Weekend Listening: Catholic Boy by Jim Carroll
Listen while you read (volume may be loud):
Album: Catholic Boy by Jim Carroll
Released: January 3, 1980 by Atco Records [Which is my birthday.. three years before I was actually born, tho.]
Recommended if you like: new wave with punk sensibilities, Patti Smith, the ’80s, sweet guitar licks, beat poetry, Jack Kerouac
Notable Tracks: “People Who Died”, “Catholic Boy”, “It’s Too Late”, “Crow”, “Three Sisters” (personal fave, along with basically every other song on this album)
When Kerouac met Jim Carroll in the ’60s, he said, “At thirteen years of age, Jim Carroll writes better prose than 89% of the novelists working today.” Keith Richards helped Jim Carroll get a record deal with Atlantic. Annie Leibovitz took the cover photo of Jim with his parents. I don’t know how many people my age are familiar with Jim Carroll these days, but he was a Big Fucking Deal: a poet’s poet, a musician’s musician. A street kid who seemed to be damned good at everything he touched but whose addiction threatened to destroy him.
I have an mild teenage obsession with Leonardo DiCaprio to thank for knowing about Jim Carroll (though I like to think I would have found him anyway–I hope so). In 1995, Leo starred in The Basketball Diaries, a so-so adaptation of Jim Carroll’s diaries of the same name. It was a favorite movie of mine in junior high, though, and not just because Leo is easy on the eyes; I was already starting to get into poetry then, see, and the few lines of Jim’s poetry that made it into the film hit me hard. I bought his poetry anthology, his diaries, and eventually, the album Catholic Boy on vinyl.
What happens when a poet’s poet writes song lyrics? You get a more literary album than most, for sure–there are references to Chandler, Bartol, Patti Smith working in a bookstore. Yet that’s really just a bonus morsel in an album that I can listen to on repeat; Catholic Boy combines punk, new wave, and straight up guitar-lickin’ rock and roll, which sounds like 1980 in a way that will never get tired. It’s one hot song after another; the closest thing to a ballad is “Day And Night”, which has a 60’s teen ballad under-vibe. (It’s also probably the weakest song on the album.) “People Who Died” is Carroll’s raucous take on grief and lives snuffed out before their time, one of the most requested radio plays after “Imagine” when John Lennon died.
When books meet music, the result can be fabulous. I have listened to this album on repeat the past couple of days and I’m not tired of it yet.
Listen to Catholic Boy with me: