When I saw the news that David Carr died it came as a brief notification on my iphone. When I touched my phone screen it disappeared. What could the New York Times have been saying about David Carr? Why would his name be on a news alert? I still refuse to believe it’s actually true. Surely he’s playing some kind of trick on all of us to illustrate how fast information travels now. It has to be a trick. He was only 58. I just spoke to him on the phone. He just moderated a Q&A with Laura Poitras on CitizenFour. He was here and then he was gone.
There are so many things that can and will be written about him. So many stories will be shared because he was that kind of person. He touched and saved and inspired and entertained and enlightened so many people. As evidenced by everything that will be written about him, you will soon see just how far his reach extended. I can only share with you how he touched my life, how he changed me, just by looking my way.
It was 2006, The New York Times had just hired an Oscar blogger to help generate, I suppose, income from those lucrative Oscar ads. He was actively trying to help save The New York Times. But he was also working for a living to support his family. The Oscar race had never seen anyone like David Carr and will never see anyone like him again. It’s sort of like driving a Ferrari to deliver the mail. Any old reporter would do but they got David Carr – whip smart, funny, fearless. His columns on the Oscars really did represent the high bar – that was as good as it gets. Even writing this now I’m thinking, why even bother if he isn’t here to read it?
That year he first worked the Oscar beat, he contacted me. I don’t know why. He liked the egghead way I covered the race, he said, but I think it was more that thing in him that always seeks out the underdog. In 2006, we hung around a bit. I first met him for coffee at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf down in the middle of Los Angeles. He was wearing his usual thick grey coat, smoking like a chimney and drinking coffee. Always coffee and smokes. And that scarf and that coat. And that wonderful funny catbird grin. He was asking me about me, why I was running one of the most popular Oscar sites online but was working as a janitor and a teacher’s aide to make ends meet. He hired me to transcribe his interviews when he was doing research for his book, The Night of the Gun. He paid me good money for the work and kept asking me why I wasn’t making money on my site.
Transcribing those interviews I learned a lot about his life – the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe because of that, he knew I knew a lot more about him than I probably should as a work colleague. But it didn’t really change how I viewed him or our friendship – it just meant that I knew some of the pain, saw some of the ghosts. He was honest, straightforward and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.
We went to dinner a few times, once at the Smokehouse in Burbank. Swanky. We ate with his wonderfully funny, beautiful wife Jill whom he could never stop talking about. He could drag me out anywhere, to any terrible party, to any restaurant because there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to talk to David Carr. I used to never go to parties in Hollywood, and was never invited. I remember him taking me to one at the Chateau Marmont. “David Carr, New York Times,” he would say and the crowd would part like the red sea. “This is Sasha Stone of Oscarwatch,” he would say to people and they would just stare back at me blank-eyed, having no idea whatsoever who I was. But David treated me like a somebody. He treated me like I mattered, like what I thought was important, like what I said made a difference.
Conversations with him were fluid – they went all over the place but they always went deep. We hardly ever talked business and when we did he would always say “going on the record.” He talked to me as though I understood half the names and things he brought up, as though as I was an actual professional – I did my best to keep up but knew that asking the whos and the whats was beside the point – whatever he was saying, the way he was saying it, was more important than the specifics.
One day he caught me on my cell phone as I was going to clean one of the buildings while working part time as a janitor. I told him what I was doing and where I was going. The very next time I saw him he advised me that it was time to hold my breath and take a leap of faith. I followed his advice, figuring if he thought I was capable – maybe I was capable. He completely changed the way I ran my business, and thus, changed my life. I owe him everything.
His covering the Oscar best wouldn’t last long. He stood it until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He quit being the Carpetbagger and eventually wrote the media column at the Times, which was a much better fit. Coverage of the Oscar race would never get that good again.
“Sashino!” his conversations would always begin. Even after he stopped covering the Oscars he would usually call me once a year right before the Oscars to talk about the race. I think I spoke with him once every year for eight years.
The last time we spoke he said, “You’re a Gone Girl person, right?” He asked me a few weeks ago. “Absolutely,” I said. “Me too,” he said. “You know me. I like MOVIE movies.”
He thought Boyhood would have trouble winning because it was too subtle for Oscar voters. He watched everything and was the best Oscar predictor I knew. After we spoke for a while, catching up on things like we usually do, I got the chance to thank him for turning my life around. I don’t know why I brought it up during our conversation but I know enough now that nothing should ever wait. You should not hold up a thought when you have someone’s attention. I told him how much I appreciated his giving me that advice back in 2006 and how it changed things for me and my daughter. He said, “Oh yeah?” I guess he’d never known.
“Like you, I’m at home working in my jimmer jammies,” he wrote to me a little while back. I’m sure he had the same shorthand with so many of his friends – and he has thousands of them and they probably all feel like they were this close to him. But the shorthand was so great – “see ya bye.” He would sometimes say. “love you bye.” Or the last thing he wrote “admit that you miss me. Lord knows I miss you.” He was just the kind of person who made you feel like you made their day just by saying hello.
I’m sorry that words fail me expressing what a loss this is – there are some people who can’t be replaced because they’re made of such stuff. He was an accidental combination of disasters and miracles. He was barely alive, David Carr, battled cancer and various other physical ailments and by all rights, as he always said, he shouldn’t have lived as long as he did. He was stitched together by a beating heart and a will to live because he had a family worth living for.
There are people who are lighthouses. Maybe they look almost ordinary in the daylight but once they shine a light on you, or make your path clearer and more defined. I will keep my memories of him in a place mostly out of reach, reserved for special occasions when I’m feeling low. He knew I wasn’t perfect. He watched my very public mistakes. But it never mattered to him. He was my friend and that was that. If nothing else, there was always that. I could point to my friendship with him and say, he thought I was worth knowing.
The last time I saw him he’d flown out here to do a Times Talk with George Clooney and Alexander Payne for The Descendants. He was one of the only people who could out-Clooney Clooney. He introduced me to Clooney backstage, in fact, doing the old David Carr thing. Clooney probably thought I was some long lost cousin come to watch David do the Q&A.
The very last communication we had was about two things. The first? The Serial case. “He did it,” he wrote to me. He was the kind of person who had to know everything about everything and he was all over Serial, of course, even moderating a discussion at The New School just last week.
He also gave me some advice about engaging on Twitter with people. He wrote:
It’s got nothing to do with what you say. they want what you have and can’t stand that you have it.
just block them. easy as that. just block and move on. no drama, no dialogue, no beseeching to let you be. just leave them out there yelling down a hole.
David Carr leaves a massive footprint. Not just in the work he’s generated over the years. That he took out time to write a defense piece of Ava DuVernay’s Selma shows you who he was in his heart. He stood up for the underdog. He hated bullies. He was always up for a fight against the bad guys. There is no replacing him in any way.
But it’s worth noting that he died in the newsroom of the paper he loved.
So here’s me admitting I miss you, David. Wherever you are my dear friend, thank you for lighting the way. Thank you for the hundred thousand smart things you said, what you gifted me with, what you taught me — I am so grateful.
Love you bye. —Sashino.