Website Logo
Title Page
Table of Contents
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four


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


1 All biographical information is based on a composite picture I derived while researching my annotated bibliography of Carroll. I am drawing from Carroll's diaries as well as his interviews and articles about him. BACK

2 Carroll's song "Crow," on Catholic Boy, is a tribute to Patti Smith. The song is a sort of mini-biography, documenting the time she "fell from the stage and landed on the concrete floor fourteen feet below, suffering a concussion and fracturing several vertebrae in her neck" (Moritz 537); Carroll writes: "It must be strange to just fall from the stage / and snap a bone that is so close to the brain." The song also describes her job working in a book store and her residence at the Chelsea Hotel (536), emphasizing her boundless passion and compassion: "You covered me with blankets in the Chelsea Hotel lobby." Finally, he sings, "I'd start reachin' for the scar along your belly"; Smith had a child by caesarean section when she was 19 (535). The title, "Crow," probably derives from the one-act play she co-wrote with Sam Shepard, titled Cowboy Mouth, whose "female character, Cavale, . . . imagines herself to be a crow, [and] has kidnapped . . . a family man . . . with the intention of making him a rock-'n'-roll star" (536). BACK

3 The Jim Carroll Band eventually ended up on the Atco-Atlantic label.BACK

4 Clarice Rivers asked why Carroll called his album Catholic Boy; Carroll replied: "I wanted to call it Dry Dream because I really don't like the kind of attitude of rock and roll that is so dominated by sexual images--it's a kind of cock rock . . . So rather than a wet dream these songs are dry dreams." Of course, Dry Dreams became the title of his second album.BACK

5 I derived the "real" identities of characters in The Basketball Diaries while researching my bibliography; however, no source directly documents the aliases in Forced Entries. I concluded from a comment Carroll made to Chet Flippo that Frank Smith is "Mr. Brothers" (BBD 34), and Carroll unveiled the identities of "Jenny Ann" and "D.M.Z" to me personally when I talked with him in July of 1989. I gleaned the identity of "Gloria Excelsior" from Victor Bockris's biography of Andy Warhol.BACK


6 This is a lyric from "City Drops Into the Night," on Catholic Boy, which I discuss in the final chapter.BACK

7 See my discussion of Carroll's song "People Who Died" in the final chapter.BACK

8 It seems clear that in this first entry Carroll is establishing his illegitimacy--his status as an imposter--in the Biddy League, as well as the illegitimacy of the whole system he wants to enter. He does precisely the opposite in Forced Entries where, in the first entry, he legitimizes himself by naming off famous people who share his birthday (and also places Jerry Garcia in the same category as Melville and Claudius).BACK

9 To illustrate the effects of a failed performance, Carroll describes the ultimate "un-punk" performance by John, "a rookie at the top" like Carroll:

Scared shit and mouth wide, he peeped one more time into the river, waved at the waiting sightseers, took one step back, five hundred deep breaths, muttered, "Fuck it," then yelled out the same thing, clutched his balls with both hands and jumped. Down he was going, legs spread far apart, and jitterbugging like he was doing the Popeye or something, still clutching his crotch. "Bad form," I sighed, as he hit the water, and what a fucking understatement that was. It was pitiful, he hit the water like a fucking octopus, limbs flying everywhere, and the splash contained a smacking sound that hurt all the way up to me at the top of the cliff. When he came up to the surface he swam to the shore with one hand paddling and holding onto his sore, sore ass with the other, so that he was slow enough to get attacked by a fair sized shit line. . . .

