Sunday, August 11, 2013

Life Changing Moments

The first post in my new blog is about life changing experiences.

The phrase is kind of meaningless.  By definition, every moment is a life changing experience.  Any decision we make, along with a hundred other variables, make any moment - every moment - life changing.  But you know what I'm getting at -- those moments in life that stand out as meaningful for some reason.  Maybe it was something traumatic: an accident or injury, the loss of a pet or a friend or a parent -- the kind of moment that makes you question your place in the world or commit to making it better.  Or maybe it was a great moment: a milestone - first day of school (bad example, sorry), meeting someone special or finding that thing that will become your life's passion.  Finally, it could be what this post is about:  some little event that may not have been obvious at the time, but for some reason has become part of who you are.

This is one of my little moments: hearing George Carlin for the first time.

Unlike some of those moments, I can't put an exact date on it, but I can get pretty close.  It was the fall of 1980, sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.  I was 11 years old and deep in culture shock, having left the Nazarene school I had grown up in for the wilds of township public school.  The bullying that would define a large part of my adolescence wouldn't start for another couple of years, and I was starting to make some friends.  Chris had invited me and few other kids over to spend the night.  Chris's house would be the setting for a number of firsts for me: my first sip of wine (didn't care for it), first time seeing Playboy magazine, and my first exposure to George Carlin.  Chris's dad had an album on vinyl - I'm pretty sure it was Toledo Window Box - and we took turns listening to it.  We had to listen through headphones, one a time, so his parent wouldn't hear it.  We nearly got busted, anyway.  We fought against the gales of tearful laughter, first from the album, then from each other as we quoted the routines back at each other all night.

I never knew anything so funny and filthy and profane could even exist.  We'd all heard profanity before, so it wasn't just the forbidden language that make it so wonderful.  It was the simple truth of life's absurdity being said out loud.  I fell in love with George Carlin and with stand up that night. I wouldn't understand the real value of either one until years later.

There's no way I'm the first person to make this comparison, but I see comedians as the philosophers, the thinkers, of our time.  We accept truths, even uncomfortable - especially uncomfortable - ones from comedians that wouldn't take from doctors or priests or parents.  A good standup can hold up the mirror and make us see the ugliest in ourselves - without judgement.

Some kids, especially outcast kids, would sit in the dark and listen to music.  I listened to Carlin.  And Sam Kinison, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Andrew 'Dice' Clay.  Later on came Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.  I wore out cassettes and had to buy them again.  I could, and still can, recite some bits word-for-word.  I never moved on to the next step - writing more material.  It was more than enough for me to just listen.

Maybe you've already heard it, maybe it's before your time - but if you can spare it, give George a few minutes, huh?