Obituary of Lucien Carr: Journalist who brought together the Beat Generation and killed his fellow beatnik, David Kammerer.
LUCIEN CARR, who died on Friday aged 79, brought together the "Beat Generation" of low-life poets, writers and drug-takers when he introduced Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg to each other in 1943.
He was a valued muse for the more prominent beatniks and claimed to have provided a scroll of teletype paper (pilfered from United Press International, where Carr worked for more than half a century) that Kerouac used to write "On the Road" (1957), so he would not have to break his train of thought by changing sheets of typing paper.
Carr was credited with helping to instill in Kerouac the notion of "first thought, best thought", but he failed to write anything of consequence himself. "He had the vision," observed Kerouac, "but not the method." Probably his best-known contribution to the movement was to stab to death a fellow beatnik, David Kammerer, in 1944, after which both he and Kerouac spent time in jail.
Lucien Carr was born on March 1 1925, and grew up at St Louis, where he met William Burroughs, 11 years his senior, and Burroughs's tall, red-bearded friend Kammerer, who was Lucien's Scout Master and developed a homosexual fixation on the boy.
After being thrown out of various private schools, Carr enrolled at the University of Chicago, where, one day in 1943, he put his head in an oven and switched on the gas; he survived and told a psychiatrist that he had been creating a work of art, but spent a month in a psychiatric hospital under surveillance as a suicide risk. Later that year, irritated at being tailed by Kammerer, who had followed him, he switched to Columbia University in New York, where he stood out as a campus bad boy who could quote Baudelaire and discuss Rimbaud.
In "This is the Beat Generation" (1999), James Campbell described how Carr's literary aspirations involved "a chemistry of poetry and violence" and "if the temperature dipped too low, (he) would start to chew a beer glass, or open a window and urinate into the street, or start ripping the pages out of a Bible".
Kammerer had again followed Carr to New York, and the two often met at Burroughs's flat on Bedford Street, although Carr became increasingly exasperated by Kammerer's advances. Carr also befriended Edie Parker and met her boyfriend, Jack Kerouac, then 21, when he came home on leave from the Navy. Kerouac thought Carr "a mischievous little prick" at first, but he enjoyed his outrageous behaviour and impromptu bursts of lewd song on the subway. They got drunk together and inhaled Benzedrine.
Carr soon introduced Burroughs to Kerouac, ostensibly because Burroughs wanted Kerouac's advice about joining the merchant marine, but Burroughs was also intrigued to meet the bohemian sailor-poet about whom Carr had talked so much. Within months of their meeting, Carr introduced the 17-year-old Allen Ginsberg to the others, and they, along with Edie Parker and Carr's girlfriend Celine Young, formed a libertine circle, indulging their shared love of low life and mixing with criminals.
Kammerer, though, was still obsessed with Carr, and one night in August 1944, on the banks of the Hudson River, he again made a pass which Carr rejected. According to Carr, there followed a fight during which he found himself overpowered by Kammerer. In desperation he pulled out his Boy Scout's penknife and stabbed him twice in the chest. He tied his hands and feet together with shoelaces, filled his pockets with stones, and shoved him in to the river.
He then went to find Burroughs, who told him to get a good lawyer and make a case for self-defence against an unwanted homosexual advance. At dawn Carr went uptown to wake up Kerouac, who took him on a walk and told him to drop the knife through a subway grate. Later they went to the cinema, then on to the Museum of Modern Art. In the afternoon Carr went to his mother's house, before turning himself in at the District Attorney's office.
He was charged with second-degree murder. Kerouac was also arrested as a material witness and placed in the Bronx jail known as the Opera House (Burroughs, too, was pulled in, but his father raised bail). Kerouac was taken to the City Morgue to identify Kammerer, and noticed that, even after three days in the river, his penis was still erect. Carr, Kerouac commented, had dispatched his suitor to "an elder lover, the river". Kerouac was eventually freed on bail, put up by Edie's family. Carr pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree and was sentenced to one to 20 years. He was released after two.
He emerged a more subdued character and applied himself to keeping a low profile. He took a job at the UPI news agency, and rose to become assistant managing editor for national news, based in Washington DC, where he retired.
He stayed in touch with his old Beat friends, however, and in 1951 went with Ginsberg to visit Burroughs in Mexico, where they went on a drunken road trip and Carr fell for Burroughs's second wife Joan; shortly afterwards, Burroughs shot her during "a game of William Tell".
When Ginsberg dedicated his first published (and best) poem "Howl" (1956) to him, Carr insisted that his name be withdrawn from subsequent editions. Kerouac portrayed Carr as Kenneth Wood in his novel "The Town and the City" (1950), and in 1951 moved in with him for a while . Ginsberg often visited Carr at UPI.
Carr, who was twice married, is survived by three sons, including the writer Caleb Carr.