Jim Carroll, poet, (now ex-)junkie, and underground non-media personality, wrote The Basketball Diaries between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, in the years 1963 through 1965. The Diaries were first published in 1978, by which time Carroll had gotten himself a reputation as a poet and as a narrow-gauge rock star fronting the Jim Carroll Band (of "People Who Died" fame). Since that time, Carroll has become one of those "underground" literary phenomena that all the misfit high school kids are into, like William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

Carroll grew up mostly in Manhattan. His father was a bartender and little Jim played basketball. Boy, did he ever play basketball. He was one of the rising young stars of New York City -- where much basketball is played, we're told -- and a few now-familiar names pop up in these pages.

Aside from basketball, the other two great forces acting on Jim's young life seem to be drugs and sexual deviance. There are preverts in the neighborhood, one recurring character is an infamously homosexual basketball scout, and there's a murky episode with one of the priests at school. As the drugs take over, Jim winds up turning to crime to support his habit. Violent crime is scary and dangerous. He often prefers to market himself to gay older men at the "meat rack" at 53rd and 3rd.

Carroll starts out sniffing cleaning fluid, moves on to marijuana and pills, and then into intravenous narcotics. He drifts out of school, out of his parents' house, and into full-time addiction and street life. He spends time in jail. It seems like he'll tell us about absolutely anything, but he speaks of the jail experience only briefly and obliquely.

It's entertaining, often to the point of hilarity, but it's all very grim stuff when you stop and think about it. The "sequel", Forced Entries, at least has a happy ending of sorts: Carroll cleans up. The future's not too bright but at least he's in control. At the end of the Diaries, he is sick as a dog, nearly homeless, and hopelessly addicted. At age fifteen.

In 1995, The Basketball Diaries was made into what they call a "Major Motion Picture" starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg and Juliette Lewis. Mr. Carroll himself appeared in a cameo. I haven't seen the movie.

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