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Chapter Four
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Chapter Four

Conclusion: Writing as Redemption

Shit Into Gold: Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries

In the judgment of each word
In the end, pretend you hear me.
--"In the Gears" (BN 172)  

It is not possible, just now (1990), to define Jim Carroll or to offer an official pronouncement about his work. The fact is, Carroll is constantly redefining himself and rewriting his "autobiography" in various genres, and he will probably continue to do so for the rest of his life. Hence, to set him in stone now, while he is still in the process of becoming, would be to deny the possibilities he has yet to explore. Jim Carroll is now about 40 years old, still writing, and still seeking to break through his own limits. He has been a street punk, basketball star, heroin addict, romantic diarist, poet, art-scene initiate, recluse, husband, rock star, and actor; he is now writing his first fiction novel,[36] so his newest identity will most likely be "fiction writer." But these "tags" do not define Jim Carroll, nor do they indicate that with each metamorphosis he has revised both his identity and the meaning of his past.

Because Carroll revises and redefines his identity and his past with each work, a discussion of his diaries alone barely scrapes the surface in revealing his achievement as both an artist and the creator of himself. And while an in-depth analysis of Carroll's poetry and song lyrics exceeds the scope of this thesis, it is important to note in conclusion that only by appreciating the complex interplay between Carroll's songwriting, poetry, and his diaries is it possible to see to what extent, and how, Carroll has been able to revise and transform his past. For example, if The Basketball Diaries is itself a transformation of Carroll's adolescent experience, Organic Trains takes the literary metamorphosis several steps further. Specifically, two of its poems, "2nd Train (for Frank O'Hara)" and "3rd Train (for THE SUMMERS)," depict events also described in the Diaries. But rather than simply rehashing scenes, Carroll's poetry reworks and extends the aesthetic design his diaries impose upon his life. Hence, in all of his work, by manipulating words and images, Carroll composes endless variations of his biography; as he revises and transforms his experience, it becomes something new.

Likewise, with each new venture, Carroll has rejuvenated his past by exploring and reshaping its every facet through writing; each time he writes about an experience from his past, it becomes something new and unique. He does this by experimenting with different forms--diaries, rock music, poetry--and by constantly reorganizing his experience within genres. With poetry, for example, he often unifies and transposes conflicting themes within a single poem; at other times he composes endless variations on one theme in several poems, as with the two Organic Trains pieces and all of the "New York City Variations" and "California Variations" of The Book of Nods.

Also, like the image Carroll uses in Forced Entries to describe a man gazing at himself in mirrors which reflect each other, Carroll often cites and alludes to his own work; the result is that events and images in his work repeat themselves "over and over, like the picture of the man on a Quaker Oats box. You know what I mean. The image grows smaller each time, but extends in theory on to infinity" (174).

One example of this technique can be found in "Living at the Movies (for Ted Berrigan)" (LM 25). In this poem, Carroll does not refer to any specific events recorded in his diaries, or to any specific event at all. Instead, "Living at the Movies" is almost self-generating, like the Quaker Oats box. Carroll begins with an extremely limited number of images with which he attempts to describe and unify, in four numbered stanzas, seemingly unlimited and unconnected subjects (some of these subjects are the process of writing the poem, an anonymous woman, surrealist painter Rene Magritte, "starlets and their mothers," and the processions of days and seasons).

In order to explore and express all of these things with the limited imagery he has set up, Carroll plays with language, rearranging and juxtaposing images to produce nearly endless variations and permutations of words and phrases. For example, "pain sweats the hunger upon its teeth" in stanza one (6) becomes "teeth sweating the hunger pain" in the third stanza (23), then "I lick the sweat upon hungry pain" in stanza four (35). Also, he repeats a number of images, two of which are "like Mayakovsky's last breath" and "light rising into her features," to emphasize the interconnectedness of the poem's many subjects.[37]

This Quaker Oats box technique is especially significant because, in many ways, it is analogous to Carroll's life and work over the past 20 years. In one sense this means pointing out all of the variations, connections, transformations, and revisions is sort of like unravelling a Gordian knot. The intertextuality of Carroll's work is especially complex. In "Jody," from Dry Dreams, for example, Carroll alludes to Living at the Movies twice when he sings, "Jody, I spent years living at the movies," and, "Downtown the rooftops are wide / I was sinking in the tar, I screamed / 'This city is on my side'"; the latter refers to "Fragment: Little N. Y. Ode" (LM 28). In the same song he also alludes to the "presence" entry of The Basketball Diaries (89-90): "Remember the park / And how we entered at the zoo / That's when I told you that the cheetah / Walked as fine as you." Likewise, in Forced Entries, Carroll says Salvador Dali and his escort "were perfect examples of those variations in presence which I've written about before: it was the difference between a chimpanzee and a cheetah" (160).

There are also many tie-ins revolving around The Book of Nods. Carroll sings of Jody's "breasts like bleeding limes," and in "Just Visiting" the narrator tells his hostage, "Once I told this girl she had breasts like bleeding lemons, she thought that was a beautiful thing to say" (BN 63-64). The first stanza of "Work, Not Play," another song on Dry Dreams, duplicates the opening of "Watching the Schoolyard": "It's a decade past my decadence. My beast wears rings and he hides under the shadows of my silent hesitations. Each image is so clear, yet I have no hands" (BN 13). In "Watching the Schoolyard," Carroll also says, "Still, I think I have moved closer to my heart," a statement he makes repeatedly in the California section of Forced Entries. "Borders" recalls "Low Rider," on Dry Dreams, repeating, "The radio on . . . radio on" (BN 149). "Me, Myself, and I" is very similar to the title song of Catholic Boy, beginning, "I was born in a pool. They made my mother stand" (BN 46). One of the "New York City Variations" refers to the same Eddie of "People Who Died," who was "stabbed in the jugular at mid-day"; as in "People Who Died," Carroll says, "And I salute you, my brother" (BN 79). "Lenses" echoes a line from "I Want the Angel," another song from Catholic Boy: "Their bones are so sharp; they can break through their own excuses" (26).

Likewise, in The Book of Nods alone, one finds two different versions of the same poem in one of the "California Variations" (107) and "Prologue" (119): appropriately, the first begins, "Starting with little in mind / the best you might do is take it / all the way," and the second begins, "Starting with little in mind / the best you might do is begin it / over and over again." Also, Carroll originally published "Quality" (BN 19) as "The Bees" in 1974, and "A Night Outing (for James Schuyler)" (BN 121) in 1976; for ten years he continued to revise both of these works for publication in The Book of Nods. But this process of perpetual revision and recycling is even more apparent in some of his earlier work. For example, his uncollected poem "Red Rabbit Running Backwards (for A. W..)" recycles lines from nearly every poem in Organic Trains. He also continued to revise "Heroin" (LM 19-20) after its first publication in 1969, and he changed "The Answer" to "Sure . . ." (LM 58).

Finally, added to this complex intertextuality is the fact that the chronology of Carroll's work as a whole is a complex tangle; hence, it is difficult to determine exactly when certain events occurred or where a particular theme originated. Apparently, he composed Organic Trains during and shortly after the period of The Basketball Diaries, then completed The Basketball Diaries, wrote Living at the Movies, and began The Book of Nods before and during the period of Forced Entries. Then, during the period of Forced Entries, Carroll published Living at the Movies (1973), completed The Book of Nods, and wrote the lyrics for Catholic Boy. Meanwhile, he formed the Jim Carroll Band. In 1978 he published The Basketball Diaries, then released Catholic Boy in 1980, after which he wrote Forced Entries, released Dry Dreams (1982) and I Write Your Name (1984), and published The Book of Nods (1986). In 1987 he published Forced Entries along with the re-release of The Basketball Diaries.

Rather than trying to unravel this Gordian knot, I'd like to cut straight through to the circumstances surrounding Carroll's writing of Forced Entries. That is, because Carroll wrote Forced Entries after his entrance into rock 'n' roll, he had the opportunity to reshape his entire past, from The Basketball Diaries up to his entry into rock, and recontextualize his venture into rock 'n' roll. This is just what he did, with the result that he was able to escape the confines of his past to write the fictional, story-like songs of Dry Dreams and I Write Your Name.

The fact is, Forced Entries is an excellent example of Carroll's aesthetic shaping of the chaotic materials of his life. Actually, Carroll began writing song lyrics for Catholic Boy while in California; yet he altered this chronology in Forced Entries by placing his "Rock 'n' Roll" entry in the "Back to New York" section (164), almost at the very end of the book. This is significant because, when Forced Entries ends, Carroll has exorcised the demons of his past, but he is in a state of limbo: the final word of the book is "Wait." In essence, Carroll has structured the ending of the book in such a way that it revises the meaning of his entrance into rock 'n' roll: he is "waiting" to enter rock 'n' roll, which will become his salvation.

To appreciate the transformation Carroll achieved with Forced Entries, it must be understood within the context of his entry into rock, and then be re-seen again, in reverse. The release of the Jim Carroll Band's first album, Catholic Boy, in 1980, drew a great deal of attention to Carroll and spurred a flurry of articles about him. And while Catholic Boy is perhaps the greatest revision of his past Carroll had yet achieved, his critics and admirers, like the members of the art scene in the 1970s, seemed interested only in his adolescent decadence and "street" image, not in his transformation of it.[38] Blind to the complexity of Carroll's work and his perpetual revision and transformation of his past, and in spite of the fact that he has repeatedly risen above the street punk identity of The Basketball Diaries through writing, Carroll's audience still saddled him with the tag of "street punk."

Part of the reason for this, it seems, is the fact that the old cycle had begun anew: the release of Catholic Boy coincided with the publication of the Bantam edition of The Basketball Diaries. As a result, Carroll found himself at the beginning of the 1980s in the same position he found himself at the beginning of the 1970s. As with his entry into the New York art scene, the Diaries simultaneously drew attention to him and advanced his entry into rock 'n' roll while throwing his process of transcendence into a tailspin.[39]

What is ironic about the resurrection of Carroll's old persona via The Basketball Diaries is that, with Catholic Boy, he finally found a most cathartic way to rewrite and transcend his past, that of The Basketball Diaries in particular. In Catholic Boy, Carroll re-sees the period of The Basketball Diaries, going so far as to expand upon a quotation in the book's "Author's Note" in "Nothing is True."[40] He also reinterprets aspects of his art scene days; in "It's Too Late" he sings, "There's no one left that I even wanna imitate," and decides:[41]

It ain't no contribution
To rely on the institution
To validate your chosen art
And to sanction your boredom
And let you play out your part

But most of all, Catholic Boy is the exploration Carroll was previously afraid to undertake: he traverses the darkest, scariest facets of his experience, and transforms them into something new and strangely beautiful through rock music.

In "People Who Died," for example, he names 13 friends who died young, listing only their names, ages, and causes of death; the first two stanzas are as follows:

Teddy sniffing glue he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine
G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby O.D.'d on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Two more friends that died

Teddy Rayhill, who fell off the roof while sniffing glue, and Bobby Sachs, who died of leukemia, both appear in The Basketball Diaries, as do Eddie and Herbie (and Tony, indirectly), whom Carroll names later in the song. "Eddie" is probably "Fat Eddie," or "Sloppy Eddie," one of Carroll's best friends who appears frequently in the Diaries. Herbie Hemslie leads the gang throwing bricks off a rooftop during Teddy Rayhill's memorial service (27); later in the book, Carroll mentions that "Herbie was in stir on a murder rap. Seems he pushed some guy [Tony] off a roof . . . ." In the same entry he asks his friend "what became of the rest of the old Boys' Club bunch. He just mumbled that most of them were either strung out or doing a bit at Riker's Juvenile" (177).

In The Basketball Diaries, Carroll was unable to describe the horror, fear, and confusion he felt when faced with death. At Teddy Rayhill's memorial service, he notes the only options are to say a prayer or stand "and [feel] shitty about everything" (27). After Bobby Sachs's wake, he says, "I left dazed out in the streets like I had just come out of a four hour movie I didn't understand" (68). When his friend tells him Bobo died, Carroll laughs about it, but when his friend says, "Bobo was my brother," Carroll is silent. Finally, when he finds a "dry dive" case on the sidewalk, he asks, "What the fuck am I supposed to say?" (108).

