Jim Carroll, 1949-2009

About 1989 or thereabouts, I was in college and kinda-sorta trying to help out some friends with their band in a ‘using my car and our apartment for whatever’ kind of way when they got the chance to open for Jim Carroll when he came to town to give a reading. Friggin’ Jim Carroll. We already loved him. I had read/recited A Day at the Races to my sophomore English class that same year, and was reading Forced Entries in tandem/sprinkled with Bukowski, biographies of Dylan Thomas and Kerouac in a way that made a sort of Beat stew out of almost everything that I was coming into contact with at that time, mostly in a good way.

So, of course we were completely psyched when they got the gig to open for him – a weird honor none of us were in any way accustomed to. Even though my friends had been playing shows for years by then, this seemed different, like they were on their way, stepping up into a league with people that we admired – not that our town wasn’t full similar types. But Carroll was older and cooler in a made-it-through-the-drugs way that I, at least, thought of on a different level than, say, talking to the Butthole Surfers’ guitar player at the T- stand. That kind of thing happened, it was Athens in the direct glare of late-prime REM, after all. But Jim Carroll. Man. Cool. Plus, ____ was just getting started and this seemed, in its way, hopeful about things we were just beginning to hope for.

So the date rolls around and we’re in the club that night early; they do a sound check. The sound man who wasn’t working had gone to airport to fetch Carroll and after a while, they roll in. JC seems cool from a distance and no one is crowding him – not the place or the time, though I’m sure we all wanted to. But one of the friends in the opening band that night happened to be near the back of the club where Carroll was hanging out. He introduced himself as a part of the warm-up act, but before he could leave it at that, JC let him have it.

He took what was extended of the youthful, if not tender, enthusiasm which had been cautiously if at all displayed, bent it into a balloon poodle and handed it back. He excoriated my friend about how completely %^*$ed the music business was then and for all time, how he had never encountered a more depraved, sick, twisted and retarded monstrosity even in his swampiest heroin fevers. He just went off. He said he had a band waiting for him in a recording studio in New York, all paid for a ready to go, and he would never, ever, enter that hellhole of business again. No matter what.

It was a great reading – he even whipped out A Day at the Races, amazingly. But none of the three or four of us who had been within earshot could compare it to his earlier, extemporaneous rant. It had been such a crazy burst of negativity that it could but only have been genuine. Priceless in a way that those kinds of things usually only turn out to be only kinda free. We mostly all stopped repeating it after a while, and it did nothing to deter any of those present from pursuing the desperately impossible monster of which we had been properly warned, and by a qualified elder. Nothing at all. D & E have even had successful music careers, and though the heart of the beast has changed in ways, it’s not because it has gotten softer. Those things JC warned us about probably only grew stronger in the ferocity of their truth. Actually he probably knew they would. Maybe that’s what he was saying.

And now he’s one of those friends. Rest in Peace, Jim Carroll. You tried to warn us.

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