I’ve been incredibly busy these last few weeks and have had little time to read, let alone blog about it. But in the interest of discipline and keeping up with the project to blog my way through 50 books this year, here are some reactions I had to David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, which I finished a week and a half ago.
Count me among those whose sudden interest in this 2010 memoir came from the death of its author on Feb. 12. I resist the impulse to qualify Carr’s passing at the age of 58 with a word like “premature” or “shocking.” Even without knowing the gory details of his drug-addled early adulthood or later bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, one look at his wracked body did not inspire confidence in his health. Indeed, the shocking part about his death was that he was only 58.
The young David Carr was a burly, swaggering cock-of-the-walk from early on. Age-appropriate indulgences in his teens and early 20s blossomed into full-time junkiedom by his early 30s. The man who, late in life, became an unlikely poster child for the relevance of dead-tree journalism while also welcoming the invasion of Gawker/Vice/Twitter-based tyros, was a nasty piece of work–paranoid, cocaine-injecting, unemployable, a negligent parent and a woman-beater–by the time he made his fifth foray through treatment in the late 1980s.
There’s ample discussion of the book elsewhere. On this Slate podcast, for example, three journos less famous than Carr pick apart his method of interviewing his friends, lovers and associates in a rigorous reconstruction of what happened in those gloriously ugly years. I’m largely in agreement with the criticisms, particularly the unexamined machismo that runs through The Night of the Gun.
I didn’t finish the podcast–no time for hour-long bookchat–so I don’t know where the discussion ended up. My two cents: There’s not a whole hell of a lot of difference between the clean David Carr and the addled David Carr. Throughout he comes across as a narcissistic con artist and a manic workaholic. Even in his drug-addled days, he collected famous friends, wrote 3,000 words a week for a Twin Cities alt weekly, and he casually boasts about making it with strippers, hookers and a coke dealer, and lets us know that oh, about 100 people–“rockers, comedians, drug dealers, lawyers, journalists, and wiseguys”–showed up to his 30th birthday party wearing a shirt reading “I am a close personal friend of David Carr.”
Anyway, once clean, Carr went on a tear, editing the Twin Cities Reader for a couple of years before moving to Washington’s City Paper. Although he admits to pursuing the Twin Cities Reader job with a certain Machiavellian zeal (screwing over a less-aggressive friend who also wanted the job), he’s not apologetic. He knew what he wanted, and he got it. He’s curiously silent about his tenure at those papers, hinting that he was a bit of an overbearing, abusive editor (and specifically copping to an inappropriate, leering comment he made to a female subordinate).
The point here isn’t to tie him to the whipping post. For all his many faults, acknowledged or not, he worked hard and he worked honestly–or owned up to it when he made a misstep. His column on accepting a piece of lucrative hackwork–a profile of Bill Cosby–is illuminating both of Cosby and of David Carr, hustling journo.
The Night of the Gun serves as a kind of career primer. If you want to make it as a journo, you have to write, write and write some more. And you must have an insatiable need to break stories, and be in possession of a confident, gregarious or at least aggressive personality. You have to want to want it, because the hours are long and the pay is low.
If you put in the work and write honest stories, not even a drug problem can stop you.
As long as it doesn’t kill you first.
Post-script. Carr retweeted me once, in 2011, but it’s too much work to find it.
Books read this year: 8
Next up: Working on Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, and a graphic novel called Mind MGMT.