There will be no state funeral for George Carlin as there was for Tim Russert. There will be no long line of dignitaries, pols, power brokers, media bigwigs or other assorted bloviating fools and hucksters eulogizing his sudden passing Sunday night. There will be no gaggle of the high and mighty publicly blubbering over what a warm and generous soul he was. There will be no hour after hour of uninterrupted “news” coverage on CNN about the death of America’s most fearless social critic.
And, frankly, if Carlin were to find out that any of these jokers, indeed, had the gumption to actually show up to pay him their final respects, I have no doubt he would awake from the dead and cut one last fart right in their faces. Or he’d simply pop right up at out of the box, stare them in the eye, and let loose with a full-throated “Go fuck yourselves!”
With some strange symmetry, Carlin shared much of Russert’s same background. A working class Irish boy from the ethnic hatcheries of the East Coast. But there was one big difference between the two: Russert was a courtesan to the powerful. Carlin, a sworn atagonist, hated, reviled, denounced and verbally tortured them. You could learn more about the world from any five minutes of any Carlin routine than from watching five years worth of Meet The Press.
Long, long before packs of half-witted wankers invented shock jock radio and Potty Mouth Talk, it was only Carlin (along with Lenny Bruce) who — at great personal and career risk– was boldly challenging the puritanical and hypocritical strictures of America’s electronic media. And it was about a lot more than him defiantly broadcasting the words: “Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits”
George Carlin was all about, quite literally, speaking truth to power. He didn’t flinch from calling it as it is, mercilessly blasting the deceptions, denials and lies that grease and fuel the system — and our own personal lives.
I’m truly devastated by his loss. But at the same time I am quite privileged to have seen what was one of his last few performances. Just nine days ago, I had the extraordinary honor of watching him from quite literally front row-center as he did his latest routine at the Orleans show room in las Vegas.
Carlin was at his sharpest last week. Absolutely relentless in his blistering attack on all things religious, superstitious and on what he called the “bulllll-shiittt” of the American business ethic, the constant hustle, come-on, and sales pitch that defines so much of our lives.
I also count myself lucky to have been able –back in 2001– to have done a full hour interview with him. There’s a version of that Q & A here. And here’s a snippet of my chat with him:
Q: How cynical or pessimistic are you about politics in general?
Carlin: I’m certainly a skeptic. I always quibble with people. I like to split hairs. And I quibble with people who say, “Well, you’re cynical.” And I know there’s a second and third definition of cynical where my stuff fits. But to me the cynics are the ones in the boardrooms with the reports from the focus groups. And the belief that there’s a man in the sky watching us, watching everything we do, is so ingrained: First thing they do is tell you there’s an invisible man in the sky who’s going to march you down to a burning place if he doesn’t like you. If they can get you to believe that, it’s all over. Before you’re six years old, they’ve got you thinking that, they’ve got you forever on anything else they want. There’s no real education. It’s an indoctrination training little producers of goods who will also be consumers of goods. Some will be on the producer side, and more will be on the consumer side. But you’re all being trained to be a part of this big circle of goods being pumped out and everyone buying them and everyone going to work to help make more of them for other people to buy.
I’ve given up on the whole human species. I think a big, good-sized comet is exactly what this species needs. You know, the poor dinosaurs were walking around eating leaves, and they were completely wiped out. Let the insects have a go. You know, I don’t think they’ll come up with sneakers with lights in them, or Dust Busters, or Salad Shooters, or snot candy.
Q: But a comet, say a big Arizona-sized comet smashing somewhere into the Pacific Ocean, would be pretty bad for business, wouldn’t it?
Carlin: It would be terrible, and it would be wonderful. Just to see it all, you know. I only wish there were some way I could live out on the moon and watch it all on CNN. And just see the whole thing happen, see the big splash. Or have it hit land and this big cloud erupt. That would be fun to see. I’m just a fan of big disasters. And that is as big as they get. Let ‘em go. I just want to describe the mess.
But, you know, life is dual. If you’ll scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist. And the fire never goes out completely. And that part of me that made my mother say, “You have a lovely nature,” is very true.
That last couple of lines is quite revealing. Yes, Carlin vaunted himself as a raging misanthrope, a cheer-leader for humanity’s obsession with self-destructiveness. But even as he admits, all that rage was but a symptom of a severely betrayed optimism and hope. Carlin wanted to see the best in people, but they sure as hell made it hard to do.
That’s about all I’m gonna say because anything more would be disrespectful and way beside the point. George Carlin knew there was no afterlife and that’s why he lived every one of his days so damn ferociously, still staging 80 or 90 road performances per year at age 71. His pleasure came from rippin’ everyone a new one a couple of times a week — not from imagining some moment when he would be reunited with his dreaded family somewhere up in the sky. Carlin despised all religious thought and I am sure that his final wishes include his remains being ground up into dog food. I will think of him every time I pop open a can of Alpo, because that is the way George would have wanted it.
All hail George Carlin. A true American treasure.
Now back to regular programming.