The Night of the Gun by David Carr: three lessons from reading this ‘junkie memoirs’

Three great lessons were central David Carr’s memoir the Night of the Gun, published in 2008, which I only recently read. Carr differentiated his story from other self-described ‘junkie memoirs’ by taking two years to rigorously report on his own life, interviewing those closest and uncovering the records that might corroborate.

  1. Our pasts are more fungible than we would ever imagine — Surely heightened by an ugly past of addiction and violence, the New York Times columnist had created a very different memory than what, it turned out actually happened. By reporting his own life, he found, indeed, he was the one that had the gun that night (story shared in video below), in addition to quite a few other stories about violence he said he couldn’t have imagined. Most might not have that kind of extreme, but his reporting his life story does bring up an interesting reality.
  2. Addiction is a strenuously complicated obstacle — Having recently shared some lessons on addiction and homelessness from my time with a social services agency, it might seem obvious that I was taken by Carr’s ability to write about addiction with experience and directness.
  3. Stories are all about marketing — How you tell your story or another’s has everything to do with perception and direction and angle. As Carr wrote, and others took interest in, his story could either be a tidy tale of a father overcoming drugs and welfare to take custody of his twin girls, or abusive addict escaping his mistakes and misdeeds for the height of professional success. …You might have a very different take on those actually very similar stories.

A few favorites pieces shared below.

As I often do after reading a relevant book or story or article, I wanted to share some of my favorite turns of phrase.

  • A passage from a 1982 Twin Cities Reader cover he wrote: “He was a visitor from another part of town, and he had seen enough. He stepped out of the crowd and asked the police the wrong question. ‘Why did you have to do that?” That question bought [him] a trip downtown. A short stop at the jail for booking and then over to the hospital to get the answer to his question looked at.” [P. 48]
  • He refers to himself as a ‘slow motion kidnapper’ [P. 98]
  • Chapter 18 Crack: A brief tutorial [P. 112] — Yup, the whole thing is worth a read, by far the most interesting chapter in the book for a non-user like myself.
  • “It is the stopping, the quitting, the walking away that we cannot abide because the ceaseless activity keeps the accounting at bay. The mania of addiction, as expressed by anything — coke, booze, betting, sex — finds renewed traction every time it halts because once the perpetrator stops and sees how deeply and truly his life now sucks, there is only one thing that will make him feel better: more of the same. Often the only thing that imposes limits on someone who is hooked on his own endorphins is money.” [P. 141]
  • “The Past is the text-book of tyrants; the Future is the Bible of the Free,” Herman Melville wrote [P. 303]