Text by Julia Masi
Images from the Internet
© 1980, 81 FFanzeen
All song lyrics: © 1980 by Earl McGrath Music / Jim Carroll Music; ASCAP All Rights Reserved
The following article/interview with poet/musician Jim Carroll, written by Julia Masi, was originally published in FFanzeen magazine; part one appeared in issue #6 (1980), and Part II in issue #7 (1981). Jim Carroll passed away in September 2009, so I republish this in tribute; even though I personally was not a fan, I respect his accomplishments. I did see him perform a number of times at CBGB’s, however, jumping in with the Lenny Kaye Connection. – RBF
Part I: The Poet
He may be a rookie to the rock’n’roll stage, but already Jim Carroll’s got a following. Last summer, a group of his devoted fans traveled from San Francisco to New York for his Fourth of July gig at Irving Plaza, where his music was more dynamic than the firework symphony in the street.
If he has any gimmick at all, it’s his honesty. He’s as willing to lay it on the line during an interview as he is in his most recent book, The Basketball Diaries, or his stunning debut album, A Catholic Boy, on Atco Records.
In fading blue jeans and a plaid shirt that matches his reddish blond hair and off-sets his clear blue eyes, Jim seems younger than his 29 years. He’s spent the past few years living in California, but he hasn’t lost his New York accent or his effection for the City. On August 22, he spoke almost non-stop to this awe-struck reporter, explaining his evolution from Pulitzer Prize nominated poet to up-and-coming rock’n’roll star.
[Organic Trains (1967)]
“Poets were always rock’n’roll stars. It’s kind of like the poet’s right to sing, as loudly and as vulgarly as he wants to. Poets now-a-days have forgotten that. Poets now-a-days are more concerned with a kind of style and not so much [with] heart. A good poet should work on two levels. The heart effects someone who is virtually illiterate. The heart level really has no verbal sophistication at all. And then [the poem] should effect the intellect as well.
“The whole thing that puts me off to the poetry scene is that it’s become kind of petty and incestuous. That’s out of frustration and I understand it, because of the way Americans take on poetry, you’d think of him as a wimp; so it’s out of frustration that poets say, ‘Fuck everything. I’m not writing for the public anymore, I’m writing for other poets.’ And they start to get into all these systems of style, like minimal poetry, which really has to do with head games, you know, intellect games.
“I wanted to get back to what the traditional role of the poet’s always been, the way he’s honored in France as the most noble profession. Doctors and lawyers envy poets there – still. And, in America…” he pauses to light a cigarette and leans forward, “I don’t give a shit that most people think poets are faggots. Or whatever their fucking ideas of poets are. I decided that I was, in the traditional sense, gonna make poetry a noble profession again.” He recalls the conversation he used to have with Patti Smith and how he would tell her, “’You just have to write your lyric and put it there. And not worry about publishing or effecting people. It’s just writing for history. Actually, it’s a great honor to be a poet now,’ I’d say to her, “’because the world is probably gonna fuckin’ blow itself up before we die and we’ll be the poets to record the end, even if there’s no one left to read it… No, we should be concerned about life and effecting people while we’re still alive.’”
[Upside Down (1970)]
After giving some thought to the way he was, and wanted to effect people, Jim realized that he needed a larger audience. And rock seemed like a perfect medium. “Kids perceive lyrics through the heart that they can’t intellectually. Say certain lyrics by the Velvet Underground; certain illusions and stuff would be over kids’ heads, but they’d get them.” His musician friends were always asking him to write lyrics. He had collaborated with Patti Smith and Allen Lanier, of the Blue Oyster Cult. “At first, I thought I would just do lyrics. But then, when I saw punk happening, I realized that I didn’t need all the technical ability that was traditionally needed. I could do my songs myself because no one can interpret the songs as well as the person who writes them.
