009

I heard today that the great poet Jim Carroll died, and it was one of those weird moments where you say “Wow, that’s crazy, because I was just talking about him” – and indeed I was just telling someone the other day what a great poet he is (was), and pulled out his Catholic Boy album, and we briefly talked about the cover, how he’s standing there with these older people who it seems may be his parents, yet at the same time his cock is let’s say rather prominently noticeable through his jeans, and anyway “People Who Died” among others is a great song.

Like Patti Smith, Jim Carroll made the transition from being known primarily as a poet to also being known as a punk singer. I got into his writing after first digging his music (particularly Catholic Boy). Living at the Movies still stands as a landmark collection of poetry, drawing on the tradition of Arthur Rimbaud and the Symbolists, as well as the conversational New York vibe of Frank O’Hara (as in for example the opening of “To the Secret Poets of Kansas”):
Just because I can’t understand you
it doesn’t mean I hate
when you go on continuously how you
cannot tolerate skyscrapers or cab drivers

                maniac faces on Fifth, well

it means nothing to me I
just ignore as so often...

Well Rimbaud and O’Hara, I suppose these are not original comparisons, but if you are as good or even almost as good as them, then you’re in good company. And Jim Carroll is. The New York Times obituary calls him a “poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs.” He was also the son of a bar owner. Most people probably know of Carroll because of the film The Basketball Diaries (still to my mind Leonardo DiCaprio’s best role). The film is good; the book is better. Better still his poetry. This is his short poem “Song”:

In minute gestures
                    that jet wetly slight
        right above your eyes
                                        each morning
I watch the sun cross over the reservoir
        all day sometimes
                     a few hours soaked into air cotton
like cloud syringes drawing up blue
                          like darkness when it’s through

Of course, offering a couple short extracts does not do Carroll justice. But when a poet dies one immediately thinks of his words, just as when a rock star dies (again he was both, though “star” might be stretching it) perhaps you play the music. Though Carroll was 60 years old, I can’t help thinking of the lines from his song “I Want the Angel,” which go, “And those who died young, they are my heroes/ They are my heroes, they took the walk/ Where the heart made sense and the mind can’t talk.” Here (below) is Jim Carroll doing “People Who Died,” and hopefully he wouldn’t mind me writing a new verse, maybe, at least in my head, something like “Jimmy had a heart attack, 60 years old, he looked like 55 when he died, he was a friend of mine...”

1 comment:

Joel th' Soul Junkie said...

Awesome tribute to Jim, m'man. This shit's a bummer, watching these mighty ones leave...