Monday, June 23, 2008
On George Carlin's Death
"Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?"
J-7--He was a generally funny man who got too cynical with age and the passing times. While this isn't hard considering how bad things are, and are likely to get soon, it was the wrong message. Even in the worst-of-times, there are incredible historical opportunities to change things, and George Carlin refused to accept this.
Nonetheless, his pointed-barbs at himself and all of us were a real treat in a human society that places no value on the truth. If George Carlin was about anything, it was the truth as he saw it, and said it he did. Like the rest of us, he was a wounded idealist, and not really a true cynic.
From his own first brush with the law defending Lenny Bruce from arrest in the early-1960s, Carlin did what he could to push the boundaries of the language and what's permissible. Just as Lenny had before him, he was obsessed with the quiet, daily hypocrisies that go without comment. That's what was so great about George Carlin and Richard Pryor, two ardent disciples of Lenny. It's unlikely that anyone's going to replace them anytime soon. The truth gene is recessive.
I witnessed a huge-swath of George Carlin's career, but one television performance from the late-1970s stands-out: Carlin simply walked onto the stage and said nothing, but would react with his body language when the audience began laughing nervously, just staring wide-eyed at them. By the end of eight minutes, he had everyone completely in-stitches. It was pure genius, and a testament to an artist's ability to remain subversive, even when stripped of their usual language.
But he was a crazy fucker who got too cynical, and maybe watching him fade was akin to how the public felt about Mark Twain in his last years. He was great, that George Carlin, one funny nose-picking motherfucker. Maybe he was right in his cynicism? Maybe. Maybe not. Will the truth set you free? Besides emotionally, it can't hurt, and only help.
It's better to know when a runaway train is headed your way, than not to. When George Carlin was at his best, he could make us laugh about the impending doom, and laugh-it-off. The laughs are over, and it's time to confront those problems. Sleep well.