My Top 1000 Songs #323: People Who Died
I still have vague memories of the first time I heard this, back in high school, early 1980s. Probably late night on WXRT, the Chicago classic rock station that would sometimes get a little edgier after dark; or maybe one of those weekend cable music video shows like USA Network's Night Flight (definitely not on MTV). Whatever the source, I'll never forget my reaction:
How can this guy be singing... this? And how can they be playing it?
I was still firmly in classic rock mode at the time, and while I was busily exploring more radio-friendly new wave era bands like the Clash and the Talking Heads and the Go-Go's, I had yet to hear anything as darkly funny and shocking and morbid yet still somehow full of life.
It's a gleefully transgressive song, urban counter-culture poet Jim Carroll sing-speaking about the deaths of various friends and associates over the years. It's pretty sordid and awful, drug overdoses and stabbings and suicides and sniffing glue and rooftop flights and whatever. Yet through the ugliness, you're still utterly compelled to shout along with the chorus, smiling and pounding your fists, "Those are people who died DIED... they were all my friends, and they DIED!"
Like the rest of the Jim Carroll Band's (surprisingly solid) 1980 LP Catholic Boy, it's set to a driving, primal rock track, a basic Chuck Berry 12-bar blues that's more Iggy Pop than punk, fitting in well with the New York CBGB's ethos but with a catchy sheen. And Carroll's celebratory tone--I salute you, my brother!--elevates it above mere shock-value gimmickry.
It's not a song that necessarily ages well, arguably cringey to hear it today (where it gets continued traction more as a novelty song, like in one of those Suicide Squad movies), but it always takes me back to those teen years, just starting to discover music beyond the staid confines of what was getting played on my Midwestern radio stations, and still able to be shocked and truly delighted to discover what people were getting away with outside my suburban music bubble.Carroll with Lou Reed, 1984:Given new life by the amazing Drive-By Truckers, 2011: