“Me… I’m Gone!”
I remember the first time I heard a George Carlin album. It was when I was 13, spending my summers (as I always did, and still do!) at Camp Ramah in New England. Someone in my bunk had a cassette tape with a short routine: Carlin’s classic “seven words you can’t say on television.”
I laughed, and thought the bit was clever. But it was the next summer, back at camp, when I really became a Carlin devotee. Someone (was it the same kid? Or someone else? This I cannot recall) had brought another George Carlin routine on tape. This wasn’t just a bit, this was an entire hour-long album. (Years later I found out that this was the album entitled “What Am I Doing in New Jersey?”)
Something about that recording grabbed fiercly ahold of my 14-year-old mind. And I wasn’t the only one, because my entire bunk spent that whole summer listening to that album over and over again. There’s a bit in there about ways to respond to a cop if you’re pulled over for a speeding ticket that turned into a catch phrase for the bunch of us. (Carlin to the imaginary cop: “Say…aren’t you a public servant? Get me a glass of water!”) To this day I can recite fairly substantial bits of that album verbatim.
I made a copy of that tape that summer (it was probably already a copy of a copy), that I took home with me. (I remember begging my parents to play it in the car on the drive home, and then being embarassed by how raunchy it was!) I still have that tape, and every now and again I bust it out and give it a listen. I still laugh at the things I laughed at when I was 14 (“The Civil War. How can you have a Civil War? ‘Say, pardon me — BAMBAMBAMBAM!”) and also at a lot of things that I know went way over my head back then (like the lengthy bit about the Reagan Administration that kicks off the album).
Over the years I have voraciously devoured all the Carlin material I could get my hands on. I’ve got a ton of his comedy specials taped off of TV…a number of CDs, even a couple of his books. They way he could mix astounding vulgarity with brilliant insights on language and the ridiculous human capacity for bullshit always kept me coming back (even as his routines seemed to get more and more angry and less and less funny over the past ten years). He was a genius. And he was damned funny.
That cop routine from “What Am I Doing in New Jersey” ended with Carlin’s motto about Police Officers and traffic. “Cop didn’t see it, I didn’t do it. Me… I’m gone!”
Well, he’s gone now. Maybe it’s time to go give that album another listen.
George Carlin. 1937-2008.