Saturday, June 28, 2008

Take Offs and Put Ons

Take Offs and Put Ons
George Carlin
Originally published on LP by RCA Victor 1967
Published on CD by One Way Records in 1997

George Carlin died earlier this week at age 71, and so I felt it would be good to take a look at his first solo album Take Offs and Put Ons, first released in 1967. This album has absolutely nothing offensive in it, no political commentary, no deep satire, no denouncement of religion just a bunch of various character performances for only 37 minutes.

It's kinda like opening a box of Cracker Jacks and finding not only that there is no prize inside, but no Cracker Jacks. Just a sheet of paper that reads "Sugar is Bad For You."

How to explain this travesty? It wasn't inexperience - Carlin had been a successful comedian for nearly a decade at this point, appearing on Ed Sullivan and headlining in Vegas.

Well, for the early part of his career George Carlin aimed to be a successful, a mainstream comic like the mainstream comics of his day, Danny Kaye or Bob Hope. He did this despite being mainstream and conformist was completely in conflict with himself, which was not conformist and anti-authority.

As expected, this created a conflict that he wrestled with for many years. Finally, as the end of the 60's approached, in a difficult decision that must have amounted to "Fuck the consequences to my career, I'm going to be myself!" Carlin changed the way he did comedy.

Carlin embraced the counter-culture that was around him, grew his hair long and started changing his act. As expected, he lost jobs at a lot of the mainstream places he was performing at. He got fired from a job in Vegas for swearing. He moved from there to small, out of the way venues. There was suspicion from the audience at those venues that the change wasn't genuine, that he was trying to go after the "Hippie Dollar."

This is understandable. It is not unlike Robin Williams saying "Everything I've done up to now is crap," then completely changing his act to low-energy one liners, dressing in black and performing at small coffee houses under the name "Rob Will." The cynicism was justifiable strong.

Yet, Carlin proved his genuine conversion from mainstream comic to...George Carlin. He went and started to swear in his act, and talk about why we swear. He did material that investigated words and language. He did material that questioned the government. He did material that questioned God. He opened up and talked about what he liked and disliked. The comic timing, the delivery was the same, but the material was not.

As an example of the transformation, Take Offs and Put Ons was re-released on LP in 1972 with a different cover than the LP release in in 1967.

The cover of Take Offs and Put Ons from 1967 has Carlin making goofy faces, but wearing a very neat haircut and a suit and tie. A suit and tie of all things!

See the difference from the 1972 reissue?

Of course, the follow up albums to Take Offs and Put Ons were the fantastic FM & AM, Occupation: Foole, and Class Clown, all of which are works of genius. No, they really are, and unlike Take Offs and Put Ons, still in print. You can even get them in a collection called Classic Gold, which is just all three of those albums together in one neat package. If you haven't listened to any of those albums, GO OUT AND LISTEN TO THEM. They are truly fantastic. Then, after you've done that, go and listen to Take Offs and Put Ons. You'll see the stark difference. It's like night and sitting on the sun.

It's interesting to think that George Carlin might have not made this choice, that he would have made the safe choice and been the same mainstream comic for his entire career. Doubtful he would be remembered with the same admiration and praise he is remembered for today. He would have been another bland comic in a long line of bland comics. Fortunately for us, he didn't do that. He embraced himself. He became the person he was offstage as he was on, and we all benefited.

So, we should all be thankfuls that George Carlin was George Carlin for so long. He'll be hugely missed.

1 comment:

tara said...

Awesome. Did you see that SNL replayed the first show where Carlin was the host this past weekend?