Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Moment of Silence, for someone who knew what it meant

Johnny Carson died today.

Perhaps you thought he was already dead. He's been off the air for, gosh, how long? (Since 1992.) If the limelight is addictive, wouldn't someone who spent 30 years there have found some other way to keep his mug in front of the camera?

No. He had been just fine. He was finished. He saw that things were changing, that he and his generation were being overtaken by the nihilism and sarcasm that would come to fruition in Friends and Seinfeld. He retired to Malibu, played a little tennis, sent off a paragraph here and there to the New Yorker, and that's it. That's where he had been for over 12 years.

What I admired most about Carson was his ability to act as a bridge between the hip and the square. He had one foot in each camp. He didn't pander to any simpletons who might have been watching his show just because they weren't ready to go to sleep, yet he didn't gloat when he knew he was sneaking one over their heads.

He figured out his role, and he stuck to it. He stayed behind the desk. Sure, he made comics' careers, but never he indulged in their hyperactivity and showing off.

Here's the last line of the online Washington Post obit (hopefully, they'll have the class to remove the typos before it goes to print, but at least the typos indicate that they waited till his corpse was cold to write it):

"His nephew said there will be no memorial service."

Cheers, Johnny.

Although Carson was classy enough not to inject himself into political debates, this is a blog. So here's Johnny's 1991 tribute to the former Soviet satellites:

"Democracy is buying a big house you can't afford with money you don't have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties. ... Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto -- usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money. ... Democracy means free television, not good television, but free. ... And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head -- this signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle. I thank you."

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