Tim Carr would deliver his pitch on some cool, unheard-of, must-see new band, then offer harebrained ideas on how you could market them. Finally he’d close the deal with an impish smile that was at once charming and mischievous.
Carr, an arts impresario who grew up in Hopkins, took his keen if offbeat taste and disarming salesmanship from Walker Art Center to Brooklyn Academy of Music and then to the Capitol, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks record labels, working with such names as David Byrne, Laurie Anderson and the Beastie Boys.
He championed edgy outsiders and somehow convinced arts institutions and corporate record labels that they could do the unlikely: stage a national post-punk music fest in a dirt-floor University of Minnesota fieldhouse — as the Walker did with 1979’s legendary M-80: A New-No-Now Wave Festival — or turn an underground thrash-metal band into million sellers, as Capitol did with Megadeth.
“Tim was four steps ahead of the curve, creating things that would become trends in his wake,” said Chris Osgood, the Twin Cities rocker and VP at McNally Smith College of Music who hung with Carr everywhere from the Boundary Waters to the Bowery. “Wherever he went and whatever he did, it was in the name of art and artists. He was fearless, hilarious, provocative, fierce and fun.”
‘He knew all the good stuff’
It wasn’t just music with Carr.
“I was constantly amazed at Tim’s familiarity with all manner of art, culture and music,” said Mike D of the Beastie Boys. “Tim was a cultural search engine before there was such a thing.”
Carr, 57, died three weeks ago in Thailand, where he’d lived the past decade, working on a book, movie and, of course, music projects. According to a U.S. Embassy official, Thai police believe the cause of death was heart failure and there was no evidence of illegal drug use, as was previously reported.
“He said to me that Thailand is the way New York was 30 years ago — the new frontier,” recalled his younger brother Dan Carr, of St. Paul. “He was the very definition of cool.”
The third of nine children, Tim “was always exploring,” said his oldest sibling, Bridget Pirsch of Madison, Wis. “As a kid, he collected records like crazy. And he had a boa constrictor in the basement that we fed a mouse to every day.”
Whenever he returned home as an adult, he became the de facto leader of the Carr clan. He would take the family to an ethnic restaurant and order for the group. “He knew all the good stuff,” Dan said.
Growing up in Hopkins and attending Benilde High School, Carr was a music fan, a champion of the burgeoning punk scene (including Osgood’s Suicide Commandos) and other outlier and experimental music. After writing rock reviews for the University of Minnesota Daily, he landed a one-year fill-in job as music critic at the Minneapolis Tribune in 1977.
That led to a three-year gig as assistant performing arts curator at the Walker.
“He made suggestions with the kind of confidence I hope every journalist has but not every impresario has,” said Nigel Reddin, who hired Carr and now runs the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina and Lincoln Center Festival in New York. “I followed his advice. He had taste, and he was absolutely prepared to take risks and fly by the seat of his pants. He would have these somewhat preposterous ideas but they would somehow work.”
In 2006, he and Carr collaborated again to stage “Ramakien,” a Thai rock opera at Lincoln Center. It was typical Carr — “it wasn’t polished, it wasn’t completely finished, it wasn’t a masterpiece. But it was immense fun,” Reddin said.
Carr was an adventurer, not a careerist. He “lived life intensely,” Reddin observed.
Music-biz consultant Michael Hill met Carr in 1981 and later worked with him at Warner Bros. “He was the guy who could juggle 10,000 amazing ideas at once, with 10,000 adjectives to make sure you really were convinced about whatever project he was hatching or artist he was promoting,” Hill said. “He didn’t need charts or statistics; he just spun his dreams right out of his head.
“Because he was truly erudite, he could draw dazzling lines from visual art to music to movies or books — figuring out a way, for example, to get photographer Cindy Sherman to create an album cover image for Minneapolis trio Babes in Toyland to give the group artistic cred while also managing to convince Warner Bros. that this noisy, uncompromising band could actually get on the radio — and to make sure the label paid for all this, too.”
The artists loved his boldness and commitment.
The Beastie Boys made their masterpiece “Paul’s Boutique” in 1989 after Carr signed them to Capitol. “As a band we will always be indebted to Tim because he invested his fierce passion in music in us and stood up for us by taking a chance on us when others would not,” said Mike D.
Carr moved through complex, seemingly disparate worlds. “Tim was always so on top of everything,” said composer/performer Laurie Anderson, whom Carr represented for a bit. “But he always seemed to understand people’s motivations and goals as well as what they were actually doing and making. ”
Sometimes it was just about the friendships.
When he visited Los Angeles, Carr usually stayed with Beth Halper, a former colleague at DreamWorks, and her husband, Butch Vig, the famed producer (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins) and hitmaking co-founder of Garbage.
Vig recalled the long conversations they would have: “He always made me feel much smarter than I am, because he was able to draw things out of me, engage my brain sometimes in ways I never thought possible. He had a genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for things outside the norm. He was also one of the kindest and most gentle men I’ve ever met.”
Carr’s family is planning a service Wednesday in Thailand and a memorial May 18 in Hopkins at St. Gabriel Catholic Church (formerly St. John the Evangelist), 6 Interlachen Rd. Visitation will be at noon, service at 1 p.m. Memorials are preferred to Walker Art Center.
Hill is left with the image of Carr at his most ambitious, after the 2006 Thai rock opera.
“At the end, Tim came out with the cast and took a bow,” Hill recalled. “I’d never seen him happier or looking so sharp. This time he had on a sleek Thai-made suit, not the satiny Yankees jacket he wore in New York when I first met him. That conspiratorial smile was the same though, along with that mischievous glint in his eye and his unflagging entrepreneurial spirit.”