Puff The Magic Basketball Diaries, By Henry Gibson

Gerald Howard in Slate:

I went to Jim Carroll’s wake and then to his funeral. It’s what one Catholic boy does for another. Conventionally described as a “punk poet” (although there was nothing punk in the least about his Frank O’Hara-influenced/Arthur Rimbaud-inflected verse), Jim died this past Friday of a heart attack in his apartment in upper Manhattan. They found him at his desk, and those of us who loved and admired him like to think that he was putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited novel, The Petting Zoo.

If Jim Carroll’s name means anything to you, it is probably as the author of the electrifying memoir of teenaged misadventures and heroin addiction in ’60s New York, The Basketball Diaries. It was made into a mediocre film in 1995, redeemed by a searing performance by Leonardo DiCaprio that was nevertheless deficient in one conspicuous respect: Leo did not have game, and his lame attempt to imitate the graceful All-City ballplayer that was Jim turned out to be an embarrassment. The musically inclined will remember Jim’s terrific 1980 rock album Catholic Boy, which featured that anthem of early and grisly urban demise, “People Who Died.” Cognoscenti of downtown culture knew Jim as a literary prodigy who was publishing his poems and diaries in the Paris Review in his teens. He was a fully paid-up member of New York’s hip aristocracy, Lou Reed’s peer, Patti Smith’s lover, Allen Ginsberg’s acolyte, Robert Smithson’s friend, permanently welcome in the Valhalla of Max’s Kansas City’s back room. And I had the pleasure of publishing most of his work when I was an editor at Penguin in the ’80s.


Jim Carroll was waked (in a blessedly closed casket) in a funeral home on Bleecker Street before a few dozen family, friends, and fans. The grief and loss was even thicker in the air than usual at these affairs. After the priest led us in prayers, Jim’s ex-wife, Rosemary, invited people to share their thoughts and memories. New York rock legend Lenny Kaye gave a moving mini-eulogy that touched on Jim’s gifts as a raconteur and evoked his sweetness, ending with the famous line from “People Who Died:” “I salute you, brother.” Two members of the original Jim Carroll Band, Terrell Winn and Steve Linsley, reminisced about hooking up with Jim in Bolinas, where he’d retreated to get clean, and crafting the triumph of punk sound and poetic sensibility that was the album Catholic Boy. Richard Hell marveled at the early arrival of Jim’s gifts and expressed his admiration and astonishment. I spoke of just how much fun it was to be Jim’s editor, fun being about as easy to experience in publishing these days as smoking in Mike Bloomberg’s New York, and remembered the best Fourth of July of my life, when I played basketball in the Village all afternoon, showered, got good and ripped, and saw the Jim Carroll Band tear it up at the Ritz in their first New York appearance a few days after Scott Muni had unveiled “People Who Died” on WNEW-FM.

And then Patti Smith got up, her star power dialed down, and told a simple funny story about her first encounter with Jim, who had proceeded to recite for her a long section of Whitman from memory until he … nodded … off … for about half an hour. Patti, “because I was a polite girl,” sat there patiently until Jim awoke, and then he picked up exactly where he’d left off. This perfect vignette perfectly delivered, Patti turned to the casket, laid her hand on it gently, and and said, “Jim, when you get up there, say hello to Allen, and to William, and to Gregory, and to Herbert [as in Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, and Huncke]. And to all our friends.” That’s when we all cried.

James Wolcott:

And one by one, the line is drawn through the names of those who helped make New York what it was back when what happened below 14th Street still mattered and reverberated around the world. This week brought news of the death of the poet, memoirist (The Basketball Diaries), and rocker Jim Carroll, who in his beautiful young manhood had Christopher Walken’s bone structure with a translucency all his own.


Perhaps the biggest shock in the first obituary notice I read was that Carroll was 60 years old when he died. 60 was hard to compute, so fixed was his sleeveless, slender youth in my memory, having seen him vocally blast “People Who Die” on stage at probably the same Ritz concert Howard attended in 1980. With his passing, another link to the Beats and the St. Marks poetry scene and the Warhol Factory joins the posthumous fraternity of the starry Kerouac night

Travis Nichols at Harriet The Blog

Daniel Kreps at Rolling Stone:

Carroll also contributed an untitled poem to the pages of Rolling Stone, which we have reprinted here:

It’s sad this vision required such height.
I’d have preferred to be down with the others, in the stadium.
They know the terror of birds.
I am left, instead, with the deep drone…
The urgency to deliver light, as if it
were some news from the far galaxies.

Sharon at The Back Porch News:

Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary, died today in hospital after battling cancer for several years. Read the full AP story at any of these sites: MSNBC, Yahoo or The New York Times. As someone who sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” along with my friend’s record as a pre-teen, walked out on a high school talent pageant runway to the music of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and cried to the sound of “Day is Done” just a few years ago when a member of my family was overseas in a militarized zone, I feel that a piece of my life is gone. And yet all those wonderful songs will be with us for a long time. Mary will be remembered as part of the music that shaped many of our lives.

