*Originally posted July 14, 2008*
Three weeks ago, I woke up to a message on the answering machine from my brother. It went something like this…
“Hi Rob, listen…George Carlin died today. He was 71. Just thought you’d wanna know…alright, take care.”
Since then I’ve been trying to find words that could possibly sum up a man like Carlin, only to find I have none. There are no words. There is no tribute. There is only what he has left us to remember, and to study.
I first heard George Carlin perform when I was 11 years old. “Jammin’ in New York” was playing on The Bravo! Network. This was, of course, before ‘Bravo!’ became the wretched sperm-bank of cable television. Here was this balding hippie, then aged 55, who absolutely commanded my attention. I didn’t give two shits about the Gulf War, but that didn’t stop me from tearing up laughing when George talked about it. From that point on, I was hooked: George Was Comedy.
In grade 9, I found a copy of Carlin’s ‘Napalm & Silly Putty’ at a Brandon bookstore. Usually you can tell the ethical content of a book by where it’s placed on store shelves. ‘Napalm & Silly Putty’ was placed in a small ‘alternative humor’ section, sandwiched between two racks of Japanese toon porn collections with unpronounceable names. As I walked up to the register, one of the two cashiers stopped to inform me that nothing in that section of the store was for sale to minors. We started arguing and the other cashier approached, likely planning to help her kick me out of the store. He looked down at the book in my hands and smiled. Without a word, he walked back to the till and rang up the purchase.
I suppose the first cashier was right to try and stop me. George was subversive in a society that still needs more traitors. He couldn’t open his mouth without pissing somebody off, but far more important than that, he was always Right whenever he did. He rode along in the back of the police wagon when Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity, and took the ride solo for the ‘Seven Dirty Words’. He represents all that is insidious, dangerous, and corrosive to our society, and for that we will be forever indebted to him.
In the grand scheme of things, Carlin’s death will receive less coverage than those of truly important people, like Jerry Falwell, Heath Ledger, or Anna Nicole Smith. His life and story will quickly fall by the wayside of the mainstream, and that’s exactly how he’d want it. But to me, Carlin was the last living childhood hero, and his passing signals the conclusion of something in my life. Exactly what is hard to say. But what must begin now in the post-Carlin world is equally mysterious and far more urgent.
“When I was young I used to read about the decline of Western Civilization, and I decided it was something I would like to make a contribution to.”
Thank you, George, for everything. It’s up to us now.