Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin: More than seven dirty words

Hyperbolic hyperventilation has become the norm, whenever a celebrity passes on. It probably won’t be much different for George Carlin.

The comedian who excoriated American politics, culture, and consumerism, through black humor, satire, and his keen sense of observation, will now be hailed by the same suits that he enjoyed mocking. Like many counter-culture heroes, the latter years, just prior to death tends to find them gaining some measure of mainstream success. Carlin certainly had a large audience, and fame found its way to his door. He achieved success, however, on his own terms.

His routines, informed by place, people, and the parochial environs of Catholic school, found an outlet in comedy clubs in West Texas, after his discharge from the Navy in the late 1950s. Like many with an eye towards performing, Carlin first cut his teeth, however, working as a disc jockey, back when being a DJ was more than pressing a button or two. You ran your own board, were responsible for tight segues, and actually had some control over your music, and your between song banter.

Much of what will pass for eulogies will focus on Carlin’s “seven dirty words,” which is what brain-addled news poseurs will glom onto. Lost in much of the Carlin suck-ups, will be his amazing understanding of language, and the ability he had to cut to the marrow of American superficiality. As Carlin remarked to Art Bell, in an interview in the late 90s, about the human race, “I think we’re already ‘circling the drain’ as a species, and I’d love to see the circles get a little faster and a little shorter.”

Basically, Carlin saw life for what it was—shit—and didn’t soft sell it—a nihilist with a deadly sense of humor.

Carlin was married to his first wife, Brenda, for 36 years, before losing her to liver cancer, the day before his 60th birthday, in 1997—happy birthday! They had a daughter, Kelly. He remarried in 1998, and they would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, two days after his death.

What saddens me about the passing of someone like Carlin is that he was one of a kind. While he cites obvious influences like Lenny Bruce, he worked diligently to develop his own material. Not pre-packaged for television, like many of today’s non-talents and poseurs, passing for funny in today’s world of the scatological and the stupid, there won’t be another like him.


Mark LaFlamme said...

I always thought it remarkable how Carlin could indulge in a profanity fest without coming off as overtly vulgar. Something comics like Andrew Dice Clay could never pull off. To which Clay would respond: "I got something you can pull off... Oh!"

Jim said...

Great point about Carlin.

Many of today's comics equate crassness, with comedy, which wasn't what Carlin was about.