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6/23/2008

And then there were none.

For once I'm really not sure where to begin. This is one of those moments for me where I struggle with structure in my writing, because it's just about pointless. I got emotional reading the headline today, and I don't do that often for anyone in the public eye.

I find myself thinking back to the first moment I encountered the work of the person in question. Perhaps it's best to start there.

I was working for my uncle in the spring of '96, helping him out at his restaurant in New Haven during a bad cafeteria worker's strike. I stayed with him that entire week. One night after a long day's work, we watched HBO together and happened upon George Carlin's most recent stand-up: "Back in Town" from that same year.

My uncle, not a fan of most stand-up, fell asleep. I stayed up laughing hysterically. I was entranced, just really taken by the material and how sharp Carlin was (he maintained that quality until his passing). It was his mastery of the English language, his way of tying things together seamlessly, his outright admonishment and disdain for authority and conventional institutions.

He was so goddamn cool.

From that moment on, I was pretty much locked. I mean, I had seen him in the Bill and Ted movies and had seen his short-lived sitcom for Fox a couple years prior, but to really appreciate the man was to see him unfettered: up on stage in his natural environment.

So from '96 on, I did what I always do when I have an intense interest in a subject or artist... I delve deep into history and pull up every single article or finished work I can find. With Carlin, it was no different.

I went back and found all his old album's on CD, some even on tape before his entire catalogue was reissued a few years back. I memorized his bits and can still quote them word-for-word, measure-for-measure. I laughed harder than I have at any other human being's material--short of my own father's.

And most importantly, I listened.

I paid damn close attention to what he was saying. Carlin was like stand-up's answer to Rage Against the Machine. He lured you with his song and exposed you to a bigger world. More so than any other human being in the 20th or 21st century, he cut through the bullshit with ease, using his mic as a machete to hack through the brush. He called it like it was, and much like the greatest comic minds of history, he served as a pundit as much as a comedian.

Honesty was the only policy. Nothing was taboo, no matter how suggestive, risque or outright disgusting.

His body of work stands for itself... I'm not going to sit here and sing its praises for the sheer humor involved. Rather, like John Lennon himself, the message came through loud and clear in the art form. This is something that very, very few comics could ever hope to duplicate in their careers.

Of the Holy Trinity--Bruce, Pryor, Carlin--I always favored Carlin. I still favor him. Sure, Bruce broke the ground that needed to be broken and Pryor exposed the societal and racial inequalities we all knew existed, but Carlin took taboos and made the term itself dirtier than his list of seven words. Just his "outside-the-box" look at life and the way it undulates into the weirdest, most fucked-up patterns of behavior and existence.

As gut-churning as some of his topics could be, they were also profound. You have to give humanity credit... He didn't come up with the material, we simply spoonfed it all to him.

And naturally, his stance on politics and the system in this nation (shit, in this world) is legendary. His honesty in life will hopefully be echoed in death, and his unique style influenced a generation of comedians.

Find me a comic who does not list Carlin as an inspiration and I'll find you someone who has no business being onstage.

And you'd be hard-pressed to find a harder working man in show business... certainly not in comedy. For a guy who spent 50 years plus in comedy, he toured, wrote and recorded relentlessly. That's impressive given his age and health scares over the years... in the mere 12 years since I could call myself a devoted fan, he's had five big HBO specials (each with a corresponding album), three books and has appeared in eight films (either onscreen or as a voice talent). Chances are if he remained healthy, he'd be doing this well into his eighties.

He probably felt there was just too much to say to stop. I'd tend to agree with the old fuck (not a slam on him... listen to his '08 special "It's Bad For Ya," you'll get it).

So things right now are a little blue for me. While I'm no comic (I sure don't get paid for this shit), I'm more than a fan and follower of Carlin's work. Suffice it to say were it not for him, I damn sure wouldn't be doing this blog. For that matter, I probably wouldn't write nearly as much as I do, vote the way I do, talk the way I do or think the way I do.

And to think, he's responsible for all that while still making me laugh.

My only regret is that I never got to see the man live. It was just one of those things I sorta brushed off. Either that or I consistently had scheduling conflicts during his many visits to Foxwoods. And one of the gifts on my longterm Father's Day wishlist was to always get tickets for me and Dad to go check out the Maestro himself. I'm beyond saddened that this will never happen.

I can at least take some solace in knowing that his material will be thoughtfully dusted off by longtime fans everywhere both casual and diehard. And even if they make the iPod playlists for just a month, that's more than enough time to get people's brains moving in the right direction.

The funniest part of it all is the fact so much of Carlin's material focused around death, including a piece regarding celebrity deaths. He grumbled profusely at the requisite outpouring of adulation in the wake of a celebrity dying. At the time he mentioned how much he wasn't looking forward to Sinatra buying the farm for this very reason.

Far be it from me to offer the very same sentiments he so strongly detested, but c'mon... he had to have some idea. Even for an old fuck.

I'll be sure to make it up to him, though... this week at the bank I'll ask if they can make change for a nickel. Just to jog some gray matter out there.