Carr 2.0

It’s hard to know how a work, or work of art, will resonate with you, until it does. And when it does, it hits hard, taking an express route to emotions – anger, fear, love, longing, shame, hurt, to name a few. All reminders of our humanity, frailties, shortcomings, victories.


But one thing is absolutely certain: Nothing can resonate until and unless it grapples with the truth. That means that the journalist, writer, artist, poet, has to face that truth – and her subjectivities surrounding it – in a head-on collision. Wrestle with it, let it shake her into a chokehold and, ultimately, make an uneasy peace with it.


That’s what has struck me most about David Carr and his memoir, “The Night of the Gun.”

Whatever your thoughts on memoirs, self-absorption, drug addition – or just plain turning a profit with pulp and circumstance – Carr is setting a new standard. Rather than rely on memory, he interviewed the figures who shuttled in and out of his life, recorded those interviews – and posted them on his Web site. He also gathered up the documents of his life and hired private eyes and another journalist to ensure that his work was thorough.


I haven’t read the book yet (I’ll snag a copy this week), but I did read the New York Times Magazine column, which excerpted his work. His candor and humility disarm the reader and offer a glimpse into the chaotic realm of intelligence, rage and addiction battles. And, hey, a bit of redemption never hurt anyone.

In reading about Carr and looking at his work, I’m reminded of a conversation with a poet friend. I was captivated by his work, which included poems about infidelity, marital separation, a father’s death and raw sexuality. I asked him about his work – and his poetry readings, where he emotionally splayed himself open for his audience.


His response, to paraphrase:


“It’s not enough to undress before your audience,” he told me. “You have to go deeper. You have to dig in, rip at your guts and pull them out for your audience – all while keeping composure in your art. Then, maybe, you’ve gotten to a kernel of  truth and connected with humanity.”


My poet friend’s observations, coupled with Carr’s bravery, has me excited about journalism and its capabilities in this Web 2.0 world. Some kinks, obviously, need to be worked out (like, say, online sexual harassment). But the transparency that Carr offers, along with his candor and unflinching pursuit of the truth, shows how powerful journalism can become.


Check out his excerpt in The New York Times Magazine. article (and audio) interview here. And, of course, Carr’s Site,


Meanwhile, some select excerpts from Andrew O’Hehir’s interview below:




Carr: There’s two stories here, and I tend to focus on one of them. The whole “everything was horrible, now everything is good” story, which is a meme of culture, doesn’t turn out to be true in my life or anybody else’s either. I mean, it turned out pretty nice for me, believe me. A lot of people I went back to see were under headstones.


It’s an ancient human impulse and a current meme of culture, to make yourself up and invent yourself. At the same time, there’s all this cheap, ubiquitous technology that’s overlaid on that. There’s almost this life-blogging going on. It’s like they say in certain recovery movements: “Damn what you say, I’ll watch what you do.”


O’Hehir: Unfriendly readers may well ask, “Why should we believe this guy about anything? He spent 14 years sober and got drunk again and nearly killed his family in a car accident? So why’s he telling us it’s all going to be OK?”


Carr: I didn’t say that. That’s bullshit.


O’Hehir: I’m projecting that onto the reader.


Carr: No, you’re projecting that onto me and that’s bullshit. I never say anything like that. Let’s talk about what’s real. And what’s real is: Why would they believe anything I say? Because I document it.


O’Hehir: OK, let’s make it specific. After that, why should we believe you’re going to stay sober?


Carr: I say in the book that I could be drunk tomorrow or shooting dope the next day. There’s no implicit sort of promise. I say that I like being normal, that I like the fruits of normalcy and that I’m happy. I never made a commitment. You need, or the reader needs, to say, “And everything will be hunky-dory forever.” That is not the message of my book. It’s a cautionary tale in that regard.


When you spend three years looking into the wreckage of your past, it tends to help you keep focused on the next right thing. It’s been great for my overall health and chemical well-being to work on this book. It may have been part of why I did it, I don’t know. There’s millions of people who get and stay sober without writing books. I think I had been busy forgetting some things. I thought I could be this tidy little suburban drunk, and in fact I’m not. I’m a lunatic. I’ve got the allergy to beverage alcohol.


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