On the telephone from New York City, Jim Carroll’s voice sounds like a nervous instrument, its quivering resonance so child-like, there’s a frail depravity to it.

Not that there’s really anything deceptive or sinister about Caroll, who appears at Lee’s Palace on Saturday, June 2.; his infamous Basketball Diaries (1963-1966), and its successor Forced Entries (1971-1973), are intense visceral accounts of his experiences as an aspiring ball player-junkie at twelve to fifteen years, then later as a poet amongst the Warhol set. Low key and autobiographical, they precede the high life excesses of Jay MacInerney and Bret Eston Ellis, while sparing us the manipulation of the confessional. Which is surprising when you consider Carroll’s penchant for a creeping Catholicism that finds itself on his back almost as often as the proverbial monkey.

So he was a little insulted when he learned that Gus Van Sant though of him for the role of the young junkie who shoots recovering addict Matt Dillon in Drugstore Cowboy. Instead Dillon came to him for a little coaching.

“He called me up,” says Carroll a little bemused. “He wanted to talk about language so he sent up the script. At first I felt like ‘what is this shit? some drug thing, and he things of me.’

“Basically, what he was doing was checking out the street drug thing with some guy he grew up with, who is on drugs now. Matt was driving around watching the guy score. I told him he should avoid the whole fucking scene, it was only going to get him in trouble.”

Carroll, however, kept his involvement to a minimum, only suggesting a few changes in the script like replacing the slang “works” with “gimmicks.”

“It was better than being some drug consultant. I told Matt I didn’t want to get some fucking credit as technical advisor.”

More recently Carroll has been at work on a novel which he insists isn’t autobiographical. “The guy never took drugs at all, a very straight painter. He is kinda bewildered, he’s a virgin. He comes completely from somewhere else than me.”

It is hard to believe him though. Especially when you read his Book of Nods, you realize that even when he is writing prose-poems in the third person, they are indelibly marked with wry insights borne out of his experiences, and fragments of his own dreams. Each Nod is like a voice from someplace else that Carroll manages to reach, and animate through his surreal vision:

A young poet has died overnight in his
chained bed. His face is shaded blue
with sweet asphyxiation; his eyes have
left their sockets and roll back and
forth across the shivering
floorboards, as if gravity were upset
for the absurdity of his death … I
lookdown once more to the floor, where
the poet’s eyes have come to rest
along a thin dull carpet. They are
fixed on me, blue and clean.

Carroll feels a genuine affinity for the mystical elements and bizarre logical processes of a Jorge Luis Borges story; it’s impossible for the reader not to notice it. According to Carroll, “Borges has this real mathematical notion. In Labyrinths all his stories have this sense of a very strange but precise logic.

“It parallels the whole idea of physics being the great art form of this century. Quantum and especially the Uncertainty theory has taken away the whole Newtonian idea of the universe. And you can apply the Uncertainty theory to things in a social sense, it’s about tolerance, it’s about not knowing absolute right or wrong.”

Far more important it seems in Carroll’s private life, if he has such a thing, is discipline, and that’s part of the reason why he stopped touring and performing with a band (he released three albums in the early eighties).

“I felt like I had to move into a different period in my life. Basically, I started out when I was very young as a poet and a writer, then I really got into rock’n’roll and writing lyrics. Looking back on it I’m really happy with the work that I produced but rock’n’roll is a real ecstacy thing. You need that immediate inspiration to call on. But after a while it could be dangerous to keep looking for that, and so you fall into ways of creating it artificially. At a certain point you have to change your work through wisdom so you have a more sober sense of reality and discipline.

“Lou Reed is a good example of being able to make that transference. He switched his whole way of life and his work still has a great energy. But if you examine it, it comes from a different place. It’s more mature and it’s more pensive.”

To use a literary example Carroll turns to Hart Crane. “He had the initial inspiration when he was young to write a great epic poem like ‘The Bridge,’ then after a while he needed music to stimulate that sense of ecstacy so he could write. Then it was booze, he became a drunk to create. Then drugs.”

“Finally, he ate about twenty sandwiches and jumped off a ship. I don’t want to end up doing that at this point.”