We lost one of the greats when New York Times media writer David Carr died over the weekend. I guess, given his obvious frail condition and history of personal abuse, I’m not surprised by his untimely death. But I am really, really sorry to hear of it.
There was a time when newspaper newsrooms were filled with characters like Carr. Jimmy Breslin, Hunter Thompson, Jim Murray, Molly Ivins – these were people who “stomped the terra,” has Lord Buckley put it. They did not take crap; they gave it. They believed in the power of their news organization and they used the bully pulpit afforded them to full effect.
For the sake of our business, I hope Carr wasn’t the last of the breed.
His was a story of redemption. His memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read. It chronicles his time as a crack addict and alcoholic on the streets of Minnesota and his subsequent rise to become one of the leading lights of New York journalism. In the book, he writes of his nadir – leaving his young daughters in the car, in the winter cold, for hours on end, while he went into a crack house to get high. “I decided that my teeny twin girls would be safe, that God would look after them while I did not,” he wrote. By the grace of god, those girls, now in their 30s, lived to deliver their father’s eulogy on Tuesday.
Carr didn’t suffer fools, including himself. A passage from the book:
If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story? What if instead I wrote that I was a recovered addict who obtained sole custody of my twin girls, got us off welfare and raised them by myself, even though I had a little touch of cancer? Now we’re talking. Both are equally true, but as a member of a self-interpreting species, one that fights to keep disharmony at a remove, I’m inclined to mention my tenderhearted attentions as a single parent before I get around to the fact that I hit their mother when we were together. We tell ourselves that we lie to protect others, but the self usually comes out looking damn good in the process. …
David Carr was not only a remarkable writer with equally remarkable insight into his own character, he was also one of the true defenders of the mainstream media. In the documentary, Page One, about changes at the New York Times, Carr emerges as the unlikely and disheveled protagonist. Please watch the embedded clip (and I apologize in advance for the language). Watch how the rail-thin newspaper guy with cancer stands up to the cool bros of Vice. It makes me want to stand up and cheer every time I see it.
Carr ended a newspaper piece adapted from “The Night of the Gun” this way:
…It was a much closer call than I would like to admit. I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.