The fact is that, if you're going to perform, you've got to do it right. John's performance provokes no response from the audience, with "the whole fucking scene having Danny," the only experienced jumper, "in stitches over near the tracks." In other words, John made a fool of himself. (49-50) BACK

10 In Catholicism, confession is the second stage of penance, which is "one of the sacraments . . . relating to the expiation of sins after baptism." The three steps comprising penance are: (1) contrition ("sorrow that one has sinned coupled with intention to abstain therefrom in the future"); (2) confession ("acknowledgment of one's sin to a priest"); and (3) satisfaction ("carrying out works of penance assigned by one's confessor; almsgiving, fasting, praying, reparation"). . . . "Upon completion of the three steps, absolution, or reconciliation with the Church, is granted by the priest as a temporal sign of the sinner's reconciliation with God" (Reese 421). BACK

11 He does find two good souls within the institution, however. The priest in the confessional "knew I was shitting in my pants and told me it wasn't my fault and just step out and don't worry about a thing"; Carroll says, "He was an o.k. mug" (26). Also, Carroll calls Brother Kenneth "the only good dude in the joint." When Billy "Dong" Burlap goes into an epileptic seizure, Brother Kenneth isn't afraid to get involved: "Brother Kenny's hand was bloody from teeth marks as he tried to get ahold of Billy's tongue so he wouldn't choke on it. His whole hand was scarred from handling fits over the years." By comparison, Carroll's teacher, "a snoot intellectual but all freeze in a clutch, didn't know what the hell to do" (28).BACK

12 As I discuss in my final chapter, Teddy Rayhill is the first person Carroll names in his song "People Who Died" on Catholic Boy: "Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old / fell from the roof on east 29." BACK

13 Both "2nd Train (for Frank O'Hara)" and "Red Rabbit Running Backwards (for A.W.)" mention clocks falling on him; the latter also cites "The aesthetic value of a red tee shirt." BACK

14 Carroll reiterates the last line of the poem, "I just want to be pure," throughout the rest of the Diaries, and in fact these are his final words in the book. Apparently, since it is not included in an earlier version published in Paris Review, Carroll added "I just want to be pure" to the end of the last entry quite a while after the fact. BACK

15 Some of the later entries describe events which chronologically came earlier, when he was 18 and 19.


16 "Dial-A-Poem" was a service in which one could listen to assorted recorded poetry over the telephone. Apparently, Carroll's earliest recording was in 1969, when he read two excerpts from The Basketball Diaries for Dial-a-Poem (1972). The same readings appear on You're a Hook: The 15 Year Anniversary of Dial-a-Poem (1983).BACK

17 All works mentioned are cited in my annotated bibliography.BACK

18 In his 1969 feature on Carroll, Ted Berrigan notes that Living at the Movies is "due out in the fall from Cape-Goliard" (9); the book was not published until 1973.BACK

19 Some of Carroll's earliest published poems have never been collected, including "Christmas Lists," "The Marketplace," and "Ode," all published in 1967. Uncollected works are listed in my annotated bibliography.BACK

20 One basketball diary, published in Adventures in Poetry in 1968, is not collected in The Basketball Diaries. See preceding note.BACK

21 Carroll makes reference to this twice in Forced Entries (27, 68).BACK

22 While the Grateful Dead represent a different drug culture from the one in which Carroll is involved, there are some interesting implications in his reference to Jerry Garcia, and some striking similarities between Carroll's career and the Dead's. Aside from the obvious connection with Carroll's later venture into rock (the idea of which Carroll toys with during the period of Forced Entries), the "Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead" potential represents a certain way of being, and an identity, that Carroll finds appealing. First, based on Ken Tucker's analysis of the Grateful Dead, the band's history parallels Carroll's own, with their "average record sales and minimal impact on the music world." That is, like Carroll, the Dead had their "following," but it wasn't quite enough to launch them to superstardom (for Carroll, this would be Melville-dom), yet their impact was and has remained strong enough for them to "persevere." Also, like the Dead, Carroll's self-indulgence has often been a point of contention, and "the point of much of" Carroll's work has likewise always been "that self-indulgence had its place, in art and in life." Furthermore, Carroll's "self-indulgence was one of the qualities [his] fans treasured most" ("Rock Endures" 579). One hopes that Carroll will eventually approach "superstardom" as have the Dead in recent years.BACK

23 The epigraph highlights the confessional nature of Forced Entries: "'All writers of confessions, from Augustine on down, have always remained a little in love with their sins'--Anatole France."BACK

24 This entry is a prime example of Carroll's careful structuring and ordering of events in Forced Entries: in fact, he did not write the diaries until at least a decade later. In a 1981 interview, Clarice Rivers asked if he had continued to keep diaries since The Basketball Diaries. Carroll said, "No, I don't have them written, but I have notes of what happened."BACK

25 The "new poem of mine in the recent issue of Poetry Mag" Carroll refers to is "The Distances," the only poem he ever published in Poetry.BACK

26 Victor Bockris, in his biography of Andy Warhol, uses Forced Entries as a source in his discussion of AWT-BAG. Apparently, AWT-BAG existed from July 25 to August 5, 1969; hence, these are the approximate dates of Carroll's diaries describing his job at the theater.BACK

27 When I (informally) talked with Carroll in 1989, he expressed his concern regarding how various people view his work and, in the process, made it clear that he despises Paul Morrissey. He said something to the effect that, "With someone like Paul Morrissey, I don't give a shit." BACK

28 According to Ronald Sukenick, the creator of the laser beam is Frosty Meyers. "Frosty drills a hole through the window of his studio, which is a couple of blocks up Park Avenue South, aims the laser through the hole, and puts it on a timer. . . . It draws a red line diagonally across the street, goes through Max's front window, then hits a little mirror and goes on down the bar into the back of the room" (207). While Carroll apparently doesn't know this, Sukenick indicates here that the beam originates practically across the street from Carroll's own apartment.BACK

29 Victor Bockris notes that Andrea Feldman began "calling herself Andrea Warhol in the hope that Andy would get the idea and marry her." In Warhol's film Heat, Feldman "played a borderline psychotic who kept her baby quiet with sleeping pills and couldn't remember if she was a sadist or a masochist. . . ." Bockris cites Forced Entries in his discussion of Feldman and, in doing so, establishes the dates of the "Andrea" entries as September of 1972, shortly after the release of Trash (359-60).BACK

30 I have been unable to ascertain the precise dates of Carroll's stay in California. He lived there approximately five years, part of the time in San Francisco's North Beach. In 1978 he returned to New York to arrange the publication of The Basketball Diaries with Grossman and met with Earl or Paul McGrath. Whether Carroll returned to New York between 1974 and 1978 is uncertain.BACK

31 Only William Hochswender finds merit in "The Move To California," yet his praise is confined to one lone sentence: "When, ultimately, Carroll finds his redemption in California, detoxing in the bucolic confines of Bolinas, we sense that enormity of the underground experience, as lived, in ways a documentary history can only grope for." Other reviewers, including Delacorte (cited in text), devote even less space to this section, finding it boring or worse. After running through an account of Carroll's escape to California and methadone treatment, Mark Stevens decides that "The tinsel [of 'The Downtown Diaries'] is better." Tony Perry barely mentions the section in passing, while Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Margo Jefferson, John Mutter, and the reviewer in Jim Kobak's Kirkus Reviews don't mention it at all. BACK

32 Here, in "The Move To California," we meet the author of The Book of Nods and the rock lyricist of Catholic Boy, and find the beginnings of Dry Dreams and I Write Your Name.BACK

33 His concern with time is evident in his uncollected poem "Kitten (Self Pity)." The poem is dated July 30, 1974, just two days before his birthday; Carroll writes, "I will never be twenty-three years old again" (9).BACK

34 This existential notion is perhaps best described by Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus:

I don't know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me--that is what I understand. And these two certainties--my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle--I also know that I cannot reconcile them. What other truth can I admit without lying, without bringing in a hope which I lack and which means nothing within the limits of my condition? (38)BACK

