The Jim Carroll Diaries

The poet and musician Jim Carroll died Friday of a heart attack. He was 60.

A New York Times obituary charts his formative years across the city: Catholic school on the Lower East Side, a basketball scholarship to Trinity, poetry in the East Village, hustling in Times Square. He left in 1973 “to escape drugs” but returned intermittently, and remained a quintessential New York denizen: hobnobbing with Beat poets, hanging at Andy Warhol’s Factory.

Carroll is best known for The Basketball Diaries, his teenage journal, which became a cult hit book and was later made into a movie. Its opening lines, which Carroll wrote in 1963:

Today was my first Biddy League game and my first day in any organized basketball league. I’m enthused about life due to this exciting event. The Biddy League is a league for anyone 12 yrs. old or under. I’m actually 13 but my coach Lefty gave me a fake birth certificate.

Carroll was not only precociously talented but precociously hard-living, and the book moves quickly from Biddy League excitement to heroin addiction. His best-known song, “People Who Died,” is a tribute to the friends who didn’t survive the rough years. In Paste, Andy Whitman recalls listening to the song in a record store full of mourners the day after John Lennon was shot. The song appeared in ET, as well as the Basketball Diaries movie.

Daniel Kreps’s Rolling Stone obituary includes a poem that Carroll wrote for the magazine in 1980:

It’s sad this vision required such height.
I’d have preferred to be down with the others, in

the stadium.

They know the terror of birds.
I am left, instead, with the deep drone…
The urgency to deliver light, as if it
were some news from the far galaxies.

 

The Jim Carroll Diaries