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Critic's Choice

Jim Carroll's ties to Colorado go beyond a few spoken-word performances at Boulder's Naropa Institute with the late Allen Ginsberg. Thanks to the black trenchcoat worn by Leonardo DiCaprio in a disloyal film adaptation of Carroll's 1978 cult memoir, The Basketball Diaries, Carroll found himself unfairly connected to the rampage at Columbine High School three years ago. On the plus side, all of the controversy helped his novel (penned between the ages of twelve and sixteen) reach a new generation of readers: kids too young to appreciate the terror of the Cuban missile crisis but disenchanted enough by their own times to identify with the book's blunt prose. Carroll's quiet return to the Centennial State on Saturday, July 20 -- when he'll perform two separate readings at the Lion's Lair, at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. -- offers a rare glimpse of human excess in all of its self-annihilating splendor. Descended from three generations of Irish Catholic bartenders, the freckle-faced hoop star grew up thinking that he'd never see his twentieth birthday. Surprise, surprise. Now 51, Carroll not only survived the life of a trick-turning junkie and petty thief (which led to a prison stint on Riker's Island), but he's also got a nifty pair of novels and six volumes of poetry to his credit: 1972's Living at the Movies was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. There was also that brief flirtation with punk rock in the early '80s that produced one of the genre's best songs, "People Who Died." (The tune somehow found its way into the opening moments of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.) But it's poetry that has always turned Carroll's crank: free verse from a symbolist/surrealist literary tradition that often combines angst, betrayal, redemption and the cult of the Virgin Mary. And even though his hoop dreams never quite panned out, ol' Jim could still beat the pants off Patti Smith in a friendly game of H.O.R.S.E.
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John La Briola