For two years, the Twitter account @diditleak was the secret weapon of online listeners and music critics alike. In real time, the account, which ultimately garnered more than 11,500 followers, announced whenever a digital copy of a particularly desirable record first hit the Internet. For that it became a beloved resource of torrent-hungry music fans and writers angling for first listens. Using e-mailed tips and message-board-scouring alchemy, @diditleak seemed to know leaks better than anybody on Earth.
The feed's creator was Alan Carton, a then-21-year-old Vancouver film student who worked on the site in total anonymity. On Jan. 5, @diditleak went dark. Its creator's name is only being revealed now because on Jan. 16, after a long hospital stay, Alan Carton died. He was 23. In his final days, Carton worked on @diditleak from his hospital bed, posting tips about the new Yeasayer record at a time when doctors were saying he could lapse into a coma at any minute. His story — as told by his mother, Jennifer — is unlikely, to say the least.
When Alan was 18, he put off college to work as an electrician in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. At work, he'd drop his hammer into the loop of his overalls, where it would brush against a lump on his leg. He and his mother, Jennifer Carton, assumed that the bump was a cyst. But after six months of work, Carton got a biopsy result that indicated the lump on his leg was sarcoma: soft tissue cancer.
"Whatever" was Alan's first reaction; Canadian hero Terry Fox had jogged across the country after losing his leg to sarcoma. Carton, too, could overcome this. But a full MRI showed that Alan had six cancer spots on one lung and nine on the other. The ensuing eight-hour chemotherapy treatments left him drained and unemployed. In his boredom, Carton taught himself how to play guitar and keyboard with computer programs.
After 12 months of radiation, the spots on his lung and the tumor in his leg were still present. Doctors removed 45 percent of the muscle in his leg, leaving him with a limp and a scar, though his friends didn't mind — Carton's crutches got them good seats at Oilers games. After further visits, the doctor pulled Alan and his mother aside. Carton's lung spots had grown, but if the doctors operated, Alan would have nothing to breathe with, leaving a 20-year-old kid strapped to an oxygen mask forever. The doctor told Alan that they were thinking of surgery the following week, but had decided against it. Alan said, "Well, I'm glad you're not, because we're all going to Calgary for an outdoor concert." Everyone thought it would be best for Alan to go out and enjoy the rest of his life.
While her son was in Calgary, Jennifer took a week off work and cried. "I thought, ‘I can't live like this,'" she says. "I can't just sit here and wait for this boy to die." Instead, she and her son concocted a plan for Alan to live out his dream of going to Vancouver Film School, where he wanted to study sound design. They put their home up for sale a month later. The pair and their Shih Tzu, Snowee, made the 10-hour drive from Edmonton to Vancouver, talking the entire way. At college, Carton didn't tell anyone he had cancer — neither the admissions board nor his friends. Every 10 weeks, he would take a weekend flight back to Edmonton for doctor's appointments, returning to school early on Monday morning.
In 2007, halfway through his first semester, Carton started Did It Leak — which began life as a blog — with the goal of total anonymity. For a year, he didn't even tell his mother about the site. When he finally confessed, Jennifer asked how he knew that albums were leaking. He replied, "I just know. I can't tell you how I find out, I just know." He showed her a map of where his followers were coming from — Ireland, London, Japan, Australia, Spain.
Magazines like the Italian edition of Marie Claire and Canadian newspapers were hankering for interviews. According to Jennifer, his site was valuable enough to working critics that a writer from the Chicago Sun-Times contacted him for his leak-scouring secrets. Carton turned down interviews to help keep the mystery alive.
During his 11th month of school, Carton began having trouble breathing; a tumor was growing over his windpipe. He finished up school rapidly, returned to Edmonton, and worked part-time at a radio station. By the spring of 2008, his tumor had grown and was pushing up against his ribs. Carton was down to 90 pounds and required a hospital visit for dehydration. In the hospital, he got a headache, which the doctor told him was a brain tumor in his right lobe. That meant a seizure or coma could happen at any time. The tumor would have to be radiated immediately.
At the hospital, Carton saw the leak tips arriving on his phone and was clamoring for his laptop: "Oh my God! I gotta get on here, my followers will be wondering what I've got!" his mother recalls. He was admitted to the hospital on a Friday and was updating @diditleak by Sunday. "In the hospital, he always had his laptop with him and his cell phone," remembers Jennifer. "Alan would write while he was in bed. People write and say his ‘company' was so cool. He said, ‘Little do they know I'm just lying in the hospital here with cancer, just bored with nothing to do.'"
He told his mother that if a doctor informed her he was going to die, he'd prefer to remain oblivious — he wanted to go on living. After he got out of the hospital, he went on trips with his friends and his mom to New York, California and Ireland. He got a new tumor on his hip and, after October, never walked again. By December he was 85 pounds and barely hanging on.
On Jan. 5, Carton added his final post — a notification about the leak of the new Vampire Weekend album. For weeks, he hadn't wanted to go to the hospital unless it was absolutely necessary, but now he looked up at his mother at 2 a.m. and said, "I think it's time." On Saturday, Jan. 16, Adam Carton passed away at the age of 23.
Now @diditleak is quiet, stuck on Jan. 5. "I'm sure he said to me Lily Allen sent an e-mail to say that she checks his site," says Jennifer, who allows that it could've been any pop star, really. "He said, ‘I wish these people would ask me when their albums were about to leak. I could tell them.'"
A version of this story appeared originally in the Village Voice.firstname.lastname@example.org