“I wrote the music to my songs to my vocal limitations. And I had the band write the music to my own limitations. As I got better, I took more risks with my voice. I wanted to be careful. I didn’t want to write art. I didn’t want to make an art record. I hate that. I didn’t want poems with just music behind them. I wanted them to be songs. Maybe on the next record we’ll have some songs with spoken introductions that go right into the songs,” he kicks his foot and pushes the palm of his hand forward to emphasize, “that kick right into songs. But that’s easy for me. That’s what I’ve always done and it’s my strength. But I wanted to get the hard part out of the way first and just find myself with this first record.
“Kids are the hardest to lie to and most rock’n’roll lyrics are like an afterthought: in 90 percent of the cases, they’re more like the musician’s idea of what a lyric should be. And they’re not integral to that person’s experience. And so that way, when you sing them, they’re not real. They could be sung by anyone. You’re singing them but you might as well be a stranger yourself then, because they’re not about your experience. They’re about what your idea of a rock song experience should be like. Like limiting the subject matter to getting laid or not getting laid; those songs might as well be sung to some fucking fly stuck to some roof of some abandoned Chateau somewhere, for all the relevance they have to that guy who sings with no experience. They might as well be instrumentals. What I care about is putting all my vulnerability up front, especially on stage.
[Living At the Movies (1973)]
“When we first started doing shows, that’s what people recognized. I was always worried about what I was going to do when I got on stage. When I’m singin’, it’s okay, but when the instrumental break comes… Mick [Jagger] could dance around and stuff and it’s fantastic, but I can’t do that. I’d look like a fool. I can dance and shit but it wouldn’t be real to me. So I just decided that when I get out there, what I’ll just do is not rely on being influenced by anyone in my stage presence. If the songs are integral, if the words are integral to my experience, then my moves on stage will be integral to the words. Just let them move me. It was incredible the way it happened.” Jim’s eyes grow wide and a look of genuine surprise takes over his face: “ When I got out on the stage for the first time, I had fun on stage. I had music there instead of just doing poetry readings. I was moved out of my head. When I saw a video tape for the first time of myself on stage, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t remember doing all those things…making any of those moves. I make very minimal moves most of the time.” That’s when he’s on stage. During an interview, he moves constantly. His long legs wrap themselves around each other, dangle over the arm of the chair, and stretch out in front of him as if he were unconsciously performing a yoga regimen. He explains, “[My movements] reflect my vulnerability the same way that the lyrics reflect their vulnerability fro their experiences. When people mention that, they say it’s mesmerizing when it’s right…when the magic happens.
“When a person puts forth their vulnerabilities – their weaknesses and their strengths – then it can’t be anything but an experience for the other person to relate to it. And I make the lyrics just abstract enough so that people can see that they come out of my experience, but they’re also abstract enough so that they can take them and make them their own, too. They just hit a chord in the heart.
[The Basketball Diaries (1978)]
“If you write lyrics just for the intellect, it comes out some phony stream of consciousness bullshit. It’s like rhetoric. Or else, you try to be clever, like some art band, and it’s like some tenth-rate William Burroughs. I hate groups like that. They’re trying to be clever and it’s all paraphernalia and gimmickry. They take no risks at all. They don’t show anything of themselves. It’s all hidden behind gimmicks and outfits, and things like that. That’s theater. Rock’n’roll is just about putting it out with force. And it’s real. It’s immediate. They lyrics need immediacy. Their own vulnerability’s right there. Let everything show.” He speaks with disgust of the “cock row” (heavy metal) bands, calling them “devious. Rock’n’roll is about sex, sure, but it doesn’t have to be completely. I don’t believe that and I don’t buy it. It should have some kind of integrity. As a poet, that’s what I’m trying to do: show that poetry does have integrity.
“But the line I have that sums it up most,” he quotes his song, “It’s Too Late,” “’I’m here to give you my heart and you want a fashion show…’ I saw that with the punk scene. There’s certain element of it, in San Francisco, where they make punk clubs into singles bars. They don’t listen to the music. They just come decked out in outrageousness. They don’t realize it’s like the hippies of the ‘60s. As I see here [in New York], the people in clubs, more and more lately, are evolving back into just looking like street kids. Fashion is great, but inconspicuousness allows you to get a lot of things done that you don’t, if you look outrageous.
