I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die
There are a few ways you can approach the new George Carlin album, I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die. First, you can treat it as a bonus. New comedy from a master who died in 2008. You won’t get much more of this. “’I Kinda Like It’ is also not likely to mark a flooding of the archival release market,” says George’s daughter Kelly Carlin by e-mail. “There simply isn’t much in Carlin’s tape boxes that he didn’t use.” There may be a couple of things with historical significance, like the ’72 Milwaukee show, and there are definite plans to release an album called Carlin Comes Clean, an album of clean material he had been working on. But archival releases will be few. As Lewis Black says in the liner notes, “It’s George Carlin opening a few more doors for us to walk through with him.”
There is a historical significance to this album, too. It is culled from tapes Carlin made at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 9 and 10 of 2001, material he was working on for his 12th HBO special, which he would record just ten weeks later. There are references to exploding planes, terrorism, mass catastrophes, and even Osama bin Laden. Plus there are some pointed jabs at the police. “You don’t help the police,” he says. “They’re not on your side.” Carlin enjoyed making people flinch in his comedy, but some of this material would have seemed cruel on November 17, and probably would not have been well-received at New York’s Beacon Theatre, where the special, retitled Complaints and Grievances, was taped.
It’s a testament to Carlin’s work ethic that he could ditch so much material on short notice and still have a top-notch HBO special in such a short time. Some of the material scattered and made its way back into later specials. “Uncle Dave” was supposed to be the closer, and its premise is “I kinda like it when a lot of people die.” Carlin whipped up a disaster that involved diseases and disaster and people having anal sex in front of a statue of Samuel Gompers at the library before, as he says, things really got out of hand and the universe imploded, leaving only happy Uncle Daves. It’s actually a beautiful sentiment, if you follow it through to the end, and a reworked version became the closer for his 2006 special Life Is Worth Losing. Instead of the orgy in front of the Samuel Gompers statue, people took turns sodomizing a statue of Larry Flynt. The premise shifted slightly, from “I kinda like it when a lot of people die” to “Now do you see why I like it when nature gets even with humans?”
And there is plenty of documentary information in this. Besides the set itself, there are interviews with Carlin’s work friends and work associates Jerry Hamza and Rocco Urbisci giving some context about the comedian’s personality and the events that led up to the special. There is also another version of the “I Kinda Like It” routine from June of 2001, which includes a couple of things Carlin had trimmed by September, but went back to in 2006.
The most interesting of the archival stuff is the opening track, “Boston Rant 1957.” It was recorded when Carlin was 20 years old and working at WEZE radio in Boston, a job he would eventually lose for taking the station’s news van on a pot run to New York City. The rant is against cops, mainly, but also firemen, whom he accuses of being thieves, and of government in general. “We all know from birth that we don’t trust cops,” he says. They are, after all, government officials. “You can never expect to get a fair shake from anything that is involved with government,” he says. “There is nobody who has ever run a government who has ever been fair and righteous.” He accuses most cops of being crooked and dumb, willing to plant evidence and hassle people for no reason. That would be a radical stance now, much less back in 1957. Carlin has apparently taped this bit alone, addressing an imaginary audience. There are some similarities to Lenny Bruce’s reasoned but shocking material, and even his cadence, but Carlin wouldn’t get to know Bruce’s material until a year or two later, after he’d left Boston, and wouldn’t get to know Bruce himself until a few years later. And the sentiment is echoed in the material from 2001. He stayed consistent philosophically, even if it took a few years of the Hippy Dippy Weatherman before the ideology emerged.
The album is a nice surprise for fans, and functionally complete as a historical document, but it’s also funny. That’s the part that will sometimes get left out of a comedy album released for its historical weight rather than its entertainment value. “Excuse my allergy,” he says, opening his “Cocaine” routine, “but it’s a better reason for blowing my nose onstage than I used to have.” On “Rats and Squealers,” his premise is that we’ve turned into a nation of spineless, disloyal tattletales. Even militia nuts testified against their “Don’t Tread On Me” flag-waving brethren. Carlin imagined Jesus beating the crap out of Judas in front of the apostles for turning him in to the Romans. “Gimme the thirty dollars!,” he says, acting out the beatdown. “I’m fucking buying beer for the rest of these guys, ‘cause they didn’t fuckin’ rat on me, ya prick.”
There’s also a broadside against songs. Too many of them. We can stop now. And too many about broken hearts. “Fuck that. What about a fractured cheekbone? What about a punctured lung?” There’s more material here that was understandably tabled for the post-9/11 show. Carlin drops the first mentions of the disasters he’ll get back to later on “Uncle Dave,” seeing them as missed opportunities for song subjects. “How ‘bout a song about a fire in a nursing home, hah?” He senses resistance and raises the stakes. “All right, a daycare center. Okay, a church. A crowded church.” And then the absurdist capper – “Here’s a nice song, family of four comes home from vacation at Disney World and finds 27 bodies decomposing in the living room, and they all have on Santa Claus suits.”
There is a detour into something even more silly, the first enema, before Carlin gets to the harder stuff on “Uncle Dave.” That’s a technique of Carlin’s his cohorts mention in the interviews, varying the speed of the pitch, a light routine and then a heavy routine. “Coast-to-Coast Emergency,” the routine that started as “Uncle Dave,” has long been a favorite of mine for the sheer imagination of it and where it ends up, with all the Uncle Daves whose lives were maybe full of pain and sacrifice, finding their utopia, where they win the lottery every week and their favorite teams win it all every year. It reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut quote from Slaughterhouse Five, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.” It’s even more pointed here, with the slight shift in premise. It’s a surprise, and a relief, and it’s message is still urgent 15 years later.