Op-Ed: George Carlin – By Bob Lefsetz

The last time I saw George Carlin was at the Universal Amphitheatre. As I
watched him stride the stage with his mic, I thought what a great job this
was. You get an agent to book the gig, you drive to the venue from your
house, you do your show and you take ALL THE MONEY!

I'm sure George loved that. After all, he invented the format. Oh, the
Borscht Belt comedians preceded him, but George wasn't a member of that
club, hell, he wasn't even Jewish. He didn't depend on favors from singers,
and he had a gold-selling record career. George Carlin didn't tell jokes,
he specialized in the TRUTH! And one thing the baby boomers recognized was
the truth. They flocked to George. Once he gave up trying to please their
parents and just said what he felt on the inside.

I can't remember whether it was '67 or '68, but around seven o'clock on a
Sunday evening, with school still in session, my parents dropped me off at
Sacred Heart University for a concert. One of those five act extravaganzas
like the one featuring the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, the Soul
Survivors and…that I went to at Fairfield University the fall before. The
headliner was Vanilla Fudge. Actually, I saw Carmine Appice a couple of
weeks back at the Kenny Chesney show. Playing second was Connecticut's
biggest local act, NAIF, the North Atlantic Invasion Force, but in the
middle, on around nine, was the performance I truly remember. George Carlin
took the stage. Did the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman. He was funny. I kept my
eye on him. When he exploded in the seventies it wasn't news, but the
preordained success of someone who worked hard, bucking the system to
ultimately be successful in another system, that of youth culture.

Sure, he was about ten or fifteen years older than his new audience, but he
was seen as one of them. A God. Quoted ad infinitum from his Little David
records.

Seinfeld's observational comedy? That's all derived from Carlin. I don't
want to hassle Jerry here, he admits it. Carlin was the first to look at
our screwed up world and question it. The only comedian doing this today is
Chris Rock. Cable TV killed live comedy and while everybody with a modicum
of talent looked to star in, or write for, a sitcom, today's generation was
subjected to the inanities of Dane Cook. A harmless gentleman, but that's
just the point… Dane's about jokes. Carlin was much more than jokes, he
actually inspired people to think, to question.

Save the planet? SAVE YOURSELF!

I think of Carlin's routine every time I hear people pontificate about the
environment. George said the planet's been around for millions of years, it
will survive. Isn't that an interesting thought? An Earth without people?
Instead of thinking about whether your kids will get cancer, think of human
beings going the way of dinosaurs.

And, of course, the difference between football and baseball… Sudden
death and extra innings. The gridiron as opposed to the field. Baseball is
a pastoral game…

And what about the routine about STUFF? Buying stuff, hoarding stuff,
moving stuff. As someone addicted to my stuff, I think of George's words
whenever I debate throwing something away. Do I really need it? Is my
identity really rolled up in my possessions?

And then there was the Friday night executions. Maybe it was Monday night.
But you remember that HBO routine. God, that would generate ratings!
Begging the question, would executives put ANYTHING on television if it
delivered ratings? In the years since, Carlin seems a seer. Hell, it's
almost not a joking matter. They have vigils, TV reports, whenever they
execute another inmate.

From a distance, it looked like George couldn't break through into TV or
movies. The obituaries are saying it was his choice. I'd like to agree
with this, if you're sui generis, if you're making a difference, can you
play any role but yourself?

I looked forward to those HBO specials.

I must say, in the recent one, George was a bit off his game. Maybe his
health was affecting his talent. Then again, we don't reevaluate Sinatra
based on his final tours. Frank's legend was cemented over and over again,
from the forties to the sixties. And George Carlin's legend was cemented
from the seventies to the nineties. He wasn't the voice of a generation,
he'd hate that description, rather he was the trusted observer, removed,
sitting on high, taking the pulse of a nation.

You might say he was secondary to Richard Pryor. I love Richard, but their
acts were different. Richard was a storyteller nonpareil. Carlin's talent
lay in his insight, in questioning what the fuck was going on through humor.

If you look at Carlin's track record, it's akin to the Beatles'. He was
more consistent than the Stones, even though he worked just as long. And
even though we loved his greatest hits, we always wanted to hear his new
stuff. Carlin wasn't calcified, he was positively alive.

Sure, he took drugs to cope. But, he also had a wife and a child and a
level of normalcy that left him out of the "Behind The Music"/"E! True
Hollywood Story" exposes. With Carlin, it wasn't about the drugs, but the
talent. We marveled at the talent.

It's funny when a guy like Carlin dies. Because he still lives. Not only
all those HBO specials and records, but the routines in our minds. He's
changed our lives. You see, Carlin's comedy never got dated. Because being
human never really changes.

But now Carlin is gone. Kinda weird, because he was an inspiration, a
beacon for all us wannabe truth tellers. If Carlin could do it, maybe we
could too. Now, the path is only illuminated by his legacy, there will be
no more new words, no more new routines. No more appearances on late night
TV where he questions the conventional wisdom, where he states he doesn't
vote because it doesn't make a difference. I'm a big believer in casting my
ballot, but I can see that George is right. The fat cats win no matter
what. The little guy is squeezed out. George was not a star who wanted to
live above the fray, he never forgot his roots, he was interested in the
little guy, and the little guy loved him for it.

Everybody I know who interacted with Carlin said they had a conversation.
His stardom did not eviscerate his humanity. But his poor heart stopped him
cold.

Seventy one is too young to die. Seems old, but when you get there, or see
that a man running for President is that age, you realize that as a
septuagenarian, you've still got a lot of living to do. Hopefully.

George's candle has been snuffed out, but his memory will live on. If I
think of my pantheon of inspirations, I put him right up there with Tom
Wolfe and Frank Zappa. Wolfe the observer and Zappa the questioner. That's
what George Carlin was. An observer who was not afraid to question the
status quo. I will be continued to be inspired by him. Hopefully, you will
too.

I had just gotten in at my place of employment at the time which was the
afternoon / night shift at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, I was 22 and
the year was 1972, while walking over to my section of the store, my section
was the comedy section… meaning I had to take records from the under stock
and make sure that they were represented in the display up on top, I look
and I see one Mr. George Carlin looking through my section. Now George was
at the top of his game at the time, he and his manager had just started
their own record company called "Little David Records" for which the only
other artist on the label at the time was a little known jazz / folk singer
named Kenny Rankin….. sorry to say but at that time he wasn't my cup of
tea but still I had received a promo of his album and gave it a listen which
said a lot because I used to take albums I had no use for directly over to
Aaron's Records, for those of you who don't know Aaron's Records was a place
on Melrose Ave. here in Los Angeles where you could take your used and new
albums and turn them into $$$$$$…. something that was in short supply in
those days. Tower Records was never known for paying their employees a lot
of money, I think they figured with all the free records, tee shirts,
concert and let's not forget the store groupies… you were doing pretty
well. I didn't complain I had no bills to pay except for rent.


OK back to George, so I walked up to him and I tell George how I've been
listening to his new LP "Class Clown" religiously and playing it in the
store until all of the other employees were sick of it, I know how many
times can you listen to the same joke over and over again. Sorry but I loved
it and for me it was a learning experience. I asked George joking "would you
please show me how you do your Ed Sullivan" and much to my surprise he
showed me by saying. "By now you know, by now you know, just before the
aero photography picture of Kate Smith, Topo Gigio the little faggot mouse
will be out here to do his thing". Even thought I'd heard it before on
record I laugh so hard that I cried.

So we talked for a while. Lets face it George always was one of us…. just
peopl,e none of that movie star crap for him… and that's what we all loved
him for.

He had a boxed set (stay with me now, this is where the story gets good) of
classical LP's under his arm and asked me "do you have a LP resealer in the
back room of the store?"…. we were told by Tower management never to
mention the LP resealer, it was Tower's dirty little secret and you could
get fired for that on the spot, so without so much as thinking twice I said
"yeah we have one." He said to me that he was flying to New York tonight
and that tomorrow was his friend's birthday and wouldn't it be funny if when
his friend opened up the LP he found some drugs inside it instead of LP's. I
said "ABSOLUTELY I WOULD", so we proceeded to the back room of Tower Records
where we heated up the shrink wrap machine and opened up the box set of LP's
that he had and took the albums out of the box and at that point I was
thinking maybe he had a little pot to put inside, but George was the big
time and there it was…. WOW … George reaches into his pants and pulls
out the biggest bag of cocaine I had ever seen in my life… so we proceeded
to put the bag of coke into the box set and as I thought … "sorry George"
it wouldn't fit, no problem he said and he opens up the baggy and puts a big
pile of coke on the record sleeve, puts the bag back into the box set and it
still wouldn't fit, so George take some more out and we finally get the bag
to fit, we send it through the resealer and shrink wrapper until the LP
looked just like new. George thanked me very much and I inquired "what about
that pile of coke sitting there" he said "no problem, that's for you for
your services" You've got to be joking…."no, that's for you" :):):):) I
was used to buying small amounts and never had that much for personal use
ever…I said "Thanks George !!!!!!" I clean up everything in the back
room and walk him out to the front entrance shook his hand and thanked him
for everything…. for me a banner day at Tower.

