Monday, January 24, 2005

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson started on the Tonight Show about a year before i was born. According to my mom, i enjoyed Carson as an infant on those occasions when i wasn't asleep at the appropriate hour. I can't honestly say i remember watching him at that age, but i like to imagine that the Carson theme song is permanently burned somewhere deep down in my reptile brain.

When i was a kid that theme song signaled for me the beginning of the interesting part of the day. On Friday nights, i'd try to stay up late enough to catch the beginning of Tonight, at least to hear the monologue, because to me that was a singularly adult thing to do. In fact, i learned the word monologue from watching Carson. For years i thought that the minutes between Carson's appearance from behind the curtains through the inevitable banter with Doc Severinson were the coolest thing ever. Hey i was a farm kid from the midwest, cut me some slack.

By the time i reached college, Carson had reached the heights of banality. The jokes weren't often funny anymore, and Carson was more respected for the influence he'd had in bringing so many successful comedians to light. Still, when i came home for breaks during college, i'd grab a Coke from the garage fridge and sit down to watch Carson, usually all the way through until Letterman started. There was nothing provocative or penetrating about a Carson interview, but there was a sense that he'd be a good guy to sit down with and have a conversation.

Carson was apparently killed by emphysema that resulted from smoking; basically the same thing that killed my grandfather (my dad's dad). In all other respects they were about as different as two people could be; but the similarity in their deaths struck a chord for me for some reason. It occured to me that Carson was, like my grandfather, a model for what i thought it meant to be grown up. My grandfather was stoic and steady, he worked hard for most of his like on farms and in factories and he took care of his family as well as he could. Carson represented a certain type of success; an escape from the expectations that my family history imposed.

As a parting shot, check out this post from Low Culture.

No comments: