Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jim Carroll: 1950-2009

"I just want to be pure..."

After reading the unfortunate news of Jim Carroll's passing a couple of days ago, I started to think about my love for his book "The Basketball Diaries." I had no knowledge of Carroll's work before the aforementioned book was adapted for film in 1995, featuring soon to be megastar Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of Carroll. I was 13 years old when the film reached the rental stores, and couldn't have been more intrigued by the scenario: a kid my age playing sports, going wild on the streets of New York, getting into all kinds of mischief, trying drugs, sleeping with girls, and keeping a journal recounting all of it. It was a glimpse into a world that was completely alien to me, complete with a soundtrack that featured Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

I watched the film quite a few times, but my interest in it waned after I finally bought a copy of the book. It was so much more vivid than the film, and I was completely blown away by Carroll's straight-to-the-point style of writing. I felt as if I were reading letters sent to me by a friend who wanted me to know all of the exciting details he could never share with his parents and family. By the end of the book, I was concerned for that friend's well being; fearing that he would soon get into a brawl too violent to recover from, or take more drugs than he could handle, too young to learn any sort of lesson from his experiences. Thankfully, I was learning lessons from every page of Carroll's book. Learning of Kurt Cobain's drug abuse and eventual suicide (about a year, give or take, before the BD film was released) at my young age was a mortal wound to any later curiosity I'd have about drugs, but looking back, there's no denying that "The Basketball Diaries" served as a nail in its coffin. Many have and probably will continue to argue that works of this nature, be they music, literature, or film encourage young people to mimic the activities depicted in them. I'll continue to argue for the contrary. This book was a vital influence on what I consider to be some of the most positive decisions I have ever made...more so than any D.A.R.E. program lecture or "Just Say No!" button ever could have.

In addition to "The Basketball Diaries", I also read a collection of Carroll's poetry a couple of years later entitled "Fear Of Dreaming." That was all I could get my hands on in those days prior to every book you can imagine being a click away from arriving at your doorstep. Perhaps the only positive thing about the death of such an artist is that his work will hopefully be more widely recognized and available after the fact. I know I've got some catching up to do.

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