I just heard that Jim Carroll died on Friday of a heart attack. Just thinking about him makes me think of New York City — I discovered The Basketball Diaries shortly after I moved there. I sat across from him on the subway once, too shy to say hello but not shy enough to not stare. Another time I saw him perform at Central Park SummerStage, opening for Richard Hell. He sang a few songs, told a bunch of stories and read some poems, including this one that stuck with me called "8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain."
Genius is not a generous thing
In return it charges more interest than any amount of royalties can cover
And it resents fame
With bitter vengeance
Pills and powders only placate it awhile
Then it puts you in a place where the planet's poles reverse
Where the currents of electricity shift
Your body becomes a magnet and pulls to it despair and rotten teeth,
Cheese whiz and guns
Whose triggers are shaped tenderly into a false lust
In timeless illusion
The guitar claws kept tightening, I guess on your heart stem.
The loops of feedback and distortion, threaded right thru
Lucifer's wisdom teeth, and never stopped their reverberating
In your mind
And from the stage
All the faces out front seemed so hungry
With an unbearably wholesome misunderstanding
From where they sat, you seemed so far up there
High and live and diving
And instead you were swamp crawling
Until you tasted the Earth's own blood
And chatted with the Buzzing-eyed insects that heroin breeds
You should have talked more with the monkey
He's always willing to negotiate
I'm still paying him off...
The greater the money and fame
The slower the pendulum of fortune swings
Your will could have sped it up...
But you left that in a plane
Because it wouldn't pass customs and immigration
Here's synchronicity for you:
Your music's tape was inside my walkman
When my best friend from summer camp
Called with the news about you
I listened them...
It was all there!
Your music kept cutting deeper and deeper valleys of sound
Less and less light
Until you hit solid rock
The drill bit broke
And the valley became
A thin crevice, impassable in time,
As time itself stopped.
And the walls became cages of brilliant notes
That's how diamonds are made
And that's WHERE it sometimes all collapses
Down in on you
Then I translated your muttered lyrics
And the phrases were curious:
Like "incognito libido"
And "Chalk Skin Bending"
The words kept getting smaller and smaller
Separated from their music
Each letter spilled out into a cartridge
Which fit only in the barrel of a gun
And you shoved the barrel in as far as possible
Because that's where the pain came from
That's where the demons were digging
The world outside was blank
Its every cause was just a continuation
Of another unsolved effect
Didn't the thought that you would never write another song
Another feverish line or riff
Make you think twice?
That's what I don't understand
Because it's kept me alive, above any wounds
If only you hadn't swallowed yourself into a coma in Roma...
You could have gone to Florence
And looked in to the eyes of Bellini or Rafael's Portraits
Perhaps inside them
You could have found a threshold back to beauty's arms
Where it all began...
No matter that you felt betrayed by her
That is always the cost
As Frank said,
Of a young artist's remorseless passion
Which starts out as a kiss
And follows like a curse
-Jim Carroll, "8 Fragments For Kurt Cobain"
© 1994 Jim Carroll