on November 10, 2009
Okay, so I AM biased. BUT! I even learned things about my dad that I didn't know. So imagine, if you are a fan, how fun it will be for you. My dad kept his inner life pretty close to his chest, and in this book he shows his hand fully.
on November 12, 2009
This long overdue posthumously released biography of comic genius George Carlin provides fans detailed personal information in a no holds barred format. Though there are bits and pieces of his famed skits... that is not the reason you should buy this book. There are innumerable videos... DVD's and albums available that contain unlimited sketches. What the reader learns within these pages... is what George eventually... with a lot of self-searching... learned about himself over a lifetime. Carlin had to eventually come to grips with what he felt and believed as a person... through an introspective journey... that encompassed painful truths of his parental heritage... childhood environs... religious culture and beliefs... along with alcohol and drug abuse.
The fact that George was developing this book for almost fifteen years is explained in an enlightening introduction by his friend Tony Hendra. A summary of why this book took so long to be born... could probably be best described by a John Lennon lyric: "LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS WHILE YOU'RE BUSY MAKING OTHER PLANS." Though George may have been a "Clown-Prince" on stage... his family's foundation was less than regal. His Father was an alcoholic bully... who beat George's beloved older brother... and self-proclaimed "best pal" Patrick from the time he was small... thus leading to the family's separation. In one chilling scene Carlin's Mother is sitting in a Doctor's office... mere minutes away from aborting George. "MY MOTHER'S PRIMARY MOTIVE IN LEAVING MY FATHER WAS TO PROTECT ME FROM THE BEATINGS HE GAVE LITTLE PATRICK." Patrick was a role model for George... and not always in the best of lights. As an example when George followed Patrick into the Air Force the Carlin boys accrued five court- martial's between them. But even from this experience the author... with the added benefit of time and space states: "WEIRD HOW THE MILITARY TOUCHES SO MANY ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. IT'S LIKE THE CHURCH IN THAT WAY. YOU HATE IT BUT IT FORMS YOU. IT'S A PARENT. MOTHER CHURCH AND FATHER MILITARY." As an Honorably Discharged Viet Nam era veteran... now benefiting from the same time and space... I couldn't agree with him more.
As Carlin painstakingly describes his own metamorphosis... he makes it clear how much he idolized ground-breaking comedian Lenny Bruce. So much of what Carlin became... and what he dreamed of becoming... was influenced by Lenny Bruce. Not only what Bruce did on stage... but what he did in the courtroom. It's easy for the reader to appreciate how cathartic these writings must have been for George... since on one hand he is reaching for fame and fortune on TV... and in the very next breath he is sharing all the things he couldn't stand about TV. He was a talk show "darling"... yet he hated the chit-chat minutiae. He reminisces as much about the performances where there was one person in attendance as he does about sellouts.
To truly know oneself is a unique gift. When you think of the type of comedy George Carlin created he once gave a pretty good self-definition of what he thought his "outer-talent" was. "I COULD ALWAYS THINK ON MY FEET, BUT I NEVER WAS QUICK AROUND THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO DOMINATE A TABLE. I WAS A PRODUCT OF IDEAS, NOT AD-LIBS."
The beauty of the story telling in this book is that the author openly shares his personal agony and pathos... while at his personal highs... and while at his personal lows... as it is painfully obvious... that he himself... was trying to fully understand what made Carlin... Carlin.
on November 10, 2009
I picked up this book yesterday and finished it this morning. It is a revelatory read, as George's previous three books are along the lines of his standup material, whereas this book is a narrative. We finally get a full three-hundred page book worth of the "real George" that we saw glimpses of throughout the years in his interviews and less guarded moments.
As a lifelong fan of Carlin, I could never understand why there weren't a ton of biographies written about him. There are lots of revelatory moments in the book; the amount of catastrophe that followed Mr. Carlin around in the 70s and 80s is truly staggering. However, George never displays a victim mentality; he never blames others for his problems, and his attitude as the narrator is charitable towards the individuals he knew.
It is made clear how easy it would have been for George to take the path of least resistance at his turning point in the early 1980s, struggling with a cocaine problem and owing massive amounts of back taxes. It is also made clear just how much of a lifesaver his 1980s business manager, Jerry Hamza, was for George.
Carlin details his business problems as well as all of his heart problems and heart surgeries, and he dives headlong into the mess of the 1970s and talks about his years of drug abuse very candidly, as well as his marriage to Brenda Carlin (née Hosbrook) and his wonderful daughter Kelly. He talks candidly about both his and his wife's near-death experiences in the 1970s and 1980s, and her death in 1998 from liver cancer.
