By Jim Carroll, as told to Legs McNeil
From an interview ©1995 by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Jim Carroll came to my studio apartment on St. Marks Place one afternoon on June 16th, 1995 to be interviewed by myself and Gillian McCain for our book in progress, Please Kill Me; The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Jim was in great shape and had one of those unmistakable New York City accents that left no doubt he was a native New Yorker. He first came to prominence when he published his memoir-in-progress, The Basketball Diaries in excerpt form throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s; most notably in the Fall 1970 issue of The Paris Review— and became the talk of the town.
The Basketball Diaries was a searing glimpse into the world of boy-hustler-sex, drugs, and basketball. Everyone knew underage street punks existed, but few writers documented that scene with such innocent clarity as Carroll did, recalling his dissolute life from ages 12 to 15.
The Basketball Diaries was finally published by Tombouctou Books of Bolinas,
California in 1978, and then to a much wider audience by Bantam Books in 1980. Jim Carroll also became a rock star with the release of his first album, “Catholic Boy,” in 1980, which included his classic hit single, “People Who Died.”
Jim meet Patti Smith in the spring of 1970 when Patti was living with her ex-boyfriend, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in a loft on 23rd Street near the Chelsea Hotel and the two poets became lovers while Mapplethorpe asked Carroll how he knew he wasn’t gay, since Jim was still hustling. Patti and Jim had a profound affect on each other’s lives as Carroll explains in the following text. Jim helped Patti find her hutzpah, while Patti inspired Jim to start singing.
At the time of this interview, Patricia Morrisroe’s Mapplethorpe biography had just been published and was universally hated by everyone in the downtown Art Scene because Morrisroe completely missed the point. As one critic summed up the bio, “One gets the impression that it is the biographer’s disdain for her subject, rather than critical distance, that shapes the rather unpleasant portrait which emerges.” Jim mentions the Patricia Morrisroe book throughout the interview, which he was currently reading it.
In this interview Jim takes us through his entire life, mentioning his encounters with Andy Warhol and Brigid Polk, Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Sheppard and Nico, Lou Reed and Danny Fields, Gerard Malanga and Keith Richards, as well as dozens of lesser-known luminaries of the art, poetry and rock & roll scenes. Enjoy!
Jim Carroll: I think the JFK assassination had an effect on me for the rest of my life. I was alone in the house, I was in the bathroom, and I had this great dirty magazine. So I was in the bathroom and it had a little iron hook lock on it, and I started to jerk off. I was like 12, and I was looking at this really hot picture, and then I heard my mother come in…
What was the picture of? Jugs Magazine, or something; no, actually it wasn’t a porno magazine, it’s even funnier– it was a picture of Barbara Streisand wearing a bikini on Eliot Gould’s shoulder, cause I couldn’t find a dirty magazine.
Eliot Gould was standing in the water and Barbara Streisand had a leg straddled around his shoulders, when she was married to Gould– with these big tits and this little bikini– and that sexy Jewish nose! I figured out that you had to just wank it a while before you came. I just wasn’t ready yet, so I was working at it.
And then my mother comes in, and says, “Jim are you in there?” I said, “Yeah, I’m in here mom, and I’m not feeling well. I’ll be out in a bit.”
Then my mother turns on the TV, and I’m jerking off, and I got the magazine, looking at Barbara Streisand, and I feel something, man, like I’ve never felt before…
And all of a sudden, I hear my mother scream, and I said, “Jesus, what is that?”
The door comes flying open, she just knocked the lock right off, and she says, “The President has been shot!”
And my dick was in my hand, man! Ha, ha, ha!
I’m just totally making this up. That’s this piece from this new book I’m writing…
Oh man, yeah, I’m sorry for jerking you off about that story.
Actually, I had just come from basketball practice when I heard JFK was shot. I was in Harlem, and I’d just come from basketball practice with this almost all-black team that I played with. We played at Rice High School on 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, so I was right in the middle of Harlem– and it was really weird ’cause all these people were really freaking out, you know?
And, of course, they called off the practice, it wasn’t a game, and they just told us to go home, so we did. It wasn’t anything exciting, except it was strange being in Harlem; these people were really out in the streets wailing and stuff, saying, “What are we going to do now?”
Because everybody thought fucking President Johnson’s going to be a total cracker and set everything back. This was when Harlem was still a docile community and within two years, there’d be the riots– and it would never be the same to walk around Harlem again.
I used to be able to go with these ball players to the matinees at the Apollo– you’d give the guy a buck and go through the back door. But I couldn’t do that after the riots, so I was in Harlem and I was playing when JFK got shot, and, at first, I thought Kennedy’s going to get better, and that means he’s the antichrist, because in [the Book of] Revelations, the guy is supposed to get a terrible head wound, and then come back from it. I thought that actually.
The biggest effect on me, at that time, was the Cuban Missile Crisis, I write about it in the Basketball Diaries. That’s what really fucked up the movie of the Basketball Diaries, by not putting it in, because, I mean, that explains my total drug thing and nihilism, and why I felt, “I’m running out of time, I got to get all this stuff done now!”
The guy in Catholic School, the Brother said, “Don’t worry, if those sirens start ringing, by 10:00 this morning, [we’re going] down in the gymnasium; we’ll have three months of concentrated wafers, and water to last three months.”
And I thought, “Don’t worry? Great! We’ll be living on fucking crackers for three months in the gymnasium, the whole school!! Don’t worry?!”
And I remember the old Ground Zero was 42nd Street, and then they’d draw lines, and say, “If you’re in this [zone], you’re going to be incinerated immediately, and [in this zone] you’re going to die within two days, …”
I mean, like, in New York, in Manhattan, I was in the first fucking zone, so I was going to be incinerated, you know? It was certainly good incentive for youthful nihilism.
During, the blackout, years later, the first blackout, I thought the Russians were coming. I thought, “Well, the Russians are going to hit us now, they think we’re vulnerable and shit.” I remember some political pundit speaking about that possibility years later, there was some consideration of that in the Kremlin. So the Cuban Missile Crisis was a total trauma, man!
My brother, who was a year older than me, I don’t know, but he had a totally different makeup than me, because he was teasing me before we went to sleep that night, saying, “I heard that all the Soviet Ambassadors, and all the Cuban Ambassadors, are getting planes out of town! Boy, the bombs are coming!”
And I said, “Why are you kidding about that?”
I’m totally shitting in my pants, and I said, “At least I don’t fucking wake up crying after “Creature Features” was on, and have nightmares,” cause my brother would always had these fucking wimpy nightmares. I’d never have nightmares after the horror movies on Friday night, but my brother would, and my mother did not want us to watch it because he fucking always had these nightmares. So it pissed me off now that he was pulling my chain.
I mean, when I got stuck in the subways for a while during the Blackout, then I got up on the street and they were saying the lights were out all over the East Coast, and I thought, “God, man, this is surely a sign that we’re going to get bombed!”
I didn’t know about the gay-boy-hustling scene at 53rd and 3rd, but when I was like 14 or 15 years old, I’d go down on fucking Greenwich Avenue and Christopher Street, and somebody hipped me to the fact that if everybody’s giving it away for free, you ain’t going to make no money.
And then I thought about 42nd Street and that “Midnight Cowboy” shit; a lot of runaway kids would go to 42nd Street, like in the Teenage Lust book by Larry Clark; those kids were all on 42nd Street.
Then some guy, some older guy, tipped me off to go to 53rd and Third Avenue, it was like 1966 and 1967, and yeah, the Ramones song, “53rd and Third,” God man, that’s such a great lyric! My only hustling lyric was in a song that Lenny Kaye wrote the music to; “Love Crimes.” It was like three vignettes of different love crimes, and it was like– “Billie don’t live in his spirit/Billie don’t live in his heart/ Billie walks around Times Square all day/His body is his art/ Life is easy when you’re pretty and 16/Just make sure that your underwear is clean.”
How much could I make? Twenty bucks? I’d get more than that man. But, see, the thing was, I’d get offered a lot of money, but then I’d have to renegotiate because I’d only let guys suck my dick, or I’d jerk em off or something, but I would never let guys fuck me, you know?
Unless they had poppers, then I would fuck em; I’d fuck em good, ha, ha, ha!
Fuck em like a pig, a sow. I’d like it if they were fat, with a lotta money, ha, ha, make em squeal! I’d do it on the street, ha, ha, ha! Wild man, ha, ha, ha!
I mean, I’ve done it for ten bucks, but usually about twenty-five. Yeah, at certain times I’d get a hundred, but more often it was like twenty, twenty-five.
Doing it in a car made me really uncomfortable. A lot of the times there was this hotel on 52nd Street and 2nd Avenue, right across from the Synagogue and it wasn’t an expensive hotel, but it wasn’t seedy either, and we’d go there a lot.
The other hustler-guys thought I was asking too much to put out another fifteen or twenty bucks for a room. But I convinced the guy, the John, that it would be much more comfortable than in a car, I mean we didn’t have to worry about the law, ha, ha!
I would actually say, “Listen you don’t have to pay me fifty, I’m only gonna let you suck my dick so just give me forty.” If I could get one guy for forty bucks, or even thirty, then that was it for me, I was outta there. I didn’t wanna hang around, I didn’t wanna make a lot of money doing it, I just wanted thirty bucks– which is plenty to get straight, you know?
There was also a night time scene during the summer in Central Park, right across from the Museum of Natural History, and that was pretty good. I mean, the park was much better than a car, I always thought. I’d go right into the park with the guys, and alleys were a thing too.
And if the guy was a regular at, not “Rounds,” but this other bar, they had this back room, and if the guy was a real regular and knew the owner, then we’d go in there.
But that was even more dangerous than a car, because, in those days, the cops were constantly like busting these places, and they knew about that back room, that’s where they’d go first because they’d catch somebody actually doing something– they always wanted to bring back something on one of those busts.
So I was a terrible hustler, I mean I didn’t wanna give out what they wanted or anything, unless they had those poppers, then I’d be good, ha, ha, ha!
I remember meeting Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda when I worked in a porno theater that [showed a porno film that] Andy Warhol had lent his name to. Some people would come down thinking they were going to see Andy Warhol-made movies, because it was like “Andy Warhol Presents,” but they were just like boy-beaver pornos from the West Coast.
I worked there at the porno theater and there was nobody there, except me at the window. And in those days, it was like five bucks a pop, and that was a lot of money for a movie then, you know? Girl-beaver movies were like three bucks, and regular movies were like two bucks.
So five bucks, with nobody there, and there was no turnstile or anything, so every third dollar, I just pocketed, you know? I’d laugh when they gave me my fucking check, and it was like $40 for working three days. Joe Dallesandro was a projectionist, and I picked up a few extra dollars taking guys downstairs.
Paul Morrissey came by one night with Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, and I think this was the same night as the infamous Gerry Malanga, Jerry Miller and Eric Emerson orgy, with Roger Vadim watching Jane getting fucked, and particularly wanted to see her making out with these chicks at the Chelsea Hotel. Gerry told me that he could understand how Roger Vadim was with all these women, like Bridgette Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, cause Gerry said Vadim was hung like a fucking horse, ha, ha, ha! But I remember Paul Morrissey saying, “What do you think about Jim here? Wouldn’t you like to put him in the movies?”
And Jane saying, “That pretty red hair, isn’t that cinematic Roger, what do ya think?”
