A lot of people have written about New York Times guy David Carr, who died last week.
So I’ll add my two cents, only because I have two cents to add.
I had to deal with Mr. Carr on numerous occasions – in restaurants, bars, and street corners. And one troubling event that devolved (or evolved) into a surreal dance contest in a boozy Islington pub.
I first met him after I got canned from Men’s Health, after serving a year or so as editor. I got scooped up by Felix Dennis to helm Stuff Mag — and my new bosses took me out to get plastered. Afterward, Carr found me on 9th avenue, looking pretty bad and shaky. I had lost my apartment keys – simultaneously aimless and restless. David took it easy on me.
AP Photo/Michel Euler
Carr locked up his bike in front of Vinyl Diner and we smoked a few cigarettes, and he went into a long monologue about his past drug habit (crack). I learned a shitload about him that afternoon. He told me a story about Tom Arnold that I won’t ever forget (I’m pretty sure Carr was in one of Arnold’s wedding parties). The story involved experiencing the heft of Tom’s hands around Carr’s face, squeezing.
Carr’s past before the Times is as seedy and violent as anything I’d heard — and he wore it on his face through a weary kindness that appears after a long road of excess and hard knocks. He found me curious for my abrupt but colorful exit from Men’s Health, which involved me throwing an editorial bomb into the magazine hours after I had been fired. I snuck a letter in my last issue explaining what happened. They had to pull it from the printer, but it made it into thousands of copies. That interested Carr – that I would do something so suicidal, from a career standpoint. It’s funny when a crack-head thinks you’re weird.
But as interesting as that story was, Carr was way more interesting than me. That first meeting at Vinyl was 15 years ago, but I remember him doing almost all of the talking. He sensed I was fragile, because he’s endured thousands of those mornings himself – the kind where you sit and wonder if the people across the table know that at any moment you might collapse into a pile of shaking sobs. Or ask for drugs.
We ran into each other a lot — he was curious about my career (if that’s what you’d call it) and remained skeptical of my penchant for stunts — correctly seeing a desire for rancor trumping a need for peer approval (two wants that aren’t entirely different). I used to send him stuff I’d write, to get a nod of approval from him. He’d tell you if it sucked.
I could say he thought little of my politics or my employer — but considering the amount of shit I heaped on his employer (the Times), he could say exactly the same about me. The good thing is, it rarely stuck. Or interfered. And if it did, we defended our camps. I wasn’t crazy about some of the lines Carr had penned in his Breitbart obit, but given that Andrew and I regularly took pot shots at the Times, both trafficking in ridicule without much concern for feelings, it all balanced out.
When Carr visited me in London to do a piece on my stint editing Maxim, his published article that followed was remote and sterile.
For it left out him.
Missing from the article was the absurd, glorious dance-off between himself and my art director. It started small and expanded to take up most of the bar floor, culminating in some tumbling bodies, over chairs and tables.
Also missing: the disastrous first meeting with my bosses that ended so abruptly it left everyone flustered. There was other stuff too… better left for drunk talk in dark booths.
Carr was not a bullshitter. If he was telling you something, it was for a reason. When you got a call from him, and the interview would begin, you’d get the gurgling butterflies, and then the call would settle into some weird friendly combativeness. As you answered a question – and heard his typing — you wondered how it would play on a page after Carr interpreted it. During interviews, he’d tell you small, side stories — then when he sensed he’d had enough of you, or himself, he’d crackle an, “okay – I might call you for more. Bye.” Sometimes, rarely, he’d call back with an obscure question (“is it a ‘pound’ or a “’pound coin?’”) He had a crinkly voice like scrunched up paper.
He appeared on Redeye during the first week, as a favor.
(That single sentence is designed to recreate a NY Times paragraph — where an editor later kills two following sentences that would have made sense of the whole thing.)
David Carr told me awful stories, and great stories, and lots of disturbing stuff that made me wonder how in God’s name he was alive. I don’t have that wonder anymore. He’ll be missed.