It is clear from their History together and from Hendra's introduction (not the typical fawning introduction; clearly written about a close friend with whom he had worked for many years, with the caveat that Hendra was required to write in Carlin's voice a bit, a candid admission that is fitting with the subject of the book) - and that's what works so well. The voice in the book is clearly Carlin's. The voice of a friend for many of us who we never knew personally. The insight provided into his creative process is fascinating as well, woven consistently throughout the book.
One more aspect of Carlin's life that is shown in the book is just how much his daughter Kelly helped George and Brenda to clean up in the 1970s, when Kelly was only ten years old. She remained an important voice in George's life until the end, helping him shape his material in some ways (she advised him that 2005's brilliant "Life is Worth Losing" was just a bit too dark, with its material on suicide and graveyard set, resulting in the more homey "home office-style" stage-set for his last special, 2008's "It's Bad For Ya."
A fitting sendoff if ever there was one. I imagine he's screaming up at us right now.
on November 23, 2009
I have just finished reading the Kindle edition of "Last Words" and it's brilliant and funny and well worth reading. However, I was struck by how awful the copy editing and production is. The book is so full of typos it's like reading a blog or something. Words are run together, and many proper names are uncapitalized. The title of chapter 18 is written as "BWING, DOING, GETTING", for instance (it's correctly written as "BEING", not "BWING", in the TOC). The photo at the head of Chapter 15, identified as "George and Patrick Carlin", is in fact a photo of Carlin performing, repeated from the previous chapter. And so on. Really, this is shockingly bad. I hope the print edition is better.
Still, great book!
on November 11, 2009
Most comedians have a short shelf life. They blaze onto the scene at the right time, and for a while they're molten, seeming to capture the zeitgeist. They say what people want to hear, perhaps validate some prejudices, and then they fade from the scene. Carlin continues to burn bright, even now, because he captured something lasting and true while still managing to be a rebel - a nearly impossible task. He was an intelligent man, perhaps a genius, and spoke to other thinking people. He pointed out hypocrisy, he punctured some sacred cows, and he made us give thought to the words we take for granted and the words we assign too much power.
Here now is his life in his words. The mother who taught him the power of language, the father who wasn't present but from whom he inherited an ability to see through the bull, his upbringing in New York, his time in the military, his family, his early career, and how he transitioned into the iconic performer we think of when we hear his name.
Last Words is an engrossing read for Carlin fans, people who are interested in one of the major voices of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Some events, some people, are unimaginable to imagine never having existed, and some of Carlin's thoughts are deeply rooted in our iconography. The book carries on in the tradition of making us think, even if there's not always agreement. We are reminded, reading this, that he will be a tough act to follow, but we desperately need people to keep trying.
This is a thoughtful book, but Carlin's wit is still very much on display. In the midst of a poignant anecdote he would land a great line, and I would find myself laughing when a moment before I was in complete solidarity with him over whatever sadness he was sharing. After being tortured a few months back by David Cross'sI Drink for a Reason, I was glad to see a book done right, and hoping other comedians are taking note.
It's a cliche to say when someone is gone, "his best work was just ahead of him," but Carlin got even better as time went on. He believed that too. That time gave him complexity of thought an understanding -- a way to better tie the world together. It reminds me of Elton John's song about John Lennon:
And through their tears
Some say he farmed his best in younger years
But he'd have said that roots grow stronger, if only he could hear.
The book ends with Carlin discussing his desire to do a Broadway show about his life, and it's as if he's caught off in mid-thought, and as if that storyline is left dangling, and perhaps that's the perfect ending for the story of a man who lived a full life but was still taken from us too soon.
My one criticism is that the book deserved to be better edited. There were a number of times I was jarred by an error, and there seemed to be a particular problem with proper names. (This refers to the Kindle edition.)
on June 10, 2012
I have always been a George Carlin fan. So when I heard about his death a couple of years ago, I was sad that I had lost touch with his work in the past couple of decades. I enjoyed hs early work in the 70's and the fact the my parents cautiously laughed at him in my presence as a way to not endorse his way of life, made me more of a fan.
The opening lines that announces his entrance into the world are classic Carlin. His use of the English language coupled with his sarcastic, defiant attitude is so entertaining. He accounts of growing up in New York, where cheating, stealing, and eventually drugs, were a way of life as much as traffic and the subway. His three step plan for his career was very thoughtful and showed a maturity for such a young man with seemingly little hope for fame. As with other biographies, the trail of tears from money problems, manager problems, etc... helped to shape his learning curve.
