I can barely sit here and write this. Nothing, really, has felt worth doing the past few weeks -- because Johnny's gone. Way, way too early.
It's not like when Lennon, only 40, was shot. He was in the process of starting up again, pushing a new project with the enthusiasm infused in him by a five year-old named Sean. Underground the previous five years, he was saying hello again.
Nor is it like JFK's slaughter. He made a deal with the devil, lost, and was riding in an open-air motorcade in the city that despised him most desperately. Duh. And Johnny was nowhere near as corrupt(ed) as either of them. Not by a long shot.
Johnny, a lifelong recluse, was shutting it down as he turned 80 (missing dying on my birthday by hours), out of the public eye that had haunted and harassed him for 30 years. Since quitting the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 10 years ago, so profoundly did he retire, and keep his promise to stay out of the limelight, it was as if he were already gone -- although he was sending Letterman jokes til the very end. That was as painful as I ever wanted it to get.
But he wasn't. He was still here. You'd see his silver dome at Wimbledon the odd time. Or a telephoto paparazzi shot of Johnny on his boat. The possibilities, at least, still existed. But now they don't. He's gone. And gone with him is my dream to interview him -- well, not interview, as Johnny did interviews about as often as gradeschool kids read Shakespeare for fun -- to just hang.
|Johnny and Ed having one of their famous comedic moments together.|
And, yep, talk a bit about IN. It's the kind of publication he would've liked, I like to muse, quite a bit. Johnny was responsible for the fortunes of a veritable army of one-time stand-up nobodies. Helped out a few burgeoning non-comics too. Donated more time and money to personal worthy causes than anybody'll ever know.
All the obits have run. The cultural analysis has become ad absurdum and McMahon and Rickles have told the same five stories so many times they don't even remember the real thing. Nobody knew Johnny, but those rare and meager few who did adored him. As did those who didn't. His only "enemies" (except, come contract time, NBC) were Jay Leno and Joan Rivers, animosities he took to his grave, and rightly so. Rivers betrayed him, Leno disrepected him. Begs the question, "What were they thinking?"
A fellow Iowan, born in Corning (no pun here) Johnny grew up right next door outside Omaha, Nebraska, and only a bona fide midwesterner could recognize his quiet strength, his seditious sarcasm and his stern subtlety, nor could an outsider understand just how (or why) close he held his magic cards to his chest.
Never ask Johnny, or any other midwesterner for that matter, who he voted for, how much money he makes or if he believes in God. That is if you ever hope to ask anything else from him. Keeping matters of such grave import private is a cosmically sanctified right, one that you'll seldom, if ever, see an Iowan relinquish.
It finally took Doc Severinson, Tommy Newsome, Ed Shaughanessy and a gilded small orchestra swinging slowly, spectacularly stoically, through I'll Be Seeing You, Johnny's favourite song, on the Late Show With David Letterman to draw from me a tear, which was strange. Normally by this time I'd'a bawled for at least one day, all combined, but the California Rocket Fuel my shrink's got me on must numb that part of your brain or something. God only knows.
At any rate, Johnny's gone and he'll never see IN, making it, in the grand scheme of things, significantly less significant. But, we'll soldier on as if he will see it, grinning as his sparkling eyes scan our feeble request for his presence in our pages. I know he would've sent us a note: "Keep up the good work, lads, but if I did you, I'd have to do 'em all." But I believe he'd approve. He remained a writer til the end.
So, Mr. Carson, there's nothing else to say except... here's one for my baby, and one more for the road.