Lucien Carr is often credited as the guy that brought the beats together by introducing Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs to one another– though Lucien didn’t quite fit the mold of a beat himself. That is not to say though that he is without mystique. In fact, although Carr is lesser known, his own tale is deeply intriguing– he’s a real interesting bird, that guy.
In 1944, Carr killed former friend, David Kammerer, who was also part of the beat scene, and went as far as to ask his buddies Kerouac and Ginsberg to help him coverup the crime. He eventually turned himself in and served only two years in prison– then after his release became a writer for the Associated Press.
One of the beats kills a guy, then has the nerve to write for “The Man”? I’m telling ya’, truth is always stranger than fiction…
From The Beat Page–
First matter of fact; it was Lucien Carr who introduced Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs to eachother.
Carr wasn’t homosexual but had unfortunately caught the eye of a rather troubled and much older man named David Kammerer. Kammerer was Carr’s Boyscout Scoutmaster during his youth and later followed Carr wherever he went. Lucien never let on to anyone that Kammerer was constantly making advances toward him and the two actually spent a lot of time together. Carr was content to have a friendship with Kammerer but was in no way interested in him (or any man, for that matter) sexually. On August 13, 1944 3am, in Riverside Park, near Columbia University’s campus and the Hudson River, Kammerer again tried to win Carr’s sexual favour. When it was again refused he attacked him. Carr was no match for Kammerer’s size and strength and in self defense, stabbed him to death (ironically) with a Boyscout pocketknife. In a panic, he tied Kammerer’s hands and feet together with his own shoelaces, filled his pockets with as many rocks as he could find, and rolled his body into the Hudson River. After much deliberation about what to do and solicitation of advice from Burroughs, Kerouac and family members, Carr turned himself in to the authorities. He was sentenced to 20 years, but served only 2 years in prison at Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate, NY, which incidentally is 20 miles from my hometown of Pine Valley, NY.
Kerouac moved in with Carr (now out of prison for some time) after leaving Neal Cassady in California and returning to New York City in 1951. This was shortly after the publication of his first novel, “The Town and the City”. Carr was living in a loft apartment on West 21st and was working (to the dissaproval of the Beats) for the United Press.
Kerouac had been inspired at that time by a new writing technique somewhat credited to William Carlos Williams and dubbed “Spontaneous Prose” by Kerouac, in which the writer simply writes or types as fast as possible along a line of thought, expression, or general storytelling with “no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement”. I know this comes across as quite esoteric, but pretty much boils down to the simple concept of writing as fast as one can as the thoughts stream through their consciousness, not trying at that time to come up with the perfect word or phrase.
Kerouac had once been the speed-typing champion of the greater Boston area and this technique suited him quite well. His only complaint was that he was slowed down by having to insert new sheets of paper so often. Lucien Carr, being employed at the United Press, brought home a roll of teletype paper and suggested he try that. Kerouac was delighted that he only needed to insert one end of the roll into his typewriter and could go on for days. The novel Kerouac wrote in this fashion would become his second published (in 1957) and one of his most popular, “On The Road”.
Literary Kicks article on Lucien Carr
It’s my understanding that Kammerer was infatuated with Carr, and tried to seduce him many times over the course of several years, starting when Carr was 14 years of age. Kammerer even followed Carr to NYC from St. Louis. After a half-hearted suicide attempt, Carr reached his breaking point and after another late-night advance from Kammerer that turned violent (according to Kerouac) Carr fought him off with a Boy Scout knife and killed him in the process.
Strange story for sure.
Great Pictures and History.
That NYT article is priceless, “…John Kerouac, a 23-year-old merchant seaman and former Columbia student…” stating re a murder he was privvy to, “‘I only watched him bury the glasses'” and then pleading for bail his parents could post so he could get married…stranger than fiction!
Another great read, thanks for refreshing my faded memory of this part of beat history. I was under the impression that Kerouac was also drawing inspiration for his technique from jazz great Charlie Parker.
Also wanted to post on this story because of the Pine Valley connection, I have stayed there every September since 1983, during the Vintage Grand Prix festival at Watkins Glen. A very pretty part of the world. I absolutely love Johnson Hollow Road, having bested a Cobra with my lowly SVT Focus there.
Thank you for writing about all of my favourite things!
Another good post – Kerouac and Burroughs wrote about the Kammerer-Carr exchange in a previously unreleased book, “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.” The book took its name from a radio broadcast of a circus fire…