Jim Carroll Workshop – 1

                           [Jim Carroll – album cover – Catholic Boy (1980) – cover photo by Annie Liebovitz]

Beginning today, serialization of transcription of Jim Carroll’s June 30, 1986 Naropa Poetics and Music class.  [see here for Jim Carroll reading]

Larry Fagin: Ladies and gents, welcome to the second week of Naropa
[July, 1986] poetry summer camp. I’m pleased tonight to have.. and honored and
thrilled to have, Jim Carroll with us, who first came to light at aged fifteen, with
a book called, (an) amazing book called, Organic Trains, began to appear on the St Marks Poetry Project scene, 1967? (19)66-67, I guess, and, then, authored a book of memoirs, called
The Basketball Diaries (which has since, I believe, been made into a major
motion picture)

Jim Carroll: Not yet, Larry.
Larry Fagin: Not yet, but soon – and (he’s) also the author of two other volumes
of poetry, Living At The Movies, and, recently, The Book Of  Nods, and,
subsequently, in the field of popular music, has three long-playing records
available now – Catholic Boy is the first one, Dry Dreams, and I Write Your Name – Jim Carroll
Jim Carroll: Well, I’m totally unprepared really. I mean, my feeling
about this teaching stuff, I don’t
know. I suppose the main thing, what most people here, taking this want, is, you
know, to get their own… [Carroll suddenly breaks off,  to address technician/student poised over the record-player – “Oh wait
a minute, don’t play that yet! ..”I’m sorry” (too (soon with the) music”He then continues..] 

But.. I guess.. most people..  You see, when I told them
I’d do this this year, I…you know, like, the idea was.. I said, “Okay, I’ll do it” – and then I didn’t really know what the class description was going to be.  So I got the catalog and found out.  And
then.. So it had to do
with the writing (of) song lyrics and stuff. So, a number of the things that I’ve gotten already have a lot
to do with…(are) just poems too. So, either way is fine, you know. I can speak
about, you know, the difference between the two. I mean, it’s really only a
technical difference, which is an important thing, but.. I mean. I don’t think
it should be any different – if you want to be poor (if you want to be rich
with music, then, write shit!). 

But, at any rate, so, what I’m going to do, like, next time, the people in the class can read their pieces maybe, and.. if anyone
wants to bring (in) an instrument, by the way, you should do that. You should
play along with these songs if you have music for them. Otherwise, if you
don’t have music for them, I’m going to bring in a drum-machine.  So.
. It’s much easier to do it that way, you just kind of rap it or sing it. And
its easy. That way we can just try the thing at different tempos and see which
way it works best, you know, in a certain song. Sometimes if you write, like, a
real hard-core song it might be better at a slower tempo, you know –  and
vice-versa, And if you write a ballad, you pretty much know it’s a
ballad, but, I mean, beyond that, there’s this kind of fuzzy area where you
don’t know what the tempo should be.

I mean,
basically, if, I think, like, if you really have, like, an intuitive gift for
poetry, then you probably have an intuitive gift for music in the sense of
writing lyrics, in the sense that – I mean, at least it was that way for me, (although, I started
relatively late really, doing songs, you know, where I had enough confidence, finally, (because the punk movement came along, and I realized, you know.. People would tell me sometimes,
years before that, when I was a very young poet, that I should have a rock band
and stuff . But then, when friends of mine, like Patti Smith and stuff, started to do it. And then when people who
couldn’t sing at all started to do it, then I decided to do it, you know.

And I’d
already, by then, been writing lyrics for some other bands. Then I
just decided to write music myself (I could play the guitar well enough to
write songs, the outlines for it, or else, with the guys I had in this band,
and for the first album) and, you know, (I’d) just get on that way.

(But) the
point I’m making is, like, if you
have an intuitive gift for… some lyrical ability inside of you, then, I mean
the way it is for me is (that) when I’m writing a poem, I’m always, like,
hearing it coming from outside somewhere, you know.  It could be this.. You know,
like, you could..throw (it) back (to).. schizophrenia, or the Muse, you know (which is
probably one and the same!). But, I mean, there’s that.. You hear it from that
side coming at you. That’s why.. I mean that whole Charles Olson Projective Verse theory was in a sense, difficult for
me when I first read it, simply because it was, kind of, you know, overwhelming –  and seemed a little bit too difficult to me, when I was fifteen,
first reading (The) New American Poetry anthology by Don Allen, where I found all the poets that I really liked and
didn’t like at that time, you know (some of which I liked and found out that I
didn’t like later, some of which I didn’t like and found out I liked a lot

