Born on August 8, 1951, in New York, NY; son of Thomas J. and Agnes (Coyle) Carroll; married Rosemary Klemfuss (divorced); children: Aaron, Cassandra. Education: Attended Wagner College and Columbia University. Addresses: Record company--Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Ave., PMB 418, Olympia, WA 98501, website: http://www.killrockstars.com. Website--Jim Carroll Official Website: http://www.catholicboy.com.
Jim Carroll is recognized as an accomplished poet and spoken word performer, with a musical career that stretches over some 20 years. Besides being an accomplished author, he founded the Jim Carroll Band in 1978 at the urging of friend Patti Smith. The band's best selling album Catholic Boy yielded the single "People Who Died," cementing Carroll as a major player on New York's post-punk scene of the early 1980s. A major motion picture version of his book The Basketball Diaries was released in 1995.
In addition to Carroll's distinguished literary output, the records that he made with the Jim Carroll Band are also considered to be fine examples of New York's post-punk rock scene, and their influence is reflected in the work of many artists today. Carroll's musical and written works are autobiographical in nature, describing in often harsh detail the double life that he led during his childhood--that of basketball star and hard drug abuser.
While attending Catholic elementary school, Carroll wrote about sports for the school newspaper. His teachers nurtured his natural ability and encouraged him to begin writing poetry and keeping a journal. He was quite tall for his age and was such a remarkable basketball player that in 1963 he was awarded an academic/athletic scholarship to Trinity High, an elite private school. Not all was well in Carroll's life, though, and with his family's subsequent move to Inwood, a neighborhood in Manhattan, he began experimenting with heroin. At first his use was casual, but before long he became heavily addicted and turned to prostitution to fund his habit.
Though afflicted with a drug problem in his early teens, he still wrote relentlessly. While attending St. Mark's Poetry Project workshops on a regular basis, he began work on his first book, Organic Trains, which was published when he was only 16. Soon after, excerpts from his diaries were printed in the prestigious literary journal Paris Review, and in spite of his drug addiction Carroll became known as a talented poet.
He became friends with poet Ted Berrigan and, carrying a manuscript of The Basketball Diaries: Age Twelve to Fifteen--the document he'd been drafting for the past few years--the two men made a pilgrimage to meet legendary Beat poet Jack Kerouac. After reading the manuscript, Kerouac is said to have commented: "At thirteen years of age, Jim Carroll writes better prose than eighty-nine percent of the novelists working today." By 1969 Carroll had attended both Wagner College and Columbia University, but ended up dropping out so that he could concentrate on writing full-time. He was now a fixture on the downtown scene, hobnobbing with literati and experimenting with drugs.
Patti Smith, a well-known poet and rock singer, introduced herself to Carroll at a poetry reading and he eventually moved in with Smith and her boyfriend, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Carroll was also in contact with Pop artist Andy Warhol, and began working at Warhol's studio, where he wrote dialogue for a few of Warhol's films. Carroll's book of collected poems, Living at the Movies, was published in 1973, and its success was so extraordinary that at the age of 22, Carroll was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Drugs had really begun to take their toll on the frail Carroll by this time, and with the help of a literary grant, he moved across the country to Bolinas, California, a small artists' community north of San Francisco, in order to kick his habit. It was there that he met his future wife, Rosemary Klemfuss, a law student at nearby Stanford University. She was also a radio DJ at the campus station, and the two began attending rock shows in San Francisco. In 1978 Carroll and Klemfuss were wed, and that same year he published The Basketball Diaries to great acclaim.
After the success of The Basketball Diaries, Smith encouraged Carroll to try his hand at music. When the Patti Smith Group toured the West Coast that year, Carroll traveled along with the band. During their San Diego gig, Carroll was given an opening spot, and he performed spoken word pieces over the group's musical accompaniment. Carroll quickly put together a band, a San Francisco-based rock outfit called Amsterdam, and they recorded their first demo as the Jim Carroll Band. The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards got them a record deal with Atlantic and they released the seminal Catholic Boy to great critical praise in 1980.
All Music Guide's Mark Deming said that, "On Catholic Boy, Carroll doesn't come off as a poet slumming in pop music, but like a born rock & roller baring his soul, and that's a lot more than you can say for anything Allen Ginsberg put on vinyl." Catholic Boy included Carroll's ode to the casualties of New York's drug scene, "People Who Died"--a track for which Carroll would become widely known. "Not since Lou Reed wrote 'Walk on the Wild Side' has a rock singer so vividly evoked the casual brutality of New York City as has Jim Carroll," commented Barbara Graustark in Newsweek. Of the switch from poetry to music, Carroll told Rolling Stone, "There's a big difference between writing a song lyric when you have music in mind and writing a poem which has to stand up on the page as well, you know. A real good poem that's worth its salt has to work on the page and can't just work on a spoken word album."
The band's move to New York yielded two more records, Dry Dreams in 1982 and I Write Your Name in 1984, fulfilling the requirements of their record contract but not receiving the critics' full approval. Upon the contract's completion, Carroll dissolved the band to go back to writing full time. He also began to explore acting, making a small appearance in the film Tuff Turf, while publishing The Book of Nods in 1986. Still, settling back into a calmed-down lifestyle wasn't enough to save his marriage, and in 1986 he and Rosemary filed for divorce. Carroll spent the rest of the 1980s moonlighting in the music industry by penning lyrics for artists like Blue Oyster Cult and Boz Scaggs.
The early 1990s were speckled with Carroll's releases, including Praying Mantis, a CD collection of solo spoken word pieces, and Fear of Dreaming: The Selected Poems of Jim Carroll. He also participated in an MTV Unplugged session in 1994, reading his "8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain" poem, later to be released on Pools of Mercury. But it was in 1995 that Carroll was thrust back into the public eye, when the film The Basketball Diaries was released, starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio as Carroll. For the film's soundtrack, Carroll teamed up with Pearl Jam to re-record Catholic Boy's title song. Also in 1995, Canadian director John L'Ecuyer adaped Carroll's short story "Curtis's Charm" to film. Carroll also contributed lyrics and vocals to ...And Out Come the Wolves, by West Coast punk favorite Rancid.
In 1997, bitten again by the musical bug, Carroll collaborated with Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo, Lenny Kaye, and producer Anton Sanko for a Jack Kerouac tribute album titled Kicks Joy Darkness. Soon after, Kaye and Sanko helped Carroll make his first record in 15 years. Pools of Mercury included the now legendary poem "8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain" rendered into song.
With his return to music, Carroll continued to release records and perform spoken word concerts with bands. Although it was released to little fanfare, his Runaway EP on indie label Kill Rock Stars garnered critical respect, proving that Carroll's voice was one that would continue to shape underground culture. All Music Guide's MacKenzie Wilson remarked: "In the year 2000 the Runaway EP reveals that Carroll is still capable of successfully melding his biting wordplay and cultural criticism with rock & roll agitation. Runaway is classic Carroll, personably unpersonable and honestly sour with a rough-hewn demeanor."
by Ken Taylor
Jim Carroll's Career
Began writing, early 1960s; published first novel, Organic Trains, c. 1967; published collection of poems, Living at the Movies, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, 1973; published The Basketball Diaries, which was later made into a feature film, 1978; formed the Jim Carroll Band, 1978; band released album Catholic Boy, 1980; continued to write and record music, 1990s-.
- Selected discography
- (with the Jim Carroll Band) Catholic Boy Atlantic, 1980.
- (with the Jim Carroll Band) Dry Dreams Atco, 1982.
- (with the Jim Carroll Band) I Write Your Name Atlantic, 1984.
- Praying Mantis Warner, 1991.
- (with the Jim Carroll Band) World Without Gravity: The Best of the Jim Carroll Band Rhino, 1994.
- (Contributor) The Basketball Diaries (soundtrack), Polygram, 1995.
- (Contributor) Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness (soundtrack), Rykodisc, 1997.
- Pools of Mercury Polygram, 1998.
- Runaway (EP), Kill Rock Stars, 2000.
- Selected writings
- Living at the Movies Grossman, 1972; Penguin, 1981.
- Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries, 1971-1973 Penguin, 1987.
- The Basketball Diaries Tombouctou, 1978; Penguin, 1995.
- The Book of Nods Penguin, 1986.
- Fear of Dreaming: The Selected Poems of Jim Carroll Penguin, 1993.
- Void of Course: Poems 1993-1997 Penguin, 1998.
- Contemporary Authors, Gale, 2000.
- Newsweek, September 8, 1980.
- Rolling Stone, January 8, 1998.
- "Jim Carroll," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 4, 2004).
- Jim Carroll Official Website, http://www.catholicboy.com (January 4, 2004).