Death of a Poet: Saying goodbye to Jim Carroll

Gerald Howard in Slate:

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If Jim Carroll's name means anything to you, it is probably as the author of the electrifying memoir of teenaged misadventures and heroin addiction in '60s New York, The Basketball Diaries. It was made into a mediocre film in 1995, redeemed by a searing performance by Leonardo DiCaprio that was nevertheless deficient in one conspicuous respect: Leo did not have game, and his lame attempt to imitate the graceful All-City ballplayer that was Jim turned out to be an embarrassment. The musically inclined will remember Jim's terrific 1980 rock album Catholic Boy, which featured that anthem of early and grisly urban demise, “People Who Died.” Cognoscenti of downtown culture knew Jim as a literary prodigy who was publishing his poems and diaries in the Paris Review in his teens. He was a fully paid-up member of New York's hip aristocracy, Lou Reed's peer, Patti Smith's lover, Allen Ginsberg's acolyte, Robert Smithson's friend, permanently welcome in the Valhalla of Max's Kansas City's back room. And I had the pleasure of publishing most of his work when I was an editor at Penguin in the '80s.

Tall, slim, athletic, pale, and spectral as many ex-junkies are, Jim was a vivid presence in any setting. He was a classic and now vanishing New York type: the smart (and smartass) Irish kid with style, street savvy, and whatever the Gaelic word for chutzpah is. The line of succession runs from Jimmy Cagney and Jimmy Walker through Emmett Grogan and Al McGuire. In the '30s they would have cast him immediately as a Dead End Kid—he certainly had the unreconstructed accent for the part, an urban rasp that was sweet music to my aboriginal ears. He came up athletically in an era when New York produced the best basketball players in the country—and a lot of them were white.

More here.