The Day the Music Died

If hit me this past weekend that I have not been a good student of pop culture, specifically music.

Growing up I was heavily involved in music knowing everything from countdown stats to band member bios, but as I got older I started to let go of my passion, not because I wanted to, but because I had to preoccupy my time with college term papers and finals.

And then after I graduated a peculiar trend started to emerge – itunes and web-based music and sharing.

Some of it ultimately resulted in the disappearance in the traditional way people bought music. In the Reno area, two Warehouse’s, a Sam Goody, Musicland, Mirabelli’s, Soundwave CDs and then a Tower Records store all shut down.

(I, like most Americans, can now basically only buy music at Best Buy, Circuit City or Wal-Mart which depending on who the artist is could be censored.)

I live in an apartment with no cable so I haven’t been keeping up on my music (but do I need to? MTV dropped videos years ago!) It also doesn’t help that I don’t love hip-hop so I’m basically pushing myself into a corner.

Then this week I realized, since major chains are shutting down and declaring bankruptcy, there are fewer places to gather and actually share ideas on lyrics and melodies. Starbucks’ are replacing record stores as neighborhood hangouts.

Too bad most people in there are obsessed with their tech toys – they’re listening to their ipods and surfing the internet alone visiting chat rooms to complain about costly concert tickets cost.

Less than a decade ago, you could do that IN PERSON at a local record store.

George Clooney Plays Peacemaker

George Clooney just wants actors to get along instead of choosing between sparring unions.

In a two-page letter, Clooney is neutral in the dispute between the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.

He says “What we can’t do is pit artist against artist.”

AFTRA has already reached a tentative agreement with Hollywood studios.

SAG wants AFTRA members to vote against the deal, saying its approval will mean SAG won’t be able to do any different.

Both contracts expire Monday.

Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and others have joined hundreds of actors in signing an online petition urging actors to ratify the AFTRA pact.

And, Jack Nicholson, Viggo Mortensen and Holly Hunter have endorsed a SAG ad calling for AFTRA to return to the negotiating table to get a better deal.

Clooney says this fight is counterproductive.

He says “the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson versus Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power” of the studios.

Nice Guys do Really Finish First!

After Jim McKay, Tim Russert and George Carlin all died, I started to notice a trend emerge.

Yes, it’s been around for awhile, but it really hit home this week when Carlin died – every story told posthumously about the individual involved niceties.

It just showed how ‘regular’ they were to me.

They did not represent the evil Enron-money-squeezing-criminals or child rapists or murderers who make daily headlines in this country. No, they were the next door neighbors who’d help you if you needed something done.

I was brought up with the same morals and am happy to see that are more kindred spirits out there like me, that I am not the only one who’s nice just because that’s who they are.

I can’t tell you how many times I was treated like a rug growing up, but I never changed my personality; I stayed true to my upbringing and remained nice.

Yes sometimes life is unfair and the ‘bad guy’ wins.

But it seemed this week that the ‘nice guy’ prevailed and re-instilled hope and faith in me that these people really do exist out there.

Thank God for them all. And God Bless them wherever they are now.

J

SAG says Studios Offered More to Sister Union

The Screen Actors Guild is accusing the major Hollywood studios of offering a contract deal worth less than an agreement tentatively approved by the leaders of a smaller actors union.
SAG executive director Doug Allen told The Associated Press on Wednesday the offer is worth millions of dollars less over the life of the proposed three-year contract.

SAG declined to immediately provide details on the differences in the offers.

Jesse Hiestand, a spokesman for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, says bargaining is continuing but declined further comment.

Allen claims the studios are trying to get the guild to bargain up to a tentative deal reached by the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in May.

SAG is urging members of AFTRA to vote against the contract.

Results are due July 8. The contracts of both unions expire Monday.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Dying Is Hard. Comedy Is Harder.

I’m still in shock and saddened over this weekend’s death of George Carlin. I found this op-ed by Jerry Seinfeld in today’s New York Times and wanted to share it.

My parents always watched George Carlin’s specials…so I basically grew up on his jokes.

I’m assuming he’s in a better place now and is looking down and laughing at how dumb we still are!

Op-Ed Contributor

 

Published: June 24, 2008

THE honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about. I know this because I was on the phone with George Carlin nine days ago and we were making some death jokes. We were talking about Tim Russert and Bo Diddley and George said: “I feel safe for a while. There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they’ve had a crash. It improves your odds.”

I called him to compliment him on his most recent special on HBO. Seventy years old and he cranks out another hour of great new stuff. He was in a hotel room in Las Vegas getting ready for his show. He was a monster.

You could certainly say that George downright invented modern American stand-up comedy in many ways. Every comedian does a little George. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve been standing around with some comedians and someone talks about some idea for a joke and another comedian would say, “Carlin does it.” I’ve heard it my whole career: “Carlin does it,” “Carlin already did it,” “Carlin did it eight years ago.”

And he didn’t just “do” it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.

But his brilliance fathered dozens of great comedians. I personally never cared about “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” or “FM & AM.” To me, everything he did just had this gleaming wonderful precision and originality.

I became obsessed with him in the ’60s. As a kid it seemed like the whole world was funny because of George Carlin. His performing voice, even laced with profanity, always sounded as if he were trying to amuse a child. It was like the naughtiest, most fun grown-up you ever met was reading you a bedtime story.

I know George didn’t believe in heaven or hell. Like death, they were just more comedy premises. And it just makes me even sadder to think that when I reach my own end, whatever tumbling cataclysmic vortex of existence I’m spinning through, in that moment I will still have to think, “Carlin already did it.”

Jerry Seinfeld is a writer and a comedian.

The Witness Protection Program at Work

How George Carlin Changed Comedy

From Time Magazine
Monday, Jun. 23, 2008

 

When the culture began to change in the late 1960s — when the old one-liner comics on the Ed Sullivan Show were looking pretty tired and irrelevant to a younger generation experimenting with drugs and protesting the war in Vietnam — George Carlin was the most important stand-up comedian in America. By the time he died Sunday night (of heart failure at age 71), the transformation he helped bring about in stand-up had become so ingrained that it’s hard to think of Carlin as one of America’s most radical and courageous popular artists. But he was.

Carlin started doing stand-up comedy in the early ’60s and had fashioned a successful career by the middle of the decade: a short-haired performer with skinny ties, well known to TV audiences for his sharp parodies of commercials and fast-talking DJs and a “hippy dippy weatherman.” But as he watched the protest marches of the late ’60s and absorbed the new spirit of the counterculture, Carlin decided that he was talking to the wrong audience, that he need to change his act and his whole attitude.

So he grew long hair and a beard and began doing different kinds of material — about drugs and Vietnam and America’s uptight attitude toward language and sex. Fans of the old George Carlin weren’t ready for it. Carlin got thrown out of Las Vegas twice for material that today would seem tame (one offending routine was about his own “skinny ass”). At the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wis., he so riled up a conservative crowd with his jokes about Vietnam that he nearly caused an audience riot. Even Johnny Carson banned him as a Tonight show guest for a time because of his reputation as a drug abuser.

But by the early ’70s Carlin had completed a remarkable change, opened up a new audience for stand-up comedy and helped redefine an art form. Like Lenny Bruce — whom he idolized and who helped him get his first agent — Carlin saw the stand-up comic as a social commentator, rebel and truth-teller. He challenged conventional wisdom and tweaked the hypocrisies of middle-class America. He made fun of society’s outrage over drugs, for example, pointing out that the “drug problem” extends to middle-class America as well, from coffee freaks at the office to housewives hooked on diet pills. He talked about the injustice of Muhammad Ali’s banishment from boxing for avoiding the draft — a man whose job was beating people up losing his livelihood because he wouldn’t kill people: “He said, ‘No, that’s where I draw the line. I’ll beat ’em up, but I don’t want to kill ’em.’ And the government said, ‘Well, if you won’t kill people, we won’t let you beat ’em up.'”

Most famously, he talked about the “seven words you can never say on television,” foisting the verboten few into his audience’s face with the glee of a classroom cut-up and the scrupulousness of a social linguist. While his brazen repeating of the “dirty” words caused a sensation (and prompted a lawsuit that eventually made it to the Supreme Court, resulting in the creation of the “family hour” on network television), his intention was not just to shock; it was to question our irrational fear of language “There are no bad words,” said Carlin. “Bad thoughts. Bad intentions. And woooords.”

Fuzzy language and fuzzy thinking were always among Carlin’s favorite topics. He marveled at oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence,” and pointed out the social uses of euphemism: “When did toilet paper become ‘bathroom tissue’? When did house trailers become ‘mobile homes’?” He reminisced about his class-clown antics and Catholic upbringing in the rough Morningside Heights section of New York City. He took on all the taboos, even the biggest one, God. How could the Almighty be all-powerful, mused Carlin, since “everything he ever makes … dies.”

In the 1970s Carlin was selling out college concerts, releasing bestselling records (his breakthrough 1972 album, FM & AM, spent 35 weeks on the Billboard pop charts, revitalizing a comedy-record business that had fallen on hard times). When NBC introduced a new late-night comedy show in 1975 called Saturday Night Live, Carlin was the comedian they turned to as the first guest host. And when HBO began rolling out its influential series of “On Location” comedy concerts, Carlin was among its most popular stars, headlining a record 14 one-man shows for the network, the last just a few months ago.

Carlin was a product of the counterculture era in lifestyle as well as comedy. His drug use became so heavy in the mid-’70s that it began to affect his health (he had a heart attack in 1978, the start of heart problems that eventually killed him) and his career as well. “I really wasn’t being as creative,” Carlin admitted years later. “I lost years. I could have been a pole vaulter in those years, and instead I was kind of like doing hurdles.”

But in the early ’80s, after kicking his drug habit, he revived his career, becoming a kind of curmudgeonly uncle, with small-bore “observational” humor and an aphoristic style. Then, in the ’90s, he tacked back to harder-edged political material, railing against everything from the environmental movement to the middle-class obsession with golf. Even in his late 60s, Carlin could be as perceptive on the cliches and buzzwords of the era as ever: “I’ve been uplinked and downloaded. I’ve been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal multitasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond…”

Carlin’s material grew increasingly dark in later years, to the point where he was cheerleading (with only a trace of irony) for mass suicide and ecological disaster. “I sort of gave up on this whole human adventure a long time ago,” he said a couple of years ago. “Divorced myself from it emotionally. I think the human race has squandered its gift, and I think this country has squandered its promise. I think people in America sold out very cheaply, for sneakers and cheeseburgers. And I don’t think it’s fixable.”

But Carlin’s career, and his comedy, was anything but a downer. He was unique among stand-ups of his era in remaining a top-drawing comedian for more than 40 years, with virtually no help from movies or TV sitcoms. His influence can be seen everywhere from the political rants of Lewis Black to the “observational” comedy of Jerry Seinfeld. He showed that nothing — not the most sensitive social issues or the most trivial annoyances of everyday life — was off-limits for smart comedy. And he helped bring stand-up comedy to the very center of American culture. It has never left.