Thank you, George.

We lost a giant in the entertainment industry this week with the passing of George Carlin, the brilliant counter-cultural comedian and social critic.

His genius was widely recognized, if not always appreciated. (His "seven dirty words" comedy routine became the focus of a US Supreme Court ruling on obscenity thirty years ago.)

But not as well known was his generosity to friends in need, as I witnessed thirty-four years ago.

In 1974 I was performing with a Los Angeles honky-tonk & boogie band, Uncle Crusty and the Venice Canaligators, which featured Hook McGuire—a grizzly one-armed singer/harmonica player (who lost his hook in prison)—and a colorful cadre of musically talented misfits.

One night, after opening for Freddie King at the Starwood Club in Hollywood, someone in the band packed the guitar amplifiers too close to the rear door of our Econoline van, which jiggled the rear door handle open as our driver/guitarist Butch Mudbone sped home to Venice, oblivious to the trail of musical equipment spilling onto the streets of West LA behind him.

Once Butch reached home and saw the open door and the missing Fender amplifiers he hastily retraced his route, but it was too late. The band's capital goods had apparently been redistributed to aspiring musicians along Venice Boulevard.

So what can a poor band do? Well, as every innovative business team knows, it pays to have a sponsor. And we had a very generous one in George Carlin, who years earlier had become a Canaligator booster after seeing the band perform for tips on the Venice boardwalk.

So the next day the band members were at George's Pacific Palisades doorstep, tin cup in hand. Because I was meeting George for the first time (I had only recently joined the band), I was a tad intimidated. It didn't help that the welcome mat outside his front door read "Go away."

But it turned out that George and his wife Brenda were completely delighted to see us. For the next several hours we were treated to an impromptu show, with George at his wackiest and most improvisational as he impersonated some of his favorite musicians at double-time speed.

Afterwards he magnanimously wrote us a check for what we needed to restock our equipment truck and sent us merrily on our way. It seemed as if he had paid us to watch him perform.

Thanks for your wit, wisdom, and generosity, George.

(This was originally posted at www.tompeters.com — followed by an interesting batch of comments.)


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10 Comments

  1. Stephen, apparently the full URL of the NTTimes.com article didn’t fit in the space provided but I found it anyway. I love this excerpt: “Mr. Carlin’s most recent work was especially contentious, even bitter, full of ranting against the stupid, the fat, the docile. But he defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. ‘Scratch any cynic,’ he said, ‘and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.’” That's a quote I'm going to use in my book.

  2. mr. carlin's work has been "contentious" for years -- he's a maniac genius from the streets of ny whom everyone now wants to wrap up in a hollywood bow.

  3. I couldn't agree more. I'm just now finding out what a renegade this fellow was, especially in his later years!

  4. Here's a nugget from GC...

    "I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality." Then he discusses how "shell shock" in WWI became softened to "battle fatigue" in WWII, then "operational exhaustion" in the Korean War, and finally "post traumatic stress disorder" in Vietnam. Then he concludes, "I'll bet you if we'd still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time."

    http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/51749.html

  5. I loved George's appreciation of the politics of language.

    I hadn't followed his career much in the last two decades, but now that I'm reading up on him, I'm seeing a more complex figure than I did before - more rorschach, less definable.

  6. Dear John,
    Back in Venice in 1970 my name was Kazoo. Butch and Hook were associates of mine hanging out in the Canals, I watched Hook, on the fly, stick his one good hand into his little leather harp bag and come up with the one harmonica in the right key that he needed every time. He might have lost his appliance in prison, but I know he lost his arm to a motorcycle accident. Butch lived in a white box truck, as I recall. The Canaligators played at a dive bar on the boardwalk at the end of Washington Street and at the old post office in Topanga Canyon and other joints in those days. I met Hook at a gig at The Other Side, a coffee house at night and an A&W root beer stand in daylight. As introduction, Hook invited me to a dinner of "meat and potatoes", which turned out to be free popcorn out of the machine in Hinano's, a bar around the corner. None of us had an easy time putting together hamburger funds. I played at a small restaurant a block from the beach called "The Tulgey Wood". I ate well there. At that time the Canaligators were a trio, Hook, Butch, and a mandocello player whose name escapes my tongue. When I left Venice on a tour with Bessie's Travellin' Show the mandocello player, to my memory, had dropped out and the band dissolved. Glad to hear it didn't. I thoroughly enjoyed Hook's boogie harp, and I owe him for a riff he gave me that matured into a song of my own that i still perform, Bessie's Boogie.
    Thanks for posting the nostalgia, John.
    blueskazoo.com

    BTW, George appeared at The Other Side when he had new material to try. He was incredibly spontaneous. I remember a night when his mic stand "got stuck" to his hand and he couldn't let it go all night. Hysterical.

    1. Hey, thanks for the note. (Just caught it now!) That was the Sweet Pea Cabaret at the end of Washington Blvd—and maybe the Corral in Topanga. The mandocello player was Bob Liepman. He and I lived together on the canals, so once he joined the band I eventually followed as a part-time member—as 3rd guitarist and piano-player—in 1973. I also played drums when the band went electric in 1975. I think the group dissolved in the late 70s though it may have had a few reunions in the 80s. Hook passed in the early 90s I believe. Butch Mudbone is still carryin’ on, in Memphis, and Bob is playing in a folk duo, Bob & Wendy, in San Luis Obispo. BTW, Hook and Butch lived under the Venice pier when I was playing with them. I’ve written other posts about the band on this blog if you do a search on Canaligators. Good luck, Kazoo!

  7. Summer of 1969, I owned a head shop called "Mescalito's" in the north end of Manhattan Beach, California at 3413 North Highland Avenue. There was a small room in the back of the store which had once been a kitchen. This space was converted into a jam room and after store hours became a sort of an underground, lmpromptu source of blues, boogie woogie, and folk music. As a beginner bass player, I had only one rule: anyone could come in but if they did, they had to play something even if it was a pair of spoons, bongos, or a tired old conga drum laying in the corner. Singer/songwriter Jonas Candler and his wife, Sherrie, were regulars. Jonas wrote and sang beautiful folk songs and played a tasty acoustic guitar. Sherrie sang along and accompanied him on percussion.
    This is how I met Hook McGuire and, eventually, Butch, and Mandicello Bobby. One of my first paying gigs was playing bass for Uncle Crusty and the Venice Canaligators panhandling at a bar down in San Pedro with Uncle Bill on rhythm guitar/vocals, Butch on lead guitar, Mandicello Bobby, Hook, and myself on the electric bass. Hook had a magical way of making a deals with bar owners where they would allow him to pass the hat between sets in exchange for the right to play for free for the night. Hook's standard line before going on break went something like this: "Ladies and gentlemen...we are not doing this to earn a living; we are doing this to keep from starving to death." The 'hat' always came back overflowing. Some of the most fun I have ever had!

    1. Hey Mike—great story! That was before I started playing with the group. I miss those days, that band, and southern California. I still keep in touch with Butch and Bob. All three of us are still playing a lot of music. Thanks for checking in!

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