Posted tagged ‘RIP’

On David Carr

February 13, 2015

Update: see the error correction (in bold) below.

I know a lot of people who are both tremendously fortunate and terribly abandoned today. They are the ones who knew well David Carr,who died yesterday.

You can find testimony today to the depth of feeling Carr, the New York Times’ media correspondent, inspired across the mediascape among those who worked with him, knew him, benefited from his kindness and his rigor .  Here’s A. O. Scott’s obituary; Anthony De Rosa’s remembrance; Muck Rack’s compilation of tributes; Weigel’s take. I’m sure there’s much more — this is just a semi-random starter kit as it came over the Twitter cascade.  Speaking of Twitter, Seth Mnookin’s tweet stream is hard for me to read, only because the loss there is palpable; Ta-Nehisi Coates is as sharp as we’ve all come to expect. And for the man himself, this sampler of quotes is as good a place as any to begin to measure the loss (more here) — but the snap of one liners (or two or three) shouldn’t obscure the work itself.  He was a great and meticulous reporter — and, to my eye and ear, a better writer.

Edwaert_Colyer_Still_Life_ca_1696

I’ve got nothing really to add to the tributes above, and those flowing in from all over the mediascape.  I met Carr once, a couple of years ago.  Ta-Nehisi was a visiting scholar at MIT then, and Seth was and is my colleague in the science writing program.  Carr had hired and molded both of them at critical points in their careers, and they invited him up to give a talk. (Alas, not recorded. Damn.)  I was there, and went out for the ritual post-colloquium dinner.  Carr was great in both settings.  Talking to him at the restaurant, I was struck by what those who knew him much better keep emphasizing:  he was a magnificent listener, which helped make him the formidable reporter he was.  With old friends he would banter and bust with the best of them. But with those he hadn’t met, like me, he’s peel back layers of conversation ever so gently, utterly implacably — you never felt the probe until it was lodged in your intestines.

My impression of him on that one meeting again tallies with all the actually informed stuff you can read:  what a nice man! What a smart one! Tough as shit.

But that was it.  One conversation, a pleasant evening and off home in the night.  The sense of loss I feel as I write this is wholly disproportionate to that level of acquaintance.

I think I know why.  I’ve got a couple of possible reasons. The first is evidenced by the links above:  he was simply one of the best working journos around, and for very many on the job  he was proof that it was possible to be that kind of a reporter, that good a one.  Recall, he was at the Grey Lady, the mothership, the freaking New York Times.  Can’t get more establishment than that, and yet Carr was proof that you could be the kind of journalist for whom the story and not the status or the institution or the common “wisdom” was all that mattered.  You get the sense reading what Times folks have to say today that they really feel it — that the paper needed Carr as much as or more than the reverse, to keep front and center within the building what it can and should mean to write for the most influential newspaper in the English-speaking world.

The other reason is a bit more personal.  In the math wheeze, there is something called an Erdös number.  Your Erdös number is determined by how many people stand between you and a co-authored paper with Paul Erdös, a famously collaborative thinker who wrote papers with on the order of 500 colleagues.  If you were one of those co-authors your Erdös number was 1.  If you didn’t, then you would get the lowest number of any of your co-authors on any paper +1.

Carr was a notoriously tough-but-fair mentor, and there’s something of Erdös in him, in that those he trained carry something of his sense of what it takes to be a reporter and a writer into everything else they do.  I have the good fortune to know pretty well two folks with a Carr number of 1 — Seth and Ta-Nehisi, as mentioned above.  They are both writers, thinkers and people I admire enormously.   I take inspiration from them both.  Both of them have Ta-Nehisi has told me several times what it meant to have Carr work him over at the Washington City Paper.   His body of work and more, the way they approach the craft as I’ve seen it up close bear the marks (block that metaphor!) that Carr left on their hides as they were learning under his unsparing eye.  I’m taking notes all the time from those two (and many others, of course) — as I did and do from Carr’s own writing.  So I guess in this loose sense I’d claim a Carr number of 2.   I can tell you, though, that the difference between 1 and 2 is not one of species or even genera…we’re talking orders at least here.