And Roger saying, “Oh yes, it’s quite wonderful, do you want to fuck my wife? Can you be a woman?”
I said, “Oh yes, do you know Barbara Streisand?”
When I was a kid in upper Manhattan, with the Catholic school girls around there, you couldn’t get tongue, you know? But right across the Henry Hudson Bridge was Riverdale, where all these young Jewish girls were putting out completely! So we’d be sauntering over there all the time, and they liked to hang around the basketball courts, so that was my cue, “Let’s of over and play in Riverdale man. Gotta ball?”
I mean those Jewish features really turn me on, ha, ha, ha! It was very forbidden, and very exotic. I never understood Jewish girls getting nose jobs, cause I always found them very attractive, you know?
I didn’t know Andy Warhol that well before he got shot, but yeah, he was completely different to me after he was shot. I guess it was like 1969 when Andy had me writing made-up names for the characters in his play “Pork,” cause Andy had read The Basketball Diaries and he liked all the funny names I made up, like Ravi Curry and stuff. I’d make up names for the Italian guy; Cosmo Pushio, and shit like that, so I was making up names for the characters in “Pork.”
So I’d do that, and then I’d write some dialogue for it. Yeah, that was the main project that I was assigned to, I was in the “Pork” section up at the Factory, ha, ha, ha!
I made up some kind of name for a Japanese guy; Wanmo Tekashower, that’s really bad, ha, ha, ha, but Andy thought they were hilarious! I never heard that type of laugh from him. Andy had this really childish laugh like something he laughed at when he was eleven years old, like probably when he killed his first bug, ha, ha, ha!
I just kind of organized “Pork” to make a few connections here and there, but I think by the end, by the time it opened as a play, I think the dialogue– it was all probably just ad-libbed, just the way it was originally, but I never saw it. I don’t even know if it ever played in New York?
But I loved Andy, I thought he was great. Everybody said how cheap Andy was, and he was, ha, ha, ha, but he was always pretty generous with me. I mean, in those days a hundred bucks for just writing a list of names was very generous. I mean, I’d write this stuff, these lines for “Pork,” and I’d be listening to the tapes and add stuff together– and I’m sure most of it was just never used. It was just kind of a job to get me some money, and Andy knew I didn’t need that much.
I didn’t know Lou Reed that well either, but I recorded the Velvet Underground’s, “Live at Max’s Kansas City” album. Bridgette Polk was listed as the engineer. Well, it was her tape recorder, but I’m the one that was standing there holding it up all night. You can hear me on it. I’m the guy that asks, “You have any Tuinals?” And I say, “Can I have a Pernod?” And they said, “Oh you have to go to the downstairs bar…”
I sound so fey on it, you know? Really, my voice sounds like– I say something like, “Look who’s here, I can’t believe it!” What a little dip I was, God!
But I saw the Velvets every night when they played at Max’s at the end of August, 1970, that’s when they were doing those six nights, they were the house band, you know? And we made a lot of other tapes aside from that one that Lou really liked and used. I’m sure Bridgette Polk has them all.
Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed were the only original guys from the Velvet Underground playing Max’s at that time. Of course, Billy Yule was there, Mo Tucker was sick then, or pregnant, and so Billy Yule was the drummer, and Doug Yule was playing bass, and then Lou Reed left the band after that last week.
That was the first time I saw the Velvets; I didn’t see those early shows at the Dom or anything. I was a huge fan, but I never saw them. I suppose I was about 14, so I was too young then. I mean, they were playing at the same time I saw the Fugs, and I could have seen them I guess, but the Fugs were playing those shows every night on MacDougal Street, when they had that place near the Providence Town Playhouse– The Players’ Theatre. It was like a stage show and Ed Sanders would do these raps that I realized weren’t spontaneous, he did it every night.
I saw them about a lot because the high school– the private school scene had the word out about the Fugs and I loved them! But the word wasn’t out about the Velvets when they were playing the Dom…
I think, of gigs the Velvets did at Max’s with Doug Yule singing the songs, after Lou left, I remember saying to Danny Fields, “What did ya think?” And Danny said what he always said, “I thought it was kind of cute and sweet. I thought it was sweet.” Ha, ha, I think I got that from Danny Fields, whenever anybody asks me– when I’m kind of on the edge about something, I say, “It was sweet.”
See, that whole summer I was with Bridgette Polk. I talk about her in my book, Forced Entries, I called her, “Gloria Excelsior,” and she was trying to get me off heroin by getting me to shoot speed with her, which was ridiculous. I was ten times worse that summer. I had to get back on junk to get my health together. I was really out to lunch.
And then Bridgette and I would go to Max’s every night, and I’d crash at either Bridgette’s or stay at the Chelsea Hotel. I had a room at the Chelsea. Gerry Ragni got me a room. Gerry’s the guy who wrote Hair; not the blond one; James Rado, but the other guy. These two guys wrote the lyrics and played the parts originally, and Gerry picked me up one night, because I was turning tricks, but I could never be with a John for more than one time, you know?
I felt weird afterward, you know?
Which, economically, was bad, cause the best offers were like, “Live with me for a couple of weeks, I’ll pay you…” But I’d say, “No, no…” I’d shut my eyes.
Unless they had poppers, then I could get into it. Oh man, I’d do it if they had poppers, which are used to start your heart, after you’ve had a heart attack; to jump start it. You get this amazing rush, and we used to do them just to get high in a bar, like during the early Basketball Diaries years.
But man, I mean, I don’t know what it was, cause I did it with girls; with women later on, and it just didn’t work. It was as if you had to be indulging in something which to you was perverse, you know? I mean, man, any inhibition was totally gone!
