My Breakfast with George

There’s a two year period in my life I have mostly erased from my memory.  Fifteen years ago I moved to Las Vegas and even though I did the right thing by going there at the time, the two years living there were bittersweet.  As I now look back with less of the bitter and more of the sweet, I recall some amazing highlights.  None were greater than my breakfast with George Carlin.  I loved George Carlin since he was the hippy dippy weather man in the mid- 60s. I never thought I’d sit with George in a Las Vegas Denny’s from 1am till 3am just chatting about life.

I had taken over a large old music store in Las Vegas and was working 16 hours a day.  In early 1998, I met this extremely obese sax player who became a high-maintenance customer.  He hired a driver who also pushed his wheel chair into the store.  This sax player had to be close to 500 pounds and his walking days had been over for years.  He liked me and drove me crazy with his demands for certain reeds and mouthpieces.  One day he told me he was appearing on a “late-night” local TV show and asked if I would accompany him on keyboard.  He said it didn’t pay, but the exposure was great.  I agreed and did a few shows with him and our downbeat was never before 3am…ugh.

The morning after one of our “late-night” gigs, I got a call at the music store from George Carlin.  I thought it was a joke.  He had watched the show, saw this sax guy who he had admired for decades and didn’t know how to contact the sax player.  He remembered the plug I gave for my music store so that was the reason for the call.. He wanted me to bring the sax guy to his show over the weekend at the Sahara and bring him back stage.  He said I’ll have front row seats saved at “will-call.”

I called up the huge sax player and gave him the news.  He was thrilled and said he would have his driver drop him off at the lobby and I could meet him there and “wheel” him to the show and backstage.  He would have his driver pick him up and take him home.  I was thrilled, too.

So, it happened.  The only small hitch was the huge sax man was too big for the theatre seat down front so I sat on the end of the first row and he sat in his “specially” made wide wheel chair.

After the show I wheeled him back to see and meet George Carlin. George had changed from his black tee shirt and had a jacket on with his pony tail tucked inside his baseball cap and was wearing “John Lennon type” granny glasses.  I wouldn’t have recognized him on the street. 

George told the sax man he had two of his 30 year old albums of progressive jazz and he had listened to them hundreds of times.  He said every time he listened he was moved like no other music he ever listened to. 

With a tear in his eye, the sax guy thanked George and made a hasty departure when his driver showed up.

George asked me if I wanted to go get some chow, and of course I did.

We talked about everything.  He was humble, gentle and as interested in my life as I was in his. We were discussing “getting old” (George was 5 years older than me) and he mentioned he had a 61st birthday coming up in a month.  He said his 60th birthday was the worse day of his life.  His wife of 36 years, Brenda, had died the day before his birthday. He told me that he felt like “cashing-in,” but by hanging in there he had found love again already.  A lady that had worked in publicity for his agent for many years was going to be his new wife the month after his upcoming birthday.

We brightened up the conversation, switching back to the music business, show business and of course the business of Las Vegas.  He and I had one thing in common.  We both hated Las Vegas.

We talked like two long lost friends and then said our good-byes and I never talked to him again. He was one of a kind and I was so lucky I played a 3am Television show with an obese jazz saxophone player.

About bakoheat

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6 Responses to My Breakfast with George

  1. Really great story. Life treats us like dogs at times, but sometimes we get a bone with a scrap of meat on it, and things get better for a moment. Seems like your experience with the man was such a moment. Carlin was truly one of a kind. Near the end, he seemed very bitter. While his gig was comedy, I often wondered at what else he might have been… there was an obvious brilliance within him. I followed him closely as well, right up to the end when I watched some of his bitter diatribes… I have a feeling that he may well have struggled with depression at times. I can certainly relate to that. Your take on your experience with him is wonderful.

    • bakoheat says:

      Thanks V.S., Carlin did deal with depression but it was mostly brought on by drugs and alcohol. He did the rehab thing at least three times that I read about. After I was long gone from Vegas George had a melt-down on the stage in 2005 at the MGM. He was fired and never played Vegas again. He entered rehab shortly after that and stayed clean as far as I know. His HBO specials were incredible theatre art.

  2. Joan Raymond says:

    Wonderful story. It was nice to see that you chatted like old friends and gained some great memories. I enjoyed George Carlin’s comedy and recently introduced my 16 year old to some of his old routines. Still funny after all these years.

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