David Browne at Rolling Stone:

Starting with their version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” in 1962 and continuing with hits like “Puff the Magic Dragon” (1963) and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969), PPM were the face of folk-pop throughout the decade. Yet the trio used their caressing harmonies to subvert from within. They placed two Bob Dylan covers (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”) in the top 10 in 1963. Paul Stookey’s and Peter Yarrow’s goatees, as well as a repertoire that included songs by Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Cotton, Tom Paxton, and the Rev. Gary Davis, brought the liberal Greenwich Village folk sound and look into the mainstream.

They carried on the folk-political continuum begun decades earlier with the Weavers — most notably in 1963, when PPM sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the Lincoln Memorial during the same March on Washington at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. “This was the first time I’d ever seen that many people, and they were all hoping for social change and for something good,” Travers later recalled. “It was probably the most pivot al moment of my life.”

As Stookey recalls, Travers was a major part of the group’s stance. “As an activist, she was brave, outspoken and inspiring, especially in her defense of the defenseless,” he says. “Once I was attempting to defend Ronald Reagan’s educational policy. She interrupted me with, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, do your homework!,’ turned on her heel and walked away. Need I say it turned out she was right?”

Rick Moran:

As a musical group, Peter, Paul, and Mary were polished, professional, and chose their music with the utmost care. Their manager/producer, the legendary Milt Okun saw to that. With his keen ear and unfailing sense of a commercially viable package, Okun made Peter, Paul, and Mary into a hugely popular act whose success lasted almost a decade. Okun would go on to manage other iconic folk groups like The Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, and John Denver.

It was their rendition of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind that launched their careers. At once beautifully harmonized and featuring a driving rhythm, the song – along with their other huge hits If I had a Hammer and Where have all the Flowers Gone – became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements. It is perhaps telling that Hammer and Flowers were both written and originally sung by Pete Seeger and his 50’s era group The Weavers, who were banned in many jurisdictions for their left wing sympathies.

When you’re a kid, you don’t think much about the politics of a song. You sing it because it’s good music and stirs emotions in your breast. Today, I probably don’t agree with 90% of the politics promoted by Seeger, Travers, Baez, and the rest of the folkies from that time. But you can’t argue with the fact that they were dead right about civil rights, and I still think they were mostly right about the Viet Nam War.

I learned long ago you can love left wing writers, artists, singers, and actors by admiring the talent while ignoring the politics. Barbara Streisand is a putz about politics, but an extraordinary talented singer. Joan Didion writes achingly beautiful prose (as does John Updike), but I wouldn’t give a fig for their political opinions. That’s how I feel about Mary Travers and Peter Paul and Mary.

Bob Sassone at TV Squad:

For some reason I thought that Henry Gibson was a lot older than 73, but the character actor with the huge resume passed away from cancer at that age yesterday in Malibu.

One of the more famous TV credits on that resume was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the influential 60s comedy show that no one under 30 has ever seen. He also appeared in shows like Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, Deep Space Nine, Coach, MacGyver, Evening Shade, Sisters, Newhart, Magnum, P.I., and Simon and Simon.

More recently, TV fans know him from his many appearances as a judge on Boston Legal and his voice work on King of the Hill (he played Bob Jenkins). He was also in several movies, including Magnolia (he played Thurston Howell???), The Nutty Professor, Nashville, The Blues Brothers, Wedding Crashers, and a ton of others.

Scott Weinberg at Cinematical:

Actors like Henry Gibson generally show up 7th or 8th in the opening credits, if they show up there at all, but they excel at two things: Providing flawless support for a lead actor or a big star, and giving movie-watchers a nice comfortable vibe of “Ohhh, this guy! He’s been in a dozen flicks I’ve seen before. No idea who he is, but I’m glad to see him again.”

That was Henry Gibson. The frustrated “Illinois Nazi” from The Blues Brothers. The confused grocer in Innerspace. The goofy preacher from Wedding Crashers. He was in Nashville, The Long Goodbye, The Nutty Professor, Magnolia, and The ‘Burbs. He worked on the screen, on the stage, and in more TV shows than you’ve probably ever seen. Hell, he was even the voice of Wilbur in the animated version of Charlotte’s Web.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes at Moderate Voice:

One of Gibson’s personas on Laugh-in was ‘Henry Gibson the poet of bad poetry…’ Gibson toddled out on stage, a little Lord Fauntleroy double, dressed to seem like a man in ‘lost child’ clothing– a Nehru-ish narrow-lapeled jacket, a string of beads, and holding a gigantic flower almost bigger than his whole body.

For Gibson, dead pan and timing were the pith of his gift. And he used it well. His pacing and delivery –flat but funny– were very similar to Jack Benny’s,’ another popular comedian of that time.

But Gibson was also a subversive. Not all was played just for laughs. In the latter ‘bad poetry’ below called “Flowers,” he slams the ‘pretend peaceniks’ who had been infiltrating peaceful groups, those who are made ‘of wires’…

In the late 1960s time, a corruption of innocent flower children holding forth peace had taken place… some other groups looking about as rag-tag as the original so-called gentle peaceniks, had taken over ‘the scene.’ The ‘fake group’ were the ubër-hippies, the falsified, the lookatme-lookatme imimportant, iam, iam because i say so, people who grabbed headlines with outrage after outrage that was not based on peace. Nor on love of humanity.

These last had bombing, killing of law officers, and destroying instead of building, in mind. Henry Gibson was like a tiny David standing in the black shadow of a sudden cultural Goliath.

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