“I want to be part of life. I don’t want to be standing on the edge looking into it. I have to do that by the nature of what I am anyway. Why should you outcast yourself in some kind of outside environment? I went through a whole period when I had my hair long and stuff, even through I wasn’t into the hippie scene. I just thought it was wrong. I was a street kid. I guess the reason I grew my hair long was just to get laid and be an outcast ‘cause the girls I was with dug it. But now I just think differently. My art’s too important for that anymore. If people do it, then it’s fine. But in my position, the way things are for me, I just find I can be more effective without it. Without having any particular style or fashion: ‘It ain’t no contribution / To go and rely on an institution / To validate your chosen art / And to sanction your boredom, and let you play out your art’ [“It’s Too late”],
[Book of Nods (1986)]
“And then I talk about the negativity of the whole scene. I say two things. In some song I say, ‘It’s when the body at the bottom / That body is my own reflection / But it ain’t hip to sink that low / Unless you’re gonna make a resurrection’ [“Into the Night”]. I’m speaking more about my own experiences with drugs and stuff,” which he speaks more about only in the past tense. “You know, there’s nothing heroic about it. You know, that whole thing about, like, a lot of people get into it because it stacks you up above everyone else – the whole romance of the whole thing? They think it’s heroic. And it is heroic in the sense that at least you’re not a dilettante. You’ve thrown yourself over into it completely. You have a chance to be heroic in the real traditional sense of poetry, to start a second life, by coming out of the fuckin’ pit. And I say also in that same song, ‘When they got nothing to give / They parent their legs for what’s negative / They’re so decadent, until their daddy’s money from home is all spent… / So I think it’s time / Because it’s too easy to rely / On worshipping devils and strangers in bed / Though they get good drugs and they do give good head’ [“Into the Night”]. I like those lines,” he smiles. “It is true, you know? I can’t completely deny them, myself. The attraction of the negative. It’s been a part of my life for too long. To look for the good is so much harder.
“”The mythology and the ritual of Catholicism, I’ve come back to. I think it’s fantastic. The whole cult of the Virgin is very attractive. It’s the only feminine side to Western religion. The Virgin is hardly ever mentioned in Protestant religions.
“A good poet should have a feminine side to him. The thing that made me feel best about a review one time, was that [the critic was] saying that I had the ‘best feminine side of any poet in America,’ which has nothing to do with homosexuality. The guy pointed out that. It’s usually homosexuals that have the least feminine side in the works. It’s like Jung said, [that] every guy has a female side and every woman has a male side. Which, as an artist, is imperative to have. And it comes naturally to me.”
Referring to the title of his album, Jim comments that, “A lot of people think that’s an anti-Catholic song.” Comparing the discipline of Catholic elementary school to a jail, he recites, “’I took the doctor’s scalpel, and I slit the cord’ [“Catholic Boy”]. I wanted life. But then, all of a sudden, I got put back in the fuckin’ slammer. They confine you with dogma and put boundaries around it. But the mythology is just the opposite, to open up. It’s about the letting of blood. There’s a lot of images of blood. I call my album Catholic Boy because my whole life is based on [it]. Your history comes out of the streets and what effects you when you were young. That’s what’s in your heart and that’s what’s in your gut. You can’t escape it. People who go to Eastern religions after they grow up are looking in the wrong way. That’s only in the intellect that you think about it. But in the heart, you have to rely on what you grew up with when the heart was formed. In the heart sense, in the sprit of it. And that’s Catholicism for me.
[Fear of Dreaming (1993)]
“What could be more ‘punk rock’ than the Stations of the Cross? Following a guy around with a crown of thorns and a crucifix – His own crucifix – up to the top of a mountain, and having Him pierced in the side by a centurion so that the blood flows? And that blood! I think that’s what the crucifixion was all about. When the centurion struck Him in the side and this magical blood came forth, that was supposedly mixed with water – a Holy Water – that blood was a letting out of all man’s ego. He had to die for man’s ego because man’s ego had built up to such a point. I mean, man’s ego is overwhelming. His arrogance. And his pride.”
