Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I blame George Carlin

When I was in junior high, my brother and I discovered the joy that was the comedy album.  We spent many hours listening to Bill Cosby's various routines on vinyl LPs we either purchased from Fisher's Big Wheel or borrowed from the local library, and we were must have dulled the needle of the record player listening to "Noah" over and over.  Even the best of his bits grew overly familiar over time, however, and we went searching for other funny guys to entertain us.    So one day I while I was browsing the discounted albums at Big Wheel, I came across one for two bucks that I knew right away I'd have to sneak into the house.

George Carlin's Class Clown.

Back in the day, there was no namby-pamby
"Parental Advisory" label on albums.

The cover itself would have offended my mom.  Carlin sat on a stool, an open denim shirt, his beard and long hair proclaiming him a "hippie" to my parents even though that term was pretty much passe to kids my age by that point in history.  Sneaking it into the house was the equivalent of bringing in a Playboy or Hustler, and the repercussions would likely have been similar.  The damn thing was harder to get in unnoticed too.  You can fold a Playboy.   It stayed in the shed next to our bikes until we were home alone, and then it went directly on the turntable.

I knew the definition of "subversive" by then, but I didn't really understand it until I heard his seven words you can't say on TV, the most famous track from the album.  If you asked me back then, I would have definitely said that was my favorite bit.  To this day, it's the one I can recite almost from memory.  But even more influential to me was "Special Dispensation-Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and Limbo" and "Heavy Mysteries." In fact, most of the B side of the album dealt with Carlin's Catholic upbringing.  It was gentler stuff than the seven words.  There was nary a cuss word in any of the bits that I can recall,  These bits were so much more tame than the scathing and blunt pieces he would do in later years.  He gently poked and prodded religious dogma in ways that at the time seemed simply amusing.  Still, they left me thinking things I hadn't ever considered before.

As I've said, we didn't really have any religious instruction growing up, so things like catechism and communion were completely alien to me.   However, ideas like God being all-powerful were a given.  When Carlin talked about asking his priest if God could make a rock so big he himself couldn't move it, I laughed at the idea of an authority figure stammering to answer the unanswerable, but on a deeper level, I really started to consider the implications.  I was introduced to the paradoxes of dogma that I would eventually shove out of my brain for a few years.  They would eventually, inevitably come creeping back and gnaw and fray the threads of blind belief.

Carlin's later stuff was far less subtle, far more hostile to religion than that early album, but even though I enjoyed just about everything he put out.  That first little taste of rationality sticks with me the most.

Thanks, George.

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