One of my earliest pop culture memories, from when I first started to become cognizant of the world past my back yard, was listening to my mom’s George Carlin albums (Class Clown and AM & FM were, I believe, the first two I was exposed to). I knew they were a bit naughty, and later I would come to realize the meaning of words like iconoclastic and irreverant, but to a kid of about eight or nine* all I really grasped was that they were funny.
Now Carlin’s dead, at the age of 71. Ignoring for a moment the idea that when the icons of your youth start to die off, you get a serious dose of perspective on your own impending mortality, this is a loss for the genre and the culture. Yes, if you asked anyone under about 35 to list their favorite comedians, he probably wouldn’t be on a lot of lists. And, while he was still performing and still drawing crowds, his most influential days were behind him.
Yet, he’s a giant of comedy. A comedic genius. Mount Rushmore of Comedy stuff. It’s easy to pigeonhole him as just a guy who swore a lot on stage (something that barely fazes us now), but to the end, Carlin asked us to re-examine why we thought the way we did about things and made us laugh during the examination.
He was his own man, and to the kid who became a grownup (and whose sardonic outlook on life was no doubt shaped by those 33 1/3 vinyl discs) he’ll always be an icon.
*Yes, my mom was either a bit progressive or neglectful, depending on your point of view. In 1973, maybe letting your eight-year-old listen to George Carlin wouldn’t get you Parent of the Year, but I seem to have turned out all right, yeah?