                                                               [Charles Olson (1910-1970)] 

But.. At any rate, like, that whole theory of Projective Verse really had
to do with just, in a simplistic sense, the breath-unit, you know. Every line,
rather than having a formal meter had to do with the breath unit. So when you
heard these lines come from outside, you know, you just, you.. you couldn’t
rely that people were going to hear you, hear you at read, reading everywhere.
If you published them, you were going to have to rely on dictating how people
themselves should read them by their form on the page. So, you’d hear the poem
kind of being whispered in your ear by whatever this thing was, coming from outside,
and, you structured the poem (or at least I did) in that sense. I mean..

..And it
was a very simple technique,  you could slow up a poem by suddenly
having a few short lines or have very long-running lines, you know, like (Walt) Whitman did – and Allen did inHowl”, by, you know, keeping that same rhythm going with the same balanced
long line. And then, you know, you can’t really help but..  But then when.. you hear.. (And when I first heard Ginsberg read “Howl” – which it took
me going to about eight readings of his before he read it – because he was sick
of reading it by the time I first heard him read.) 

                                                                     [Allen Ginsberg]

But I did hear him read “Kaddish”, which is kind of the same
thing, early on, and, you know, it was not too far off from the way I heard him
from, you know, just reading it in my own mind, because he had.. (he) had directed it right there on the page for me. So, I tried to do the
same thing with my poems – and it was just a simple leap then from – if you’re
hearing it in your head, then when you’re writing a lyric, then, you
should be hearing some form of music, you know, at least a certain tempo, or, like, a… enough, you get enough of idea so that you, at least, know what the
phrasing should be.

 I mean, the one strength I had going over to rock n roll
from poetry, I think, was the fact that I understood phrasing, from poetry, better than most singers, to make up for all the technical inadequacies I had
as a singer when I began. I mean, with
each album I got, you know, I think I got, better as a singer,
I knew how to use back-up singers more and more, I knew how to…I  knew how to
get engineers who knew how to run little machines and make your voice sound
better. I found out the uses of the Vocoder.. And so, I really had..you know
that kind of change.

But I always had this certain idea in my head
of the way the music should be, by the way that… That’s why the words came
first, you know. And then I’d work it out on the guitar,  as much as I
could. If I had trouble working (it) out on the guitar, because of my
limitations on that, I’d kind of just sing it to the band the way it should be, and they’d
work it out, you know – and we’d share the writing credit – (which I never really
thought was fair, I ..but…(and) these guys are (just) sitting there..)

                                              [Allen Lanier (1946-2013) co-founder of Blue Oyster Cult

But a band,
of course, is an incredible surprise, in the fact (that) sometimes you have
this music in your head, when you’re writing something. Lately, I’ve been
writing songs for other people, you know, and I’d write a lyric… I wrote this
lyric called Perfect Water”actually – I think I have it here. I’ll read it..
It’s.. I don’t have the tape, I mean, or the album. It’s on the new Blue Oyster Cult album, actually (Club Ninja) – I always liked the Blue Oyster Cult – I mean, this friend
of mine, Allen Lanier, wrote a lot of.. well, a couple of.. the only ballads I
have on my first and third album (what? – “Day and Night”, on the Catholic Boy
album and “Dance The Night Away” on the third album,  I Write Your Name). He was
the keyboard player in The Blue Oyster Cult so that’s how I had this connection
to him. He’s actually not in the band anymore, but they still did this song.
But then, I gave it, you know, to them, and it was completely.. I was hearing a
completely different..you know, from how I want(ed).. I didn’t tell them how I
wanted..how I heard the music, and it came out so different from the way I heard it, it was interesting to find
that out, you know.  So…I’ll read
this.. what the hell.. 

“Perfect Water – The dark wind/ braids the waves/The crazed birds raid the trees/Is that
our destiny?/To join our hands at sea/And slowly sink, and slowly think/This is
perfect water, passing over me./ Do you
know Jacques Cousteau?/Well, he said on the radio
That you
hears bells in random order/Deep beneath the perfect water./ inside
the shivering spiral tide/I shut my eyes like a bride/And ride across the curve
without borders/A life of perfect order/Like some orphan daughter/I wait
beneath the perfect water/ I swim
out and dream the final dream/Inside the pure and warm Gulf Stream/Where two
large blocks of ice/melt into my hands like dice/ And I roll seven on the floor
of the sea/ And I
feel the perfect water washing over me.”

