“The very existence of flame throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.” -George Carlin
I’m a day or so late with yet another tribute to George Carlin, the 71 year-old cultural/lingual/political and conventional analyst that died this past Monday of heart failure. Now I could’ve taken easier route and used the simpler term “comedian” to describe what made Carlin so special in this world, but if you’ve ever paid any attention to the man, then you’d know that he was never one to champion blanket terms. For all intents and purposes, he may have been referred to as a comedian, and he sure did make the world laugh, but I like to think he had a more important calling. That of becoming one of the world’s most promising challengers of ideals.
George Carlin was born in New York City, raised as a Roman Catholic and set off for the Air Force not long after high school. Thankfully, he didn’t excel in the armed forces. And after being discharged, he instead discovered a gateway to spoken word as a radio DJ. In the ’60s, he began appearing on variety television shows, but was dismissed by most because of his disheveled appearance, which included long hair, a beard, faded jeans and earrings.
In the early ’70s, Carlin developed what many have come to know as the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” which consisted of “Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Motherfucker, Tits.” For the time (well, still actually) it was revolutionary. So revolutionary that Carlin went to jail for obscenity. This was closely followed by an NYC radio station going all the way to the Supreme Court after broadcasting material by Carlin. Of course, the arrests and the Supreme Court case only made him more famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view. Whatever side you took, for or against Carlin, his material got people talking.
Most of us know the story from here. Countless performances the world over, appearances in the Bill and Ted movies, cameos in a few Kevin Smith movies, some books, some live albums, endless quotations, and above all, respect. Respect for saying no. And calling bullshit. And not being afraid to talk shit on the many ways that humanity tends to placate itself. The thing that always struck me about Carlin was his tendency to blend direct, non-comedic and sometimes outright criticism of humanity as a whole in with his sometimes lighter material. He never just made people laugh about their troubles. He made people laugh to spite their troubles. Maybe even to spite the world’s troubles. Some called it nihilist or misanthropic. But I like to think of him as the great communicator of doom, candidly delivering an elaborate notion of we’re fucked-ness like no other has and ever will.
Rest in peace dude. If your dialogue was any indication, I’ve got a feeling we’re all not far behind you. Even though that might piss you off to no end.
But I guess that’s better than pissing you off to no start, right? (That last pathetic sentence was my poor attempt at taking on the generalizations and tendencies of common language, which George Carlin did better than anyone…)