In "People Who Died," Carroll emphasizes the punk aesthetic he has honed over the years. While he is not speechless, he offers no words of wisdom, consolation, or sentimental gushing to help soften or make sense of these deaths; the list of names, the ages, and the causes of death say enough. In fact, as the song progresses and the list grows, the sheer number of names becomes almost overwhelming:

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Herbie pushed Tony from the Boys' Club roof
Tony thought that his rage was just some goof
But Herbie sure gave Tony some bitchin' proof
"Hey," Herbie said, "Tony, can you fly?"
But Tony couldn't fly, Tony died
Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin' on some bikers
He said, "Hey, I know it's dangerous,
but it sure beats Rikers"
But the next day he got offed
By the very same bikers

As if to reemphasize these numbers, Carroll repeats the list again in the middle of the song.

Carroll shows there is nothing he can say to explain or enlighten the horror of death, and that there is little room for sentimentality (the only vaguely sentimental line is, "Eddie, I miss you more than all the others / And I salute you, brother"); he repeats all he can say in the chorus:

Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Finally, as he observes in Forced Entries, "Violence is so terribly fast . . . the most perverse thing about the movies is the way they portray it in slow motion, allowing it to be something sensuous . . . " (101). "People Who Died" is a case in point: rather than making the song a slow dirge, the band amplifies the terrible speed of violence, backing the song with breakneck guitar and a frantic beat while Carroll attempts to out-shout the music.

"People Who Died" is probably the most written-about work of Carroll's career, mostly because it is a shocking way to talk about death. On the one hand, it has been hailed as a sort of punk anthem. But on the other hand, because Carroll does not treat death in a sentimental, brooding fashion, listeners frequently misinterpret the song as a glorification of death. Carroll's defense is simple:

I understand that the day after [John] Lennon died that song was the most requested thing at a lot of radio stations. . . . The thing is people have been puttin' down the song for glorifyin' death, but it really celebrates lives. It's about people who got cut off without fulfillin' their potential. (Damsker)

The most important aspect of "People Who Died" is just this: by illuminating the stark reality of death, its senselessness, and the void left where his friends once were, Carroll emphasizes the value of life, amplifying the sense that these people died without fulfilling whatever potential their lives had in store for them.[42]

Significantly, in an interview following the release of Catholic Boy, Clarice Rivers asked Carroll how many of his friends have died. Carroll replied:

A lot. A lot of the kids I graduated with from Catholic grammar school went to Viet Nam. Forty kids graduated with me and eleven of them died there. It's an incredible percentage. Also, a lot of my friends from when I was young died or went to jail or got into drugs and died. I got into drugs at the same time and fortunately . . . This song is about that. It's like an elegy but it's not sentimental. It just lists the people who died, how they died, how old they were and that's all.

Carroll cuts himself short here, but the fact is that he could have been one of the people who died. Because of this, "People Who Died" celebrates not just life but Carroll's own life--the fact that he survived. The song is about the fact that Carroll, unlike his friends who died young, at least has the chance to fulfill his potential. As he said in an interview with Barbara Graustark, "Susan Sontag once told me that a junkie has a unique chance to rise up and start life over. But I want kids to know it's not hip to indulge yourself at the bottom unless you're planning on one helluva resurrection" (81).

In interviews as well as in his writing, Carroll enjoys quoting himself; he pulled this last line from "City Drops Into the Night," another important song on Catholic Boy. "City Drops Into the Night" is representative of the theme of corruption and purification characterizing Catholic Boy (and all of Carroll's work). As the title song states: "I was a Catholic Boy / Redeemed through pain, not through joy," and Carroll's central concern on Catholic Boy is showing how he descended into the abyss and emerged redeemed.

Hence, in "City Drops Into the Night," and throughout the album, Carroll juxtaposes images of decadent street life against the opportunities for redemption which arise at key moments within this scene:

It's when Billy's whores are workin'
They're workin' with the skeleton crew
It's when the sky over Jersey
That sky starts to drain from view
It's when my woman [pawns] her voice
So she can make her old excuses sound new

As Carroll knows from experience, it is at these moments of ultimate decadence, "when the body at the bottom / That body is my own reflection," that salvation becomes possible. This theme of endless possibilities opening up in the midst of desolation comprises the chorus of the song:

