We've all read The Basketball Diaries, Jim Carroll's teenage memoir of drugs, crime, and adolescent debauchery in the mid-1960s. Some of you may have seen the movie, too. Forced Entries (double entendre, get it, hyuk hyuk?) is the "sequel", you might say, covering the years 1971 through 1973.
During those years, Carroll was a young downtown literary lion in New York. He worked at Andy Warhol's Factory (the maximum security post-Valerie Solanis version), knew or at least met people like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Bob Dylan, lived with a pre-famous Patti Smith for a while, and so on and so forth. They all turn up here, Smith in disguise. After all, she wasn't famous yet. Smith (and her neck-breaking accident in Florida, years later) also turns up in Carroll's great song "Crow", on his Catholic Boy album, which you should go out and grab a copy of real quick. Marginal Warholians like Brigid Polk drift through these pages too. Spotting them is fun, if you happen to have read Bockris and Malanga's VU book and done all your other fanboy/dweeb homework on the era.
The book is about all of that, but mostly it's about heroin, life on heroin, peddling his ass to get money for heroin, life trying to get off heroin with methadone and then with amphetamine, life after heroin (mostly thinking about heroin), and so on. All that, and he writes poems, too (about heroin and life on heroin), thinks about writing, and thinks about the futility of writing about heroin and the futility of life on heroin. I really get the impression, reading Carroll and Burroughs, that heroin is about boredom. It's about monotony and endless repetition. I'm just guessing, but I really don't think anybody not on heroin could possibly tolerate the idiotic monotony of life on heroin. There may be a lesson in that (a lesson beyond the obvious "don't stick a goddamn needle in your arm, idiot").
What's really worthwhile about the book, beyond all the beautiful losers and needles and famous people, is that Carroll really could write. The episodes are funny, harrowing, touching -- sometimes all at once -- and consistently engrossing. Told in his words, his bizarre and monstrous domesticity with Patti Smith is... adorable. The narcotics are always there but he finds stories worth telling and tells them well.
When he wrote The Basketball Diaries, he was a precocious kid. Here, he's in his early twenties and he thinks of himself as a writer. It's a conscious thing. Only rarely does he get a little too conscious and overdo it. He can do high comedy, low comedy (he's better at low), gritty docudrama, and real honest genuine poetry. It's quite a performance for somebody half awake half the time, and half-dead the rest. This is good stuff.