Jim Carroll — Les Wiseman Remembers — Patti Smith Weighs In
Saturday was a day of melancholy, anger and depression. I left home and walked to the nearest refuge. The refuge was the Oakridge Branch near my home of the Vancouver Public Library. I brought my umbrella. The persistent rain added to my melancholy. It takes just a few days of a Vancouver rain in the fall to make one forget all those days of sunny heat. At my age I am already turning on the heat at home.
My first stop at the library is always their reject book bin. It was fairly empty except for one book that stared at me. It was Jim Carroll’s posthumously published novel The Petting Zoo. When it came out in 2010 after his death on September 11, 2009 it was panned by most critics.
I plan to read it. If you consider that I was charged $0.50 for it (it is obviously pristine and unread) and after you read Patti Smith’s Introduction (A Note to the Reader) you will understand that my purchase was a steal.
From the library I went to Oakridge Mall and sat in one of their comfortable red single chairs and watched people go by. My melancholy became one of alienation as I found myself feeling I was living in a foreign country. One of my plans in a near future is to stay a few weeks in Patagonia to perhaps relieve this enajenamiento.
I walked home protected by my dark blue Vancouver Umbrella Shop umbrella wondering what kind of omen (if any) was finding such an odd book in what really is a mainstream public library going through a demographic change which might explain the massive unloading of such good books. Below is Patti Smith’s intro to Carroll’s novel.
Jacket illustration — Raymond Pettibon
In the monastic seclusion of his room, Jim Carroll, with a prescience of his own mortality, reached out and drew this novel — his last work — from the nucleus of his mysticism and remembered experience.
The Petting Zoo unfolds with a series of fated events. The artist Billy Wofram is so profoundly moved by the paintings of Velázquez that he finds himself irrevocably altered. Stumbling from the Metropolitan Museum of Art into an eddy of avalanching absurdity — a defunct Children’s Zoo, the Aztec façade of the Helmsley Building, the bowels of a dysfunctional mental ward — he diagnoses that he is no longer in sync with his former self.His descent and ascent, so candidly observed, are reminiscent of René Daumal’s A Night of Serious Drinking, as our narrator reels from numbing cocktails to the nakedness of his mischievous soul.
The poet is the aural lamplighter. He projects himself within the labyrinth of Billy’s burgeoning consciousness as he seemingly adjusts to the most outrageous turns of fortune. Jim’s mythic energy is at once laconic and vibrating; his bouts of meandering humor are punctuated by undeniable common wisdom. Whether the discourse is with a Chinese psychologist, a Hindu driver, or an extremely loquacious raven, these Socratic dialogues slide pole to pole, from uncanny clarity or a realm where digression is an art of the first order, the multifarious zone of the nod.
Jim Carroll died at his desk on September 11, 2009, in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, where he was born and raised. His diamond mind never ceased writing, even as he read, scribbling copious notes in the margins of his books, the references of his life, Frank O’Hara, Saint Francis, Bruno Schulz. He was without guile, disdainful of his beauty, red-gold hair, lanky body, abstract, bareheaded, empty headed. Yet he was athletic with singular focus, netting his prey, able to pluck from the air with exquisite dexterity a rainbow-winged insect that quivered in his freckled hand, begetting memory.
The catastrophe of loss, the loss of a true poet, is so pure that it might for many pass unnoticed. But the universe knows, and no doubt Jim Carroll was drawn from his labors and the prison of his own infirmities to the distances of the greater freedom.
Patti Smith, May, 2010
JimCarroll — Les Wiseman
I remember lying in bed listening to some evening CFOX radio show. It was keyed to new music and was cohosted by Jerry Barad who, I believe, worked at Quintessence Records and maybe had some financial interest in it, as well. Barad went on to become COO of LiveNation. His role in 1980, was hepping listeners to new product at the record shop.
He led into a cut by The Jim Carroll Band off its debut album, Catholic Boy. He told about how Carroll was a New York underground writer and poet. Then he played People Who Died.
It was terrifying. It was the bleakest, darkest most macabre song I’d ever heard. It was a litany of people who had died and the various ways they shuffled off this mortal coil.
Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine
I mean, Holy hell, what the heck was this?
G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby OD’d on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Two more friends that died
I was no wilting lily of the valley; Lou Reed’s depression fest, Berlin, was my favorite album, but this Jim Carroll guy was beyond the pale. He wasn’t just down, he was the voice of total devastation and evil. He was celebrating these deaths.
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died
I lay in bed, terrified. I don’t think I slept a wink that night. But, next morning, I know I was at the door of the record store the minute it opened to get my hands on a copy of that dark moist thing.
Postscript 1983: AW-H and I were in Manhattan and Lenny Kaye asked us if we wanted to go the Danceteria and see Jim Carroll read his poetry. Spectral Jim came over and joined our conversation that night. He was pale and as cold as the grave. I bet the guy pissed ice cubes.
If you are wondering what Wiseman’s 30 means here is his explanation.
TheVenerable 30 —Les Wiseman
- 30 –
The 30 means your story is done. It was particularly important when sending material by telegraph and modem. It is still important today and you will lose marks on job tests if you do not use it. It also lets the editor know that the writer intends the story to end there. Many times I’ve had a story that just ends with no rhyme or reason and I’ve had to call the writer and say, “Hey, I don’t think I’ve got the ending to your story. I don’t have the 30 page. What was the last sentence of your story?” They tell me; I see it and then I have to launch into an explanation that their story doesn’t have a kicker. It just ends. Using a 30 shows your editor that they are dealing with a pro. Plus, in the modem days, I dealt with a number of editors who didn’t receive my entire story, yet printed it anyhow, with no discernible kicker. (Yes, Times-Colonist weekend editors I’m talking about you, you frickin’ morons.) I’d say, “Did you see the 30 at the end?” They’d say, “No.” And I would shriek, “Then you should have known you didn’t get all of the story, shouldn’t you, you amateur low-rent subliterate pudknocker!!!”
These days, email is fraught with dangers, though mostly human error and many a document can get greeked or corrupted and editors need to see what they can make of it. In order to do that, they need to know where it ends.
Plus, I like the sound of tapping out — 30 — . It sounds a bit like the opening to Louie Louie. It also means another damned piece is finished. A sweet sound for sure. — Les Wiseman —
And Lenny Kaye contributed this when I sent him this link:
I always miss him, lighting a candle wherever I stand ‘neath a nave and knowing I miss him more than all the others…
So this song is for you, my brother….
People who died Patti Smith talks after this and a known stellar groups sing People who died
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.