Most gay guys who used it for sex, they’d take the thing out of one of those, like, Vick’s Nasal Sprays, because once you’d pop it, it’d kind of attenuates, or dissipates in about ten minutes. I mean a fresh popper– you break it like a nitroglycerine thing, and then you sniff it, you pass it around– and you just get wild!
I actually did it with Ruth Kligman one night; she was like my older-woman-lover, and I loved the fact that she had been with Willem de Kooning, and was living in Franz Kline’s loft; she was great, you know? We did poppers one night, and man, I got really freaky, and I don’t wanna get into how freaky I got, man!
That’s the problem– when it wears off, man, if it’s someone you know– you really have some explaining to do, ha, ha, ha!
I was at the Chelsea Hotel, and I’d actually seen Patti Smith around, I could see her checking me out at Max’s, or at the St. Mark’s church at readings at the Poetry Project. I mean, by that time, I was pretty established, and I remember I was walking along to my room at the Chelsea Hotel and Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe were out in front of their loft on 23rd Street, having this big fight. I don’t know what it was about man, but he was pissed, and she was pissed, and then she stopped the fight and came over and said, “Hey, hi, you’re Jim Carroll right?”
She said, “I’m Patti, hi.” And she said, “How about if I come over and see you tomorrow, I have a book I wanna give you?”
I said, “Sure.” I said, “I’m in…”
She said, “I know what room you’re in….”
She came over the next day and that was when we really met, and she did have a book.
I think it was some book about Indians, or something about some Native American tribe, you know? So we made it that day; yeah, it was great. I mean, Patti was terrific, you know?
I didn’t know what the story was between Patti and Robert; what was scary then– was she was really pursuing to have me move into the loft with her and Robert. Patti also knew that I was going out with this fashion model girlfriend, Devra, who I really had the hots for.
Devra was like the archetype 1960’s model in the Jean Shrimpton sense, not the Twiggy sense, and Patti was saying, “Man, you know you’re blowing it man, you should get ridda her, you’re only going out with her cause she looks good on your arm, but I’m really the girl for you!”
In Patricia Morrisroe’s Mapplethorpe book it, she makes it out like Patti wore me down to move into the place, I mean, yeah, I guess she did, but I didn’t stop seeing the fashion model.
I was the first guy Patti took up with, not as the first guy she had a scene with, but as someone who actually moved into the loft, but Robert Mapplethorpe didn’t feel threatened by me at all. In fact, Robert and I got on really well. I mean, he’d ask me a lot of questions about different things. I mean, it’s so weird doing this interview, cause I’m just now reading the Patricia Morrisroe Mapplethorpe: A Biography, and I’m just reading about the same things.
Robert Mapplethorpe wanted to know how to make these class transitions, because he wanted to meet rich people, and he knew that I was this street kid who had gone to this very prestigious private school on a scholarship, so he knew that I knew a lot of rich people.
It wasn’t like he was soliciting me to meet them, but he wanted to know how to be more sophisticated, but basically, it wasn’t something I could teach him. I told him he should read a lot more books– Robert didn’t read at all! And those works that he had then were so Baroque; they were like motorcycles on a bed of velvet. It was like something out of Great Expectations— Miss Haversham’s wedding cake, or something, you know?
I don’t remember Robert taking any photographs while I was staying in there, but he used to talk to me about how I knew I wasn’t gay, since I was still hustling guys, and I’d say, “Yeah, but I always ask them for the money first, Robert. That’s how I know. And I can’t see them again afterwards. I guess I feel some kind of guilt or something; it leaves me feeling kind of empty, and kind of bad…”
Robert was still trying to convince himself that he was at least bi-sexual, but at that point, he pretty much knew that he was gay, and there was no turning back.
Patti didn’t speak about Robert as a boyfriend. She made it sound like they were like brother and sister, you know? I’ve read now that they had performed this kind of ersap’s wedding and stuff, but she never told me about that. Basically, I only saw the sweet side of Patti; she was very, very faithful and very loving– it’s just that I didn’t get rid of that fashion model, and then Sam Sheppard came along, and it was like, “Okay, hasta la vista!”
Patti and my relationship didn’t last all that long, but according to Robert, from reading it in the Morrisroe book, he liked me; it was Sam Sheppard he had a big problem with. I don’t think Patti was together with Sam for that long, she was with him for about a month or two before I even knew about it. I really admired Sam. I mean, Sam, by the time he was twenty, was like a big star; he had much more success in an outward way– he had the drama thing, and I was just the young poet man, plus he was in the Holy Modal Rounders.
Nobody really knew about that; it was just this great gravy when I found out about Sam playing in the Holy Modal Rounders, who I knew from the Fugs.
Sam was quite a figure and very intense, and I felt really great that that Patti and him had written this play together. I thought, “Boy that’s a real achievement!” I thought it was great Patti collaborated with Sam; like, “She’s still weaving those spells, man,” even though I never saw “Cowboy Mouth.”
I remember being up at Sandy Daly’s room at the Chelsea Hotel, like a year after Patti and I had split up; I kinda put my hand around her waist, and I said to her, “You know, we should get together again, Patti….”
She must have been really hot for Sam, because she looked at Sandy and started laughing. Obviously, all this girl talk had been done, and it was like, “Man, are you kidding? A year ago, if you had said that to me I woulda jumped out the window, baby, but it can’t be now, sorry Jim.”
Basically, she said, “I told you; you were gonna blow it if you didn’t stay with me,” and I did feel that maybe it was a big mistake, you know? But I’m not sure if I coulda handled all those vacillations that Patti went through.
In the Patricia Morrisroe book, it says that Patti would pick my mind about poetry constantly, but when she got some recognition of her own– she dumped me, ha, ha, ha!
