Jim Carroll (1949 – Sept. 11, 2009), author of the book/film, The Basketball Diaries, as I knew him—poet, friend: Bolinas, California, 1976-78.
“And no more bad dreams forever.”
Jim, you wrote to me once: “You’ll be thinking of me as this happens . . .” And, I am.
and then: his own tribute to “People Who Died”
Check out Cassie Carter’s fan site.
Someone who’s writing a book about Jim asked me a series of questions about his life in Bolinas (see also Tom Clark’s memorial) so I thought I’d include a version of my responses here:
I first met Jim, briefly, at a garden party in Bolinas in the Spring of 1976 (I was newly arrived in San Francisco from Florida), and then I met him again at a smaller gathering in August or September of that year. There was a sense of fate about our two meetings (photo above of me taken by Jim in ’76). My impression of him was that he was sweet and shyly innocent. We went to the Marin Renaissance Fair a few days later. He was in the process of moving from his rooming house in Bolinas into the small farmhouse at the bottom of Mesa Road, and I was having to leave my flat in San Francisco, so he invited me to move in with him. But first he had to explain to me about his being on methadone, which surprised me (I think he was aware of how deceptively innocent he appeared). As I got to know him, I became convinced he was determined to get through his addiction, albeit slowly, since he had quit heroin cold turkey before (in New York) and then gone right back on it. He didn’t want to fall into that trap again, but he believed the only way to get clean was to remove himself from everything he had known.
Mostly I remember taking long walks on the Mesa with Jim and his dog, Jo’mama. He carried a small notebook so he could jot down images and phrases that came to him wherever he was. Weekly I drove him ‘over the hill’ to San Rafael on my way to work in San Francisco so he could pick up his supply of methadone. Afterward he’d tell stories over breakfast at the Pancake House. Sometimes his stories, like about how much he loved the needle and exactly what it felt like shooting up or about finding someone dead in the park, were said way too loudly and other patrons, there with their families, would ask him to quiet down or leave. He had the uncanny ability to make a tale—about being at a fancy dinner party where he nodded out into a plate of spaghetti—into something both hilarious and shameful, his Catholic guilt conflicting with pride at flaunting the conventions of society and doing something so outrageous. He got a little-boy pleasure out of being shocking and I was a good audience for that.
He’d stay up really late on the nights he picked up his methadone (they’d always give people an extra strong dose at the clinic). He’d watch TV and write down images that came into his mind. He’d smoke cigarettes then, just so they’d burn down to his fingers and wake him up, letting him capture the images from his hypnogogic state. Sometimes he’d deliberately do the same thing in bed, and all the blankets were filled with cigarette holes. The possibility of fire was less important than his desire to write down what emerged from that half-dream state. There was a subtle self-destruct side of him that never fully let up.
I tried to get Jim to go to Smiley’s Bar for dancing or to community events, but he’d rarely do so—except for an occasional poetry reading—so I’d go alone. He preferred his quiet life. Susan Friedland, the editor of his poetry book, Living at the Movies, was a regular visitor, whom Jim always welcomed. One woman, who had known him in New York, lived for a while in a lean-to covered with plastic tarps attached to the back of the farmhouse, until it got too cold. Patty Smith would call every week or two, maintaining one of his few connections with the old life back in New York. Local poets stopped by occasionally but seemed to respect Jim’s desire for privacy; yet everyone knew who he was. I remember his doing some final edits on Basketball Diaries. After a few months I moved into a separate cabin behind the main house to give both Jim and me our individual spaces. (Photo of my cabin under the eucalyptus.)
Jim was a paradox, being both shy and confident, quiet and talkative, cynical and trusting, and always deceptively deep. He was a ‘somebody’ who was temporarily hiding out from the world, and he knew it. He admitted, without any qualms, to having done plenty of stupid, even harmful, things, and yet he was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known, and he’d be mortified to think he had hurt anyone. He hated when people wanted him to comment on their poems because he couldn’t stand the thought of causing them pain or discouraging them.
He and Jo’mama adored each other and were inseparable. At times he seemed so beautiful he’d take my breath away. He was healthy and strong and his face and body well-filled out—a complete contrast to all the other photos I’ve seen of him. His exercise was mostly from walking, throwing sticks for Jo’mama and chopping wood. He had a long, lanky stride but was never in a hurry to get anywhere. Not much bothered him since he could wrap himself up in his own world and leave others to theirs. He was, however, deathly afraid that there would be a big earthquake—mostly because of being cut off suddenly from his methadone. He only got upset with me once, when I bought him a small color TV to replace his tiny black-and-white one (which he said he preferred). It’s like he wanted a totally stripped-down life—to get as clean on the inside as he was on the outside.
Not long after Jim and I moved into the farmhouse, Rosemary and her then-boyfriend moved into another cabin on the property. She had been in a motorcycle accident the year before and was still recovering. One leg was a couple of inches shorter than the other as the result of a life-saving surgery and she limped noticeably—which contrasted with her otherwise ethereal beauty. She said she moved to the Bay Area to do private bodywork sessions with Moshe Feldenkrais who came to California a couple of times a year, and within two years she walked without a limp. She also had to wait for money from the lawsuit over the accident in order to go to law school. They didn’t have a bath or shower in their cabin and had to use ours, so Jim and I got to know Rosemary pretty well. She was really into music and Patti Smith was her idol, which was a link between her and Jim right from the beginning. (This photo of Rosemary was an accidental double exposure taken in the community garden.)
I don’t remember exactly what month it was that Jim and Rosemary got together. I had moved into my own place on the property and was spending a lot of time at the college where I taught in San Francisco. Basketball Diaries was about to be published and Jim needed a photo for the cover. He asked me to take his picture for it. Both Rosemary and I had been in a local photography class and used their darkroom. I took a couple of photos (see the first two on my blog), but, even before I’d developed them I knew they weren’t right. I had been aware of a growing attraction and tension between the two of them, and Jim finally confessed to me how he felt about her. So I suggested Rosemary take some photos, too. I think it was the photo-shoot that was the turning point in their admitting to each other how they felt. And, it was Rosemary’s photo that ended up on the cover of the book (rightly so).
Although all of us were living like poor hippies, there was a sense that this was just a temporary timeout in a magical otherworld, and then each of us would return to the paths we were really meant to take. Legend has it that Bolinas was a Native American healing center but that the energy was so powerful that if you stayed longer than three days you would go crazy. I can affirm, it’s true.
Soon after Rosemary and Jim got together we all went our different ways. I moved back to San Francisco, Rosemary went first to law school in Colorado and Jim followed her there, but then she was accepted at the last minute at Stanford and they got married around that time. I saw them about a year later in Palo Alto at the home of a law school professor from the college where I taught. Jim talked about doing the gig with Patti Smith and the possibility of a recording contract. Rosemary was obviously into being his lawyer/manager. I didn’t keep up with them after that as my own life took a major turn with a new relationship (my partner of 21 years) and living in Mexico for a year where our daughter was born.