'Cause when the city drops into the night
Before the darkness there's one moment of light
And everything seems clear
The other side seems so near
What seemed wrong?
I think it's gonna be just about right
Before the city drops, the city drops
the city drops into the night

Hence, the guiding tone of "City Drops Into the Night" is one of anticipation and hope in the face of desolation: "Before the darkness there's one moment of light," when everything can change. The characters in the song all find themselves at turning points, when their situations can change radically, for better or worse:

It's when ambitious little girls start
They start to dream about a change in style
It's when the slick boys got their fingers
They got their fingers in the telephone dial
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It's when the sneak thieves are checkin'
They're checkin' the alleys for unlocked doors
And Billy's sister's gettin' frantic
Cause Billy's sister's little brother can't score
It's when the woman from the dream is,
Oh my God, that's the woman on the floor
Each promise was just one promise more

For Carroll, one "moment of light" came in the final entry of The Basketball Diaries, as he wallowed in the deepest depths of heroin abuse and wrote, "I just want to be pure." During the period of Forced Entries, another opportunity opened up. Talking with John Milward, Carroll described this turning point:

me and this hardened tough guy had this rip-off scene going, until one day this dealer was waiting for us. We came onto this guy in the hallway, but he had a friend, because when my partner opened the door to the apartment, an ax came down and split his head right down the middle. (172)

With this second turning point, the notion of possibility for Carroll is directly related to his awareness that "it could have been me," as in "People Who Died." In Forced Entries, Carroll writes, "Since Miguel got his head bashed in by the dealer we tried to rip off last night, I've tried to reconsider my immediate plans for the future or non-future. I can't shake the feeling that it could have been me, not Miguel, who walked into that hallway first" (113). After this, Carroll enrolled in a methadone program and began the process which led him to California and rock music.

Finally, the ending of "City Drops Into the Night" reveals the specific nature of Carroll's salvation. First, he had to realize the prison he had built for himself in the endless cycle of obsession and heroin abuse:

They're always gonna come to your door
They're gonna say it's just a routine inspection
But what do you get when you open your door?
What you get is just another injection
And there's always gonna be one more
With just a little bit less until the next one

"They" is ambiguous, but here it can refer to drug dealers; of course dealers are always willing to oblige a habit and, in doing so, they become rulers of the addict's fate. But the sense Carroll conveys is that corrupting forces (street life, the "system," and the art scene as well as drugs) and the craving for sensation will continue to impinge on the addict so long as he/she perpetuates the addiction, whether he/she is addicted to drugs, fast living, exotic sensations, fame, or whatever.

Finally, as the addict descends further into the abyss and gives him/herself over to his/her obsessions, these corrupting forces siphon away any vestige of hope the addict might have. As callous as a mugger hiding in a darkened alley and robbing a passer-by of her life savings, these corrupting forces

wait in shadows and steal the light from your eyes
To them, vision's just some costly infection

And once the addict has been robbed of all hope and of the artistic vision which will offer salvation, the "moment of light" passes, leaving the addict with nothing but darkness, despair, and corruption.

But Carroll seized upon the "moment of light" in time, and he was redeemed. Hence, as he concludes the song, he transforms the drug metaphor as he becomes the "dealer" who, rather than doling out corruption, deals revelation and hope:

But you should come with me,
I'm the fire, I'm the fire's reflection
I'm just a constant warning
To take the other direction
Mister, I am your connection

As Rimbaud put it, "The poet . . . is truly the thief of fire" (103). Hence, Carroll transforms himself into a modern-day Prometheus, shedding light on the underground experience, the trap of addiction, and the nature of art. He shows that it is possible to make it all new--to enlarge and grasp that moment of light. Rather than feeding his audience poison, corruption, and darkness, as does the drug dealer, he feeds his audience light and purity. Finally, and most importantly, he becomes "the fire's reflection," the reflection of both the ugliness of his past and the beauty of the underground experience. The point is that no matter how deeply an individual descends into the abyss, redemption is still possible through a finely-tuned artistic vision.

