Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin - 1937-2008

Every once in awhile you read an article or headline that leaves you stunned. Today I had such an experience as I opened a website only to see the headline “George Carlin 1937-2008 RIP”. After reading these words, the very breath of life was sucked from my lungs and I now stare numbly at my monitor.

Through the course of my life there have been a handful of people, some authors, some orators, that fed my interest in the power of words and provided influence beyond measure. Carlin was one such influence on me.

It was 1988 when my dad’s best friend and kids came to visit us at our home in Michigan. Their son, Frank, was my age and we had seen each other off and on throughout our childhoods. Though we never lived near each other or saw one another more than once a year, we still had an interesting rapport strengthened by common interests.

It was during this trip that Frank presented to me a selection of audio tapes comprised primarily of comedians. This was my first exposure to Steven Wright, Sam Kinison, and of course, George Carlin. This being 1988, the tapes that Frank provided were the 70’s version of George Carlin, back when his routine was more about understanding the nature of language and pointing out the various aspects of the human experience that unite us as a species.

I listened in awestruck amazement to FM & AM, Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, On the Road, Toledo Window Box, and An Evening With Wally Lando Featuring Bill Slaszo. Before long I had memorized long portions of the albums verbatim and could recite them word for word, directly on cue. (This is a talent I still possess today. I have the majority of Carlin’s early works completely memorized.)

Carlin awakened a beast within me that I had never really known was there. His understanding of the human language and human nature with regards to words fed my eager young brain. His albums were not stand-up routines, they were lessons, providing me the tools with which to better understand the world and how best to communicate.

Were it not for Carlin, I would not be writing at the moment.

Carlin’s routines changed much throughout the years. Whereas his 70’s output was based around wordplay and the human experience, his later output took on an angry, almost nihilistic attitude. He became less of a comedian and more of a social commentator. The argument over which is the better incarnation is eternal, though my money is squarely on the early Carlin.

His is a voice that will be truly missed in this world. I know that I am one amongst many who will truly mourn his passing.


Saradevil said...

I was so damn sad to see this news. But dammit if he didn't go up until the end!

E said...

True that. I normally don't really care one way or the other when I hear about celebrities dying, but I have to be honest, I choked up a bit on hearing about Carlin. He truly was one of the greats and the world will be that much worse off without him.