So that song was, like..I mean, I heard it completely different. And then.. I’m doing this album
with Ray Manzarek, and I gave it to him – at the same time – (which was a big mistake, you know – because, he was really pissed,
because he’d come up with new music for it that he really liked, but when the (Blue Oyster) Cult said (that) they wanted to do it, he.. ) – But I thought, you know, “a bird in the
bush is better than one on a potential-album-in-the-future,” and so
on, (especially, when they let you keep the publishing (rights)!), and I figured
that, you know, I’d just..  I said, “there’s plenty of lyrics that we’ll have ready, don’t
worry about it”. But he came up
with a completely different music for it too, you know, which kind of fit in a
But the one thing he did was, he didn’t get.. I knew there had to be… “This is perfect water,
passing over me” –  and  the real line I
liked was –  “Do you know Jacques Cousteau?/Well, he said on the radio” – You know, it had to be, really, like, casual there, and he had it, like, real slow (the rhymes didn’t even hit, you
know). So.. I mean that’s one thing that just didn’t seem right, so that was
another reason I decided to go with the other one (which I never heard until the fuckin’ record came out! ) –
and it’s pretty good.  (I mean, you can’t hear the lyrics for all the guitars,
but, you know.. you can if you try, actually, but..)  
At any rate,
that’s an interesting fact that happens when you write with other people.  It’s
the difference between when the music… that’s another thing – when the music
comes first, rather than.. when the music comes first, not
like.. On the second, on my second album (Dry Dreams) , I decided to give the band, like,
more slack writing music – and they came in with tapes of, like, just blank
cassettes with no music and no melody-line really, just the chord-outlines – and
so – that way it gave me the freedom to write (not only) the lyrics but also write, like, melody-lines for my own vocal limitations, you know. And that was completely

It was easier in a way because you could fill in and you had, like,
the music as a guide, but it wasn’t… I don’t think it’s as true, and
you can’t get the same, like, strength, and purity, from a lyric that way,
simply because, when you’re writing the lyric first, then you’re really hearing
the natural music that comes with it in your own mind – and you can’t beat that.
It’s like the same way that someone who might have a technically-better voice
than Bob Dylan singing one of his songs, you know..  It just doesn’t have the
same quality when Joan Baez sings “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”,  (rather) than Dylan, because, it’s just… you know.. she has (an) achingly pure
soprano, but.. but.. what the hell.. I mean, it’s not Bob Dylan!  He wrote it and
he knows exactly where that little pause.. (which, of course..  in music, the
pauses are as important, or, a lot of times, more important, than, you know, the
actual words themselves – which is true for poetry too, I think) – 
But that’s
just all.. it comes from experience after a while, working with it..

But the main thing.. So that’s the main thing, you
know. If, like, people.. can just, you know, bring in their stuff, and we’ll just.. like, take turns, like, doing that next time. 

But..I’ll also.. I have this tape, I’m writing songs
for Boz Scaggs.. – 
No, I shouldn’t play that, because that’s not fair to him..

                                                            [Boz Scaggs]

Student: Oh come on!

Jim Carroll: No, it’s for his new album, and, you know, he doesn’t want me to play it
for everybody. But it’s an example of… Like, I had to, with him, sing the.. you
know, just gibberish words, the way the phrasing was, and his line, and where he
wants the lyric to be – and then he gave me, another copy of it with just.. without him
singing on it.  
But, see, when someone does that then you
know that the guy’s a singer and he wants it that way, you have to try and fit
each word to the meter. And, you
know, he gave me, like, gibberish for his first verse, like, “Those were hard
times back in Delhi…” – something
like that – (he actually wrote a first verse and wanted me to kind of write the rest of it, you know, and.. and gave me even.. it was like a story, about some guy who
always wanted something more. He wrote me this long letter, you know – Some guy, who, like, from the “Sixties, who went
to the Haight, and then went to India and stuff. And I thought, you know, this is.. you know.. Let me start from the beginning,  it’s kind of a..  (pre-programmed), you know – this is what
you’ve gotta do. 

But, he sells a lot of records, and, like I say, I’m not going
to pass up that opportunity!..

                                                      [Ray Manzarek ( 1939-2013)]

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately eighteen minutes in]

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