Drugs, Music, and Necessary Obscenities

I cried when I heard that George Carlin had died. I hadn't cried about the death of anyone that I didn't know personally since George Harrison died. I had been too young to know about John Lennon when he was assassinated, or I surely would have cried then, too. I didn't know much about anything back in those days, at the beginning of the nineteen eighties. I was busy dealing with my torturous teenage years. I didn't wear the right clothes or join the right clubs or say the right things, shamelessly sucking up to all my teachers and defiantly refusing to bow to peer pressure or play silly reindeer games. But I was at once a nerd and a fraud, as I lied to myself that I consciously chose not to fit in. In reality, I wanted desperately to fit in, but was unwilling to submit to the hazing that was apparently necessary for that to happen, and so I remained aloof.

College was a chance to start afresh, to build a new identity for myself. Naturally, I indulged in binge drinking, along with everyone else in the dorms who was trying to be hip. It didn't take long for me to realize, however, that that was not my path, that the most interesting people were managing to balance their schoolwork with a regular regimen of pot smoking. They were kind and intelligent, talked about interesting things, and listened to music that was mind-blowingly better than what was being played on the radio. They were unlike the losers with stringy hair who had hung out behind the dumpsters and disengaged with life back at high school. To the contrary, these people were highly engaged, pun intended, as life was revealed to be immeasurably funny in that way. Indeed, the more I investigated the strangeness of reality, through even more hallucinogenic agents, the more engaged I became in trying to unravel its hidden layers. It became clear that the media was portraying only one narrative, full of messages telling us that our futures were so bright we had to wear shades, that Reaganomics equaled Freedom, and that pot smoking somehow lead to fried eggs. So we, me and these new friends, fried our own eggs, and found that the result was not the greasy mess that our government was portraying, but rather, that it was possible to produce something beautiful, well-formed, delicious and nutritious, along with all the joys of being toasted, with a little OJ on the side.

Once we understood that our government was lying to us about marijuana and its effects, we began to see through all the other lies they were perpetrating – that government services were bad and military technology was good; that using the CIA to keep poor workers for our fruit companies in line in Central America was a necessary projection of our nation's power; that Ollie North was a patriot for secretly trading arms for hostages with the Iranians by having the Israelis send them weapons, and then selling replacement weapons to Israel and funneling much of those profits to the Contras in Nicaragua, who the CIA was aiding to fight against the anti-imperialist Sandinista government with cocaine-smuggling profits gained through their connections with Manuel Noriega in Panama... We concluded, through thick hazes of sweet-smelling smoke, that if it were really true that pot only addled the brain, then they would have dispersed it to us all to keep us from untangling their complex webs of deception. Was it all that coke that people were getting hooked on that caused nearly everyone in society to become so self-absorbed, to not care about anything else, and to not doubt the lies, or was it the success of the marketing campaigns that so effectively silenced any other narratives?

The eighties eventually ended, the nineties came along, and people's attitudes changed remarkably little. Technology advanced by leaps and bounds, but humanity lagged behind, bogged down by consumerism and the conservative stranglehold on progress. Any real social criticism was relegated to the realm of entertainment, to the musicians, writers, actors, and comedians, not to be taken seriously, while the caustic voices of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk corroded the heart of the nation's soul. Still smoking pot and bent on searching out alternative truths, I traveled throughout Mexico and Central America, relying on the progressive rock music that I brought along to help me keep my bearings amid such cultural differences. Despite those differences, I found that the Beatles above all others were universally loved by people of all walks of life. Amazed by this, I, too, learned to love the Beatles, and to appreciate the other members besides John Lennon, whose widow had aggressively and unrepentantly marketed his legend. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney rocked on, George Harrison's guitar gently wept, and Ringo – well, Ringo was always lovable ol' Ringo.

As the new millennium was beginning its turn, I was deeply saddened when I heard that George had died. The whole world morned the loss of such a gentle and caring soul. Then, as history unfolded itself and we all settled into our roles amidst the latest manifestation of a powerful government out of control and horribly in the wrong, our government, the sudden death of George Carlin came as a real punch in the stomach. I cried not only in sadness, but in pain. For while the Beatles had pushed forward a phenomenon of freedom and universal love through music and joy all those decades ago, the forces of human progress now necessitated a very different approach. George Carlin always understood that complacency is a complicity that entails an awakening from its stagnant slumbers, so he passionately offended us all, pointing out absurdities wherever he found them and making us examine the foundations of our own delicate sensibilities. He was brilliant and hilarious and pissed a lot of people off. Well, as he would have said and probably did, fuck 'em!

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