Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From: Born-Again Hippies

To: God, Re: George Carlin

Dear Lord,
Please look after the soul of one George Carlin, who probably passed customs and should be coming your way about now. I know he vehemently denied Your existence, going so far as to say, "There is no God, none, never was," but I know these folks are your favorite kind. Besides, any one soul who brought so much laughter and cheer to so many others is deserving of favor, and he was merely railing against the God he was taught about in Catholic school, rather than the God he talked about in his act; "The Big Electron," The Sun, Joe Pesci. His indignation was about organized religion's version of God; the vengeful, white bearded, invisible man in the sky who's spying on you all the time and who decides the outcome of athletic events. But anyone as observant and perceptive as George Carlin saw the larger frame surrounding the smaller picture, so he never claimed to be an atheist, just a pragmatist. And anyway Lord, he's already been in front of one Supreme Court.

My friends and I who grew up in the sixties thought George Carlin was the funniest man alive. After his first album release, teenagers were quoting from his routines, like "The Wild Willy West Show on Radio WINO, (Wonderful WINO, in Western Walla Walla)," or "Al Sleet, your Hippie Dippy Weatherman, (Today's high? Whenever I get up)." When the times grew turbulent, we were delighted to see Carlin take off the coat and tie and grow his hair long. He was one of us, and he was still funnier than hell, deconstructing language and pointing out oxymorons like Jumbo Shrimp, and Military Intelligence, so that you can't hear some absurd phrase without thinking of him. How many times has someone thought, "That would be a good one for George Carlin?"

And the older he got, the more outrageous he became, and we loved him for it. No subject was beyond examination; Cats and Dogs, Baseball and Football, Religion, Advertising, and a lot of humor that was just plain crude. But God, could he make you hold-your-sides laugh. After he became famous for his "Seven Words" routine, he updated the list on his next HBO special, unrolling a long scroll and naming in rapid fire diction every slang term ever used for any known body part or bodily function, and I was left, doubled over in the chair, gasping for breath. But he was also a deep thinker, and agree or not, he could provoke you to consider another point of view. He claimed he didn't do political humor, but his comedy was deeply political and often radical. Lenny Bruce may have opened the door, but it was Carlin who came through.

I heard Jerry Seinfeld say that Carlin recently spoke of being relieved that this season's current death wave seemed to have passed him by, but he ended as part of a troika with Bo Diddley and Tim Russert anyway. I think he might have liked the company because, although the three men excelled in vastly different arenas, they all shared a singular defining passion about what they did. But Carlin's sudden death was similar to when Johnny Carson died; there was no time in advance to consider a life without him. You could prepare for Richard Pryor, but Carlin? And in the middle of this political season so rich with humor? He didn't "pass away," or "expire, like a magazine subscription." He up and died.

If I said that I feel like I lost an old friend yesterday, George Carlin would have thoroughly mocked that, since we were never in the same area code, so far as I know. In the 1984 HBO show, "Carlin on Campus," George said, "I believe in live and let live, and if anybody doesn't believe that, we'll take him outside and shoot the motherfucker." (Excuse me Lord, that was one of the seven). On this occasion he might say, "Go ahead back to your blog (and he would make exaggerated belching noises since the word is funny), and if it makes you feel any better to write a little something about me, have at it." So I did. And I will remember George Carlin with gales of laughter, and hope he is now in the process of being pleasantly surprised. In the name of Joe Pesci, we all say....


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