Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Remembering David Carr

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Remembering David Carr

Article excerpt

The steady stream of beeps and bloops and rings began shortly before 10 p.m. last night, and the common message, "Carr died" set off a cavalcade of memories that lasted well into the morning hours.

Everyone somewhere has a list of the truly interesting people they've met along the path of life, and David Carr is on mine. But that hardly makes me unique. Carr, who had written on media for the New York Times for the past decade, is on a lot of people's lists, whether they considered him friend, rival or foe.

We met in the mid-1980s. At the time, I was editing the Twin Cities Reader, the alternative weekly then competing with City Pages. With an editorial budget that was half nickels from the change jar and half whatever LPs you could grab from the swag stack, I had a desperate need for anyone who could a.) ask an interesting question, and b.) cobble the response into something worth reading, in an alternative way. Carr fit the bill, and then some.

Over the years, Carr, as most people around the Twin Cities called him (although after I got to know him I preferred the more apt "Carr-zilla"), was far too kind in mentioning me as the guy who gave him his first big break. Nonsense. The big, blubbery, disheveled guy with the classic caustic Irish wit who wandered into my office way back when was one of the biggest breaks I ever got.

Here was a character with an enormous appetite for a lot of the exhilarations of life, including telling a damn good story. There was nothing gray or homogenous about Carr. I may have kissed him after he delivered his second or third piece for me.

( To get a sense of that time - and to have a laugh -- check out this series of clips compiled by Tom Oszman at TCMediaNow from a cable access show Carr, Eric Eskola, Dane Smith, David Brauer and I did back in the 1980s.)

As two turned to three this morning I kept rolling back and forth the yin and yang of Carr's existence. A couple years ago in New York, we fell into a conversation about the essentials of a good reporter. I could never pretend to be one. Carr was by then in the pantheon of "greats." A fundamental facet of being a great reporter, as he saw it--and one with which I completely agree--is the ability to play a "Hi-Lo game." Plenty of dutiful, earnest news people can interact well with officialdom, the "Hi" game, nibbling at and parrying with the rule-bound bureaucracies of politics and business. But the same people very often struggle attempting to draw life and meaning from the "Lo": the unsophisticated, the meek, the duller- witted and the criminal. To be able to speak in both voices, and more importantly ask persistent questions of each, is a special talent, and in Carr's case one that required living each first- hand.

Carr's remarkable life arc depended on him never forgetting he was from barely-middle-class Hopkins, raised by a "rag man" father (he worked in a men's clothing store) and his "career Irish" mom. Nor did he ever forget the abyss into which he fell. We talked about that hole, his oft-recalled collapse into crack addiction, simultaneous with a Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis, for his book, "Night of the Gun."

I knew him most, if not best, back in those days, in no small part because of the fact that -- before he completely cratered -- running with Carr was, as I told a reporter last night, just ridiculously great fun. …

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