There have been a lot of changes to Lowell, Massachusetts, my birthplace, since I left; the city has embraced native son Jack Kerouac, it has a Single A baseball team, and it has finally gone ahead and christened a thoroughfare Crack Street.
“High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell” is a 1995 HBO documentary that follows three likeable and engaging crackheads through a year of half-hearted detoxes, breakups, reconciliations, and the daily drama of their lives.
Co-directed by Richard Farrell, an ex addict and Lowell native, “High on Crack Street” shows a side of Lowell’s culture that doesn’t jibe with its boosters’ plans for urban renewal.
As a former National Park Ranger in Lowell, I was happy to see my former co-worker, Warne P. Nelson, in a featured role, standing by a canal and delighting tourists with stories of the city’s industrial past. It was also a pleasure to see the late, lamented Eat A Donut, where my family would get a dozen excellent doughnuts every Sunday after church.
More than anything, though, “High on Crack Street” contains the best examples of the Merrimack Valley accent. Massachusetts natives know that people from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont talk differently than each other, and people from South Boston speak differently than people from Cambridge. Very few people pahk theya cah in Hahvid Yahd, and if ya did yid get a fuckin’ ticket, ya retahd.
The Lowell/Lawrence accent is distinct from any in New England. I hope it never goes away. And even Brenda the pregnant crackhead has moments in which her North of Boston accent makes her sound genteel.
Thanks to Youtube, you can watch the whole thing.
Update: Brenda went missing after the documentary and there are reports that she has died. Gary “Boo Boo” Giuffrida is still around. Dickie Eklund was released from prison and is now the subject of David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” a film in pre-production starring (as of this writing) Christian Bale as Eklund and Mark Wahlberg as his half-brother, “Irish” Micky Ward. Melissa Leo plays their mother.
Here is Dickie Eklund fighting Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978.
Here’s Eklund’s younger half-brother, Micky Ward, in his first, legendary fight against Arturo Gatti. You can see Eklund as his cornerman. This fight is considered by many one of the greatest televised fights ever. It was the first of three. Ward won this fight and narrowly lost the next two, retiring after the final fight in 2003. He and Gatti remain good friends.
And while we’re at it, here’s the Dropkick Murphys’ ode to Micky Ward, “The Warrior’s Code”:
In all, “High on Crack Street” reminded me of “Grey Gardens” without the landscaping.