Obituary: Lucien Carr

Last original member of the Beats

LUCIEN CARR was the last survivor of the original members of the Beat generation. Although Carr was not a writer himself, he had a strong influence on the novelist Jack Kerouac, and on the poet Allen Ginsberg when they were students together at Columbia University in New York. During a seminal and tumultuous year in the mid-1940s Carr seemed to embody the elements that the Beats took on as their abiding literary aesthetic: a fascination with criminal low-life, and a kind of visionary poetic Romanticism.

Ginsberg tells of meeting Carr in 1943 after hearing the music of Brahms pouring from his college dormitory. He was "the most angelic kid I ever saw". Kerouac, who became friends with both men around the same time, described Carr, with characteristic exuberance, as a man "with complete intelligence, language pouring out of him, Shakespeare reborn almost, golden hair with a halo around it". It was Carr who introduced Kerouac to the mystical literary theories of William Butler Yeats, from whom Kerouac borrowed the idea of "automatic writing" that he would use in his 1957 novel On the Road.

Carr grew up in St Louis, where he was raised by his wealthy mother in an atmosphere of upper-class privilege. He never knew his father, who walked out on the family when Lucien was two. Through Carr William Burroughs, also from a well-to-do St Louis family, met the other Beat writers.

A persistent legacy of the Beats is the romantic idea of the artist as social outlaw. Carr passed on to his writer friends his infatuation with Rimbaud, who exemplified this idea. A few months into his friendship with Carr, Ginsberg wrote in his journal:

Know these words and you speak the Carr language: fruit, phallus, clitoris, cacoethes, feces, foetus, womb, Rimbaud.

The gem in this lexicon, as the cultural historian James Campbell points out, is " `cacoethes', an uncontrollable urge, especially for something harmful".

In August 1944, Carr became something of a cause celebre when he murdered David Kammerer, an older admirer who had been sexually obsessed with Carr since he was 12 years old. Kammerer followed Carr to New York where Carr stabbed him to death with a boy-scout knife in Riverside Park. He then rolled the body into the Hudson River.

Carr confessed the crime to Burroughs and to Kerouac, who helped him to dispose of the knife. As a result, both writers were arrested as accessories to murder. Carr claimed self-defence. He was convicted of manslaughter and served two years in prison.

After his release, Carr took pains to distance himself from the Beat scene. To the dismay of his old friends, he became a conventional newspaperman at United Press International. Carr was included in the dedication of the first edition of Ginsberg's famous poem Howl, but insisted that his name be removed from subsequent printings. He is often cited as having given Kerouac the scroll on which Kerouac typed the first draft of On the Road - apparently the novel was written on teletype paper taken from a shelf at the UPI offices.

As the legend of the Beats grew, Carr asked his friends to refrain from mentioning him as part of the group. However, characters based on Carr appeared in Kerouac's fiction. In his novel Vanity of Duluoz (1968), Kerouac recounts some of Carr's youthful antics, such as the time Carr rolled Kerouac down Broadway in a beer keg.

His private relationships with the three central Beat writers, however, remained close to the end of their lives. He was a confidant, and an early reader of their work.

Ginsberg once wrote down a song that Lucien Carr liked to sing: "Violate me / in violent times / the vilest way that you know. / Ruin me / ravage me / on me no mercy bestow."

Lucien Carr, journalist: born St Louis, Missouri 1 March 1925; staff, United Press International 1946-93; twice married (three sons); died Washington, DC 28 January 2005.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home