Jim Carroll, the legendary Manhattan poet and punk rocker, died of a heart attack on Friday, Sept. 12, at the age of 60.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 15, the day before a private funeral service for family and friends, some New Yorkers who knew Carroll shared their memories of him with the Transom.
“Jim was a true poet in anything he did,” said Lenny Kaye, guitarist and longtime collaborator of singer Patti Smith, also one of Carroll’s close friends. “From the most prosaic daily occurrence to the height of metaphysical learning, he could expound on all of them with equal ease and brilliance.”
“He was such a part of the weave of the New York tapestry,” said another friend, Anne Waldman, poet and former director of the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, the storied venue where Carroll first read on March 21, 1968, and to which Carroll’s former wife, Rosemary Carroll, has asked people to make donations in lieu of flowers.
“He was just very gracious,” said Corrine Fitzpatrick, the Poetry Project’s program coordinator, adding that Carroll was one of the main attractions at the Project’s annual New Year’s Day poetry marathon.
“One year, he took the gum out of his mouth and stuck it on the podium in the church, and fans were clamoring to peel it off,” she said. “After he read, there would be an exodus of a few hundred people who were there just to hear him speak.”
Downtown performance artist Penny Arcade, who said she first met Carroll in Chelsea in 1970, was among those who looked forward to hearing him read each year.
“He was just absolutely phenomenal,” she said.
On his Web site on Monday, rocker Lou Reed said the following of Carroll: “His books, poetry and songs set an impossibly high standard for others to follow. He was the real deal. Period. A sweetheart.”
Meanwhile, New York poet Eileen Myles recalled touring with Carroll back in 1990.
“In Milwaukee, we were staying at a very old-fashioned hotel and we decided to get ourselves some ice cream,” she said. “Jim grabbed a big butcher’s knife and cut the container down the middle. He scooped up his half and we both walked to the elevator holding the split ice cream and our spoons. As I got off on my floor, he said, ‘Now we can always say, “Hey, remember the night we split a pint in Milwaukee?”’ Every time I saw him since, we said exactly that and laughed. He was a very funny guy. Totally quick on his feet.”
Recently, Carroll, the author of The Basketball Diaries, had been working on a new novel called Triptych; his longtime editor at Penguin, Paul Slovak, said that it “tells the story of a hermetic and mystical 35-year-old painter who becomes kind of a golden boy in the late ’80s New York art world. It’s a very moving examination of spiritual bankruptcy and other themes in both art and life.”
Mr. Slovak said Carroll had turned in revisions of the first two parts of the novel, but didn’t know how far he’d gotten on the third. He said it was possible something would come of the work, pending a conversation with Carroll’s literary agent, Betsy Lerner, but that it was too soon to tell.