He leans forward and drops the level of his voice until it’s just above a whisper. “When I think about it intellectually, it makes sense to me, and that was what junk was all about. After a while, you just wanted to do it to keep watching the blood come up. And letting the blood come out to take out your own ego, because when you were high on junk, you could see the bullshit of what it was. It just slowed everything down and your vision was narrowed. Most people think you just go on the nod. Well, people who go on the nod are wasting a heroin head. I liked a good nod as much as anyone when I was on the stuff. But man, I wanted to see people and their bullshit, too.”
Sinking back into his chair, he admits that, “with this ‘Catholic Boy’ song, that’s kind of anti-Catholic school, but when I say ‘redeemed through pain not through joy,’ that’s the way it should be. The fact is that these Born Again people, you hear them speak, they testify, ‘The Lord is with me 24 hours a day. I get joy from Him. I get such a buzz.’ It’s like a methadone maintenance program for religion. They’re gonna get the buzz 24 hours a day or nothin’s happenin’. They want something back for it.
[Poems, Interviews, Photographs (1997)]
“The thing that I always thought about religion was, that if you love God, you don’t do it because you’re afraid you’re gonna go to Hell. You don’t not sin because you’re afraid you’re gonna go to Hell or because you want to get into Heaven and get this 24 hour a day buzz. You do it because God made you. And you’re alive. And that’s all! If you’re redeemed through pain; if you pray three months that this good friend of yours is not gonna die of leukemia and he dies anyway and you’ve still got faith in what you’ve been praying to before, then that’s love of God and belief. And I don’t get any buzz from that. The fact is I can’t even say I have faith in God. In an intellectual sense, I don’t even know if I can believe in It. There’s too much else happening. But I love the rituals of it. And I want to believe it in my heart. And sometimes I can believe it. But it’s very hard.
“Like Rimbaud said, ‘Charity is a key.’ And that’s what the letting of the blood of Christ is all about: charity. And charity has to be the key more ever now. And those people just don’t think about that.”
Jim tells of his friend who embraced the diet and philosophy of an obscure religious cult. He lived in the desert fasting and preparing himself for the destruction of civilization. He ate only fruit and things that grew from the trees in an attempt to purify his body enough so that he would be able to consume his own urine. Jim explains that, “apparently, during Armageddon, when the Four Horsemen come and the world’s ending, then you can get by and survive, ‘cause you don’t need any food. All the food’s gonna wither. You can get by on your own cycle of pissing and drinking it. And in theory, that works. But the whole point to me was, and I said this to him one time, what the fuck are you gonna do, hide in a cave during a nuke war and drink your own piss? Why would you want to, man? What I’d wanna do is just be around the person I love most. Or, if not, be with any stranger if you didn’t have time to make it to that person.
“I’d feel really left out at this point, if there was a nuclear war and I didn’t die. I don’t want to be in a cave drinking piss. The only thing we could do then is give comfort. I’d want to grab the hand of the person that was next to me, whether it was the person I loved, or some stranger if I couldn’t make it to that person, if the world was ending real quick, and just grab them in whatever shelter you’re in. Or in the subway or wherever you’re hiding from this fuckin’ attack; and just grab that person and hold her hand as tight as you can and just grab hands with the other people. I’m physically a cold person. Usually, I’m not into, you know, that California stuff where everyone touches and hugs people and stuff. That always made me uptight. But is this case, I’d wanna hold the person’s hand so tight. You only have a few seconds. It’s the only time that charity would win out in this fucked up world.
“People would be more alive in those last few seconds – because death was comin’ – then they would be in their whole lives. Death would be life for them then. It’s such an irony, but that’s the case. People would feel for once for the person next to them instead of just for themselves. They look into someone else’s eyes and probably see for the first time in their life, because the edge of death and that flirtation with death always brings that out.