I mean it didn’t happen that way, we just kinda drifted– and I wouldn’t give up the
I did talk to Patti a lot about poetry, but Patti’s poems are very different than mine. I mean she had this whole Dionysian thing; you know? Whereas I was pretty Apollonian, I guess. That’s why Patti was so successful with rock & roll, she could counterpoint it with this sweet self and let go with this weird, angry, magic, self– but, to me, writing lyrics, and writing poems are completely different. You wanna achieve the same goal, in a sense, with a vision and the aesthetic behind it, but for Patti, that’s not the case at all. She took a lot of those early poems and translated them into stuff like, “Pissing in the River.” She just put in a rhyme scheme once in a while to tie things together, and with those short lines it worked really well.
Form wise, Patti wasn’t that disciplined, and to me, that was really important. I had this thing where there was no way I was gonna change. I mean, Patti was taking in everything I was saying about form, and a longer line and all that technical stuff, but Patti was doing her hallucinatory stuff, like “Piss Factory,” and she never took any drugs, and that was amazing to me.
I always thought Patti was a total speed freak and shit; I expected her to be that, but she’d rip off money from Scribner’s book store where she was working, and give me money to get junk, because it was one of my worst drug periods. Patti was vicariously nodding with me. She’d watch me sleep man, cause I’d wake up and she’d be looking right at me, you know? Somebody else told me that she liked to watch guys sleep, she was so in her own way.
Patti was totally old fashioned and very willing to do anything. She’d bring me over my breakfast when I was still at the Chelsea, before I moved in to the loft, she’d bring me my coffees and chocolate donuts and a pint of chocolate Italian ice every morning at the Chelsea Hotel.
I was also, before I moved into the loft, I was staying at this place that Bridgette Polk got me, because it was that summer with Bridgette too, so I was kinda drug-wise going every which way– junk or speed– which was good sexually. I mean, I didn’t have any problems.
I remember that summer– Bridgette would make all these cassettes like Andy Warhol did, [she’d record] her telephone calls. I’d get high on speed and talk to my mother, who was an all-night secretary at this Catholic hospital, like a switchboard operator, and they didn’t have an emergency room, so it wasn’t busy at night, and I’d be whacked, and Bridgette would encourage me to get my mother to tell me stories about when my father worked for Dutch Schultz and shit, you know?
I mean, nowadays if I do any drugs, man forget it, I can’t function man, but I was young, nothing was stopping me and speed made me really horny and very hetero.
I mean, in those days, I could keep it up.
I remember Patti taking me to this publicity thing for music industry people. I think it’s when Patti was writing rock criticism, and she’d always find a way to get into some place if she wanted to be there. I forget the name of this club, it was kind of uptown, it wasn’t Ungano’s, it wasn’t Ondine’s, and it wasn’t Tracks.
I don’t know what it was for– like a press performance for the Stooges, and I was never into the Stooges that much. I was into Iggy’s solo albums later, like “The Idiot.” I thought that was great, I love his voice and everything.
But we went to this thing, and it was the first time I’d seen the Stooges. I hadn’t even listened to their records cause I wasn’t into rock & roll that much, except for the Velvets and the Fugs. I was mainly into folk music and Dylan, and stuff like Phil Oaks.
So Iggy started to do his thing; he took his shirt off and came out in the crowd, and he was coming like right at us, and Patti goes, “I think he’s gonna come to us.”
He was pushing people and stuff, and I said, “If he pushes me, I’m gonna fucking clock him,” because I thought, “What is this bullshit, performance art? Hey, no way man!” Ha, ha, ha!
Patti was into it, yeah. Patti was really into anything like that man; raw energy just lit her up in any form. Patti had to have some magic around her all the time.
I mean, I always found her to be very Christian, you know? People talk about, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” and stuff, but to me she was always very, very Christian.
I don’t know, maybe she knew I was this Catholic kid and never really lost it. I love the rituals of Catholicism. I hate the fucking politics, and the Pope and the Curriers and shit, but I mean the rituals of it are magic. I mean the mass is a magic ritual for God’s sake, it’s a trans-substantiation! I mean, the stations of the cross, the crown of thorns, getting whipped, I mean its punk rock, you know?
Tom Snyder, [the talk show host show,] said to me on his show, “Some people, not me, but some people might thing that’s a blasphemous statement.”
I said, “Not so Tom,” ha, ha, ha, “because I’m coming from a very reverential point…”
Tom said, “It is?”
Boy did I get letters after that!
I mean, it wasn’t like we’d go to church or anything like that. Patti would be reading stuff from the Bible, and with Catholic school, it’s not like Protestant religions, you hardly ever read the Bible. With Catholicism, we’re beyond the Bible, we’ve been around a long time, and we don’t have to read that stuff anymore! Like, “We’ll interpret it ourselves, just listen to what this top guy says and do it!” So I didn’t know the Bible that well, I did know the New Testament much better than the Old Testament.
But I mean, Patti at that Stooges thing– she was totally elevated, you know? I don’t know if she thought rock & roll was gonna be the form, but Patti knew she was gonna be a star in one way or another, and I certainly knew that too. The minute I saw her do the rock & roll thing; I could see this is it man! Her poems fit perfectly, and she evokes such rock & roll type archetypes, like Joan of Arc and stuff in her poems. I’ve been rereading some of her poems when that book from Norton came out, and I mean, those are early poems– there’s some really great lines in there!
The first time that Patti read at the St. Marks Poetry Project was with Gerard Malanga, and nobody really knew who Patti was. Gerry suggested that she read, and they say that Patti played with Lenny that night. But the way I recall it, I was there and Patti just read that time, and she didn’t read again for about a year and a half, or two years. She couldn’t get another reading.
Patti was complaining to me that they were just jealous; she said, “Everybody liked me that night,” and I think that was true. I don’t know if it was Ann Waldman, yeah, it was Ann, so when I had a reading coming up, I said to Ann, “I wanna do it with Patti.”
