Neil Young Comes Clean, reads the title of David Carr’s 2012 Neil Young profile in the New York Times. The title may or may not have been Carr’s work–titles, like weather and other commandments, often come from above. But it’s a good bet that Carr’s original titles made it beyond the editor’s scrutiny more than those of most Times scribes. What Carr was mainly examining in late stage Neil Young was the musician’s recent–and strange–sobriety, which Young admits produced a self he hardly recognized. Perhaps only David Carr, having gone almost contemptuously public with his own irresponsible drugged up past, could have gotten so much befuddled honesty from the musician known as Shakey. Or perhaps it was just that David Carr had a habit of shaking too that put Young at ease.
Young had just written a book, Waging Heavy Peace. “Sometimes a smooth process heralds the approach of atrophy or death,” Young wrote in it, explaining why he was an inveterate shape-shifter. Carr may have believed it–he’d lived nine lives at least. Reading that line again now makes one wonder if Carr had smoothed his own process out finally, presaging his own end. Probably not, though Carr was in a far more stable place than he’d been during much of his career when he died last night in the New York Times newsroom. Celebrity profiles are hard to do with integrity. The one Carr produced of Young was a strong example of the tricky genre done right.