It’s eight o’clock in Los Angeles. It’s nine o’clock in Denver. It’s ten o’clock in Chicago.
“In Baltimore, it’s 6:42.”
. . . Time for the Eleven O’Clock News. . .
I’m not sure how old I was – though I’m sure I was younger than I should have been – when, in a typical moment of childhood boredom, I found myself rifling through my mother’s music collection. It was in moments like these that I was introduced to The Doors, The Eagles, Charlie Daniels, Bill Cosby. After staring at a cassette tape box with a man on a stool making the goofiest face I’d ever seen, this particular moment was the one in which I discovered George Carlin: AM/FM.
My world changed in that moment. Or rather, a door opened on another world. One in which a philologist’s love of words combined with a sophomore’s love of fart jokes. Where profanity, politics and a healthy dose of drug humor combined to create something that was both profound and crude, but always funny. George Carlin’s was a world where words could cut to the heart of the matter like the swipe of a street kid’s switchblade, but always loved humanity in it’s frailty in a way that is entirely rare these days.
Goldilocks was a speed freak looking for a place to crash, it’s obvious. Who else would go to a bear’s house? And you notice she didn’t eat much, right? Little porridge, right in the sack. I know what’s happening.
Over the years, I developed a phonographic memory for George’s comedy. Fans of his may remember the story he said, “no one will ever repeat.” You can bet I know every word of it. Any quotes in this post come directly from my head, having not listened to George’s stuff in at least a few months (Sarah and I brought George along for the ride to New York City, as seemed only appropriate) and in some cases, years. I probably represent George Carlin’s single biggest copyright infringement issue over the course of the last twenty or so years. Sarah can certainly attest to the fact that bits of Carlin humor consistently bubble up as events inspire them.
Because if there is any single famous person that can truly be said to have had a direct effect on the way I see the world, it would have to be George Carlin. Other people inspired me, other people’s works I’ve sought to emulate on one level or another, but it was George Carlin’s peculiar ability to twist reality in a way that actually made it make more sense that struck a much deeper chord in me. George could lead me down a literary path, luring me with words down a specific line of thought and with a sudden left turn, reveal a contradiction in the world I had never before thought of. Funny that a person with a ten minute bit on snot would have such an effect, isn’t it? But that’s the way it is, for me.
Hey, have you noticed that you never seem to get laid much on Thanksgiving? I think it’s because all the coats are on the bed.
It was all those words Carlin was able to weave that inspired me. George would use words lyrically, critically, absurdly and in ways so inventive that I’ve never seen better before or since. Sure, it was comedy. But in many ways, it was so much more to me. Little wonder, then, that I’ve become a writer in my adulthood. And little wonder that I spend so much of my time watching the news.
First of all, the headlines. Welcome wagon runs over newcomer. Good humor man slays ten. Pen pal stabs pal with pen. Pediatrician dies of childhood disease. And Jacques Cousteau dies in bathtub accident. . .
And of course, there was always the politics. Long before I understood why my grandfather used to yell at the TV every time Ronald Reagan was on, George was informing my politics. Whether he was railing against the Catholic Church in his singular way or pointing out the odd subliminal messages in our advertisement, he was showing me a way to view the world critically and with a sense of humor at the same time.
We are very self-centered in our attitudes toward God, in fact, we created him. In our own image and likeness. . . yes, very self-centered. In fact, when we have a statue of Jesus on our dashboard, instead of having him watch for traffic – which he should be doing – we’ve got him watching us drive!
“Watch this, Jesus! Left turn, nyOOOWWWwwww!”
This morning, my wife came into the bathroom as I was preparing to shave to tell me that George Carlin had passed away. I don’t know for how long, but I just stared at her. I’ve known for a long time that this was coming, but of course, when death happens the end always seems so sudden. I knew the last time I saw him – Sarah got me tickets to see him at the Auditorium Theater for Christmas a few years back – that my time was limited, but now that the moment is real, I am shaken. I sit awash in feelings; above all, I’m glad I knew a little bit of him.
But I’m sure the last thing George would want would be for people to mourn his death. In fact, he’d become quite the connoisseur of death humor over the last few years, so I’m sure he’d have a remarkably crude joke or two at his own expense. So rather than focus on the passing, I’ve chosen to make this post a “copyright infringement tour de force,” which I’m guessing he’d like better. Or maybe he’d sue, hard to say.
By the way, one story: I remember when I was still living at home in Sodus, I stopped for gas at one of the many gas shacks on 104. Down the way a few pumps was a guy who looked just like George Carlin. I mean “just.” My gut instantly flopped over with nerves, there wasn’t the slightest question in my mind it was him. He walked in to pay and I walked in behind him. But when I asked if he was George Carlin, the guy said, “yeah, I get that all the time.”
I have no idea if that was him or not. My gut still tells me it was. If it was you, George, ya got me good. And let’s face it: no one is nearly as interesting in person as you think of them, so that moment before talking to the guy was probably as good as it gets, anyway. And now I’ll end this post with one of George’s most bizarre endings:
You’ve been listening to the erotic daydreams of an infant worm being sucked backwards through a French milking machine. Remember: hire the handicapped, but don’t let them take your rectal temperature. Stay tuned now for Let’s Injure Dave. . . .