Monday, September 14, 2009
HE WAS ME
No, I wasn't a junkie. No, I never played against Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar) in high school and no, I never turned tricks on the streets of Manhattan. But Jim Carroll spoke to me in a way no other artist has.
I have read The Basketball Diaries — in part or in its entirety — every year since 1979.
The Basketball Diaries is high art from down in the gutter. A riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious and insightful examination of an extraordinary teenager and emerging artist.
(Its pointless for me to talk about the film version of The Basketball Diaries. Nothing could have lived up to my expectation, my own inner movie of it.)
It was tempting to want to live the equivalent of his wounded poet/hoop prodigy/streetwise cool existence myself — first in suburban Philly, then Lexington, Va. and finally in New York.
And I was not alone in that pursuit.
Jim Carroll and The Basketball Diaries helped me forge one of the great and lasting friendships of my life — because it wasn't every freshman hoop player at stately Washington and Lee University who recognized the names Anton Neutron, Lefty, Jimmy Mancole and swimming the shit lines, nodding at Headquarters and wanting to be pure.
Or who could go toe-to-toe with you at full volume singing "People Who Died" or any of the other stone-cold classics from Jim Carroll's yowl of an album Catholic Boy.
It was me and it was Cregs.
Cregs would be Mike Cregan — another Philly boy, a 6'3 power forward from Holy Ghost Prep, another tortured, youngest-of-six-fallen-Catholic soul who loved hoops, beer, stimulants, a free Ireland and Jim Carroll.
We found ourselves slugging it out in the alternate universe known as Washington & Lee and then in the land of Carroll himself — the streets of NYC.
Cregs was the first person in my adult life — outside my immediate family — who truly knew what I knew, who was moved by what moved me and who laughed at the same stupid shit I did.
The days of the inseparable Kevin and Cregs are long gone. The wild days replaced by encroaching middle age. For the last fifteen years we've lived thousands of miles apart. But he is still my confidante, my close friend, my third brother. And it was Cregs who I instantly thought of when I heard that Jim Carroll had died.
(Speaking of brothers, Scotty Mac was very eloquent about Jim Carroll here.)
So not only did Jim Carroll's artistry make me want to be more than I was (and continues to challenge me to be more than I am), it helped me locate the one friendship that I needed as I found my way into adulthood.
So here's a big slug of OJ and 5 Italian ices to Jim Carroll — tortured street poet extraordinaire, dead at 60, and to my man Cregans — the only other one who really knew — alive and well at 45.