Monday, December 29, 2008

Funny Man

George Carlin is dead, for several months now. His corpse lies inflated with preservative fluids in the satin-lined box where it will remain until erosion or flood or the vicissitudes of environment spew it out, or some real estate developer relocates it, or until Jesus comes and calls it from the dark and the stillness of its supposed eternal rest. By now his back has flattened and taken on the texture of the cloth and foam rubber and wood that support his bones and increasingly leather-like flesh. His eyes have dried and sunk into his skull. The mortician's makeup has pealed from his face, the rouge is ghastly against the gray of his skin. It must be everything of death that he expected. He had hoped there was no other life.

It made the news, a lot, whenever it was, those several months ago. Carlin, of the seven dirty words.When I heard it first, in the 70s, it seemed a bit funny. Not so much because I was a teenager and it was naughty, as that my peers thought it was funny, and it was novel. The unexpected is often reacted to with laughter. That was his shtick. Shock value, mostly.

I found some of his HBO specials online and took a look for a bit. Colossally unfunny. Bad, actually. He opens with some some rapid fire doggerel about nothing. All about words -- here at sec :28. The fact that his monkey faces don't quite go with the highly verbal act -- nobody ever seemed to see the incongruity. And after his "highwire" linguistical display -- that any talented teenager with a notebook and some time could have cobbled together -- he comes out with a repeat and riff on a putatively hilarious vulgarity that he used to open an HBO show years before. A hideously purile non-sequitur that I won't repeat. It's a dilly. Har har har. Cuz it's so good, y'see. Did I mention, har?

The audience stands for him, when he first comes on. They know his act, his style, and think it's worth standing for. Standing in line, standing in ovation, standing as in tolerating. I smiled, once. At the word "dingleberry." The rest of it left me, well, not numb -- indifferent. What a fool.

This is the guy I heard once on some sententious talkshow intone the marxist truism, property is theft. He meant it. Of course he did. Check out 6:50. The sincerity of his venom leaves no doubt. Now the only property he owns -- well it's not his plot, it's not even his flesh. He owns nothing. He is at last no longer a thief.

Is my belated obituary too harsh? Should we show more grace to the departed? But funerals are not for the dead. Nothing remains that we can do for them. I am harsh as a salutary reminder to the living. The clay of our bodies will grow cold once more, and return indistinguishable to the earth. The conceits with which we amuse ourselves will deceive and delude us only until the light of our eyes goes out, and we are summoned into a greater light, or the yawning darkness that children dread under their beds. There must be joy, but there is certainly something to fear. Our scorn will not protect us. The nuns were right, mostly. Because Carlin found their errors, he hated their truths. Now hell welcomes him, and there is no comfort possible.

We use laughter to escape, and to approach. We use it to isolate and to bond. Often but not always it is a nasty thing. Laughter is like dreaming -- a way of adjusting and of processing. But that's not my point. My point is Carlin. He used his gifts the same way he used drugs. Not to heal. To hide. Now his body is hidden in the dirt. He soul is hidden from all peace, and he is without excuse.

Why pick on Carlin? He fell before my eyes, is why. Be glad that it wasn't you who did. There is little mercy in the world. If you wish there were more, make it.



chuck e. boy said...

I remember his death as well. My immediate response was to recall the Bill Murray line for his character's eulogy for his crew captain's death in the film "The Razor's Edge" and thought it amazingly appropriate.

"He was disgusting. Did you ever see him eat? Dogs would gather to watch him...He will not be missed."


Jack H said...

The dogs did indeed gather to watch him.

Jack H said...

And speaking of Murray quotes, there's this, from Groundhog Day, of his character:

"The wretch, concentrated all in self
Living, shall forfeit fair renown
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung."