This Day In Literary History
On August 1st, 1949, the legendary American writer and musician Jim Carroll was born in New York City. Born to an Irish Catholic family, he grew up on the Lower East Side. When he was fifteen, his family moved to Manhattan.
In 1961, at the age of twelve, Carroll began keeping the diaries that would make him famous. His two passions were basketball and writing. He excelled at basketball.
Carroll became a star basketball player for Trinity School, an elite Catholic High School. While there, his talent led him to play in the 1966 National High School All Star Game.
Carroll's coach and teammates didn't know that he was living a secret double life as a heroin addicted poet. He first tried heroin at the age of thirteen. He financed his habit by hustling and prostituting himself.
In 1967, while he was still in high school, Carroll's first poetry collection was published. Organic Trains got him noticed by the literary world, and very soon, his work was being published in prestigious literary magazines such as The Paris Review and Poetry.
After his second poetry collection, 4 Ups and 1 Down was published in 1970, Jim Carroll began working for legendary artist Andy Warhol as a screenwriter, writing dialogue and creating character names for Warhol's films.
Also during the 1970s, Carroll published his third poetry collection, Living at the Movies (1973) and his most famous book, The Basketball Diaries (1978).
The Basketball Diaries was a collection of excerpts from the diaries he kept as an adolescent, covering his high school basketball career, his nightmarish heroin addiction, and his passion for writing.
Considered one of the last great works of Beat literature, The Basketball Diaries painted a stark and vivid portrait of the hard drug culture of early 1960s New York City. It would be adapted as an acclaimed and controversial feature film in 1995.
The film, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll, sparked controversy due to a scene where Carroll fantasizes about gunning down his classmates at school.
In 1997, a mentally ill 14-year-old boy named Michael Carneal opened fire on students at Heath High School, killing three and injuring five more. The Basketball Diaries was one of Corneal's favorite movies.
Three of the victims' families filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against the movie studios who distributed The Basketball Diaries and the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers, and the producers of violent video games.
Their lawyer, Jack Thompson, claimed that violent movies, violent video games, and Internet pornography inspired Carneal to go on a rampage. The lawsuits were thrown out and Thompson was later disbarred for unethical conduct, including perjury.
It was this same case that made Stephen King decide to pull his novel Rage (1977) out of print. Michael Carneal was found to have had a copy of Rage - which was about a mentally ill high school student who guns down two teachers and takes his classmates hostage - in his locker.
After the publication of The Basketball Diaries in 1978, Jim Carroll, having finally kicked his heroin habit for good, moved to California to make a fresh start.
There, with encouragement from his old friend and former roommate, legendary rocker and poet Patti Smith, Carroll formed a punk rock group called The Jim Carroll Band. Their debut album, Catholic Boy, was released in 1980.
Catholic Boy, which hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #73, featured the single People Who Died, which appeared in the 1985 feature film, Tuff Turf. The band also had a cameo appearance in the film.
The Jim Carroll Band would release several more albums, the last being an EP called Runaway (2000). As a songwriter, Carroll would collaborate with such famous artists as Lou Reed, Boz Scaggs, the Blue Oyster Cult, ELO, and Pearl Jam.
In the 1990s, Carroll became a spoken word performance artist, giving live readings of his works, including his first and only novel The Petting Zoo, which would be published posthumously in 2010.
Jim Carroll died of a heart attack in September of 2009. He was 60 years old.
Quote Of The Day
“Poetry can unleash a terrible fear. I suppose it is the fear of possibilities, too many possibilities, each with its own endless set of variations. It's like looking too closely and too long into a mirror; soon your features distort, then erupt. You look too closely into your poems, or listen too closely to them as they arrive in whispers, and the features inside you - call it heart, call it mind, call it soul - accelerate out of control. They distort and they erupt, and it is one strange pain. You realize, then, that you can't attempt breaking down too many barriers in too short a time, because there are as many horrors waiting to get in at you as there are parts of yourself pushing to break out, and with the same, or more, fevered determination.” - Jim Carroll
Today's video features Jim Carroll giving a spoken word performance in Toronto and being interviewed on Canadian TV in 1989. Enjoy!