George Carlin, man.
World’s a little less funny today. This is how I choose to look at it though:
Personally, I feel lucky that I got the news this morning by turning on my Sirius radio and hearing it from Artie Lange, a comic I enjoy a whole lot, in the middle of giving an overview of how George Carlin changed the landscape. Somehow that’s more fitting than hearing it from NPR or some other source with better posture.
I am ill-equipped and under-qualified to write anything that remotely sums up the contribution this man made to American society. The guys who run this website have the right idea by posting Carlin’s stand-up on the main page. That’s the single best testament to one of the most important comedians who ever lived – to go look at his work yet again, since it absolutely rewards re-examining.
For me, there’s not much else to say on the subject, and this is also why I didn’t rush to write anything about the loss of Stan Winston last week. A) I never knew or even met Stan Winston, although I did see him all over the place when I first moved to LA but I never presumed to introduce myself and surely there’s some kind of lesson there; and B) When I started thinking about the career of Stan Winston and what it meant to me, all the great movie monsters and creatures invented by him and artists like him over the years, I realized that for all the story ideas I have been working on, I have yet to write a science-fiction story, let alone one with a unique creature at the center. So, I started writing one. Whether I’m capable of creating anything that stands in those long shadows, it’s far from certain, but I figured that was the most productive thing I could do: Inspiration as tribute. There are plenty great commemorations already out there on the internet, like this one from Entertainment Weekly which celebrates the genius of Stan Winston in pictures from movies you may or may not remember he had anything to do with.
As far as George Carlin goes, you don’t have to be a writer or a comedian or any kind of entertainer to use his work as inspiration. This was a guy who challenged the way people think, right down to the very way we use language and how we communicate with each other. His humor was not to be enjoyed passively – it was best experienced by first enjoying the laughter of recognition, and from then on, by launching off and using it as a multi-dimensional blueprint for looking at the world from different angles.
Those of us who have admired George Carlin’s art from afar for decades, those of us who haven’t listened to his albums in years or since last month, those of us who are hearing about him for the first time and are curious to check out his stuff – we are the lucky ones today. We are given renewed reason to think about and appreciate his art. As creepily-celebrity-obsessed as our current society is, the one nice thing that happens when we lose our great entertainers is the re-appraisal and appreciation of their work.
So while there will be a lot of mournful tributes today and upcoming, this is not a sad day for most of us, in a way. Yes, an important voice in popular culture was silenced, but that voice lives on, in the many recorded roadmaps he left for humanity as we further travel down the road. The only reason to look at this as an occasion for sadness is to think of the families and loved ones who are directly affected, and to wish the best for them, because the loss is theirs alone. There is much grief today, but that part does not belong to us, in my opinion. We get to celebrate a genius. We’re the lucky ones.