Yes, NYC's Councilman Mark Levine actually dropped the MF-bomb to honor the unveiling of our long-awaited George Carlin Way (W121st Street between Morningside Drive and Amsterdam Avenue -- a block from where Carlin grew up "because," according to the NY Daily News, "the Catholic Church did not want his name displayed on the stretch where Corpus Christi Church is located."
That line was written by the great comic Eddie Brill, one of many comedians, family, and friends of Carlin who braved rain and wind to watch the Way's unveiling, and got a huge laugh from a crowd who knew all too well that George Carlin was a great champion of truth, exposing hypocrisy, and challenging dubious assumptions and boundaries:
This country was founded by a group of slave owners who told us "all men are created equal." That is what's known as being stunningly -- stunningly -- full of shit!!
Yet he was not always a notorious truth-teller.
He began his career with clean-cut material, matched by his clean cut hair, suit and skinny tie, where he delivered innocuous routines like Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.
In 1971, with the release of his boundary-thrashing grammy-winning album FM & AM, he put the "Old George Carlin" to rest, and unveiled the "New George Carlin" -- or rather, the REAL George Carlin -- who made up his own mind, said what he thought without apology, pulled no punches, and changed the world of comedy and media forever.
He is best known, of course, for his infamous Seven Dirty Words routine on his 1971 album Class Clown where, like Lenny Bruce before him, he challenged assumptions about what was OK to say or think -- what "certain words" meant -- and why so much thought had gone into what can't be said.
We have more ways to describe dirty words than we actually have dirty words. That seems a little strange to me. It seems to indicate that somebody was awfully interested in these words. They kept referring to them.
They called them bad words, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene, blue, off-color, risqué, suggestive, cursing, cussing, swearing, and all I can think of was "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits!" ... That was my original list. I knew it wasn't complete. But it was a starter set.Unlike the countless comics since who pad their mediocre humor with nervous laughter elicited by those Seven Words, Carlin's biggest laughs come not from the words themselves, but from his observations about them -- and about our use of language, what we allow and what we prohibit and why -- in short, the values we profess and impose on others, as opposed to the values hidden in our actions.
In Class Clown, he points to contradictions, hypocrisies, and the arbitrariness of labeling certain words as "bad":
"There are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them you can't say on television. What a ratio that is! ... They'd have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. ... There are no 'bad words'... [there are] bad thoughts, bad intentions ... and words...!"
In Occupation: Foole, his 1973 follow-up to Class Clown, he further prodded at why we believe these words will "infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war."
It was this more nuanced version of the "Seven Dirty Words" routine that WBAI aired uncensored exactly 41 years ago on October 30, 1973 that launched the landmark case and ruling which to this day governs free speech in broadcast media.
We can never underestimate Carlin's spirit to always question morality handed down to us by others:
If a thing is deemed "bad" ask why. Is it truly "bad/hurtful" or is it an arbitrary device to control others? And if it is hurtful, then ask whom does it hurt and how? And what exactly is doing the hurting? Is it the word, or the intention behind the word?
And, as Carlin, Brill, and Levine would concur: always, always look for the underlying truths beneath the surface of what we are told, no matter how uncomfortable these truths may make us, no matter how much they show us what we'd rather not see, no matter how much they may rain on our parade.
Because a little rain can wash away a multitude of ills. And George Carlin fans aren't afraid of a little rain, anyway.
To be continued...