Monday, June 23, 2008

Goodnight, George

We've lost a great one. . .

Sad news for me this morning: comedian George Carlin has died at age 71.

George and I went way back. On the cusp of my teenage years, which coincided with the convergence of the final years of "Golden Age" vaudevillians (Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Henny Youngman, etc.) and the emergence of a new hip set of comedians (David Steinberg, Freddie Prinze, Robert Klein, among them), Carlin's "AM&FM" LP was one of the first record albums I purchased. This was back in 1972, when Carlin was making the transition from a straight-laced performer to a hippy persona that really made his career.

One of the first LP's I ever bought. .

"AM&FM" was Carlin's farewell to a more traditional stand-up presentation. His next album, "Class Clown," was notorious for the "Seven Words you Can't Say on Television" . It was pretty ground-breaking for the era. The routine brought "blue" language--previously the domain of guys like Lenny Bruce and Redd Foxx--into the mainstream. Remember, this was 1972: a brief era when the old-guard was hanging it up and only a few years before "Saturday Night Live" took to the airwaves. Cable television's expanse of channels was still in the future, and the best gig a comedian could get on TV was to land a spot on the Carson show. Concidentally, Carlin was the guest host on the premiere of SNL, which at the time was merely called "Saturday Night."

Carlin in 1972 was a long-haired hippy freak, no doubt about it, cracking jokes about sex and dope and I was oblivious to most of it. His delivery, though, was still traditional in the sense that is featured bits reliant on impressions and voice characterizations. As Carlin matured, so did his approach to comedy, evolving into the social commentary and observation popular by the generation of comedians after him, like Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black, and in a freaky way, Steven Wright.

There were those--my wife among them--who felt that Carlin's prodigious use of profanity in his performance diminished the impact of the rest of his words. I didn't agree--if anything, his liberal use of fucks, motherfuckers, and cocksuckers actually helped take an edge off words that were, after all, just words. Strangely enough, he also was the narrator on "Thomas The Tank Engine" from 1991-1994. He was a helluva lot better than Ringo Starr as "Mr. Conductor."

George Carlin was way out in front of exposing the fear-mongering that goes on in this country by politicians and the media, and in ridiculing how life in the United States has essentially become an existance defined by consumerism, religious fraud, marketing, and lies. His specials for HBO were something to be looked forward to. While M. would work on her computer in the next room, I'd be in front of the television laughing my ass off.

Carlin's last HBO special was "It's Bad For Ya," taped in March of this year. His performance seemed flat, the spark gone, and just didn't have the angry edge of outrage his earlier specials did. Carlin just looked old.

He'd hate me for saying this, given his dislike of religion, but God bless you, George. Rest easy, you old motherfucker.

Speaking of Fear-Mongering. . . someone at work posted a call to all good Americans to boycott gasoline sold by oil companies that purchase crude from Saudi Arabia. Instead, we should spend our hard-earned bucks fattening only the pockets of companies that use non-Saudi oil. . .companies, the posting said, like Wal-Mart, which gets its oil from Arkansas (well, that's what it seemed like it was saying!). Oh, and we should boycott Venezuela, as well. Just because.

The super-patriot who posted this plea reasoned that since Saudi Arabia was "boycotting" products made in the US of A, we should boycott their oil. Yep, they're boycotting. . .what exactly do we make in this country anymore? Oh, weapons systems? Last time I looked, the Saudis were still keeping our good ol'American defense contractors in business.

I'm sure the good consumers of China and India, among the rest of the world, will be happy to purchase whatever we don't buy.

Just goes to prove that people are largely stupid in this country.

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