Memories are really stories, stories about stories.
October 2, 2008 4:56 AM   Subscribe

David Carr is a New York Times columnist and Oscar blogger. He also just published his memoir, The Night of the Gun, about his time as a crack addicted fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, using his journalistic skills to investigate events he barely remembers. Reviews have placed it head and shoulders above the recent spate of other junkie redemption narratives, with one reviewer stating his confusion as to "whether you’ve just seen the memoir redeemed or irrevocably dismantled."

He has some sort of potato fixation, too.

Some other reviews:
Popmatters
Obligatory NYT Book Review

Some interviews:
Soup Cans
Huffington Post
Powells

If you get tired of reading you can always watch the videos on the nifty official site, or perhaps something a bit on the truthier side?
posted by Panjandrum (41 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bonus! Mefi's own Maias does not approve.
posted by Panjandrum at 5:03 AM on October 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


I really enjoyed Maias's article.
posted by entropone at 5:18 AM on October 2, 2008


Does anyone else wonder how much is true?

But who isn't tired of recovering drug addicts?

It's time to see some accounts of getting over internet addiction.
posted by sien at 5:23 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


sien: "It's time to see some accounts of getting over internet addiction."
That's like walking into a bar looking for the recovered alcoholics.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:35 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not an addiction, I just fine the internet refreshing. Refreshing. Refreshing. Refreshing.
posted by Elmore at 5:52 AM on October 2, 2008 [16 favorites]


That's like walking into a bar looking for the recovered alcoholics.
That's easy, they're always the ones who aren't drinking. And this internet thing? I can quite any time... any time.
posted by Floydd at 5:57 AM on October 2, 2008


I don't care for the onslaught of "memoirs" over the past several years. Too much truthiness and not enough truth. Just label them as fiction already.

I'M STILL LOOKING AT YOU, FREY!
posted by educatedslacker at 5:58 AM on October 2, 2008


I heard this guy on Fresh Air. Christ what an asshole.
posted by RussHy at 5:59 AM on October 2, 2008


Yeah! Damn that Frey and his romanticising ways.
posted by waraw at 6:14 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


High F5's Elmore.
posted by mandal at 6:27 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting point in Maias's article:
These distinctions are important because if addicts are simply immoral scum driven by evil substances that promote bad behavior, we already have appropriate drug policy. If, as Carr writes, what he deserved was "hepatitis C, federal prison time, HIV, a cold park bench and an early, addled death," we're already doing what we should be.
posted by delmoi at 6:28 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I Was a Chinese Internet Addict by McKenzie Funk (requires Harper's subscription, unfortunately).
posted by lukemeister at 6:33 AM on October 2, 2008


I Was a Chinese Internet Addict by McKenzie Funk

Yeah, but you just want another internet an hour later.
posted by mandal at 6:40 AM on October 2, 2008 [8 favorites]


holy poop that was funny mandal.
posted by spicynuts at 6:43 AM on October 2, 2008


this post is worthless* without an hour-long charlie rose interview. also a fresh air interview and a rather good interview he did with on the media's kerry nolan**


* as are all other posts.
** you should be so glad the insufferable hack bob garfield*** didn't do the interview.

posted by krautland at 6:44 AM on October 2, 2008


You footnoted your footnote! Well done you magnificent whacko!
posted by Mister_A at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2008


My parents were addicts. I've lost quite a few of my friends to drugs. Hazard of growing up in a small Southern town, I guess.


From Maia:

There are actually many addicts—and many more people who use drugs, even hard drugs like crack—who don't abuse or neglect their children. Or, who don't have kids because they know they can't care for them when high. In 20 years of studying and writing about addiction, what I've found is that drugs and even addictions don't create bad behavior all by themselves.

This really hit a nerve with me. Some addicts, once they become clean, expect all the hurt they caused to be forgiven, to be lauded for the Herculean effort it took to overcome their addictions and once again become a productive member of society. As if they had absolutely no control over their actions in the entire time they were using a certain substance.

Maybe they don't; I wouldn't know. I've dabbled, and I suppose I'm just not wired for it (amazingly, considering the genetic background).

What I do know is that as much as I would love to see this country's attitude concerning addiction change from punishment to treatment, I would also love to see less self-aggrandizing memoirs by addicts that actually serve to glamorize addiction, and more memoirs by their children and parents and friends who they completely fucked over.
posted by jnaps at 7:01 AM on October 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Here's my problem with Carr's story: he writes about how, in his mind, before he begins looking into the facts, he has some kind of Campbellian hero's journey where he hits bottom, decides to pull himself up, and through his own hard work and perseverance does so.

When he actually goes and investigates, he finds the details are not as he remembered. His "bottom" was not a few weeks after the twins were born, but several months. But the basic outline of the story hasn't changed, in his mind. He still turned it around mainly through his own hard work and perseverance. He is still, in his own mind, that Campbellian hero. The details have changed, but the central plot and themes have not. His road to redemption started later, and was longer and harder, and had more false steps than he remembered, but the central message is still "I turned my life around, look at what a great guy I am!" I don't see any evidence that he's learned anything from his investigations other than a few facts.

