Lucien Carr was one of several fascinating real-life characters, like Neal Cassady, Carl Solomon, and Herbert Huncke, who became legendary through their association with the Beat writers. Lucien holds a special position here: he introduced Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs to each other.
An extraordinarily bright and adventuresome tousled-blond intellectual from St. Louis, he enrolled at Columbia University in the early 1940’s. Living in the dorms at the Union Theological Seminary, he put on a Brahms record one day, thus earning a knock on the door from another eager young intellectual, Allen Ginsberg. They became close friends, and Carr introduced Ginsberg to the brewing Bohemian universe of 1940’s Greenwich Village. Lucien had a female friend, Columbia student Edie Parker, who was dating the recently-expelled Jack Kerouac. Lucien and Edie decided to introduce Kerouac and Ginsberg, figuring (quite correctly) that the two would find much in common.
Carr was heterosexual but prone to adoration from men, and an older man from St. Louis, David Kammerer, had come to New York to pursue him. One day Kammerer introduced Carr and Ginsberg to another visitor from St. Louis, William S. Burroughs. Burroughs and Kerouac and Ginsberg had finally found each other, and began the weird escapades that would soon exhaust even Lucien Carr’s energy and interest. Carr had his own problems, too. David Kammerer’s obsessive pursuit of him had become so overbearing it was ruining his life, and Kammerer had begun to physically threaten Carr. One day Carr impulsively stabbed Kammerer to death by the Hudson River in Riverside Park, near the Columbia campus.
Terrified, he enlisted Burroughs and Kerouac to help him evade the law, and then after consulting his family turned himself in to the police. The episode disgraced Columbia University, and Keroauc and Ginsberg would both suffer for their association with the crime (Burroughs had already been associated with enough crimes for this to have much less impact on him). Kerouac would write about this episode in both his first novel, ‘The Town and the City‘ and his last, ‘Vanity of Duluoz.’
Carr served two years in jail, and afterwards did something that completely violated Beat ethics and disgusted his friends. He got a job. He joined the United Press wire service as a reporter and remained with them through his life, advancing over time to increasingly senior positions. It is believed to have been a roll of Lucien’s teletype paper from the United Press that Kerouac used to type his legendary unbroken-sheet early draft of ‘On The Road‘ (although other accounts say it was a roll of wallpaper).
Lucien never sought a public identity as a literary figure, though he was extremely well-read and had introduced many of his Columbia friends to the works of Rimbaud. Carr stayed in touch with Kerouac and Ginsberg, but did not like it when they wrote about him or included his name in dedications.
Lucien Carr died of bone cancer in Washington D.C. on January 25, 2005, having outlived virtually all the members of the New York circle of Beat writers he had befriended decades earlier.
Lucien’s son Caleb Carr is the author of the acclaimed murder mystery ‘The Alienist.’ Caleb Carr met many of the Beats as a young man, though he claims to have received no literary inspiration from them or from his father. There may be more to this than meets the eye, however; ‘The Alienist’ is about a series of murders that take place on Manhattan’s waterfront in the distant past.