And that night I got busted and I couldn’t make the reading.
I was in Rye, New York, at this old friend of mine’s house and that morning like the fucking sheriff of Rye, or the sheriff of Nottingham, decides he’s gonna like pull a bust on this guy Willie from the Basketball Diaries, or Robin, I forget what I called him? Willie, my friend Willie. His real name was Robert, but he had moved up to Rye, New York, when his father died, and his mother got the insurance money. Willie lived on the poor side of Rye, closer to Harrison, New York.
So I’d go up there for the weekends, and Willie had really long hair, he was a real head, and they didn’t dig that up in Rye, and these guys raided his house at dawn while I was sleeping up there. I just happened to be there, and the only thing they found were hash pipes with residue on them, but they brought us in for that.
We had to jail, and I remember ordering this really great meal, it was one of the best meals I ever had from this Italian restaurant. It wasn’t that bad actually; for jail it was kinda nice.
Then they took us down to White Plains, the county seat, to book us, but the judge said, “This is ridiculous!”
And he threw it out, but by then, it was about midnight. Fortunately, we didn’t have to spend the night in jail, but the thing was, I was not there for the reading, and that’s the night that Patti played with Lenny Kaye for the first time. I know that for sure.
But nobody knew where I was, and Patti gets up to read and she says, “Well we all know that Jim has his problems…”
She kinda prefaced it with that, cause Ann Waldman and everybody was really pissed, like, “We can’t rely on Jim Carroll, he’s just unreliable!”
And Patti said, “You love the fact that Jim’s like this very unresponsible guy, and he’s like a rebel, and you love that! But when it gets in your face and bothers you, then you don’t like it so much, do you? Well, I say, here’s to Jim Carroll!”
But the thing was; it also gave Patti the whole show! So she could dig that cause she felt kinda slighted that she had to open up for Gerard Malanga. Among the Warhol people, Gerry Malanga was the only poet there– he was the only poet from the Warhol scene that I know of.
When I first met him, I thought, “Oh man, this guy’s Gerry Malanga!”
By then I was about 17 or 18 years old, but I knew all the poets. I’d published in all the magazines and I was like the young guy, but Gerry was this is the Warhol guy that was interesting to me. It was just before the summer when I started working at the Factory, and Gerry wrote so much poetry that it was hard to really tell– it was always good, but Gerry was so prolific that his poetry just becomes one long poem after a while. But I always liked Gerry’s poetry, and I like Gerry very much, and his whole style.
It said in the Patricia Morrisroe Mapplethorpe biography that Patti won the crowd over totally, and I think that was the first time she played with Lenny Kaye and I was good enough to get busted and give her twice as much time that she woulda had, ha, ha, ha!
I remember Nick Tosches’ writing about Patti’s first time with Lenny, or the beginnings of the Patti Smith band, years later, and Tosches saying, “The poet who was supposed to read with her that night was just frightened at the idea of reading with Patti, she was such a powerful reader, and he chickened out…”
I said, “What is this crap? Come on man, I was busted! I don’t chicken out!”
I abruptly left New York after [my book of poems,] Living at the Movies came out, I
figured, well, I have this big press book out, and I’ll go to Bolinas, California and be in my recluse period now. I thought there’d be a big poetry scene there, but when I got there, I realized everybody built huge fences, like, Tom Clark, and Bill Berks, and nobody wanted to see anybody. There was a house right under the beach, that Grace Slick and Paul Cantor owned– and even they had a fence outside!
I had my little dog and we just started taking walks and stuff.
I knew Sam Sheppard, not well, but I got to know him more when I moved out to the West Coast, because he was living at San Rafael, or in Mill Valley. I’d see him with his pickup truck in San Rafael because I had to go to the methadone program there once a week.
One day, Sam said, “Jim Carroll, its Sam….”
I’d go, “Hey,” so we’d have breakfast once in a while, and we almost did a thing at the Mabuhay Gardens, the CBGB’S of San Francisco, this Filipino restaurant that they turned into this punk rock club, and they wanted us to do this poetry reading. I think me, Louis McAdams and somebody else from Bolinas, that’s when I decided I’m not gonna do a poetry reading, I’m gonna use this band that I’ve been rehearsing with.
Before I left New York, I was just starting on methadone, and I was all puffy. I gained about 30 pounds; and for the first time in my life, I was pudgy. It was weird. I have a picture from back then, and I’m this weird guy, you know?
Patti never said anything, but she must have thought, “Jim looks awful, ha, ha! He’s fat, man!”
But my hair was real short now, and I was looking good, and the reason I say I was looking good was because Patti was surprised. But I didn’t know shit about the rock & roll scene, and I called up some radio station, KSAN, and asked them, “Where would Patti Smith group be staying?”
And they said, “We can’t tell you that.”
I said, “Come on, I’m really an old friend of hers from New York, I don’t know where to get in touch with her…?”
And the guy said, “Well, I’ll tell you this, the place where they all stay is….”
I didn’t know what the fuck, but it turned out to be the Miyako Hotel which is where Bill Graham put up all his acts if they were playing at his Winterland Theater. So I got the phone number, and I called her. We had been in touch when she broke her neck, she called me a number of times, because she was having morphine for the pain, and she said, “Boy, I see what you liked about it now!”
We’d have nice talks, cause for years I didn’t even have a phone, but I was living with this girl at the time, and she needed a phone for work, so I’d speak with Patti and I knew that she had this horrible accident, and now, she said, “Well come to the Miyako, you shoulda come to the show last night!”
I said, “I did, I was there.”
And she said, “Well, why didn’t you come backstage?”
I said, “I don’t know….”
I went to see Patti at the Boarding House on their first tour when they came out there to play, but I just left a note at the stage door. I just split, because I was intimidated by the whole thing, but I was really happy for her.
