There are few good journalists left. David Carr—the New York Times media columnist, veteran reporter, and author—was one of the last good journalists. I didn’t know him personally (we met twice on different occasions last year; he was kind and attentive, gracious with his time) but as a writer I have followed his reporting and criticism through the years. Writing should be work; it should inform and challenge readers, but also push the writer to voice uneasy truths and confront his or her own limitations. I think Carr understood that better than most writers. He wrestled with his demons, sometimes publicly and on the page, but never lost sight of what we journalists and editors hold dear above all else: truth. Thursday night, as news spread of his passing, Gawker CEO Nick Denton captured Carr’s magnitude in all its grandeur. “A light went out,” he tweeted.
“David Carr, Your Best Friend” by Hamilton Nolan
He was a big guy, and he walked with a hunched-over shuffle, and when I spied his indistinct shape walking towards me from a couple of blocks away I assumed he was a homeless man in a trenchcoat, struggling for each step. The fact that he was a feared and respected media figure at a fancy newspaper always seemed like a wonderful cosmic prank against the existence of stereotypes. Within five minutes of meeting, he was telling the sort of personal stories that most people reserve for their very, very closest friends. Before you knew it, you were telling the same kind of stories. And then you were friends for life.
“Leaving Las Vegas: On Jerry Tarkanian, the Last Hometown Hero” by Foster Kamer
But that’s the thing: His greatest legacy is the one so few people understand. Like I said: There aren’t a lot of people from Las Vegas. Every day, all the time, people leave Las Vegas. They leave it with something more, or something less. Nobody who leaves ever really brings all that much back, but Tark the Shark did, and we all shared its glory together, as a city, as a community, for once. If that’s not a hometown hero, I couldn’t tell you what is.
“Being Real Black For You: Who Kendrick Lamar Is Rapping to on ‘The Blacker the Berry’” by Rembert Browne
Kendrick is attempting a lot in one song. It’s an internal monologue, made public, in which he’s working out his own issues, acknowledging his own demons. Is it conservative? Is he coming down hard on black people? Is he coming down surprisingly hard on white people? Does he fully understand race and power and inequality as much as one perhaps should before jumping in this sea of generalizations? There are days and weeks and months and infinities left to parse out these ideas. But what is true from even the first listen is that Kendrick is talking directly to black people.
Kendrick’s fed up. And if you’re black, he seems to think you should be, too.
“Brands Are Not Your Friends” by Sam Biddle
What’s been lost in the friendification of corporate brands is that by their very nature of brand-ness, brands are diametrically opposed to our interests as humans. They exist solely to distract, deceive, and manipulate us out of our money—and in the case of Coca Cola, freely dispense diabetes and obesity. There is nothing relatable in a brand. It’s an entity designed for the single purpose of extracting money from you by any legal means, no matter if you don’t need or even want what’s being sold. Even if the thing being sold is very, very bad for you—the brand will persuade you it’s silken and lovely. A brand will systematically and perpetually convince you that your best interests are incorrect—this is the behavior of an abusive partner, not a friend. Not even a stranger! Brands hate you.
“How Drunk Is Too Drunk to Have Sex?” by Amanda Hess
Last year, my colleague Emily Yoffe recounted the Occidental case in a piece arguing that college sexual assault disciplinary processes infringe on the civil rights of men. Yoffe recommended that campus rape cases ought to be handled by police and prosecutors, and that schools could do their part by attempting to reduce binge drinking. I don’t view the issue exactly the same way, but I do think that certain university policies around drinking and sex do a disservice to students by redefining the sexual assault of women to include “sex while drunk,” and creating a double standard for men.
“A Chat with Malcolm Brenner, Man Famous for Having Sex with a Dolphin” by Jia Tolentino
But Dolly was a very unique dolphin, because she was allowed to perform with a riverboat. She was the only dolphin outside the US navy who could do open water work. She could have left the amusement park any time she wanted to, but she kept coming back. So I started wondering, what was the big draw? I really don’t have a satisfactory answer, but I really think she was studying human behavior. I really do.
“A River Runs Through It” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
Tucked into the whirl of Greenwich Village, Electric Lady could have become a priceless real-estate curio. Instead it has continued to be a place where great American music is born. Unlike many historical sites in Manhattan, Electric Lady Studios has a strict but logical door policy: no tours, no strangers. For the most part, the only people admitted are those who have come to make music—the artists and their retinues.
Maybe that’s why it’s difficult not to feel sentimental, blessed even, when one gets a chance to go inside. There is something about Electric Lady that feels sacrosanct. From the moment the discreet, glass-paned door buzzes and lets you through, disbelief sets in and does not fade as you walk down the bordello-red staircase. These are the steps where a very shy Jimi Hendrix, only weeks away from his death, told a very young Patti Smith his never-to-be realized plans for a universal love orchestra, an orchestra where, as Smith wrote in her memoir, “musicians from all over the world in Woodstock… would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his studio.”