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Jim Carroll

If you know Jim Carroll only as the guy who ranted about all those "People Who Died" back in the early '80s, you're missing out on one of the most honest, brutally confessional artists to work in any medium in the last half-century. Since the 1970 publication of his Kerouac-inspired teenage journal, The Basketball Diaries (later immortalized by the 1995 Leonardo DiCaprio film), Carroll has been one of the more dynamic voices in both American music and letters.

Carroll's career has followed a similar trajectory to Patti Smith's; in his twenties, he brought his background in poetry to rock music and began writing songs. In 1980, The Jim Carroll Band issued its debut album, Catholic Boy, a harsh, slightly New Wave affair deeply stylistically indebted to the proto-punk of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground. Carroll's literate street-smart lyricism and speak-sing vocals, as evidenced by the manic "People Who Died," were especially reminiscent of Lou Reed's work, both with the Velvets and as a solo artist. For a few years, Carroll would continue to focus on rock music, releasing the increasingly accomplished albums Dry Dreams (1982) and I Write Your Name (1983), before breaking up the band to focus exclusively on writing.

Over the next decade and a half, he released several volumes of poetry and prose, but no recorded material, save his 1991 spoken word album Praying Mantis. In 1998, though, he returned to the rock and roll stage with the frank, cathartic Pools of Mercury, an explosive mixture of taut spoken word and searing rock. Then in 1999, he released with the five-song Runaway EP (the title song is a punk cover of Del Shannon's 1961 pop classic), featuring "It's Too Late," which was recorded live at Seattle's Crocodile Club in November 1998.

Carroll's in his fifties now, but its clear that advancing age has had no negative effects on either his passion or his poetry. He's a true survivor, and a voice that commands your attention.

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