This time, I went down the next stop, which was San Diego and I was having fun talking to Lenny Kaye, who was the only guy in the band I really knew. Lenny was always a big fan of The Basketball Diaries, it wasn’t published as a book yet, it was just about to come out on Batam so he was really glad.
People used to say to me at poetry readings, “Boy you have a real rock & roll presence, you oughta do rock & roll!”
I said, “Yeah but I can’t sing for shit,” but then punk came along, that didn’t matter. I had this real craft thing where I was just trying to sing out of my range all the time man, so I just came down a bit, it was very simple. You know, basically speak-singing, but then by the second album and the third, I could sing a little bit more, and now I can actually sing on a song.
Lenny Kaye and I were in a car together and I started to sing Patsy Cline’s, “Crazy,” with her phrasing and I was hitting the notes, and it blew Lenny’s mind!
Lenny said, “Hey wait a minute…”
Steffy, Lenny’s wife, told me, “Lenny came home and said, ‘Jim can sing. He was singing Crazy, he sounded just like Patsy Cline’s version, well not exactly but he was hitting the notes man.’”
The opening act for Patti in San Diego, was this guy Les Dodak, who was like one of Cher’s boyfriends. Les was like this biker-rocker who was a lead guitarist for the Steve Miller Band, and he had a solo album that he was touring with. It was a totally incongruous opening act, because the whole audience were these punk kids with all the heavy punk make up– and Les didn’t fit in.
Les Dodak he had these old-style biker-type roadies, whereas Patti had all these kinda street waif guys. Todd, her brother, was the head of her road crew, and these guys were little people, as opposed to those big bikers. And even though Patti was the headliner, during the sound check, when they were setting up the stuff, they got in some fight about the position of drum risers, and one of them hit Patti’s brother and he had a sore neck, which really disturbed Patti, cause she had just gotten over her neck accident.
So Patti said, “I’m not doing the fucking show with that prick, no way!”
The promoter came running, saying, “Listen it’s your show, he’s out, okay?”
I mean the promoter he knew where his bread was buttered, so Patti said, “Jim can open the show!” And I said, “Uhmmm…” Ha, ha, ha!
Patti said, “Read that piece you read last night, we’ll play behind you.”
I said, “Well I don’t have that, I don’t have it memorized…”
She said, “Well you have anything?”
During that period when we were talking on the phone, Alan Lanier asked me to write some lyrics for the Blue Oyster Cult, so I’d written some of these lyrics and I had them memorized. So I went out there and did a couple of songs with Patti playing, and Ivan Krall and DMV and J.D. Daugherty Doherty. I don’t know if Lenny was playing, I think he was watching from the wings, but at any rate, it was great, and the audience loved it!
I felt this total energy like I never felt at a poetry reading, and so I got my start singing when Patti’s band was out here on the tour for “Easter!”
These guys in Bolinas, who’d always been asking me to play with them, when I had to do this show, this poetry reading at the Mabuhay Gardens, I said, “I’m gonna do this, why don’t you guys back me up?”
The only thing was, they had real long hair because they had their own thing. They were trying to make it, they were a bar band for ten years, they just needed some good new songs cause their lyrics were out to lunch. They’d follow every trend, but they were great players, so they put on berets with their hair tucked down, underneath.
So that was our first show, and the guy who ran the Mabuhay Gardens, Dirk Dirksen liked it so much, that two weeks later, we did a special early show, opening for Nico.
The only time I ever met Nico was up at Andy Warhol’s Factory, it must’ve been like my early poetry years, like ‘68 or’ 69, possibly as early as 67. Somebody asked her if she wanted to do a poetry reading, because she was saying she was writing poems, and they asked her if she wanted to do a reading at the St Marks Poetry Project, and so Nico asked me, “You are the young poet, eh? I have my poems they want me to read at St Marks, have you read there?”
I said, “Yeah, yeah, I did,” doing my Howard Duff impersonations, ha, ha, ha!
I was totally overwhelmed man, this Teutonic beauty! She was asking me about what kind of poetry I wrote, and she was reading like the rough– she had a type of poetry that she memorized– and it was terrible, ha, ha, ha!
I mean, in its own way it was kind of interesting, but there was no passion behind the writing for her, I don’t think. I mean, it was a way to express certain thoughts, but she did it in kind of a dinky way…
Then I saw Nico years later at the Mabuhay Gardens, and that’s where we first started playing. One night they had an early show, when Nico was living in England, during Nico: The End period, that book that English writer James Young wrote; when Nico was really on junk.
Nico was going onstage at the Mabuhay Gardens, just accompanying herself on that whattcha-ma-call-it? That big harmonium, you know, a big stand-up harmonium, and she played it pretty well. And I was saying to myself, “Jesus, if she has the co-ordination to sing and play that thing, just simple chords, why can’t I, you know?”
I thought, “I could bag a band and just do this, cause Nico sounds great!” Ha, ha, ha! I really liked it! I mean the crowd was sitting on the floor; they were really quiet.
But I would never sit on the floor in that dive!
And it was like an early show, and I remember the Go-Go’s were playing later on, and I was trying to hit on one of the girls in the band, and I had this really good coke, you know?
So, I’m like hitting on her, and they hadn’t done that much coke then, this is before anybody knew of the Go-Go’s; this was like their first trip to San Francisco, and I mean, hardly anybody knew of them even in Los Angles. So I had a lot of coke and it was really good, but I never liked coke growing up, but this was like a different drug, it was so pure! Not speedy, just kind of ecstatic, so I’m dolling out some lines in Dirk Dirksen’s office at the Mabuhay Gardens; he let me use his office.
And then the Go-Go’s are doing some shit, and I knew they were gonna be really good, so I said, “You guys are gonna get a record deal, no problem!”
