Like most two-fisted truth-seekers, Jim Carroll is hip-deep in hogwash. His "Dry Dreams" shows a desperate desire to become the ultimate New Bohemian.
Carroll's most obvious illusion is that he can sing, as he showed last year on "Catholic Boy." You don't need much of a voice for rock'n'roll, but a range of, oh, half an octave is helpful. Lacking quite that, Carroll settles for a half-rap monotone, though he gets a point or two for energy.
His band adheres to the ethic that the use of more than two chords is pompously profesh. Modern punksters believe this too, but they've discovered Cassiotones, Prophet V's, David Byrne; this frees them to stay up later working on the lyrics. Carroll's lyrics have always been the whole point anyway, and who wants to put the techno-bug in his ear when the band has those chords down so well?
Carroll has more serious delusions, including the notion that heroin addiction is okay as long as it enhances one's Art.
Not surprisingly, Carroll's most lucidly disturbing images revolve around this mad conceit, as in "Lorraine," whose pitiful heroine shoots up in verse after verse. So far gone is this wretch that she does dope anywhere, including a movie theater: I know she was feeling better She got straight She understand She wanted to die but now she got plans She want to live She want to start her band She swear the stage is God's left hand
Of course, Carroll would want us to look for instructive irony in these lines. But if he's trying to scare us away from dope, how come his protagonists endlessly reminisce about it ("Work, Not Play"), smoke it ("Jealous Twin") and otherwise romanticize it? Having achieved his first habit before the age of 15, he's had a long time to think about the idea that "beauty is only terror when terror is just beginning."
There are other topics covered on "Dry Dreams," most notably the reinstatement of the draft on "Barricades." Coming from a guy who describes his imagination as "sharp," lyrics like "I ain't gonna die for Standard Oil" seem pretty shopworn.
There's romance, too, though of a vaguely mysogynist form: "Evangeline" is a money- grubber who keeps a pearl-handled gun under her satin pillow; "Jody" seems to pass inspection if you overlook her "breasts like bleeding limes"; the lady with whom Carroll chases the dragon is somewhat of a ghoul, and of course there's poor old Lorraine, whose constant blood-trailing suggests more than just the image of a human pincushion.
Depressed yet? Well, take it from Carroll, it's not easy being a child prodigy after 30, and it's even harder to suffer for art when you have to cadge so much of it off everyone from Patti Smith to William Burroughs to John Cale to Jack Kerouac. "We create every lie / In order to survive," raps Carroll in "Still Life."
THE ALBUM -- Jim Carroll, "Dry Dreams," Atco SD 38-145.
THE SHOW -- Monday at 8 at the Bayou.