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Thursday, 30 May 2013

George Carlin Remembered

The following essay is written by Ron Vazzano

This month marks the fifth anniversary of George Carlin’s passing. Time flies when you’re having gone.

Though he was just another garden variety standup comic early in his career— appearing often on the Ed Sullivan Show— it was his switching gears to that of satirist/social commentator, that took him to a whole other level.

His uniqueness in particular, had to do with his obvious fascination with our use (and misuse) of language and words. It is for that I suppose, he is best remembered. The most scorching example being his highly controversial "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" monolog, which first appeared on his hit album Class Clown in 1972. It became central to a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices, in a 5-4 decision, affirmed the government's power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

On the serendipitous end of the spectrum, his comparison of football vs. baseball is classic:

“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use a shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! —I hope I'll be safe at home!”

Depending on your political and religious persuasions and sensitivities to excessive use of “street vernacular,” you may have been greatly offended at one time or another by his “take no prisoners” approach to observation. But in terms of… subject matter, style (“clean”), and performance, his piece, “A Modern Man,” would probably resonate with all. This is Carlin at his absolute best, in what you might call “a riff on the zeitgeist of modernism.”

Appearing on his eighteenth album, Life is Worth Losing, which was recorded simultaneously with a live HBO special eight years ago, his riff (or maybe even “rap” is more apropos?) calls attention to how frenzied our lifestyles have become, as has the clichéd jargon we use to describe them:
I've been uplinked and downloaded,
I've been inputted and outsourced,
I know the upside of downsizing,
I know the downside of upgrading.
I'm a high-tech low-life.
A cutting edge, state-of-the-art bi-coastal multi-tasker
and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond
If you’ve got a spare three minutes and thirty-three seconds, check out the YouTube of Carlin performing this piece in its entirety. It is the sort of thing I’d call “time-capsule worthy.” (

I will resist the temptation to conclude here with something along the lines of “Rest in peace George Carlin.” He would have a field day with such a sentiment for its being unable to draw a distinction between death… and just a nap.

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