In many ways, rock 'n' roll was Carroll's salvation. It not only gave him a chance to re-see his nightmarish past in a new way and transform it into something beautiful, but it also gave him a larger audience and a more flexible means to communicate with that audience. As Carroll puts it, "Basically, with rock there's a much better chance at creating some magic than there is at poetry readings. The energy from the audience at a concert is incredible. . . It takes you out of yourself" (Kenton). He also told Divina Infusino:

I see [rock] as an extension of what I've always done. . . The energy of rock 'n' roll is similar to what the energy of poetry used to be. It serves the same function that poetry used to serve, even in the traditional sense that poets used to sing.

Rock 'n' roll is more accessible to kids than poetry. Kids don't read poetry. In America, poetry has always been considered wimp stuff.

But with rock 'n' roll, kids with no verbal sophistication can still get what I'm saying because they feel it through their "inner register," as Henry Miller called it--through their hearts. (F6)

In fact, he remarked to Chet Flippo that "Any poet, out of respect for his audience, should become a rock star" (35).

And Carroll did become a rock star--immediately. Laura Fissinger notes that "People Who Died" "started to get heavy play on a surprising number of stations, and the journalists began to line up" even before the release of Catholic Boy. Carroll was an enthusiastic interviewee, at least initially. Steve Sutherland notes that:

Chatting with Jim Carroll is like taking your first verbal free-fall parachute jump--what looks like it's gonna be some relaxed drift across the rock 'n' roll landscape, can suddenly accelerate into an alarming, up-rushing stream of brutal, buffeting images so swift, so stunningly honest you invariably turn chicken, tug the chord, interrupt and pull up with the next safety-catch question.

Likewise, Fissinger observes:

Most [journalists] came away impressed. . . . And what copy he made: he looked like a ghost, like he'd been dipped in white wax. He seemed hidden, distant, and as vulnerable as a child. He was bright. He chain smoked, pulled at his pale red hair, couldn't sit still. He talked non-stop, in metaphors and street slang and guileless gestures, about anything they wanted to know. Almost. (44)

That "almost" began to expand, however, as Carroll found himself being asked the same questions over and over again, and every article referred to him as something along the lines of "the ex-junkie poet-turned-rocker who wrote The Basketball Diaries and Living at the Movies." His replies to interview questions became standardized. Everyone asked how he got into rock; Carroll's stock answer was always the Patti-Smith-Henry-Miller one, in varying degrees of detail. When asked what happened in California, he talked about his dogs. Everyone especially wanted to know about his heroin addiction; finally, Carroll said:

It's gotten to the point where I don't talk about drugs anymore generally, you know? And it's all just so boring now, besides. This guy from Penthouse [John Milward] did a real long profile on me; in that many sessions, y'know, you can't avoid it because it's part of my history, and the Diaries have a lot to do with it. That's an image they lay on you, you know. But I don't want to dwell on it anymore. Besides, a lot of the songs have references to getting away from junk. (Fissinger 44+)

It also became clear that journalists were missing the point of Catholic Boy entirely. As Infusino observes, many critics "labeled Carroll the new leader of the 'death cult of rock,' similar to the role Jim Morrison of The Doors once played" (F6); this was largely due to "People Who Died." In most interviews Carroll explained the concept of the song very carefully, but when Mark J. Norton asked if Carroll wasn't "exploiting the memory of his dead friends for his own gains," Carroll blew up:

Exploiting? . . . That song is a celebration! Some asshole wrote that me and Jim Morrison were into some sort of death trip and it's about time someone said something about it. Once and for all--THAT'S BULLSHIT!! ("Heart-on" 64)

Some journalists during this period, however, were able to look past the hype surrounding Catholic Boy and Carroll's decadent youth to offer some insight into his art. Notably, in her portrait "The Transformation of Jim Carroll," Laura Fissinger analyzes the media hype itself, viewing Carroll as an unwilling martyr-in-the-making. Fissinger cites models of such "sacrificial lambs" as Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop and compares their martyrdom to that which the media was imposing on Carroll. She suggests that, with Carroll:

The art and the things the artist becomes receptacle for get too tangled up to judge separately anymore. The value of the art becomes obscured, a matter of doubt--frequently before the martyr makes the final exit, and almost always afterward. The problem for those preparing the stake is that Carroll's demons seem to be at bay right now. Worse, as he rides them to fame he's also doing what he can to keep them there.

