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Howie Carr’s bleeding heart

The Ford Hall Forum isn’t Howie Carr’s scene. The free lecture series is usually attended by the very people the Boston Herald columnist and WRKO talk-show host despises: "pointy-headed intellectuals," "Trustafarians," Volvo-driving liberals who listen to NPR on their way home to Brookline or Cambridge.

Sometimes, though, the exigencies of the market make a man put aside his principles. And Carr has product to move: The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century (Warner) is about to hit the very bookstores those irksome yuppies love to frequent.

As it turns out, on Tuesday night, a slightly different crowd has gathered in Old South Meeting House. If half the audience is Yankee bluebloods and rumpled academics, the other half is the same Angry White Men who make up Carr’s loyal audience. When Carr starts with a joke — "John Kerry, reporting for duty!", complete with military salute — the latter hoot and applaud while the former sit in stony silence.

Once Carr eases into his tale, though, any lingering tension fades away. When Carr’s ire is misdirected or feigned in the Herald or on ’RKO — when he’s bashing the gays, or knocking small-time pols for small-time nepotism — he’s offensive or just plain boring. But the Bulgers are a perfect target for Carr’s stockpile of rage. As he relates sundry Bulger family obscenities — Whitey making a quick $500,000 by pointing a shotgun at a mark’s crotch; Whitey feeding disinformation to the FBI to pave the way for a future hit; Billy using his Massachusetts Senate presidency to punish little people whose only crime was getting in Whitey’s way — Carr’s disgust, with all its purity and intensity, is a beautiful thing to behold. Needless to say, The Brothers Bulger will be a must-read when it comes out early next year.

There’s just one problem: once or twice, Carr comes dangerously close to sounding like a liberal. "They wrecked so many lives," Carr says of the Bulgers at one point. "They just ... I don’t think Whitey ever cared about anyone. Maybe he cared about his family. But everyone else was just used until they couldn’t be used anymore, and then they were discarded." Who knew Howie Carr had a sensitive side?

Issue Date: June 24 - 30, 2005
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