Please understand, I'm not criticizing his recovery itself. That's great for him. But as a story, this is pretty weak. As has been pointed out above, we've heard the "I was a low-life drug addict, but turned my life around because at my core I'm a good strong person, and look how great I am now" story many times before.

Carr's version, "I was a low-life drug addict, and I thought I had turned my life around because at my core I'm a good strong person, but when I looked into the facts it turned out--get this--I turned my life around because at my core I'm a good strong person, just not in the exact way I remembered; look how great I am now" is not a particularly compelling variation on the basic story.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:27 AM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


You footnoted your footnote!
I wanted to push it further but couldn't find the cross symbol. on second thought, paragraph might have done.

it's really too bad carr never talks about his voice.
posted by krautland at 7:41 AM on October 2, 2008


What I do know is that as much as I would love to see this country's attitude concerning addiction change from punishment to treatment, I would also love to see less self-aggrandizing memoirs by addicts that actually serve to glamorize addiction, and more memoirs by their children and parents and friends who they completely fucked over.

Intervention (on A&E) is pretty good at showing both sides of the picture. Good show.
posted by inigo2 at 7:44 AM on October 2, 2008


His voice evidently wasn't part of that Campbellian hero's journey.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:02 AM on October 2, 2008


Carr uses an offbeat approach to his book. He knows that he can not recall lots of the stuff he had done while seriously addicted so as a good reporter he did some investigative searching to find out something objective about his past. Most if no all recovery books assume the writer is fully aware of his past and can be objective in recall. But the great reporting and writing aside, all recovery books can but follow this pattern: I once was lost but now I'm found. If not found, then no book....we read and enjoy such accounts because, golly, I take a snort now and then or get loaded from time to time but look how much better off (I am nice!) I am than that guy.
posted by Postroad at 8:05 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


"crack addicted fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke"

A Baldwin?
posted by dasheekeejones at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2008


This guy is so lucky he's white
posted by sondrialiac at 8:49 AM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


READ THE HELL OF MY ADDICTION TO COUGH SYRUP
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:50 AM on October 2, 2008


For a split second, I was like "DAVID CARR WAS A DRUG ADDICT? THAT'S WHY HIS BOOK ON HEGELIAN PHENOMENOLOGY IS SO WACK!"

It would have been the ultimate ad hominem take-down of the trans-individual subject...alas.
posted by Beardman at 9:24 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good read. Thanks.
posted by ambulance blues at 9:28 AM on October 2, 2008


Carr was a train wreck. What sets human nature apart from animal nature is our ability to express our freedom over natural impulses - Carr subdued his freedom and gave into his natural impulses and denied his moral social responsibilities. Carr, in the grips of his addiction, realized the moral contradiction that he couldn't do the good that he wanted to do, but only the evil that he didn't want to do but couldn't stop. His book, like so many other redemptive stories, simply reaffirms the morally ambiguous nature of human nature. I did like his fresh approach; investigating his own past in a pseudo reporter way. Did this make me believe it any more than I would a regular from memory bio? NO. He still picked through his evidence and only exposed what he thought would make for a good yarn. Does that matter? No. It was still a good read and he's a good writer, even if he does stretch the potato metaphor a bit.
posted by glasskey at 9:39 AM on October 2, 2008


Yeah, but you just want another internet an hour later.

Pssst. Kid? Wanna score?

I've got a nice, uncut piece of thesecondnet.com. I can let you have some primo domains at just $5 a pop?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2008


But who isn't tired of recovering drug addicts?

I prefer them to practicing drug addicts.
posted by philip-random at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Postroad makes sense
posted by matteo at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2008


(I know, I know)
posted by matteo at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2008


A MeFi Exclusive: Optimus Chyme's Harrowing Ordeal: His Conquest Of Addiction; An Examination of the Depth and Strength of His Character

Hello. I used marijuana, acid, cocaine, and a bunch of other stuff as a youth. It was fun for a little while and then I had to stop and go be an adult. So I decided not to use illegal narcotics anymore. Holy shit what an awesome guy I am! And it didn't take 700 pages of self-congratulatory bullshit!

THE END

AFTERWORD: Recovering Alcoholic Clearly Kind Of Proud Of Once Being An Alcoholic
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:00 AM on October 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Optimus, we really need a whole bunch of such memoirs, since that is actually *the most common* experience with drugs. Unfortunately, it doesn't make a book and so we have a very distorted picture of how often drugs lead to addiction and what addiction is like, etc.

Strange footnote: I was at a party last night, feet away from David Carr. But I was afraid to have our mutual friend introduce us, especially since I haven't managed to read the book yet (my critique was of the excerpt in NYTM).
posted by Maias at 11:14 AM on October 2, 2008


Optimus, we really need a whole bunch of such memoirs, since that is actually *the most common* experience with drugs.

Well, there is this one book by a guy who did some drugs and turned out OK.
posted by delmoi at 12:42 PM on October 2, 2008


Touche, delmoi. If only his policies can be as enlightened as he sounds in that book. I don't want to hear a word about drug policy during the elections because then it always devolves into who can send more people to jail for longer and spend more money on cops and prisons.

