Monday, September 14, 2009

'I was born in a pool, they made my mother stand. And I spat on that surgeon and his trembling hand. When I felt the light I was worse than bored. I stole the doctor's scalpel and I slit the cord'

"A good fuck is much better than TV!"

Oh, Spam, is there nothing you can't teach us?

Words as wise as any fortune cookie just waiting to be cracked open and pulled out of my email filters.  This truism is just the latest in a long line of tidbits, parables and proverbs I regularly receive from the great spam slicer in the sky.  Many are wise in ways the sender likely didn't intend.

Often it's hard to tell exactly what the author's original intent might have been.  For example, the sex/television comparison promised in the subject line of the aforementioned email was in fact not provided: neither sex nor TV is mentioned in the message body (from what I can tell, it's an excerpt from a badly written sci-fi short story parsed from somebody's livejournal entry).

That spells disappointment for this television addict, with so many questions unanswered. Better how?  Better than Mad Men?  Better than Weeds?  Better than the mid-90s-era Simpsons?!? What defines a 'good' fuck? Is there a 'bad' variety?  Sadly, I got a no-such-address bounce-back when replying with these follow up questions to the originator, one 'Candice Farrell '.  Oh well. Pity.

Even as I was pondering all this, a friend let me know that Jim Carroll died on Friday.

The news hit me harder than I would have thought.  After all, I hadn't heard from the man regarding new material in quite awhile (to the point where I'd been re-re-reading his earlier work for lack of the fresh stuff). When did he last release an album?  A book? I couldn't tell you (though I could look on his Catholic Boy website, had I been of a mind to).  And frankly he'd been admittedly living on borrowed time since his first days as a prepubescent junky.  Making it to the ripe old age of 60 was quite an achievement, given the appetites he was loath to deny over the long term (he was, as he put it, more inclined toward shadows).

But as I said, Jim's passing hit me hard.  I read Basketball Diaries when it was first published in 1978 and it ignited this Seattle boy's love affair with New York City, along with my latent discovery of Mean Streets, Ramones and Velvet Underground that same year.

Jim's prose had an immediacy and sly intelligence to it that spoke to me like nothing I'd read to that point (I hadn't yet discovered Hunter Thompson or Lester Bangs).  It was Carroll's 16 year old voice coming at me from those pages, remember. It felt like he was talking to this 16 year old as though 1965 was 1978, instantly obliterating the 13 year gap from pen to publication.

It took Jim's death to bring back my adolescent memories of a lasting epiphany: a realization that words themselves were pure joy when you put them down to paper in interesting ways.  Paper might have given way to bits and bytes, but the feeling remains. 

Why had Mr. Carroll slipped off my radar in ways that Thompson and Bangs hadn't?  I guess the fact that he wasn't the most prolific writer had something to do with it. Working on a novel since at least 1991 (the year he first performed public readings of material from it), it was finally due to roll off the presses this year, at least as reported by Catholic Boy back in Feburary. Boy, that was fast! :-)  I'm crossing my fingers that it was truly 'done' enough to be published posthumously. And that's the thing too: this is his first novel. Apart from Basketball Dairies and Forced Entries, Jim's output was pretty much exclusively poetry with maybe the odd short story, while I've tended to prefer the narrative form.  But still, he's right there on my literary Mount Rushmore beside Thompson, Bangs and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It took his passing for me to climb back up there and kick the dust off his likeness to recognize the face again.

Oh, yeah - let's not forget: Jim also put out some pretty good music with the Jim Carroll BandCatholic Boy is still one of my favorite records.   When the City Drops Into the Night and the title tune - songs rarely get better than that.

Rest in Peace, Jim.