The Jim Carroll Band
Catholic Boy (Fat Possum)
Right off the bat, hats off to Fat Possum for this gorgeous reissue of an underrated classic. In the streaming era, a heavy piece of pink vinyl is an aesthetic win before the record is played. Of course, when the record is played, and Jim Carroll’s 1980 album Catholic Boy comes bursting out of the speakers, the gift keeps on giving.
People who love this album really love this album. But the nagging feeling remains that not enough people have heard it. If anything, they might have heard the single “People Who Died” — after all, it’s been covered numerous times (most recently by the Hollywood Vampires with Johnny Depp taking the lead) and it’s appeared in a bunch of movies (including Carroll’s autobiographical The Basketball Diaries). And hey, it is one of those perfect punk songs — up there with the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks” and Eddie & the Hotrods’ “Do Anything You Wanna Do” — tunes that build and crush.
But this album is so much more than that one song. On the accompanying press release, Carroll biographer Cassie Carter writes:
“The 1980 release of Catholic Boy, along with the re-publication of his cult- classic book The Basketball Diaries, shot Jim and his band into the international spotlight. Catholic Boy, named the second-most-popular album of 1980 by BAM, is now considered one of the last great punk albums.”
The Basketball Diaries had been released two years earlier in 1978 but was really finding its audience in 1980, as Catholic Boy came out. So here we had a Pulitzer-nominated author fronting a wild punk rock band. It’s delicious, and the results were entrancing.
From the opening “Wicket Gravity,” Carroll’s voice showcases his bard-like tendencies. He’s like a souped-up Dylan, enunciating everything with a sharp, sarcastic wit. There’s no filler here — just nihilistic joy. In “It’s Too Late,” “Nothing is True” and yes, “People Who Died” — sorrow and cynicism are fuel for Carroll yet the album doesn’t feel hopeless.
“The Jim Carroll Band’s success can be attributed to the powerful combination of pure rock ‘n’ roll with Carroll‘s poetic sensibility and ability to write from his own experience, forging a style that articulates the relevance of the individual to the particular, the past to the present,” writes Carter.
That’s exactly why way more people need to own this album.