It’s a sad day.  But more, it’s one that’s bereft.  Carr left a circle of influence that vastly exceeds his already large circle of friends and fortunate co-workers.  The loss reverberates there.

Image:  Edwaert Colyer, Still Lifec. 1696.

Wha’d You Bring Him In Here For?

April 20, 2014

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Sad news:

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former boxing champion whose conviction for a triple murder was overturned after he served nearly 20 years in prison, has died of prostate cancer. Carter, whose story inspired a Bob Dylan song and a Denzel Washington film, was 76.

Too soon gone; too much life stolen.

Carter fought the good fight — long after his days in the ring were taken from him:

He was active in the movement to free wrongfully convicted prisoners, reports Jon Kalish for our Newscast unit.

“There are far more people who are wrongly convicted than people would like to think about,” Carter said of his activism. “And this is my work because people came to help me when I was in dire need of help.”

Those who talk of post-racial America forget too easily, I think, how ferociously state violence was employed to enforce racial hierarchy here.  For a different story that conveys this, check out Devil in the Grove, and consider how long the sheriff at the heart of the judicial murders documented there held on to terrifying local power.  It’s a little less explicit now — but those days aren’t all gone yet, not by a long shot.  That’s why, in part, Carter’s post prison cause could keep him so fully occupied.

But for now, let us remember Rubin Carter himself.  A 20th century American life.

R.I.P.

Image:  George Bellows, Both Members of This Club, 1909.

RIP Jon Swift

March 4, 2010

By now I’m sure most of those who read this blog will have heard the sad news that one of the best of those who chose to write in this strange new form has died.

Jon Swift, aka Al Weisel, died late last month of complications of an aortic aneurysm.  Tom Watson has a moving tribute here, and there is nothing in my brief and passing blog acquaintence with Mr. Swift that can add to that.

What I can affirm from personal experience is that Jon Swift (the name by which I knew the man we’ve lost) was at once a marvelous, caustic wit who accomplished something very difficult — creating a wholly plausible alternative world in which his views and words became plausible — and hence  hilarious in the one we laughingly (because we’re too big to cry) call “the real world.” And for all of that wit and slash, he was a believer in the idea of community on the blogosphere, and did more than almost anyone to make that easily typed sentiment an actuality.

He put a lot of muscle behind blogroll amnesty day, for example, and it is a sad tribute that Inverse Square got traffic today from his ‘roll, to which it had been added a Feb. 3 or two ago.  And he tried to notice small and new blogs when they were trying to make a move; he did so here, promoting what remains one of my favorite pieces of the last couple of years.   We corresponded a couple of times — I thanked him for that notice, and he wrote back, noting that while he didn’t agree with the piece, he thought it argued its point sharply enough to make it worth pushing into the conversation.

So that’s my story:  this was a generous man, and one who clearly loved both the solitary act of writing and the collective practice of thinking.

The good die to damn young.

Image: Nicholas Poussin, “Les Bergers d’Arcadie (Et in Arcadia ego)” 1637-1638

RIP John Leonard

November 7, 2008

The world is just a little bit too quiet suddenly.

Leonard had a voice.  He didn’t write book reports and it never was all about him, two of the common sins of cultural criticism.  Books are a very strange way to make a living — I should know, as I’m about to embark on my fifth willing suspension of disbelief.  People like Leonard are essential to writers of books because he/they provide hints in contradiction to the evidence that the effort matters.  That’s true, except, of course that there aren’t people like him; the whole point of Leonard’s work is that his was an individual sensibility — what he thought and felt, he himself, and not some congealing of herd reaction.

It’s getting too quiet around here, and I haven’t even got to my thoughts on the loss of Studs Terkel yet.

A Leonard credo can be found here.

More links to his work and other commentaries on his life and writing can be found at the bottom of this moving remembrance by Edward Champion. 

(h/t bkcdgrd)

Image: Gustave Courbet, “Portrait of Baudelaire,” 1848.