Somewhere in the Museum of the Weird, probably in the record crates that are hopelessly blocked by boxes and furniture in the front room, is an LP entitled Occupation: Foole. The significance of this particular copy of this particular record is that one night in 1976 or 1977, I stood outside the brand new Syracuse Civic Theatre with my friend Evelyn, waiting for George Carlin to come out after the show we had just attended. He eventually appeared, signed the LP, and was funny and pleasant during our brief encounter. We asked him where he was headed next.
To which we responded with an all-too-obvious observation about the people of Los Angeles. Ah, well. Doesn't matter. A good time was had by all. As we left, we merged with a crowd of people leaving an O'Jays concert at the Syracuse War Memorial Auditorium. They'd had a wonderful time, too, and assumed we'd been to the same concert. Many years later, I wondered whether I might have liked the alternative concert. But the truth is, I will never regret seeing George Carlin perform live at that particular moment in his long career.
My interest in George Carlin began circa 1974. I no longer remember exactly how it started, but I think some members of our Star Trek club pitched in to buy me a copy of Carlin's seminal "hippie era" LP, FM & AM, as a birthday present. All these years later, I can still recite bits from it, including this forecast from "Al Sleet, your Hippy-Dippy Weatherman":
"Tonight's forecast: dark. Continued mostly dark tonight, changing to widely scattered light in the morning."
"Before you were born - remember, kids?"
"And here's a partial score: Stamford, 29."
My boyfriend Dan Cheney and I used to recite the entire poem "The Hair Piece" in the cafeteria at lunchtime. Great stuff.
Shortly after that I bought his LP Class Clown, which contained the first iteration of his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" routine. I thought it was fabulous, not so much because I was fond of the words themselves, but because of the wordplay and satire and absurdity of it. The rest of that album didn't tickle me at much as FM & AM had, because it was mostly about growing up in "White Harlem," attending catholic school and being a troublemaker, none of which had much relevance to a shy girl at a public high school in suburban Manlius, NY. But that didn't stop me from buying Occupation: Foole, the third and last item in my Carlin collection, about the time I hit college. I was so taken with the premise of the title that I actually cultivated the nickname Foole for a while. Hardly anyone picked up on it, which is probably a good thing.
George Carlin was getting involved with cocaine about the same time I was interested in his work. Eventually he got clean, but I gather from a Biography segment I saw about him years ago that the drugs damaged his heart, which finally gave out this week. He was 71. The timeline on his website details a number of heart attacks he had along the way, in between listings of his albums and HBO specials.
I haven't really followed his career much in the years since I got that autograph. There were at least a few good bits in A Place for My Stuff! but I never bought the LP. He had a special in 1984 called Carlin on Campus, which I've happened across a few times over the years and enjoyed. He was on Shining Time Station, but I preferred Ringo in the same role. He had a sitcom briefly in 1994, but it wasn't funny or likeable. By then he seemed to have turned into an eccentric professional grump rather than a goofy, lighthearted satirist with a love of wordplay. Maybe I was the one who had changed. More likely, we both did.
Still, when I heard on NPR this morning that George Carlin had died, I could not help being a little sad. It's the end of an era, although I can't quite tell you what era. The man did a lot of stuff in many styles of comedy over a considerable number of years. And I'm grateful to him, especially for the work he did in the 1970s, when he enriched my life without even trying. In one of his albums, he spoke about being grateful to Ed Sullivan (who had just died) for bringing the Beatles, Elvis et al. to the tv audience. "Thanks, Ed. It may be a little maudlin, but thanks, Ed," he said.
George Carlin's official web site