“So this guy drinking piss, what’s he gonna do? First of all, if Revelations is right and the world is gonna end through some kind of mystical thing, the Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse, there ain’t no cave you’re gonna be able to hide in. Those Four Horsemen are gonna check out everything. The whole idea is people are gonna pray to die and not be able to die. So he ain’t gonna be able to hide. If it’s more like just a straight pragmatic nuclear war and everything’s gonna be destroyed, then he could hide from it in a cave.” He lowers his voice again. “But why would you want to? What would you come down to? A bunch of fuckin’ mutants!”
Part II: Soundtrack of the Times
Jim Carroll, 1994
Some people spend their whole lives searching for the spotlight, while others stumble into it repeatedly. Take Jim Carroll for example.
When Jim Carroll chronicles his career, he makes fame sound so easy: a published poet by the time he was 16, a Pulitzer Prize nomination at 22, a best selling author (The Basketball Diaries), and rock star at 29. But his success wasn’t’ built on pure luck. He admits he has no patience with dilatants. He puts everything he has into everything he does. And what he possesses is an incredible talent that can not be ignored.
He grew up tough and fast on the streets of Manhattan. And if it wasn’t for a scholarship to a private high school, he might have ended up like the rest of his friends he mentions in his song, “People Who Died.” But something in his blue eyes suggests that he was always too smart to be consumed by the streets. As a kid writing The Basketball Diaries, he had shown an incredible perception and lack of self-pity.
Jim Carroll took to poetry as soon as he was introduced to it. Knowing the value of voyeurism, he set out to study the best contemporary poets of the ‘60s by attending a Greenwich Village poetry workshop.
“I was hanging around down at St. Mark’s Church, at the Poetry Project down there, where Allan Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan and all these people would read. I didn’t say anything to anybody there. I just stayed and watched in the audience.” At the time, Jim had already begun to write poetry. He showed some of it to a high school friend whose brother ran the press at City College. The brother immediately wanted to publish them. “I only had about thirty pages of poems that I wanted published
Catholic Boy (1980)
“I was too shy to introduce myself to the people at the poetry scene. But then when I had this book, I could give it to them and that way I could introduce myself. And they said, ‘We wondered who you were, if you were a poet or just spyin’ on us.’ Then I started to publish when I was 16, in the magazine that they ran out of [St. Mark’s], The World. And every twelve issues, Bobbs-Merril Publishers would publish this big hardcover anthology of the best works from it. From that I started to get from the underground press into hardcover publishers and stuff. And then I started publishing in the Paris Review, because this poet, Tom Clark, was the poetry editor and he hung out at the St. Mark’s thing.
“And that’s where I first published the diaries, too. They asked me if I had any prose because they were having a prose issue of The World. I said, ‘All I have is these diaries that I kept when I was young.’ And I started to read them at poetry readings at St. Mark’s and they always went over real well. And when George Plimpton read them, he asked me to give him some for the Paris Review [for which he was editor]. I gave him twenty-five pages and I got letters form all these publishers who wanted to publish them. But I didn’t want to publish that book until I published a really big volume of poetry because I didn’t want to be known as a street writer. I wanted to show that I could write as a poet. It was stupid. It was being hung up with style.”
Jim held off publishing the diaries because most editors “wanted to make some changes in it and give it more sociological meaning. Like why I was doing all this and stuff. Since I wasn’t the same age anymore, as 13 to 15, it would’ve been bullshit to change them. Each one I kind of wrote to be a short story; to stand by itself. They weren’t day-to-day diaries. They were all subjective little short stories and anecdotes. I didn’t want to put in any, like ‘Dear Diary, why is this happening to me? Because my parents hate me, I’m shooting junk.’ Bullshit! I did it because I wanted to party.
[Dry Dreams (1982)]
“I never had any editor touch my work at all. Even when I was 16. I wouldn’t allow it. And now that I can command it, of course, I don’t let them. If an editor makes suggestions, that’s one thing. But the only thing I think of an editor as is someone who checks for typos and misspellings. I just didn’t like the idea of that. I really cared about the diaries since this was a book that I wanted kids to read. And I wanted a big distribution on it instead of just to the poetry audience. I wanted a paperback house. All I cared about was the paperback edition because it was affordable for the kids.”