Needless to say I was employee of the month and had this great story to tell
all.

In closing I'm not glorifying drug use because as of this month I celebrated
my 18th year of being sober and don't care to make any judgment on anybody
that still gets high…

THATS YOUR BUSINESS !!!! Enjoy your life. "I hope he did". George Carlin is
the true template of comedy for all to follow. R.I.P.

Rock Singer

_______________________________


Had the thrill/privilege of working with George in 1984 when he had the
"Carlin On Campus" album (on the Penthouse Records label I ran). He had a
nice suite of offices in Brentwood with his older brother Patrick in one
office & that (now late) brilliant comic/writer Pat McCormick also based
there. He and George were working together.

Among the projects I did with him was a live call-in national radio special
for "Rockline" aired on over 100 album rock formatted stations. This was
the first (and maybe only) time they had a comedian guest for the entire
program and the audience reaction was unbelievable. He was great — gave
autographs, took pix, did station id's and quipped hysterically about
everything.
Lastly, among all the tributes and obits, everyone seems to have forgotten
that he sub-hosted for Johnny Carson on the Tonight show wearing a T-shirt.
Only HE could get away with this & do it with unquestioned class and style
along with his absolute brilliance.

Ron Farber

_______________________________

School year 1970-71, myself and three high school friends who were all at
UCLA, rented a two-bedroom apartment on Beverly Glen. Who was our next door
neighbor, but George Carlin. It was in his transition phase, when he was
fired from Las Vegas. He wasn't around much. He liked the Mad Dogs and
Englishmen poster I had up in our living room wall, and sometimes we would
talk about music. He drove a Trans-Am. Brenda, his wife, seemed lonely.
Quite often the apartment door was open. Sometimes after class she would
invite me in for a beer, which I thought was strange as I was underage, and
to chat. I liked her. Their daughter Kelly was very young, and they had a
small dog, Bogie.

Months later I saw him play at the Troubadour, and popped backstage to say
hello. When he learned that I didn't have his new album, AM/FM,
(unbeknownst to me) he sent Brenda to Tower Records to buy one and gave it
to me later that night. I was touched. In addition to being much older
than I, he was a hard guy to be friends with because he was on the road so
much. I did a few stories on him, including one for the L.A. Times where I
traveled to Vegas. It was memorable to me because I came up with the lyrics
to "Punk Rock Christmas" while sweating in the summer heat around the hotel
pool, jotting them on the Newsweek I was reading. I visited him once more
when he lived on Pacific Ave. in Venice.

I spoke with him last in the Nineties. He called me because he had gotten
the rights back to his Little David albums and was thinking of manufacturing
his catalogue himself, which he did. A few years later, Jeff Gold came to
us about wanting to issue comedy compilations to tie in with the new laugh
therapy coming from India. Foos thought we needed a spokesperson for such a
line and wanted me to call George. He was lukewarm on the project, which we
never did.

Harold Bronson

_______________________________

Hi Bob:

George Carlin was one of the nicest people I ever knew. I will miss his
humor, and the rare talks we would have over the years about comedy, music,
family and life.

I met him in 1983 as he was in the comeback mode after years battling
addiction and health issues. He had just released an album called CARLIN ON
CAMPUS, and I was the young promotion man working it at radio in the North
East and I was about 21 years old.

I remember calling his office, because I had a ton of AOR radio programmers
and morning show producers calling me to get a shot at an interview or a
live on the air visit to the many stations that were playing his first album
on his own label called EARDRUM RECORDS.

Again, I was a kid, a huge fan, and I called his office and this guy
answered the phone, and I said something like "Hi, this is Joe Reagoso and I
have some radio requests around the new project, and I was calling to see if
Mr. Carlin would be available to give us some help………etc." Then this
person who answered the phone said something to the effect of "No problem,
Joey…..I will ask Mr. Carlin and get back with you." I gave the fellow my
information, and then I asked him his name and he said "This is George
Carlin." I almost died. Here is my favorite comedian in life calling me
"Joey" and actually speaking with me and clowning around.

We met at Lafeyette University near Allentown PA, in a school locker room
after the show, his backstage area.
We talked about the album, radio op's, retail stuff, and then the topics
shifted to the likes of Rudy Ray Moore, Redd Foxx, Lord Buckley, and so
on…then family, neighborhoods, music, etc. He always wanted to know how
the family was. A very family kinda guy for sure.

