We lost a giant in the entertainment industry this week with the passing of George Carlin, the brilliant countercultural comedian and social critic. His iconoclastic genius was well known, if not always appreciated. (His "seven dirty words" comedy routine became the focus of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on obscenity 30 years ago.) But not as well known was his generosity to friends in need, as I witnessed 34 years ago.
In 1974 I was performing with a Los Angeles honky-tonk & boogie band, Uncle Crusty and the Venice Canaligators, which featured Hook McGuire—a grizzly one-armed singer/harmonica player (who lost his hook in prison)—and a colorful cadre of musically talented misfits. One night after opening for Freddie King at the Starwood Club in Hollywood, someone in the band packed the guitar amplifiers too close to the rear door of our Econoline van, which jiggled the rear door handle open as our driver/guitarist Butch Mudbone sped home to Venice, oblivious to the trail of musical equipment spilling onto the streets of West L.A. behind him. Once Butch reached home and saw the open door and the missing Fender amplifiers he hastily retraced his route, but it was too late. The band's capital goods were apparently redistributed to aspiring musicians along Venice Boulevard.
So what can a poor band do? Well, as every innovative business team knows, it pays to have a sponsor. And we had a generous one in George Carlin, who years earlier had become a Canaligator booster after seeing the band perform for tips on the Venice boardwalk. So the next day the band members were at George's Pacific Palisades doorstep, tin cup in hand. Because I was meeting George for the first time (I had only recently joined the band), I was a tad intimidated. It didn't help that the mat outside his front door read "Go Away" instead of "Welcome." But it turned out that George and his wife Brenda were completely delighted to see us. For the next several hours we were treated to an impromptu show, with George at his wackiest and most improvisational as he impersonated some of his favorite musicians at double-time speed. Afterwards he magnanimously wrote us a check for what we needed to restock our equipment truck, and sent us merrily on our way. It seemed as if he had paid us to watch him perform.
Thanks for your wit, wisdom, AND generosity, George.
[Read more by John O'Leary at his blog, Rock and Roll Lessons.—CM]
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