After he published Living in the Movies, the book that earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1974, he moved to California and became a recluse. “I didn’t like the lifestyle in California, that kind of mellow, laid-back shit. I just wanted to use a landscape. I didn’t associate with anyone. I just lived in the country. I had dogs for the first time in my life. I love animals, but could never have them. I’d bring home strays every week when I was a kid and my mother would say, ‘The city’s no place for a dog.’ You know that line? So, once I got out there, I got, like, four dogs. And I’d take these long walks with ‘em and I was writing a lot of poetry and these prose poems, thinking about what I was going to do with the diaries.
“Then, after, I slowly decided I was going to do rock, by what I was writing and what I was reading.
“The book that effected me the most was The Time of the Assassins, by Henry Miller. It was s study of Rimbaud’s works, but it’s really a study of Henry Miller by Henry Miller. It speaks about how a poet – real poet – has to effect the heart as well as the mind. And you have to effect people who are virtually illiterate, as well as the people who are intellectuals. Rock’n’roll is the way you effect people on the social level.”
His initiation into rock’n’roll was a fluke. He had a small part in an underground film with Patti Smith, where he was reading this poem, “The Guitar Voodoo.” [The poem is about a girl with a magical guitar; whenever she plays the strings she inflicts pain to an enemy. The faster the guitar strings vibrate, the worse the pain gets.] The day after the film was shot, Patti Smith was giving a concert in San Diego. She asked Jim to go along.
[Praying Mantis (1991)]
Her opening act, a heavy-metal band, began to pose a problem, so Patti cancelled them and announced, “’Jim will open the show.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, Patti, what am I gonna do?’ She said, ‘We’ll do what we did in the movie last night, only the whole band will play behind you.’ It was very generous of her because it takes away the whole anticipation of an opening act. Patti would just come out playin’ a guitar behind me. I said, ‘Well, that’s cool. I’ll do it, but I’m not gonna read this thing ‘cause I’d be too nervous. I’ll start shaking with the piece of paper. I didn’t have it memorized. I’ll do some of the lyrics that I’ve been writing with Allan [Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult]; but we don’t’ have time to work out the music that Allan did, so I’ll just rap ‘em and you guys can jam.’ And, of course, Lenny [Kaye] and all those guys were real good at that. In the early days, they’d just jam while Patti made up lyrics. So, they started to play and I did these two songs; just rapped ‘em. Patti came over to me and was, like, leanin’ up against me while I was doin’ it. I was totally out of it. Then I loosened up and it was great. It was about ten minutes long – just right. The audience really dug it. Everything was very clear and this energy was coming at me from behind, so it was just like this sandwich of energy. It was fantastic.”
His poems went over so well that he was invited to the Mabohay Gardens to do a gig of his own. But at this point he didn’t have a band, and Allan Lanier was busy finishing the music if the songs they’d been working on. But Jim’s never been restrained by obstacles. He knew a San Francisco bar band called Amsterdam that he’d met one day while he was hitchhiking. “I got a ride from two of the guys in the band. They said, ‘Yeah, you’re a poet. We’ve read your book and stuff. You ever think of writing lyrics?’ And I said, ‘Well, people have spoken to me about it. I’ve been doing it a bit with this old friend of mine, Patti.’ But they weren’t into punk music. They were straight out of the Stones.” He remembers telling them, “Well, maybe we’ll do something together sometime at a poetry reading or something, and you guys can play behind me.” He approached them about playing the Mabohay.
“We had about a week’s rehearsal, and we worked out the music for, like, six songs. And I wanted to make sure they were songs and not just poems with music behind hem – just jamming – like that night with Patti or even lyrics with the music. I wanted to make them integral songs, with breaks, as best I could, or else just rap ‘em. But having these songs, it went over so well that the guy [who owned the club] asked us to come back the next week and play the last show when we could really turn up the volume. We did the gig the next week on a weekend night, so there was a huge crowd. People from the poetry scene were there, as well as people from the punk scene. I was really getting into it. We saw it was working.”