Since I was a student of comedy recordings, he and I became very good
friends over the years, exchanging a lot of material, tapes, cds, etc. He
at one time sent me a box of cassettes with some of the raunchiest shit I
ever heard, and I couldn't stop laughing. I still have some of them in my
IPOD and it will always be a reminder who hipped me to the routines. He
collected a lot of this stuff, archived it. He had roasts and early
beatnick rap stuff, and comedy from all eras.

For the next three decades, I went to a bunch of his concerts and casino
shows. Never using the same material, always a new and fresh presentation,
Carlin was a true American original.
He taped all of his shows, he analyzed his material, always striving and
creating the best he could do, and it worked, look at the run he had. It
never peaked, he was always doing something new and challenging for both
himself, but more so for his worldwide audience.

I can cite several shows where even I wanted to shrink and hide, I was so
embarrassed. I mean the guy would explore taboos unknown to other comedians
or actors. Once he was going into something edgy in Atlantic City, and I
was with some family, and I knew it was time to either get the hell out of
the place, or just pretend I didn't hear what he just said. I mean the guy
knew how to make you laugh, but maybe it wasn't the kind of stuff we should
be laughing at….that was the unique quality of his comedy.

He would call me when he was in a city nearby, and we would hook up at the
gigs, and I would usually take a friend or someone in the music field with
me, and they would just freak out, because I would never tell them that we
were going to meet him. One time, I was at a very very lame MCA Records
convention in 1999 in Vegas, and I was flying over the town, and I saw a
huge sign "CARLIN at the MGM GRAND".

I called him as soon as the plane landed and I said I was in town, and he he
asked me how many tickets I needed, and I said "I am at this very lame
convention, and I have a staff of about 20 folks", and he said
"Great….bring them to the gig and then we'll meet up after the show."
Well, it was about 120 degrees that night, I snuck about 20 promotion folks
out of the convention, and we walked over to the MGM GRAND. I didn't really
tell them what we doing up until the moment we left the convention, and they
almost shit.

George, put us all in the first row seating area….and he was doing a very
heavy show that night, for a casino, so that made it even more cool, and
then as the gig ended, everyone thought we were going back to the
convention, but I said, "Hey Guys, we need to walk this way thru the
greenroom." So, without telling anyone what was next, we all walked back to
the green room area, and George walks out with his usual greeting to me "Hey
Joey…You Fuck." The promotion staff went bonkers. They had no idea that
I even knew this guy, and here they were now, getting handshakes,
autographs, pictures taken with the legend, etc. George was a very nice guy
to do things like that, and it wasn't rare. A very nice man indeed.


He actually put my wife and I in one of the final episodes of his George
Carlin Show on FOX in the 90's. I will never forget that as long as I live.
I called him one time, and asked if he could put me in his show as a bar
matron, or whatever, you know…wanting to have something for posterity.
Well….we flew into Warner Studios and he brought my wife Karen and I
through the whole process. I mean, we were at the production meetings, we
saw the writing sessions, the rehearsals, the live audience tapings, the
pre-show tapings, etc. The episode featured Tommy Chong, and if you could
imagine this shit, George Carlin and Tommy Chong getting a delivery of pot
mailed to Carlin's address by mistake….I mean it was a once in a lifetime
scripts and t.v. moments. At any rate, he put me and the wife in the bar
scene throughout the entire show! Then several transition scenes too, like
walking by him on the street and waving hi to us…. It was very heavy for
me. I have to be honest with you. I never expected him to give us the
royal treatment. I just thought I would be in it for a second or two…..
no….you know what George did as well….he put us in the national t.v.
commercial announcing the new episode, which ran for a week, and then during
the very big Sunday Night Football program on FOX, so everyone I knew in
life was calling me in disbelief.

Disbelief, that is the feeling I have today. I got a call from Michael
Lessner at Live Nation, missed the call, opened up my email, and then I got
the NY TIMES headline and my heart sunk. Shocked somewhat, numb and bummed
out, yes. He was a friend for life. He and I had some very amazing
conversations over the years that will live on in my heart and memory for
the rest of my life. He was a caring guy, took me under his wing, when I
was a kid, and never forgot about me, my family, my friends or my label
compadres. He loved music, loved comedy, loved his family. If you knew
him, he was the same guy you saw on television, he was a funny funny man.
No doubt about it.

I remember a year ago, you had seen the HBO special, and you were analyzing
it, and I sent it over to George. There was a segment in that show called
"Uncle Dave", and before he died, probably the last time I saw him in Long
Beach, right when I moved here, I told him that this routine was a very
heavy piece of comedy that actually brought some tears to my eyes. It was
about how the average guy who gets fucked over his whole life, by his boss,
by school mates, by his friends, by ill health, by bad shit all around, and
then how it happens when you die that all of the great ones come back like
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and all the other "Uncle Daves" finally get
their just break. They finally get the pay raise, they finally get
recognition, etc. I mean it was like a 45 minute piece in artistry, that I
never heard anyone do since or probably never be able to do. I remember
telling him how in the beginning, it sounded like a typical funny bit, but
then it turns into this serious piece of commentary which takes you to the
next level. George stood up for the Uncle Daves in this world. Maybe that
is why we all dug the man.

Georgie….I miss you man! God is watching over you now. May God Bless you
and your wonderful family. Our prayers are with you.

Your old bub,

Joe Reagoso

_______________________________

Hey Bob,

I wanted to drop you a note about the passing of George Carlin. I remember
seeing him on TV during his "short hair" years and loving him then a few
years later buying my first comedy LP, "Class Clown." During college, I was
almost arrested for playing "Occupation: Foole" while working a mall record
store.

In 1990, I was lucky enough to promote two sold out concerts with him up in
the Berkshires and spend some quality time getting to know one of my idols.
It was the first performances after his heart attack and I had to make sure
his chicken for dinner was cooked without the skin. I will never forget the
unique, gentle was he described how the heart attack was his wake up call. I
don't know what he was personally like before, but when I was with him he
was one of the most gentle, polite men – oh he truly felt the anger his
routines would bring out in him onstage, but I never heard him complain
about anything and he made my crew happy enough to want to work for him for
free! He was also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.

dan4456

_______________________________

Bob,

The mid-late 70's. George Carlin opened/shared the bill with me at the Santa
Monica Civic.


Everyone was finally gone & I had to tell my roadie something. Speaking
briefly with George in the hallway of the dressing rooms I told him my Wife
was kinda spooked being alone back there in the dressing rooms area alone &
would he so kindly just say hello & keep her company for a minute while I
did my thing with my roadie? "You got it, baby", Carlin says.

I do my thing with my roadie & equipment, taking much, much, longer than I
thought & feeling concerned about my Wife sitting alone & guilty because
maybe Carlin got stuck with her, wanting to go home, just to be a nice guy
to me. I am hearing talking in the hallway of the dressing rooms. I stood
unseen by the door for a couple of minutes where Carlin was sitting on the
couch across from my Wife talking to her in great detail about his Wife &
Kids & what He & they were going to do the rest of the weekend etc. & asking
Her all about Her life, what did She like in life & what was Her opinions
about this & that subject in life. He sat there with Her for a damn
half-hour which was only intended to be a couple of fast minutes. He knew He
was a Star & Famous etc. by then but sat there for a half-hour talking like
a "real person-mench" about regular life stuff & truly interested in my
Wife's interests & opinions etc. I stood there and listened for a couple of
minutes & then walked in apologizing for my long delay & thanking Him for
being so kind.

"No problem, my pleasure man"; He says. "It was a very interesting
conversation & She's a very pretty Lady, man"; He concludes. "So what can I
do for you Mr. George Carlin?", I asked humorously. "Hey man I'm just a
"George" baby! Just a "George!", He says, and walkin away says; "I'm goin
home now to "my" pretty Wife (she passed away early in life, devastating,
how did he go on?) and you play great, man", he concludes. As well as being
grateful elevating my concern about my Wife's safety & comfort, I was blown
away & even moved by the humility, warmth, sensitivity, being a real human
being & actually not too self-absorbed or narcissistic to actually be
honestly interested in another human being who was not "in the business"
etc. I asked my Wife about it as we drove home. She said so unaffectedly;
"He asked me so many things about me & told me so many things about His Wife
& Kids. He's a big star isn't He?" I said, "Yea. The biggest."

(Famous comedian) opened for me for 3 nights in a club in Philly & I eased
into his dressing room & stuck out my hand & introduced myself. He never
looked up, said anything or shook my hand. I just walked away.

When I heard George passed a few tears rolled down my cheek. For Him, for
me, my Wife & for the beautiful era & people who existed & exists in the
times we of a similar age bracket lived through. How lucky we have been (&
still are) & how lucky a guy by the name of George Carlin was here for a
while for us to enjoy & even learn from. I'm sure He would say; "Aw. Learned
a lot from all of you guys too, man".

John Klemmer

_______________________________

Funny (or maybe not) that John McCain seems at least 20 years older than
George Carlin.

Dave Gorman

_______________________________

Just thought you'd be interested that I forwarded your letter to Sally

Carlin, who's reading it as I write.

My wife Merle is her friend and has been with her all day.

I'm sure she'll have great solace in such a great testimonial.

N

ps she asked that I send it on George's email, which gave me a shiver

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