My obsession with radio primarily has to do with my love for music. Music has the ability to transport and inspire and I find that magical. Sometimes it's the poetry of a song that is so compelling. Other times it's the music. Often it's the live performance. But with a few, very talented performers it's a collision of all three: music, poetry and performance.
Jim Carroll was that kind of artist for me. I saw him for the first time when I was in college. None of my friends would go with me. I seem to recall some of them were caught in the inertia of the campus game room at the time, playing foosball. Too bad for them. They missed an amazing performance: one that ended up making me a life-long fan of Jim Carroll.
At the time I think I just knew him for his very popular song "People Who Died." (And, yes, we had that 7" single at my college radio station WHRC. It's long-gone by now, I'm sure...) But his performance was so riveting that I delved further, reading his childhood diaries and poetry. After reading "Basketball Diaries," I was amazed by Jim Carroll's talent as a writer.
Over the years, I saw him many times. Mostly he read from his work, but sometimes he sang. As I recount in one of my own journal entries below, hearing his acoustic version of "People Who Died" was a real highlight. The pain of losing so many friends became clear and suddenly I heard that song in an entirely different way. And, now...it's such a bummer to have to add him to that list of people who've died too soon.
Every time I saw Jim Carroll I felt inspired to write and I think that also attests to his power as an artist. When I look back at my journal entries, some of what I've written is embarrassingly bad. But the point I kept trying to make was that Jim Carroll's words and performances inspired me like no other artist. He managed to take me out of my day-to-day life and worries and helped me to think about why writing is so important to me.
Here are a couple of journal entries that I wrote in 1989 and 1996:
Feb. 25, 1989Haverford College, PA
"In an hour I'm going up to campus to see Jim Carroll--that morbid poet-author-songwriter who brought us 'The People Who Died.' I'm pretty psyched."
Feb. 20, 1996Bowling Green State University, OH
"I just exchanged words with Jim Carroll. Wow. I wasn't eloquent or brilliant, but I told him that I thought that he was an amazing storyteller...
As I was watching him read I was just as mesmerized as I always am...
He read stories that I'd heard before ("Day at the Races") and I was taken back in time...back to the first time that I saw him at Haverford (1989!) when no one would go with me...I remember being blown away by him...I remember having him sign my copy of Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries in the basement of the dining center...
But I also remember seeing him in San Francisco--at a bookstore doing a reading after he'd had one too many Margaritas, or numerous times at the Great American Music Hall. I remember 'introducing' him to different friends and my sister. Everyone was moved AND entertained by him, I remember him singing a slow, acoustic heart-wrenching version of 'People Who Died' and suddenly recognizing its poetry and pain when it was divorced from its rock and roll exterior.
Tonight I saw him alone--just like the first time. But it didn't matter. When he speaks I feel a direct connection. I'm transported. I leave the midwest, the stress...behind and remember what really matters: the poetry.
Unfortunately I also remember my own connection to writing and I feel guilty. Why don't I write more?....
My soul thrives when I listen to Jim Carroll...There's no anxiety or posturing or thinking beyond the moment. I'm not thinking about how I'm going to turn the reading into a story to impress my friends. I'm in the moment for its own sake. That's a rarity. Yet I strive for it. Pure enjoyment is so fleeting.
As I looked around the reading I saw eyes wandering, people fidgeting, and glances exchanged. 18-year-olds laughed nervously at references to sex and drag queens--not quite knowing how to digest poetry. I'm sure that I was one of the few people there who had read multiple [Jim Carroll] books and who had been to a reading [of his] before. I wonder how many people left the room feeling the way that I do?"
RIP Jim Carroll. You will be missed by me, as I feel like I've lost a hero.