The Music of Jim Carroll: A Song Along Her Eyelid
Jim Carroll was many things throughout his life -- writer, poet, activist and musician to name but a few. I first came to know him through his music with the Jim Carroll Band when I saw him in the movie Tuff Turf. In the movie, the band performed "It's Too late" and "People Who Died." Both songs are awesome and from that moment I was hooked on the music of this man who was so frustratingly sparse with his musical releases.
The songs featured in the Tuff Turf film were from Catholic Boy, the band's first album. This album was released in 1980 and included contributions by Blue Oyster Cult's Allen Lanier and well-known saxophonist Bobby Keys. In addition to the songs from the film, there were other classics such as "Three Sisters," "City Drops Into the Night" and "I Want the Angel." Very few poets have made a successful transition to rock star, but for Jim Carroll, it seemed to come naturally.
Though the album was only moderately successful commercially reaching #73 on the Billboard album chart, it was praised by critics and beloved by fans. Over the years it has influenced countless musicians and even seems to have found its way into other art forms. For instance, Jim O'Barr's graphic novel The Crow seems heavily influenced by the record with several lines paraphrased from the album making their way into the book. Notably, a track on the album is called "Crow" and is about an unconventional hero by that name.
The Jim Carroll Band's second album would not be released until two years later when Dry Dreams finally hit the shelves. This was another fine collection of Jim Carroll tunes, but it failed to match even the moderate success of Catholic Boy. Still, there are some amazing songs here such as "Lorraine," "Evangeline" and the anti-war masterpiece that seems to have foretold America's involvement in the Gulf War eight years later, "Barricades." The album seemed a bit more lyrically focused than Catholic Boy, with perhaps more Carroll's inner poet coming out than his inner rock star. Still, the music and lyrics were both beautiful and fans were pleased despite the continued lack of commercial success.
Two years later in 1984, I Write Your Name was released. This third album features some of Carroll's best work including "Voices," "(No More) Luxuries" and the title track. With its abundant backing vocals and focus on upbeat numbers, it was perhaps a bit more commercially viable than Dry Dreams. However, this album still failed to break Jim Carroll into the music mainstream. At this point, Jim turned away from making records to concentrate on his poetry and other artistic endeavors. It would be quite sometime before fans would get another taste of Jim Carroll as a musician.
In 1991, Jim Carroll released Praying Mantis, a spoken word collection of poetry and monologues that included no music. World Without Gravity: The Best of the Jim Carroll Band was released as a greatest hits compilation in 1993 and featured an incredible unreleased live version of "City Drops Into the Night" as well as a previously unreleased studio track called "Plain Division." While this was a treat for fans of the band, it definitely left them wanting more.
Finally, in 1998, their wish was granted and Pools of Mercury was released. While many of the tracks on the record were only spoken word poetry readings with musical accompaniment, there were a few new songs included such as the amazing "Falling Down Laughing" and the haunting "The Beast Within." While this album served as a reminder of Jim Carroll's talent for rock and roll, it would sadly be the last true offering of his music.
An EP was released in 2000 featuring a cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway" and a studio outtake of the previously unreleased "Hairshirt Fracture" along with three live tracks. This marked the end of Jim Carroll's musical catalog and fans were left with a total of less than four albums worth of songs. But oh, what great songs they were!