Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Soup Cans Interview: David Carr

New York Times columnist David Carr has always been open about his past drug addiction and subsequent recovery. Carr has gone ahead and chronicled the events (and lessons learned) from those dark times in his new fact-checked memoir, The Night of the Gun. Below he talks to Soup Cans about the book, addiction, Bright Eyes and a fear of the title of his own book. Sort of.

What has writing a memoir taught you about memories?

Memories are really stories, stories about stories. when you recall a memory, you are generally recalling the story you told about the event, not the event itself.

We tend to remember things in ways that keeps dissonance at remove and makes us look good and feel good about ourselves in the rear view mirror.

Did you twin daughters know about most of the details recounted in The Night of the Gun. What did they think of the end result?

The girls lived it and knew all of it. They had their own version of events which is now in the narrative, but in general, in the course of raising them, first by myself, and then with my wife Jill, they learned in fits and starts about how they came into the world and how I came to end up being their parent. one of the happier circumstances of the book is that their mom, Anna, had felt that the girls would judge her harshly, but it has had precisely the opposite effect. They now have a context for the bad choices that were made by both their mother and I and have a place to put it.

Both of them like the book and are proud of it, but each felt that the end was far too pat and oversimplified. They are close, careful readers, young women who have lots of opinion, so the fact that they felt the book was a worthy exercise is a huge deal to me.

Erin was mad that I didn't pay for the rights to use a Bright Eyes song near the end of the book and I share her regret. When she and I have her final interview, we are in the Adirondacks and we go for a drive. And she cues up "At the Bottom of Everything," which includes this lyric ...

We must hang up in the belfry where the bats in moonlight laugh
We must stare into a crystal ball and only see the past
And (in)to the caverns of tomorrow with just our flashlights and our love
We must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge.

Love that song, that moment. Wish it was in the book. If there is a paperback, it will be in there.

What similarities do you see between addiction and journalism?

Each is an obsessive act performed daily and each produces a kind of endorphin charge, although for very different reasons. in the main, they are profoundly different activities though. Addiction, because of its chronicity and base nature, is really boring. I find journalism endlessly exciting.

Leon Neyfakh from the The New York Observer says this about The Night of the Gun: "After years of abuse, the memoir has found its white knight, galloping in to show how a personal story can be engrossing, shocking and true." He also calls the book "important." How do you feel about the pressure to redeem the controversial memoir genre?

The memoir is one of the most durable motifs in western literature and it has limped along for a couple of centuries without my assistance. I was beside myself with joy when Mr. Neyfakh wrote that because every hack in the world wants to think what he or she does is important. And to the extent that some people believe the book kicked the can down the road in some small way -- it is certainly not the first one that contains reporting -- I am really gratified. and I felt no pressure beyond trying to tell a true story in a way that would land on others with some literary and cultural impact.

Which actor would you want to see portray you in the inevitable movie adaptation of NOTG?

Don Knotts. Is he still alive?

You wear (understandably so) your prestigious gig at the New York Times, which you refer to as "the job that impresses," as a badge of honor. Has there ever been a time when you haven't been so proud of the "Gray Lady?"

I am not the kind of guy who brandishes his employment or his employer, or at least I would hate to be that guy. I was 45 years old when I got to the Times, so I like to think that I knew who I was and what i could do before I ended up with an NYT on my business card. And anybody who works there can tell you that no one person is necessary for the apparatus to function and function well.

And i have an immigrant's love of the place. It's not like it can do no wrong, but I work at a place where everyone is trying hard to make it better. we might head down a path that is unproductive on occasion, but it is a self-cleaning oven, one that takes it reputation for efficacy and excellence to heart and course corrects every day. it is not a posture, it is a daily task that each person there takes as a kind of covenant. I happen to believe it particularly well led right now -- Bill Keller's casual emails are better crafted than something I could do in a month -- but even when the place had problems, I was always proud to work there. Not in a hey, look at me, I got a good job, but more as part of something that is cultural good. as you can see, I've drank deeply of the Kool-aid, but how can you not argue for well-funded, ferociously prosecuted journalism at a time when reporters are being slid off into the river all over the country?

What do you most look forward to about the Carpetbagger blog once it picks up again at the end of the year?

My betters tell me a version of it may show up at this year's political conventions, so we will see how elastic the franchise is. There is something glorious and horrendous about a blog, at least the way I do it. It is there every minute, wagging its tail and wanting more. I usually say yes. And I love movies. The book has totally messed up my movie schedule but the number of great big franchise movies that turned out well -- Iron Man got it all started this summer -- has really amazed me. And my favorite moment of the summer was watching Dark Knight on the hood of my car with my 11-year-old at the Glen Falls drive-inn. A glorious (k)night with great popcorn to boot. How can you beat that?

After all you've gone through, what are you now most afraid of? Do you have a fear of death?

Even when I was a complete knucklehead, I didn't think about death much and I don't now. I had cancer before and was afraid I would die like anybody else, but it did not preoccupy my thoughts. I am afraid of lots of things. Bats scare the shit out of me. And old fashioned wooden roller coasters. And I am, ironically enough, terrified of guns of all kinds.

When can we expect the follow-up book?

I'd like to write a book again. the activity of it was surprisingly satisfying for someone who has the attention span of a gnat. The next book I write will hopefully have the word "I" in the acknowledgements and nowhere else. I'm pretty tapped out on the subject in the mirror.

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