Like many who have eulogized and remembered him today, I became a Carlin fan when I was in high school. What now probably seems tame in the light of gangsta rap and Grand Theft Auto was incredibly ground breaking back in the 70’s when I was in school. Carlin took the lead of Lenny Bruce and just put it on steroids. But Carlin was that era’s “Thinking Man’s” comedian. Sure, he used vulgarities that you STILL can’t say on television, but he didn’t use them entirely just to shock or titillate. His very famous “7 Dirty Words” riff was far more a commentary on American culture and the language than it was an opportunity to spew a bunch of vulgarity. It made you think.
The first album I recall of Carlins’ was “Occupation, Foole”. To which he said, “I always spell it with a final “e” just to piss them off”. He never actually told us to “they” were, but they were pissed off. And much of what Carlin did throughout his career, I suppose, was done ‘just to piss them off”.
All of my friends could cite lengthy passages from “Foole” from memory. As someone who was hoping to get into the radio business, I particularly liked his spoof of the evening newscast on that album. “In Baltimore, it’s 6:42 … time for the 11 o’clock news”.
So many today have talked about the “Hippy-Dippy Weather Man” who was part of that newscast. “Tonight’s forecast is dark, continued dark until morning, when there will be widely scattered light”. But perhaps more prescient was “Biff Barf with the Biff Barf Sportlight Spotlight … picking them up and barfing them right back atcha. I call ’em like I see ’em, and if I don’t see ’em, I make ’em up”. I think that describes 90% of the sportscasters on the air today.
Lewis Black was on “Talk of the Nation” this afternoon, comparing Carlin’s pacing to music. And if you listen carefully, you can hear it. Changes in tempo and dynamic and pitch … from legato to staccato, it was amazing.
He tried TV, and I think hated the structure. I don’t know how many will remember Carlin as “Mr. Conductor” on “Shining Time Station” on PBS. His standup work made him too controversial for a PBS kids show. He talked at one point about “having a haht attack”. “A goddam mild cardiac infarction”, as he put it on stage. And in the end, the one that got him was apparently not so mild.
Toward the end, though, I became kind of disappointed. George and I grew apart. I started to find him more and more just bitter, and political. I didn’t always disagree with his politics, but it didn’t seem like he was having much fun any more. Maybe he was and I just didn’t see it. But I do recall a couple of times watching him on HBO specials and saying “Damn, George, it’s not so funny any more”.
Still, he stayed true to himself, I think. And if what I heard today on NPR is true, he never stopped having fun.
Auf Wiedresehen, George. Thanks for all the laughs over the years, for making us think, and opening us up to the possibilities of the language.
Photo credit to Reuters.
Meanwhile, I went to the doctor today about the persistent gastro-intestinal distress I’ve been experiencing. You don’t want to know all the details, because it gets pretty gross. But, of course, the minute I went to the doctor for the problem, it started to abate. I’m feeling much better, actually. But, it was worth the $30 co-pay to discover my blood pressure is in the “Normal” range. 118/82. No drugs, just decent diet and lots of miles on the bicycle. I managed to get up and ride this morning, and I’ll be up over 4000 miles by the end of next week if I can stay on track. That BP report from the doc today is a pretty good incentive.