Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Fall and Rise of David Carr

After Andrew Rossi's film Page One, and Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview with one of the film's principal characters, the journalist David Carr, I picked up Carr's recent autobiographical book The Night Of the Gun.

Not a traditional biography, The Night Of the Gun chronicles Carr's descent from functioning wild boy journalist to drug addict and junkie and his long struggle to get a handle on his addictions and make his way back to the land of the living. From a rock bottom that was apparently the very teetering edge of ruin, he made his way back to a great job as Media and Culture reporter for the New York Times, and he gained sole custody of his twin girls--taken from him and his wife for their drug addiction--remarried, and battles every day to stay clean.

It's a quick and engaging read--and an undeniably dramatic story--but one that leaves a fella with mixed feelings. Carr has an obvious talent for weaving a tale and for making connections between things in life, and the human drama inherent in his up-and-down life make for a fascinating read, if a lurid one.  But I haven't decided if Carr is a fella I need to meet in life. Certainly the person he used to be--thug and drug dealer and blithe, egocentric manipulator--is one I can do without. But our lives are often a series of redemptions big and small, and Carr's story is shot through with mea culpa and regret.

Yet not so shot through as to keep from advertising these egregious failures to the world in a best-selling memoir. I'm all about self-disclosure and living a life without secrets, but there's something a touch untoward in this wallowing self-regard, a kind of black-belt self-absorption in digging into the details of what a bunch of other people think and feel about you. (I remember an early lesson in one of my Russian language classes a thousand years ago, "But enough about me. Let's talk about you. So what do YOU think of me?") This is of course not lost on Carr, who beats us to any criticisms we might lodge against him. This doesn't always feel like taking ownership of these wrongs, but mostly it does. Not that one has to like and perfectly relate to an author to find merit in their works, but this book makes me think I live a life sheltered in the extreme. It's a garish tale that brushes uncomfortably close to things I'm happier to keep at arm's length.

The David Carr that assembles from the Page One documentary and from his book is an undeniably fascinating character: movingly human, good at his job, a man of extremes. As an addiction memoir, it's a gripping read. But this isn't everyone's cup of tea, methinks.


dbackdad said...

I hadn't really heard about David Carr till you mentioned it. I was loading up my Blackberry the other day with a bunch of new podcasts and noticed a NPR interview with him. I downloaded it and look forward to learning a bit more about him.

wunelle said...

I think the NPR one is the Terry Gross interview. Maybe. That was kind of my re-introduction to hm. He's very intriguing.

Jaide said...

The coverage of David Carr in "Page One" made me want to learn more about his career and his path to become a NY Times media and culture reporter. I've been uncertain on whether or not to read his autobiography. However, your article has captivated my interest. Thanks!

wunelle said...

Rewatching bits of Page One, I find I watch Carr keenly every time he's on screen. There's something compelling about him.