Monday, June 23, 2008

Joe Bless You, George Carlin

George Carlin was my hero. Scratch that, he is my hero still. Something as trivial as death can't push him off the hill where he stands in rarefied company. We won't see another come around like him, and I suppose that's all right, too. He called us on our bullshit, pointed out our stupidity in so many amusing ways. He was the commentator for the greatest of all games, that of life itself. And he called the game well.

In case you're wondering, the title comes from an old skit in which he professed that, he worshiped the sun--after all, it allows us to live on the planet. He worships the sun, but doesn't pray to it. For prayers, he said, he turned to Joe Pesci. He told us that, after a few years of this, praying to Joe had about the same effect as praying to some deity or another. Sometimes he got what he wanted, sometimes not. He did say that Joe had come through on a few wishes that God hadn't been able to fix. "It's amazing what a simple baseball bat can accomplish," he said. Or something to that effect. In keeping with that, and the fact that George wouldn't have wanted us to muddle up his athesim, I'm hoping Joe Pesci will have a few kind words at his passing.

George Carlin was the rarest of all comedians, one that only continued to refine his craft as he got older. To me, his finest work took place in the 90's and beyond, forming some of his most recent HBO concerts. Perhaps some say that those latter-day concerts were too angry, but isn't there enough to be angry about? I'll forever owe a debt to Carlin. I find that there are but few situations in life that don't bring up a quote from him. Self-help books, for instance: "If you did it yourself, you didn't need help!" Certainly, it's difficult to get on a plane without thinking about his many riffs on air-travel lingo. "We'll be landing shortly...does that mean we're going to miss the runway?" "Please look around your seating area for things you might have brought onboard...I might have brought my arrowhead collection, but I didn't. How about I look for things I actually DID bring on board."

Then there's the scatalogical side of things. Too much for some, wonderful for me. I won't go into details here, since some of you might have your delicate sensibilities damaged, but you can take it from me that he had some choice things to say about scabs, itching yourself in public, and a variety of emanations from the body. Simple mind that I am, I loved every one.

George Carlin will be remembered, I suppose, as a counter-culture icon, a guy who challenged the FCC in regards to what could be said on an aired broadcast, and one of our most enduring comic icons. He wore all of those hats. The thing that I appreciated more than all of that, though, was his keen mind. He had the ability to distill all the foolishness of society, all of the inequity with which we treat each other, the lengths we go to fool ourselves into thinking everything's hunky dory. In pointing out the illogic of our linguistic frames, he pointed out our own self-deceptions.

There's a huge empty spot on the comic landscape, and I doubt that it can be filled. Just as it was when other greats like Richard Pryor went away, we will have to remember George Carlin fondly, knowing that we won't be lucky enough to have another like him. You never had to wonder what he thought of something, never had to ask him to give you the straight dope (in some eras, literally or metaphorically). Farewell, George. May your inner child always be outward bound, and may you find Klaus, so as to give him Rebecca's love. May your Grateful Dead t-shirt and your Fuck You hat always offend guys named Todd.

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