But they said, “No, we don’t wanna do that yet, we think we should get better for a year or so,” which they were smart to do, and then all of a sudden Nico comes in, and she sees the coke and says, “Is that cocaine?” Then she says, “Oh you are Shim Carroll?” Ha, ha, ha! I’m doing a French accent, but she didn’t have a French accent, but she said, “Hey I know you, you were in New York, I read about you.”
She didn’t remember meeting me ever, but she said, “You are so skinny now, I am so fat!” She was really large and she looked pretty bad, and it reminded me of Anita Pallenberg kind of, when Anita got fat, you know?
So Nico did the show, and it was really good, but apparently she wanted to book another show. I spoke to her a bit, and I said, “Well you sounded great; you were really good, and have some coke,” and she was really thankful. She said, “Oh this is very good coke!”
I said, “Thanks, coming from you that’s a real compliment!” Ha, ha, ha!
I’m getting into this whole drug thing, and I was pretty much drug-free at that point, but, you know, a little here, a little there, ha, ha, ha! I had an unhealthy proportion of drug addicts who were big fans, you know?
But apparently, Nico lost all the money. I mean, she didn’t just lose it blowing it on drugs, she lost what Dirksen paid her for that night’s show, legitimately. It was like a 50% cut of the door, so Nico wanted to do another show on the way back, and Dirksen said, “Okay, that show sold out, we’ll do another one.”
But then she was too fucked up to make it or something, but when she did the first show, she was right on. It wasn’t like she was out to lunch, she sounded really nice.
By our second show at the Mabuhay Gardens, we were headlining, and then I went back to New York and played the tape for Earl McGrath. We’d done a eight track demo in this studio in Bolinas, but I don’t think any of the songs that we did on that, were on my first album, “Catholic Boy.”
So I played it for Earl McGrath, and I thought I’d give it to Patti to bring to Arista
Records, and to Allen Lanier to bring to Columbia Record, but I didn’t think it had any chance. I had to come to New York for the first time since I left, because Bantam Books was buying The Basketball Diaries, and I played my tape for Earl McGrath, cause he was the only guy I knew.
Earl was around the poetry scene, but now he suddenly the president of the Rolling
Stones’ label, you know? I thought, well at least I can vector an opinion from the music world– from Earl McGrath, but I never thought he’d take it. The Rolling Stones only had Peter Tosh on their label, and Earl was just listening on his couch in his office to my tape, and I thought, “Oh God, he hates it!” Because he didn’t say anything for two minutes afterwards, but then he shot up, and I realized, “Hey wait a minute, they didn’t clap for twenty minutes after the Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln thought it sucked too,” ha, ha, ha!
Earl said, “This is very different.”
And it was actually, even different than our first album, it was a little more drone-y and I wasn’t singing as much. I was talking more, and Earl said, “Keith Richards is looking for an album to do, and I think he’d be interested….”
I didn’t buy it, it was just too amazing to me, cause I knew the guys in the band would freak out, because they were totally Stones-oriented!
I was staying at Clarice Rivers place, [she was Larry Rivers, the painter’s ex-wife], and that evening we get this phone call, and Clarice says, “Jim, it’s Earl.”
So I talk to him. I say, “Hey what’s going on,” and he says, “Here someone wants to talk to you,” and it was Keith Richards, and Keith said, “Listen man, we’re gonna do this album, man, I don’t care if Mick gives me a hard time, I’m gonna assert myself, man!” Ha, ha, ha!
Actually, when I met Mick, he was very sweet.
So it was good being on the Stones’ label, cause we got all this press from Keith playing with us before the record came out. The first ten thousand copies pressed [of the record] had this this tongue logo on it, you know, the Rolling Stones’ logo.
But Earl left as president of the label and became our manager, and took us straight to Atlantic Record. Earl thought, “They were distributed the Stones records, and there’s no sense having this middle-man=thing.”
We had gotten all this press from being on the Stone’s label, but then when the record came out, we had the whole Atlantic juggernaut– which was not a great juggernaut for new wave bands in those days, That’s when they had all these bands like Bad Company and Phil Collins and all these solo albums by these dinosaur English bands.
We were the only band– I don’t think we were a punk band, these guys I was playing with were a little bit too good. These guys were playing for a long time and they were really sharp guitar players, but they got into punk– like the rhythms on, “People Who Die,” you know?
When I saw Andy Warhol again, it was at Earl McGrath’s, my manager’s house, right across from Carnegie Hall at this party, and Andy said, “God I hear that song of yours, ‘People Who Died,’ all the time on the radio, that’s great!”
Andy said, “When we heard it, I remembered The Basketball Diaries book, but everybody else said that you were a different Jim Carroll, and that you had died.”
Everyone thought that I died a long time ago and that this guy with the band was a different Jim Carroll, but Andy maintained that he was sticking up for me because he remembered The Basketball Diaries, and he said, “Well isn’t it the same guy that wrote The Basketball Diaries?”
And they said, “Yes.”
And Andy said, “Well that’s who we used to know…”
I realized that if anybody understood like the dream-like quality of my life; how weird it was to me that all of a sudden, I went from being like this hermetic guy, thinking about poetry, and just living in the country– and all of a sudden, The Basketball Diaries is getting all this press, and my record is getting all this fucking air play, and I’m with the Rolling Stones all the time and shit! I could never imagine in a thousand years think I’d make a rock & roll record!
I just thought that Andy Warhol could understand that, so I said, “It’s really fucking funny, isn’t it? I mean the fame thing is very, very strange…”
And Andy said, “You said a mouthful, it is, isn’t it? Tell me about it.”
But I realized Andy didn’t really understand how I felt; Warhol just took it all for granted.
From an interview ©1995 by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain