Editor’s note: David Carr was something of a hero of mine, dating back to the late ’90s when he was editor of the Washington City Paper, before he became nationally known as The New York Times’ media critic. Carr died last week. I never got to meet him, but Carr was a mentor and friend to my predecessor here at Folio Weekly, Anne Schindler, who worked with him at a now-defunct Minnesota alt-weekly called the Twin Cities Reader. She was kind enough to pen this wonderful remembrance of a legend in our field. — Jeffrey C. Billman
David Carr loved a good story, and it was part of his natural generosity that he left everyone he came into contact with at least one good story to remember him by.
In the 25 years I’ve known Carr, I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with him in a slew of odd places, and whether getting lost on the streets of Tijuana, waging noodle wars in the lakes of the Adirondacks, or watching Sonic Youth aurally annihilate the 9:30 Club, each left an indelible memory.
Carr’s whole life was a caper, and he was ruthlessly candid about not wanting not to miss out. He had to taste everything on the menu, jump into every darkened swimming pool, and yes, “grind himself to the center of the universe” journalistically.
Carr gave me my first job in journalism, at the now-defunct alt-weekly the Twin Cities Reader. He was just shed of his crack addiction and cancer, and new to the job of editor. And he very nearly didn’t take me. After receiving the package of poorly written, sloppily edited college papers that served as my “writing sample,” he asked if I could at least type.
I could not. “It’s going to be difficult to explain to anyone in this newsroom why I would hire you,” he confided, “if you can’t even type.”
I spent that summer learning to type using a textbook, practicing on a series of postcards that I would send Carr as proof of improvement. Somewhere between “the quick brown fox” and late August, he asked me to come aboard.
It was the most determinant event in my professional life: inspiring, humbling, and — more than once — physically menacing. Like when he would line-edit stories and write, “I will physically menace you if you ever again [insert journalistic trespass].” He made good edits. He made me cry. He made me better.
He made everyone better. If there’s one thing that the Cult of Carr — and we are legion — will tell you it’s how inspirational he was. Indeed, his rise from newspaper schmo who got coke nosebleeds during interviews to guru of New York’s media and cultural elite is almost enough to make a skeptic believe in the American dream.
A recovery dog at heart, though, Carr never forgot life at rock bottom. Once, walking down St. Catherine Street in Montreal, we were very nearly struck by a human — a drunk being ejected from a strip bar. The man took a few steps and collapsed. His pants were soaked with urine, and the paper bag that held his money fell some distance away. Most people recoiled, but Carr never hesitated. He pulled the man to a seated position, put the paper bag in his fingers, and sat down on the filthy street. When the man began beating his skull against the wall, Carr begged him to stop. “Don’t do that to yourself, please, man,” he pleaded.
The man stopped.
It’s awful to envision a world where I won’t be able to see David each year — see him wrestle with my boys, swap music with my husband, grill the shit out of summer vegetables on his old-school Weber. I will miss his untidy meals, his sloppy kisses, his cryptic and challenging vocabulary.
I will miss him selfishly. And for his beautiful girls — Megan, Erin, Maddie, Jilly. And for all of us lucky enough to be a part of his story.