George Carlin is gone. Damn it. I never got to meet him.
People who know me well will attest that in a normal conversation, it’s quite common for me to quote George Carlin. It’s no accident: he was so prolifically funny and insightful for so long that he covered the majority of topics relevant to our lives at one time or another. More than any other individual source, George Carlin’s stand-up formed the basis of my comedic sensibility. He showed me what comedy could be—that its full effect extends well beyond what is merely funny. His wit was restless, impatient; it tugged persistently at the uneven corners of our society.
When I was about 11 or 12, his 1972 album Class Clown became the first comedy recording I ever owned. I brought that LP home, listened to it, and then listened to it again. And then again, a few more times. Soon his brilliant riffs were committed to my memory (where they remain), and I returned to Tower Records in Mountain View to repeat the process with another opus from the Carlin catalogue. LPs gave way to cassette tapes – easier to store, useful for my new, bitchin’ bright-yellow Walkman, and good for comedy recordings because the eventual decline in audio fidelity didn’t matter so much.
As I’ve mentioned, his penetratingly funny insights are too numerous and wide-ranging to recount. Here’s just a few, off the top of my head. George, forgive me if I paraphrase.
“You ever notice how you don’t get laid much on Thanksgiving? …I think it’s because all the coats are on the bed.”
“What do dogs do on their day off? Can’t lie around — that’s their job!”
I could go on and on. Maybe I already have a little. Well, if you want to toss in more of your favorites, that’s what comments are for.
All the memorial compositions I’ve glanced at thus far have emphasized Carlin’s status an “anti-establishment” or “counter-culture” icon, that kind of thing. Most often remembered is his arrest on obscenity charges, mirroring the legal run-ins of his predecessor Lenny Bruce and his contemporary Richard Pryor. They also all mention “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television,” the routine that first put him on the law enforcement radar and, not coincidentally, still his most famous bit. Strangely, my fellow eulogists conspicuously don’t mention what the seven words are. This strikes me as disrespectful of the underlying point Carlin was making, which was that they’re just words. They can’t hurt you. So, as George said:
“Shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker and tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that will infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.”
Decades have now passed. All Tower Records stores in the U.S. have closed (but, encouragingly, the Mountain View store location I remember so well is now occupied by an independent, old-school Bay Area outfit called Rasputin Music). Anyway, my George Carlin records and cassettes have long since been left behind, my Walkman became obsolete, and newer cars no longer even have tape decks. Now Carlin himself has departed the scene, but his influence on me and countless others will remain as long as we do, and then longer still, even if unrecognized.
What are we to make of the sad news of his death? I can think of no more appropriate course of action than to turn to the man himself for his views on the subject.
So this is it. It is with the utmost gratitude, admiration, respect, and affection that I say farewell, George Carlin… you cantankerous old fuck.
(*lights fuse, plugs ears*)