Again, as with The Basketball Diaries, Carroll's biography and his transformation of it became confused. The fact is, Carroll's critics and admirers wanted him to be a martyr; they wanted him to have a death wish, regardless of what he actually says on Catholic Boy.

Carroll saw this quite clearly and recognized it as the antithesis of the celebration of life and endless possibilities he has explored throughout his career. His disillusionment is obvious in "Them," a song on Dry Dreams, as he sings:

They say, "I'll live for your sins
if you will die for mine" . . .
I'll summon the darkness
if you buy the wine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
They make you feel so clever while you're being sold

Finally, possibly as a result of all the misinterpretation of his work and the focus on his youthful decadence, Carroll's past became ugly to him again. Talking about his Basketball Diaries persona with Scott Cain, Carroll hinted that he had nearly disowned his past: "There are some things I can relate to, but other things I refer to in the third person because it seems like a different person. It's like the prehistoric past." Likewise, he told Cain he was considering a move to San Francisco or Boston because "My whole history is in New York . . . . Now I want to get away from it for the same reason that I wanted to move back. I'm referring to my street roots too often. There are too many flashes of things I did as a kid which are not too pleasant to me now."

In the midst of all this, Carroll began writing Forced Entries. In a 1981 interview with Clarice Rivers, to whom he dedicated the book, Carroll explained his plans for the diary, stating that it would be "half-fictional and half-autobiographical." The crux of the book, he said, would be his move to California,

because one of the big parts in this basketball diary is the change from just being a street kid, and going to Catholic and public schools, and all of a sudden getting a scholarship to this very posh private school with very wealthy kids, for the first time . . . .

This early battle plan is significant both because it shows Forced Entries is in many ways a conscious revision of The Basketball Diaries, and because it reveals the importance of the California section of the book. Like his admission to Trinity, Carroll sees his move to California, not his entry into the art scene, as a chance to rise above his "street" identity.

Also, even more significantly, is the notion that Forced Entries is half fictional and half autobiographical. I wondered about the "Author's Note,"[43] so when I talked to Carroll in July of 1989,[44] I asked him about "The Poet and the Vibrator" (FE 24-29), which to me seemed far-fetched. He said, "I swear it's true! Well, he didn't exactly say, 'My dick feels like a sparring partner,' but I swear it's true!" Then he said, "Well, maybe it's a bit exaggerated, but it was really funny." The fact that I have gleaned--from talking to Carroll, from his interviews, and from reading his work--is that Jim Carroll does not lie. The fictional nature of Forced Entries (and all of his work, for that matter) has to do with the way he reorders and embellishes events in order to make them more true.

In "The Salvation of Rock," Patti Smith writes that "Pollution is a result of the inability of man to transform waste" (140), and Carroll undoubtedly considered rock his own salvation--his means to transform the waste of his past. Hence, with Catholic Boy and The Basketball Diaries having been so largely misconstrued, Carroll again set about the alchemist's task of transforming his polluted past into gold. In Forced Entries, he battles the demons of his past as well as the distorted interpretation and stigma of his past which his critics had imposed upon him. Therefore, Carroll consciously tries to "put a lid on the seamier side of the double life I've continued to lead" (FE 113). Furthermore, directly confronting the "death wish" his critics have attributed to him, Carroll adopts a confessional tone in Forced Entries, almost exaggeratedly repenting of his sins. And, finally, with the elaborate metaphor of the bursting abscess in "Opening Night," Carroll illustrates that he was redeemed and was ready to begin his life anew with rock 'n' roll. Appropriately, at the end of Forced Entries, he writes, "I've pierced a veil" (184); likewise, Patti Smith writes: "within the context of neo rock we must open our eyes and seize and rend the veil of smoke which man calls order" (140).

Most importantly, in Forced Entries, Carroll is emphasizing that he is no longer the street punk of The Basketball Diaries. By the "Back to New York" section of Forced Entries, Carroll has moved beyond his street punk identity to become an artist. He is an artist capable of transforming a California storm into a mystical experience, capable of depicting the textures of New York City in flawless detail, and capable of transforming his hideous past into a work of art. As he shows throughout the diary and throughout all of his work, Jim Carroll is an artist capable of turning shit into gold.

Copyright 1990 Cassie Carter. This material may not be reprinted except by permission from the author.


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