Thursday, June 26, 2008

George Carlin 1937-2008


"It's called 'The American Dream' because you have to be asleep to believe it"

George Carlin
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It is an image that stays with you even after the passage of over three and a half decades. I am referring to the night that I first laid eyes on the phenomenon that was George Carlin. As best as I can remember, it was in the spring of 1972. I was a thirteen-year-old kid, watching one of my favorite programs, The Flip Wilson Show, when all of a sudden there he was! I could not believe what I was witnessing! This guy is a comedian?? He had hair that went well past his shoulders....
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"I'm aware some stare at my hair,
In fact, to be fair,
some really despair of my hair"
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....and a beard!
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"Here's my beard
Ain't it weird?
Don't be sceerd
It's just a beard!"
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And man! The son-of-a-bitch was funny! Funnier than anyone I had ever seen in my life. The anti-Bob Hope had arrived:
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"Hey there, kids! Welcome to the Weird Willie West Show on the Nifty Eight-Fifty, Wonderful WINO Radioooo! More hits more often! WINO time: (BING BONG) Five minutes past the big hour of Five o'clock! We've got the new John Lennon record comin' up which, if you play it backwards at slow speed, it screws up your needle!"
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And then there was Al Sleet, the hippie dippie Weatherman:
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"Que pasa! Al Sleet here, your hippie dippie Weatherman, with all of the hippie dippie weather, man! Tonight's forecast? Dark. Continuing mostly dark tonight, with widely scattered light in the morning. The radar is picking up a line of thunder showers.... However the radar is also picking up a squadron of Russian ICBMs - so I wouldn't sweat the thunder showers, you know, man."
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Who was this guy? I thought he was just one of Wilson's many guests making a one shot appearance. But then, the following week, there he was again! A regular??? FANTASTIC! From that point on, I would find myself tuning in for no other reason than to bask in the cosmic lunacy of my new comedic hero, George Carlin. Within a matter of weeks, I found out that he actually had a new LP out called FM and AM, on a label I had never heard of before (and would never hear of again) called "Little David Records". One of my fondest adolescent memories, is listening to that record in the company of my friends and fellow co-conspirators, Jeff Warren and Kevin Swanwick (Hi, guys!) The first track on Side One almost knocked me senseless. Euphemistically titled "Shoot", it was a nearly six minute lecture on the word, "SHIT". ("They can't fool me, man! 'Shoot' is 'shit' with two O's!) He related the story of how the previous year, he had been fired from the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas for saying the forbidden word....
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"....in a town where the big game is called Craps! There's some kind of a double standard! I'm sure there was some Texan standing out in the casino yelling: 'AWW, SHIT, I GOT CRAPS!!' And they fly those guys in for free, man! They fired me. Shit!"
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Although hearing the announcement of his death early Monday morning on MSNBC was a sad thing indeed, it was hardly surprising. Given the state of his health and his history of heart disease, we should consider ourselves blessed (or cursed - depending on your point-of-view) that we had him for as long as we did.
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Here's a little bit of trivia for you: about seven-hundred feet from where I now sit, just off of Craigville Road here in Goshen, NY, is the abandoned campus of the old Salesian Catholic High School, where a precocious and eccentric teenager named George Carlin was educated in the nineteen-fifties. He would eventually be expelled for telling his fellow classmates that he had brought some heroin with him from the city. Classic Carlin!
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The most amazing thing about Carlin's career is that in its infancy, he was just your average, run-of-the-mill comedian. After a brief stint in radio, he got together with another young and aspiring comic named Jack Burns. The comedy team of Burns and Carlin - which obtained a modest degree of success with a couple of bookings in Los Angeles, an appearance on the Jack Parr Show, and a record album that sold about a hundred copies - never had much of a future. It was only after George Carlin discovered a dark and troubled yet screamingly funny iconoclast named Lenny Bruce that he realized he had to set off in an a totally different direction - a direction that the more conventional Burns was ill-suited to go. The act amicably broke up in 1963 and Carlin was on his way. (Years later, Burns would team up with a more traditional comic, the late Avery Schreiber: Burns and Schreiber. Remember them? FUNNY!)
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Looking at videotaped footage of George Carlin's early solo act today, one is immediately struck by his warped view on mid-sixties popular culture and his irreverence with respect to the mores of the time. Even after the passage of forty years, his early satire is still as funny now as it was then:
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"And Now the Seven O'clock Report:
RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES ARE AT WAR!
MISSILES HAVE BEEN FIRED FROM BOTH SIDES!
WASHINGTON AND MOSCOW ARE IN FLAMES!....
But first, this word about your breath."

For al
most seven years, although a uniquely original talent, he continued to operate within the accepted realms of traditional stand-up comedy. Footage of him at this time on the Tom Jones and Merv Griffin Programs, shows a straight-laced, likable enough, mainstream kind of guy sporting a tailor made suit and the short hair style which was then fashionable. It was also during this period that he even made a forgettable appearance as an actor on an episode of the sit-com, That Girl, with Marlo Thomas.
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Prior to the nineteen-seventies, the biggest scandal he ever found himself in was on a cold December night in 1962 when Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Gate of Horn nightclub in Chicago. After Lenny was hauled off the stage, the cops went into the audience asking everyone for their IDs. When asked for his identification Carlin, who was in the audience and extremely intoxicated, drunkenly told the inquiring officer, "I don't believe in IDs!" Handcuffed and thrown into the back of the patrol car alongside Lenny, the persecuted comedian took one look at his friend and asked, "What the hell are you doing here?" "I got stupid with a cop" said Carlin, to which Lenny replied, "Schmuck!"
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The dawn of the seventies found our hero (and much of the country) going through some major changes - Lenny Bruce was dead; a generation of disaffected, righteously pissed-off children were venting their outrage over the utter futility of a war in which they and their friends were being forced to fight in and die - and that hitherto invisible barrier that had once separated a performer from his or her audience was being shattered. It was at this moment that Carlin decided to take a sabbatical. Whether it was an emotional crisis or simply a matter rechartering the direction of his career is not certain. When he emerged some months later however, a total transformation had taken place. Booked into a club, he sat unrecognized amid an audience of his most hard-core fans, waiting to be introduced. When he walked onto the stage, pony tailed and bearing a six month growth of a beard, it is said that the shock and surprise of the people in that room was palpable. Meet the new George Carlin.
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For five years he was cooking. A series of five comedy albums won him a Grammy and more than a few gold records. He was, without doubt, the most popular and successful comedian in America. An obscenity arrest while performing at a Milwaukee fair in 1973 - the kind of thing that had destroyed Lenny Bruce's career less than a decade previously - only ended up garnering him some valuable publicity. He even became an unwitting part in a landmark Supreme Court ruling when radio station W-BAI in New York City was fined by the FCC for playing a recording of his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" routine one afternoon in the autumn of 1973. Not to any one's surprise, the Supremes sided with the Feds.
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Then, in the mid-seventies, cocaine abuse began to affect the agility of this most brilliant of comic minds. In October of 1975, when he guest-hosted the debut of a new show called Saturday Night Live, the entire ordeal was a disaster for Carlin. Watching that program is still painful all these decades later. At times his lines are greeted by total silence, prompting him to ask the studio audience, "Have you heard these jokes before?" They had. He had lost his comic muse.
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His recovery from a 1978 heart attack seems to have given him a second wind. His 1982 performance, Carlin At Carnegie Hall, which was broadcast on HBO, saw him at the peek of his creative powers, which is where he remained until this past Sunday when he left us at the still far-too-young age of seventy-one.
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In recent years, his observations about the human condition had become dark and deeply troubling; not too surprising given the nature of the times in which we live. On one of his last albums, ironically titled, Life Is Worth Losing, the political reality of life in America was laid bare in a way only George Carlin could do. He simply asked the question: Who owns this country? His answer is brutal, disturbing, honest and, in a way that only he could have made possible, beautiful:
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"The real owners are the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they're an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you! They own everything! They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long-since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They've got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They've got you by the balls! They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying - lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else!
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"But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard thirty fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers - people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork - but dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

"And now, they're coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement
money! They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it! They'll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big club and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the Big Club."
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It is my opinion that the man is right up there with Mark Twain. Carlin's advantage is the fact that no audio recordings survive of the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. George Carlin's voice will survive as long as the human race. A century from now, he'll be remembered with the same love and critical esteem for which Twain is held nearly a century after his passing. For your own health and safety, don't hold your breath waiting for the likes of George Carlin to pass this way again. He was the last of the great American humorists. They're all gone now - all of them - and they're not coming back.
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Shit.
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Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net
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NOTE: The photograph of Lenny Bruce to the left of the column has never been published. It is a Polaroid, circa 1963, that was stapled to his cabaret card. And remember, you saw it first on "The Rant", folks!
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SUGGESTED LISTENING:

Take-Offs and Put-Ons
RCA Victor Records
Classic, early Carlin; recorded at the Roostertail Nightclub, Detroit Michigan, November 1966
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SUGGESTED READING:

Napalm and Silly Putty
by George Carlin
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Here is a video link to the Carlin piece quoted above:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ4SSvVbhLw

To read more recent postings on this cesspool of Liberal propaganda, please go to the following link:

"The Rant' by Tom Degan

George would have approved.

13 Comments:

At 11:33 AM, Blogger lkagy said...

"Tonight's forecast--dark, changing to widely scattered light in the morning."

Oh, the absurdity. It was so funny then...

 
At 6:29 PM, Blogger jeff said...

Not all of you had the good fortune to grow up with a brother six years your senior who at the age of 10 was projecting Charlie Chaplin films against a bedsheet in a darkened corridor of the house or who at 13 was bringing home Lenny Bruce and George Carlin records (not to mention Stan Freburg, Firesign Theater, etc., etc.).

My point is, I took all of this for granted. That was the way America was. Sure, Lenny took it in the teeth, but you had to pay your way and the overall message was that in our country people spoke fearlessly truth to power.

Now, however, I realize just how bereft we are.

Jeff Degan

 
At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JEFF!! Who was this brother of yours?? I thoought I was alone!

All the best,
your loving brother,

Tom Degan

 
At 11:46 PM, Blogger Prairie Waif said...

"And now, everyone owns a cell phone that makes pancakes, they sell them gizmos and they are placated."

Time for those of us not "placated" enough, to stand and be counted. DAMN! We tried that on stopping a war in Iraq. In fact, the World tried that.

Next?

Remember, George is gone, but he left us Pandora's box and we can hope that some moneyed clown with a diamond-encrusted crowbar, hasn't gotten in and taken all hope.

Jeff, lucky you to have been instructed by such a formidable teacher of influence.

*I* was similarly blessed. My Dad-o was bringing home the Kingston Trio and other "lefty" information throughout his life.

Tom, you are correct, 71 is too young. I'm not sure he'd want to be around to see what Bu$h and Company have dreamed up for their October surprise.

Some things, as he told Olbermann, need to be sledgehammered and swinging that thing for 8 years at Georgie and Corporation was pretty damn difficult for anyone, let alone George Carlin who was born with the biceps to do it but not enough sand in the timer.

 
At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Carlin was the best - from the beginning (the skinny suit and short hair) to the end.

Mary Eman

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger stoney13 said...

SHIT, PISS, FUCK, SUCK, COCK-SUCKER, MOTHER-FUCKER, AND TITS!

HELL YES! i will type them here! I will scream them from the fucking rafters!! I will go out in the world, walk up to people, shake their hands, and say" Sit, piss, fuck, suck, cock-sucker, mother-fucker, and tits!" And then I will walk away!

I will just walk, the fuck, away, and leave them standing there! With that look on their faces that doesn't change for five minutes!

Oh HELL yea! George will, flat out DIG it!

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger Derek Johnson said...

Carlin was a secular prophet. He called it when he said who owns this country.I miss him already.

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Prairie Waif said...

John Mayer, often get called a "pretty-boy" Rocker, in reality he is a songwriter/musician, who hates the "pretty boy" thing. He is also a great writer and proficient blogger, insightful and pensive.

He, like Jeff and Tom shared something in common about George Carlin.

I leave you with this cut/paste from Mayer's blog:

George Carlin was my favorite comic.
He had what a virtuoso must: control.
Virtuosos take away the fear in you that they will drop the ball,
because they never do.

He would ease you into generally agreeing with his world view and then sneak in the oddest statement he could come up with, like "You ever get hit in the head with an axe?"

One time he told this joke about his grandfather retiring for the evening, telling him "I'm gonna go upstairs and f**k your grandma for a while."

His telling of the Aristocrats joke is by far the most vulgar and graphic.

He was also one of those entertainers whom you "share custody" with someone you love.
My brother Carl and I would recite Carlin lines all the time...

He was known as a "counter-cultural" comedian.
And it's a shame he's gone, because these days there's a hell of a lot of culture to be countered.

June 24, 2008 08:31 AM

John Mayer

 
At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Dr. Rick Lippin said...

Cynical humor is at its core a mighty passion for the redemption of man.

While Carlin would probably deny this motive he was really trying the redeem us.

I too will miss him terribly,

Dr. Rick Lippin

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Libertine said...

A fitting tribute to a great man.

 
At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tommy,

A fine piece. 1972 seems like yesterday when you describe it. We were so young and GC made us laugh. We kept laughing and still do.

Kevin

 
At 4:09 PM, Blogger Saltwater said...

"is because he is a black man. Case closed."

Sad but true. The elephant in the living room. Like the old New Yorker cartoon from many years ago which had a couple, and a visitor, in a room, and a gigantic rhinoceros (instead of an elephant) where the coffee table would have been, totally dominating the room. And the wife is telling the guest "We deal with it by ignoring it."
I think that's what the press is doing, in ignoring the real influence of racism on the poll numbers. They deal with it by ignoring it. It's similar to the way the U.S. in in deep denial about being a very violent ountry. That's why you hear the government and politicians talk and talk about what a peace-loving country we have here: because the truth is the opposite.
Every so often a story comes out which basically goes "well, no one will admit it on camera, but privately they tell me that there is no way they, or anyone they know, will vote for a black man." And variations on that theme. Racism never went away, it just hid in the shadows.
What is absurd is that no one is black and no one is white. We are varying shades of color, and have an infinite combo of bloodlines. Black/White is and always has been a ridiculous and irrational concept. Most if not all human beings are more than biracial, they are probably multiracial, if you go back far enough.
The hatred of the "whites" for the "blacks" is a tradition handed down generation to generation, and is based on guilt, and fear inspired by that guilt.
If a man knows he has done another man wrong, it creates guilt and fear.
Not to mention the classic fear of the black man and the white woman, which, though attitudes have changed a lot, is still seen a a threat by many, especially in the minds of millions of old McCain voters who grew up with their daddy and mommies saying f'ing ni_____! all the time.

Seems like (altho there are a number of good ones like Moyers)the crusty old 'white' men in the press- Kristol, Brooks, Brokaw, Gibson, O'Reilly, and many others- just can't stand Barack's success. They are infuriated with it and envious. "How DARE a n____r be so uppity!" is what their facial expressions show in the presence of Obama.
I really have the feeling that so many racist people- ones who would never admit it- really want to call Barack "boy." They surely act like it.
McCain has lost integrity and beleivability right before our very eyes, month by month. Reminds me of watching Hillary lose it more and more over months. Now that seems ages ago.
I think McCain is a war criminal, not any kind of hero. I lived through the Vietnam years although was not in Vietnam. I don't like to see the tragedy of that war exploited the way McCain is doing. It amounts to a form of war profiteering, only it is from a past war. In my opinion, he's exploiting all the soldiers who went to Vietnam, and the ones who never came back, by using this "war hero" mantra.

There's patriotism, and then there is opportunism, and McCain cannot serve two masters any more than any of us can.

He didn't do anything heroic. His campaign ads are sleazy, lowbrow, deceptive lying propagandistic pieces of nasty. He's emotionally disturbed in a dangerous way. He is delusional, can't keep facts straight, makes the most offensive "jokes" (bomb bomb, for example), has delusions of grandeur, and is, all in all, someone unfit for office.
How do I know this? Because I'm delusional, can't keep facts straight, make offensive jokes, et cetera. It takes one to know one.
;>)

But the difference is that I'M not the one running for president. I at least have the sense to know I couldn't do it.
McCain should have the common sense to just drop out and then eventually more people will start to like him again.
But he is no longer his own man- if he ever was, but maybe he used to be.
Not now.
He is showing all the signs of being jerked arond by the puppet stings.
Obama actually seems to be the leader in his own campaign. But McCain seems like the marionette out in front of the curtain. Sad to see that happen to anyone, but that's their choice, usually. But I certainly don't want this jerk for president. I've had quite enough suffering under the Bush nightmare.
Thank you for having this place for me to post my thoughts. Glad you are still keeping up the site.

 
At 9:54 AM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

We must have Carlin reunion. Jeff, Jeff, Tom and me!

 

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