Published in 2009, 294 pages.
Another book brought to me by my son! Thanks for continuing to broaden my horizons! If you bring it, I will read…
I wish this book had been published with its working title (discussed in the introduction) of “sortabiography”. I like that. Last Words sounds Biblical, and not very Carlin-esque.
I like the early chapters of this book the best, when Carlin describes his childhood, with emphasis on his friends and neighbors. After all, I also come of Irish stock, though my family didn’t pass through New York City and wasn’t Catholic. (I envy the former, but not the later.)
George Carlin was a rebel from his earliest days. His mother had the strength and good sense to leave an abusive marriage, but his older brother had already suffered terribly and his mother’s efforts to get cooperation and conformity from George were completely unavailing. At age 17, with his mother’s consent, he entered the Air Force. He was discharged on vague grounds after two courts martial and other infractions. I’ve heard the expression “not suitable for regimentation”. Sounds like George.
There follow many chapters about Carlin’s family life and his evolution as a performer. I feel that his writing in this book suffered from lack of editing. Once you get famous, you don’t get edited. (I first heard this from a Pulitzer prize winning poet.) NOBODY was really going to edit George Carlin. His co-author Tony Hendra (listed on the cover in itty-bitty print) is a better writer than Carlin, at least based on Last Words. (I haven’t read Brain Droppings and Carlin’s other best selling books.)
What Carlin and Hendra have in common is the satiric outlook on life. In Carlin’s case, this can get pretty dark. At one point, he contemplated an HBO special to be entitled “I Love it When Lots of People Die”. This was changed due to bad timing – September 11, 2001, came and went, and even Carlin knew it wasn’t funny any more. But you know, in a weird way, I get it. I have a close friend who roots for every hurricane that comes up the Atlantic coast. It’s not that he really wants people to die, but sometimes he really wants the storm to win. Many of us root for the forces of chaos on occasion.
I have a particular fondness for Tony Hendra because of how much I enjoyed his book Father Joe: the Man Who Saved My Soul (2004). See my blog entry of January 21, 2014. A “sortabiography” of great wit and charm.
At the end of Last Words, Carlin circles back to consideration of his childhood and discusses his desire to write a musical about it, which he proposes to call “New York Boy”. A good idea, and I wish it had happened. I wonder if he was thinking of the book Boston Boy by Nat Hentoff. Hentoff was a jazz critic, scholar and political commentator, a decade older than Carlin, and still writing at age 90. “Boston Boy” could be the backbone of an excellent musical, but I can’t find evidence that anyone is working on it.
Carlin says that he identified more with the rebel musicians of the 1960s (and earlier) than with his comedy peers. He probably knew and admired Hentoff.
So… If you are a Carlin fan, a student of contemporary America or a comedy lover, read this book!