I was thinking back over the past
summer and the death of comedian George Carlin. In the 1960’s, I first heard Carlin’s routine, “Seven Words You Aren’t Allowed to Say on Televison,” and I considered it boring
and infantile. Maybe because I grew up in an old factory town, I realized at
a young age that cursing is the language of the voiceless and powerless. It is not that I never used curse words myself, but
rather I recognized their origin in frustration, bitterness and unlived dreams. Carlin helped to break the barrier against
cursing on television, which unfortunately contributed to the potty-mouthed coarseness and lowered standards that are now
commonplace. I have mixed feelings about Carlin; he was crude and vulgar, but now I realize he was so much more.
I changed my opinion
of Carlin, and the way it happened was mysterious- as it always is when the presence of the unconscious mind emerges to reveal
the impostor inside me and you, and moves us to a place where all our visions meet. The unconscious is a great trickster and
manipulator of human beings, especially those smug humans who, in their egotism, think they have their world under control.
(If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future.)
But back to Carlin. I was in the
library when I spotted a George Carlin CD on the shelf. I took it on impulse, although I had never borrowed a comedy CD in
my entire life. Two days later, driving to Boston, I spotted it on the seat, and put it on, not expecting much. But I was
surprised to find myself laughing out loud, and I realized how funny the guy is. I got home later, had supper and went to
my office to check my email. The first thing that came up was “George Carlin, dead at 71.” Carlin had been in
show business for 50 years, yet I discovered him the day he died.
The unconscious mind doesn’t
speak in words, but rather in dreams, intuitions, visions, memories, and meaningful -sometimes amazing-coincidences, which
C.G. Jung termed synchronicity, one of the pillars of his life’s work. Some may regard engagement with the unconscious
as peculiar, irrational or superstitious- but for me it has always been serious
stuff. Anyway, I had been loaded down, and I asked the Higher Power to show me how to carry the burdens of my life more gracefully.
And on the road to Boston, I received an answer.
I laughed so much at Carlin’s
jokes, I could actually feel the endorphin hormones releasing in my bloodstream. My face was red. I felt lighter. How could
I have not thought of it before? I made the decision then to seek laughter every day, even when there appears nothing to laugh
about; not to seek to become a child again, but to cultivate humor in the face of all the storms of life. .
Carlin swore a lot in his performances,
and it’s too bad that for some, his name is associated with cursing. Nowadays, of course, almost all comedians overdo
it. Maybe it is the English teacher in me taking, but the problem with excessive cursing is that the public always requires
a “rougher grade of sandpaper” to be entertained. With vulgarity, a little can go a long way, but maybe some people
need rough sandpaper to blow off the world’s contradictions. Carlin was so intelligent and clear thinking, his performances
so loaded with underlying truth and resonance that the curse words were only secondary component of his absurdist humor.
As to my mixed feelings about Carlin-
the barrier he helped to break was not about mere words- as if words could ever be “mere.” With the right words
you can win love, advantages, friendship, money and more. And with the wrong words you can lose them in about five seconds.
The barrier Carlin broke had to do with the corruption of language- which leads to the degeneration of a culture. The danger
is that some future generation may find their vocabulary reduced to only one angry four letter word- and people will have
forgotten how to tell each other who they are and what they need and desire from each other.
Carlin became more relevant as an
old man, and continued to attract young people to his performances. What comes through after listening to his material, is
the black humor of a sensitive, intelligent human being who was angry at institutional religion, mass media and government,
and profoundly disappointed at the wasted potential and missed opportunities of the human race. Carlin was an avowed atheist,
and though I am a believer, I have always considered honest atheism – when not grounded in hatred- easier to take than
pretentious, holier-than-thou religiosity. Underneath the coarseness, Carlin
had a lot going on in his performances. Unlike Andrew Dice Clay, for example, where all you get is cursing and misanthropy
-which is funny for about five minutes- Carlin could morph rapidly, almost imperceptibly from a gravelly voiced tavern blowhard,
to a slick radio announcer, to a sober intellectual to a 1960’s stoner to a raving maniac. He could challenge society’s
most sacred cows, make you laugh, and come away seeing things from a different angle.
And about those mysteries of the unconscious, which brought Carlin’s humor into my orbit. I have
heeded its promptings. I need to laugh more. We all do. It has been said that life
is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think. I thank George Carlin for helping his generation think and-because
everything, after all, is connected- for making me rediscover the value of humor.