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Journalist David Carr As A Father In 'All That You Leave Behind'

Apr 13, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

David Carr was an extraordinary reporter, but his best story may have been his own. He battled back from cocaine and crack addiction and a life on the street to become a celebrated columnist at The New York Times and, more crucially, a devoted father. David Carr collapsed in the newsroom one night in 2015 and died at the height of his fame and creative powers at the age of 58, leaving readers and his family in mourning.

Erin Lee Carr, documentary filmmaker, has put together a memoir of the father she cherished and her own struggles with some of the same demons he had wrestled. She's called her memoir "All That You Leave Behind." Erin Lee Carr joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

ERIN LEE CARR: Hi. So great to be here.

SIMON: If I could, I'd like to begin with that moment in your childhood. I believe you were 8 years old. Your father was going to take you and your friend Alex (ph) to McDonald's. What happened?

CARR: So I write about in the book that I was not an especially cool kid. I don't know if that's irregular for NPR listeners, but (laughter)...

SIMON: This is not the way to begin a healthful relationship, Ms. Carr, but go ahead.

CARR: Just teasing. But - so did not have a lot of friends, was super excited that I finally made a friend. And she was even - you know, she was ready to come over to the house. And so upstairs in my room, the one that I shared with my twin sister, I explained that, you know, my parents were drug addicts and that I didn't live with my mom, but I live with my dad. And so when my dad offered to take us to McDonald's, she said, you know, I'm not getting in the car with you because she was taught by her family that drug addicts are bad.

SIMON: Well, and tell us what he said to you and your sister Meagan, because it's, to say the least, a family conversation that's unique.

CARR: He talked about his former life as a drug addict, specifically crack. And I didn't really understand what that meant, but, you know, one of the things that I took away from the conversation - what I remember, you know, thinking about was you have to be careful about who you tell your story to. It's not something to be traded for affection. It's not private, but it's not public. He had yet to write his book, "The Night Of The Gun."

SIMON: I have thought in my mind if there's a nice way to phrase this, and I'm afraid I can't, so let me try anyway, OK? Addiction damn near killed your mother and your father, and it damn near ruined the lives of you and your sister. Wasn't that enough to warn you away from drinking?

CARR: I think it's a good question. I think that there's, one, a genetic component to this. But the first time I tried cocaine, it really felt like a part of my DNA had been completed. And later, I realized because that's how my life started. That would make complete sense.

So what I can offer you is what I learned about my dad through what he told me, through "The Night Of The Gun" - it did stop me at certain moments from really developing the addiction into something that was like his. Like, I was really lucky that not only was there this really intense example of what addiction looked like, there was what sobriety looked like. You know, for me, I need to be very clear that for the majority of my life, my father was a sober man.

SIMON: You talk in the book - you did find sobriety hard.

CARR: Yes. I mean, the first year was - I mean, I only - basically, I only got to nine months my first bout of sobriety. And so then I drank again. And within a couple of months, something terrible happened.

SIMON: Yeah.

CARR: And I remember that my sister was like, this is - you have to tell dad now. And as is our way, I sent him an email saying that I had drank again. And he said, I am in your corner. And then he died.

SIMON: You sent your father text messages after he died. Do you remember what you said?

CARR: It's a little strange. It's like I just wanted to - I wanted to talk to him even though I knew he wouldn't talk back. And, like, I used to send him emails. And just the other day, the book was coming out, and I cc'd him because I don't - that seemed like a...

SIMON: Wow.

CARR: ...Not a crazy thing to do. And the email bounced back. I was like, this is upsetting.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. I think we all know what that's like, though.

CARR: Yeah. I just wanted - I wanted to - him feel like he's a part of it. And I think that there's a lot of people that don't believe in an afterlife. But, like, we are, you know, a religious crew. You know, to think that he is around in whatever presence exists is comforting.

SIMON: The book winds up with, things I learned from David Carr, a list. Could I ask you to read five or six that I noticed from there?

CARR: Of course. So these are things I learned from David Carr, a list. (Reading) Be grateful for the things you have in this life. You are lucky. Practice patience, even though it's one of the hardest things to master. Failure is a part of the process, maybe the most important part. Alcohol is not a necessary component of life. Street hot dogs are not your friend. Remind yourself that nobody said this would be easy.

SIMON: Erin Lee Carr - her memoir, "All That You Leave Behind" - thanks so much for being with us.

CARR: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.