Amsterdam continued to perform at their old haunts before the Jim Carroll Band was officially formed. Whenever they’d back up Jim, they would hide their long hair under berets, “so the people weren’t shouting, ‘Get these hippies off the stage.’ I just wanted the band not to have any one look and not be pinned because it turns people off – especially in the clubs. They say, ‘Oh, these guys were playing hippie music.’ And that wasn’t the case when we started to work together.
[Pools of Mercury (1998)]
The Jim Carroll Band – Brian Linsley and Terrell Winn on guitars, Steve Linsley on bass and Wayne Woods on drums – could easily stand alone. They’ve each co-written something with Jim for the band’s debut album Catholic Boy, and although their music is loud, fast and extremely easy to dance to, it never overshadows Jim’s haunting lyrics.
“I demand attention when I play. It’s not just shit-kicking music. That’s part of it. I just want people to listen. Listen with their ears and listen with their hearts, too. I want them to take something away with them. I don’t want them just to come and dance and exhaust themselves and split. I want them to go home with an image in their minds. Just one image that will stick with them and move them – feel not better about themselves or anything like that, just think about themselves, or think about some image that’s left.”
The band quickly built up a following playing around the San Francisco area, and they knew the time had come to go into the studio. They recorded a six song demo tape at an eight-track studio, and when Jim returned to New York for the release of The Basketball Diaries, he took the demo with him. He had intended to bring it around to some of the record companies, but as luck would have it, he didn’t need to.
Jim’s publisher threw a party for him at the Gotham Book Mart. One of the guests was Earl McGrath, former president of Rolling Stone Records. McGrath had heard about Jim’s band through a mutual friend, artist Larry Rivers. He was anxious to hear the band and invited Jim to bring the tape to his office. Assuming that nothing would come of it expect possibly a little honest criticism, Jim brought this tape to Rolling Stone Records.
“When he heard it, he was just silent for about five minutes. It seemed like ten hours, and I thought, ‘He hates it.’ Then he said, ‘This is very strong and very different. Keith’s been looking for something to produce so I think we’d like to do something with this.’ And I was besides myself ‘cause I knew the band would freak.”
Originally, Keith Richards wanted to produce Catholic Boy, but he was tied up recording with the Rolling Stones. McGrath stepped in as producer, and when he made a move from Rolling Stone to Atco Records, he took his pet project with him.
“It took a long time after me signing before it came out. By my own choice, we put off doing it because I didn’t want to start recording until I had a total handle on the songs, by doing them live. The tendency is to just rush into the studio with the first album and do it real quick. I think it’s a mistake to rush in. I’m glad we took our time.
“We had all the arrangements and stuff, so once we got into the studio, we did it very quickly. We did two sessions about a month apart. Five days the first time and four days the second, four hours each, and we did that in San Francisco. We mixed it here. The band stayed out there, and I came back to do some of the vocals.”
Before the album came out last October, Jim had only played two shows in New York. His first gig turned into a showcase. The tiny club was filled with so many record company people that there was hardly any room for fans of either the Jim Carroll Band, or his surprise guest, Keith Richards. “We got all this flack for hype, because Keith played with me. He can play with us any fuckin’ time he wants. It’s an honor to have Keith Richards play with us. It wasn’t any hype at all. Hype is what people make it. I’ve been a poet since I was 15 years old and I’ve supported myself any way I could, to write poetry. I’ve proven myself all those years that I’m not into things for what I can get out of them financially or any other way. I’ve always stuck by poetry and I always will. And there’s no money in that. And if there’s more money in rock’n’roll, and more in, say, The Basketball Diaries, because it’s doing well, then fine. But if it doesn’t happen, then I’m a poet, that’s what I do. It just seems like a natural evolution, the way it is now. And it’s really integral to my work. The way the album turned out, it doesn’t seem like something different, outside of it, that I just started to do. It seems like a natural extension and that’s what makes it so satisfying.”