Monday, June 23, 2008

I Hope I'll Be Safe at Home!

Somehow when I was barely into my teens, my sister who is seven years older than I am gave me something for Christmas that I can't believe my parents allowed--George Carlin's Class Clown. There's a good chance it was the most formative event in my life. Lord knows how many times I spun that LP on my little white stereo, how many times I worked his riffs and jokes into chatter with my friends. Of course we were titillated (haha) by "Seven Words," and I can still remember much of that routine by heart 30 years later ("It's ok for Curt Gowdy to say, 'Roberto Clemente has two balls on him,' but he can't say, 'I think he hurt his balls on that play, Tony, don't you? He's holding them, by darnit he must have hurt them.'") But that record also meant language was play, that words were toys and tools.

It didn't hurt that so much of the record was about growing up Catholic, and although I didn't qualify on the Irish part, and although the church certainly had changed from Carlin's youth, enough rang true for this alum of the St. Rose of Lima Grammar School. I still love his Heavy Mysteries, like, "If God is all-powerful can he make a rock so big even he can't lift it? Got you there, father...." So humor helped me see. I was going to write "helped me see how religion was a creation" but it just helped me to see, period. And there's freedom in that, and what more could a teen want?

Carlin also probably started me down the road to being a lefty, back when I had no sense of what Vietnam meant, just young enough not to get it while living through much of it. But I certainly got the absurdity of his jokes about Muhammad Ali and his struggles against the draft, particularly the line, "Look, I'll beat people up for a living, but I won't kill them." And then that routine ended with Carlin's re-write of "America the Beautiful," which I still know by heart, and has only gotten truer in three decades as Bush and McCain plot to drill off our coasts, which is sad enough.

There's little wonder he got more bitter and pointed as his career went on, for what seemed playful and absurd solidified into absurd and deadly. Eventually there's nothing left but to rant.

Still, thanks, George Carlin, for helping a simple suburban boy see. Thanks for turning me onto words. We'll all melt away, but we'll always all have that.



Blogger Mike said...

language was play, that words were toys and tools

In the end, that'll have to be his greatest legacy.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Great tribute, George.

I mostly remember Carlin's "Seven Words" album from high school when we, seven or eight blue collar Irish kids, most of us probably high, stood around Jack Gaffney's red Mustang in the parking lot of McDonalds, the volume craked up as loud as it could go, so all the families and grandmothers could hear Carlin annotate the uses of "shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker and tits." It was much later, well into my 20s, when I began to realize that Carlin was much more than inspiration for punks.

2:00 PM  
OpenID melville22000 said...

With me, it was the "AM/FM" album. When I was a teenager I once spent a summer afternoon cracking up a bunch of my friends by reproducing the whole thing from memory for them. A few years later I saw Carlin live. I laughed so much and so hard I was near exhaustion by the end. He was one of my personal Heroes (and I have very very few of those.)


4:30 PM  
Blogger Smitty said...

For me, he made politics funny instead of infuriating. Like a cop or someone in the military, I learned to laugh at the unlaughable for the sake of it's absurdity in the grand scheme of things. Helluva gift, because otherwise, there'd just be negativity.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous ctyri said...

There's little wonder he got more bitter and pointed as his career went on, for what seemed playful and absurd solidified into absurd and deadly. Eventually there's nothing left but to rant.

Well put. It's okay and healthy to laugh at the madness around us, but in the end, it's still a tragedy.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Garden Wise Guy said...

Ah, Carlin! I have to tip my hat to the man for helping make my son the man he is today. Ben is 18, and I'm proud to say he had his first GC book in his hands as age 11. Seems a bit early to some, but he's now a brilliantly funny, worldly, thoughtful cynic. That's my wife's and my contribution to the world.

10:42 PM  

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