Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Life before and after The Wire

I’ve spent the last few weeks working my way through David Simon’s excellent “Homicide: Life On The Streets” tome about 1988, the year he spent shadowing homicide detectives from the Baltimore Police Department. It formed the basis for the much …

Tue, Apr 15, 2008, 07:42

   

I’ve spent the last few weeks working my way through David Simon’s excellent “Homicide: Life On The Streets” tome about 1988, the year he spent shadowing homicide detectives from the Baltimore Police Department. It formed the basis for the much admired TV series and indeed, there are plenty of sketches from the book which later made their way into The Wire. There’s a real-life Jay Landsman in the book, for instance, and then, there’s a scene involving the use of a photocopier as a lie-detector machine which was tailor-made for Bunk and co:

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Of course, that same scene had been used much earlier by the people who made Homicide:

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But before the TV came calling, there was the book and the real beauty of the book lies in Simon’s ability to put the reader in the room with hard-chaws of every stripe. Whether it’s detectives boozing their way through suds in yet another late-night dive or B-more yos trying to squirm their way out of another bit of bother, Simon’s observations are always perfectly judged. You can see it in how he writes about the daily drudge of life on the homicide desk – the constant carping from superiors about statistics, for instance, and how those charged with solving usually nasty and too often casual murders try to balance doing their job with the admin side of things. It’s in how he sees cracks developing in the foundations of the once great Charm City, cracks which were set to spread and splinter in the crack and smack years which were to follow. It’s in how he tracks how the crimes they’re working on mark those detectives even when they step away from their desk or shoddy patrol car or bar-stool. There’s both an edge and a bounce to his writing which almost makes every scene zing.

Simon’s own notes on the experience are also worth noting. Having got permission from the top brass to join the homicide unit (he was given the rank of “police intern”), the reporter from the Baltimore Sun then had to win the trust of the detectives. This took time and, inevitably, a lot of drinking. He quickly accumulated a stack of notebooks, “a dog-eared tower of random detail that confused and intimidated me”, as he caught the beat of the unit and the city which produced 234 murders during Simon’s year on the beat.

After that, Simon went back to the Sun, but he had an itch to do more than just journalism at a paper which he no longer felt was in the real newspaper business. He spent a year observing life and death in an inner-city neighbourhood which became a book, co-authored with Ed Burns, called The Corner. It was turned into a HBO mini-series. Then there was The Wire, a TV show which redefined just what a TV show could do.

Simon’s next turn? Well, that’s Generation Kill, another HBO jaunt and another gig alongside Burns. This time, they’re working with Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright’s book about his time embedded with a US Marine Corps special operations unit during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The series airs in July and here’s the trailer (thanks to Ivor for the link)

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