Tuesday, June 24, 2008

surprise at the pearly gates

George Carlin seemed younger than 71. Maybe not in appearance but certainly in attitude. If someone asked you last week, could you have guessed that he was born in the 1930s? Yesterday morning I awoke to the startling news that Carlin had died. Although he was only a couple of years younger than my parents, he didn't behave like a member of their generation.

The 28-year-old Carlin was virtually unrecognizable in some footage from a 1965 episode of "The Merv Griffin Show." He was clean-cut and doing a more standard form of shtick reminiscent of Rodney Dangerfield. By the time he hosted the first "Saturday Night Live" in 1975, he had reinvented himself into the comedian we all knew. That could explain why he seemed younger than he was.

When asked for a reaction, Jay Leno told ABC News, "If there was ever a comedian who was a voice of their generation it was George Carlin." Leno's quote for USA Today was "He was a student of Lenny Bruce, and, like him, he spoke directly to his generation." Uh, Jay? Please see paragraphs one and two above.

I remember first listening to one of Carlin's comedy albums while visiting some second cousins in Baltimore. They let me use headphones so as not to disturb the grown-ups. And by grown-ups, I mean the people in the house who were closest to Carlin's age.

George Carlin was one of the many celebrities to appear on KLOS while I worked there. I think he was promoting a book at the time. Or maybe an HBO special. Or possibly both. Carlin was nothing short of prolific. I may not agree with all his beliefs, but I am glad to have met him. I think I may have had him sign a book. If I did, it would be packed away in in box in the basement.

Yesterday I flipped over to NPR as part of my resolution to listen to it more often. They were rerunning an interview with George Carlin from 2004. In the segment I heard, the interviewer asked George about his philosophy of life. In her question, she aptly described it as a mix of narcissism and mysticism. Then she asked about his heart attacks and his thoughts on death. He talked about how he would be sad to know that his life was ending whether he had a minute, a month or a year's notice that his time was up. I wonder what was going through the interviewer's mind as she asked the questions. Was she thinking ahead to the day the interview would eventually be replayed?

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