35 Reese notes that Gnosticism is marked by the basic duality of good and evil, dark and light, and aims toward personal salvation through the pursuit of wisdom. The "great mother" of Gnosticism is Sophia, goddess of wisdom, and she is often paired with the archetypal "primal man," whose task it is to set her free. The union between Sophia and the primal man leads to salvation (192-93). Carroll's best illustrates his fascination with Gnosticism in "Sophia" (BN 142). At the end of the poem, he writes: "She steadies a magnifying glass / Before her breast, burning open / The abcess of her heart, releasing / that wisdom and that shame" (28-31)BACK


36 At the Spirit club in July of 1989, Carroll read several new selections he plans to include in the novel he is presently writing. He made a point of saying this new book will be fiction.BACK

37 Beyond the structural aspects I note in my analysis, Carroll's allusions are quite complex. Mayakovsky was a Russian poet, political activist, and propagandist. Like Carroll, the city was one of his favorite subjects, and through the use of often vulgar, violent imagery he condemned conventions of all sorts. Rene Magritte, too, often utilized shock tactics in his paintings to unsettle otherwise banal scenes.BACK

38 The titles of some of the articles during this period reveal the "image" Carroll's critics have imposed on him: "Pain Paved Way to Better Life for Rocker"; "Mean Streets"; "Carroll's Got an Interesting Story"; "Jim Carroll's Rock 'n' Roll Heart-On"; "The Catholic Boy Confesses"; "Jim Carroll's Second Coming"; "Latest 'Urban Poet' Singer Fails with 'Catholic Boy'"; "Subterranean Urbanesque Blues"; "Jim Carroll's a Legend Before His Time."BACK

39 That The Basketball Diaries has become the undisputed definition of Carroll is revealed by the front covers of the Penguin editions of his books. Living at the Movies and The Book of Nods are both by Jim Carroll, "Author of The Basketball Diaries"; Forced Entries is "The sensational sequel to The Basketball Diaries."BACK

40 At the end of the "Author's Note" in the Tombouctou edition of The Basketball Diaries, Carroll quotes Hassan Sabah, leader of the cult of the assassins: "Nothing is true; Everything is permitted" (xi). However, Carroll says, "I first read it in one of Mr. Burroughs' books"; as he puts it, "Burroughs quoted that line so much that it's kinda like . . . public domain" (Norton, "Heart-on" 33).BACK

41 Since the lyrics for Catholic Boy are not printed on the album sleeve, I have transcribed them as best I could; I have bracketed lyrics I'm not sure about.BACK

42 In "Barricades," on Dry Dreams, Carroll takes up a related issue, describing the hypocrisy and senselessness of war, as well as emphasizing the void left by those killed in battle:

Who makes promises for the Neutron bomb?
It will sign your lungs to death
And leave the corporate walls unharmed . . .
Who makes promises with such insidious charm?
But it would have made things cleaner
In old Vietnam . . .
That's when Kevin got called up
Ritchie got called . . .
And Kevin never came back
Ritchie never came home
Their folks got a letter in the mail
I ain't gonna die for Standard Oil!
I.B.M. . . . I wouldn't die for them!
G.E.? Not me! BACK

43 Carroll told me the "Author's Note" was written by lawyers as libel protection; he only made it funny. BACK

44 This is a funny story in itself. At the time, I was compiling my annotated bibliography on his work for the Bulletin of Bibliography and had arranged with Rosemary Carroll (his agent/ex-wife) to meet with Carroll after his reading at the Spirit club on July 7, 1989. After the reading, I met him in the "green room" and introduced myself. When I told him I had been unable to find Organic Trains, he pulled a copy of it out of his duffel bag and said, "I don't usually have this with me, but here. It's worth about $500. . . ." Shortly after this, he bummed a ride off me to his motel (the EZ-8); sitting in the cab of a Mazda pickup, we talked until almost 3:00 in the morning.

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


Site Map | Contact Info | About this site | About the webmaster

The Jim Carroll Website © 1996-2024 Cassie Carter