As witty and sharp as he was on stage with his scowl and sarcastic "glass half empty" anti establishment rants were, I found the man to be an ever increasing bittler, judgemental, victim of his own neglect and drug abuse. I had a difficult time reconsiling his tax problems, which he created by negligence, with his plitical views and the health problems of his family were a direct result of endorsed drug abuse. An "intellectual", which is what he thought he was, with his judgement on stage of how stupid everyone else is flies in the face of a simple formula that "doing things that hurt your health = health problems". I am not judging - Gregg Allman, Sammy Hagar, etc... have alcohol and drug stories, but they don't blame God or the Republican Party for their problems.
His lack of affection for his mother (Mary), the fact that he spoke of his long time wife's passing for a paragraph, and then launched into more blather about his health problems were off-putting.
His anger toward society and everyone else was edgy and new. After a while, it was apparent that all of the things that angered him, gave him his material, and caused him pain - were self inflicted. I think George Carlin is hilarious and a genius in observing the human experience and I still enjoy his work. I watched many of his clips on YouTube after reading the book and had a good laugh. But, after reading "Last Words", I like the material much more than the man.
on November 14, 2009
I laughed. I cried. Laughed more. Cried more. Laugh. Cry. You get the picture...
Any fan will certainly appreciate this treasure. Grab a box of tissues, turn the phone ringer off, lock the doors, and prepare yourself for one last hurrah with George!
on January 4, 2010
For a biography cobbled together from interviews and tapes, Tony Hendra has done a good job of capturing George Carlin's voice with Carlin's autobiography. However, I have to wonder if this is similar to the final product that we would have received had Carlin lived to edit and review the book.
In the book, Hendra and Carlin provide lots of welcome detail about Carlin's early career, and the plan Carlin had for himself of going from DJ to standup to serious actor. There is plenty of information here about his early career that I did not know. Carlin also provides some insight into what drove each phase of his career. The first was trying to establish himself as a star through slightly subversive but ultimately TV friendly comedy. The second was his realization he wasn't being himself and moving into more controversial and profane comedy in the 1970's. The third was his aimlessness and drug addiction after his mid 70's success. The fourth was recreating himself as an elder statesman of comedy, moving into darker and more political humor.
As great as the stories in the book are, I felt as though I were shortchanged in learning about the true nature of George Carlin. Or perhaps I learned something I didn't want to know. As Carlin entered the 1990's, his comedy got angrier, and in my opinion, less funny. And as he moved into the 2000's, it got downright depressing. Carlin says it was an awakening of his true self, but I have to wonder if his first wife's death or some other realization didn't really drive it. Sadly, there is very little here that illuminates Carlin's relationships with others except that he and his first wife had major addictions, she was worse than he was, and his daughter had drug problems but turned out okay.
Additionally, we don't really get much insight into Carlin's creative process, his love of language, his movie work, or his books. It would have been nice to know his thoughts on Bill & Ted, Cars, or his three highly successful books.
One area where Carlin doesn't pull punches is his disdain for much of Hollywood. He offers praise for many of his peers, but also highlights many incidents in which his peers seem less than respectful of him, including Martin Short and Billy Crystal. He also expresses his contempt for both Lorne Michaels and Sam Simon. In fact, it is in his discussion of TV and TV appearances that Carlin seems to shed the most light on how things worked, and these sections were among the most effective in the book
In the end, Carlin comes off as a man who ultimately did what he wanted to do, wasn't afraid of controversy, but also seems to have been a mostly decent man. In reading his book, I realized that part of the reason I liked him so much is that we share a common world view. While Last Words had flaws, its biggest flaw is that there is so much more I would have loved to know about George Carlin, and now we'll never get a chance for a sequel.
on August 4, 2011
Well, after reading this book it's quite apparent that, despite all his heart problems, George obviously wasn't planning on making his exit nearly as quickly as he did. This book is obviously unfinished with a lot of ideas and sections sort of built up only to end up going nowhere, and huge chunks of time missing. For example, while describing the problems he had with his late wife, he never really adequately explained why they stuck together, there had to have been something there besides their kid that kept them together all those years, and the book skips large amounts of time, despite devoting huge sections to other parts of his life that many wouldn't consider nearly as interesting. Also, despite being quite short, a lot of the book is just a reprint of his stand up material and books, meaning there is considerably less new material here.
If you own everything else Carlin has ever done and are just absolutely dying to get more, then by all means give this book a read. Otherwise, skip it and listen to some of his material or read his other books.
on March 17, 2011
If you're interested in how an icon of satire and anti-establishment came to be the sharp edged sword, this may be for you. If you want a dose of Carlin at his best, , , Not so sure. It's a bit of a slow read. It did help me to understand the man.