But it would truly be nice if the next president could be thoughtful on drug policy. Biden is a horror.

If only flying pigs wore lipstick...
posted by Maias at 1:44 PM on October 2, 2008


Three out of four likely voters believe the war on drugs is a failure. If only the politicians would come around. Biden's better than he used to be, fortunately, but he is the man who gave us both the "drug czar" and the RAVE Act.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:20 PM on October 2, 2008


the war on drugs is only a failure insofar as it has failed completely to eradicate illicit drugs from our schools, parks, homes, businesses, workplaces, nightclubs, public bathrooms, corporate offices, banking institutions, etc.
posted by philip-random at 3:05 PM on October 2, 2008


I think there's an interesting point there from Maias (in MoJo, that is), but I wonder if it isn't problematic because our culture is becoming divorced from redemptivism. Certainly in literary history there are a whole host of these, as Postroad put it, once-was-lost, now-am-found memoirs or fictions. It's only recently that this has been confined to a hero-or-knave Manichean definition. It goes along with the need to make postmen and such "heroes" after 9/11 even if all they did was survive (or not survive). Yes, we want to celebrate the ordinary, and most polls show people list mom and dad as heroes, but is that the only option?
posted by dhartung at 3:07 PM on October 2, 2008


I tend to think that the recovery narrative is pretty well what shapes people's experience of addiction and recovery. It gives addicts permission to behave like arseholes when their addicted, 'its not my fault, I'm an addict. I'm powerless', it makes the process of recovery sound much harder and much more heroic than it actually is (given that nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs, where are all the tobacco recovery memoirs?), and it continues to divide addicts up into the deserving and undeserving, rather than categorizing them by severity of dependence.

So we know, for example, that the average duration of a serious crack problem tends to be about five years. People can't take the punishment for much longer than that, and anyone who has any significant resources -- cultural, intellectual, familial, whatever -- will tend to get out at that point. Does that make them somehow morally superior to the crackhead who, suffering from dual diagnosis, homeless, completely lacking in resources, continues to use because he believes that the respite from hopelessness it brings is a better choice for him?

Not in my book. But the former fits into one of the great American archetypes -- the story of the fall from grace and redemption via confession and renunciation of one's sin. Celebrities and politicians are able to screw up in really major ways, blame it on their addictions and get a free pass because they play the recovery card, while our homeless, resourceless crackhead still goes directly to jail because his dependence is more severe, and his problems are more intractable.

In the real world, addictions rarely follow this smooth trajectory. People get clean, write their books, relapse, spend time fucked up, take another shot at it, maybe succeed, maybe not. And while they're using, they don't *all* behave in the twattish manner that Carr behaved. Addicts are just like everyone else. Some of them are very nice, some of them are arseholes. Some of them muddle along, trying to earn a living, trying to manage their use, veering from crisis to crisis, but also enjoying long periods of relative functional stability. If that wasn't true, most people wouldn't use for as long as they do, but again, that doesn't fit in with the heroic archetype that we've constructed for these narratives. Instead of being to cast addicts as somehow 'different' to the rest of us, somehow 'special', reporting the story would simply illuminate the similarities between people who have serious problems with substance misuse and the rest of us.

I remember meeting William Burroughs at some point in the late 70's or early 80's at a reading in Liverpool. I'd been a fanboi for a long time, and for some reason, I'd assumed that everything he'd written was absolutely 100% bona fide.

My fantasies were rudely shattered when I realized that the man was completely fucking ripped. What about his apomorphine cure? The British Journal of Addiction had published his account of the cure, so surely it must have been true? But if that was so, why was he so wasted?

I remember reading, several years later, that during this, Burroughs 'bunker' period, he went back on methadone. And of course, the research is very clear that when it comes to treatment for heroin addiction, methadone maintenance is very much a first line treatment in that it produces better outcomes along a wide range of axes (health improvement, offending, illicit drug use, etc.), for a much greater number of people than all of the other treatments for heroin addiction put together. The reality is that for most people, recovery means muddling along on methadone, not being a famous writer or actor or celebrity, but doing a regular 9 to 5, paying the rent, no longer getting arrested, etc.

And yeah, for me, these people are just as heroic, just as deserving of our applause as any upper middle class schlub who behaved like a twat until such a time as he realized he was to old to carry on doing so, and therefore quits using in order to assume their rightful place in the social order.

So yeah, where's *their* recovery memoir? That's the story that I'd like to read. Unfortunately, there aren't any ridiculously over-exaggerated war stories in a life like that, and the real triumphs in those outcomes just aren't sufficiently glamourous for us to lust after. So publishers carry on commissioning this crap because they know that the suckers will lap it up. By now, reading one of these books is like reading the non-fiction equivalent of a Harlequin romance -- with the genre totally fixed and unchallenging, reassuring us that in the end, the bad guy gets his come-uppance while the hero gets the girl without any of the stigma associaced with reading that kind of tripe.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:19 PM on October 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


Meh.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:13 AM on October 3, 2008


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