Ed McGowan, of Ithaca by way of New York City, went to Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx at about the same time as George Carlin, who died this week at age 71. They never met there, as Carlin was expelled rather precipitously for bad behavior.
McGowan laughs about it with the remove of years. "The place was run like a prison," he says.
Their paths ultimately crossed in the early 1970's. McGowan was a Jesuit priest and an activist against the Vietnam war. He was part of a group called the Camden 28, on trial for destroying draft records at a Selective Service office in Camden, New Jersey. (John Grady, Sr., of Ithaca's Grady family, was another of the 28.)
The group needed money for their legal expenses. Someone suggested Carlin as a headliner for a fundraising concert.
Though Carlin's comedy was often political, he wasn't known as politically active. None of the group knew him personally. But they thought perhaps his background - subversive city Irish - would help.
McGowan recalls they contacted Carlin's agent, Jack Morris. "Carlin asked a few questions, and said yes pretty much immediately."
The benefit was at a large concert hall in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. McGowan recalls that Carlin met with the group before the show, got some information about their efforts, and created some material around that. He also did much of his regular material - altogether, two hours worth, McGowan says.
"He brought the house down. Uproarious, gut-splitting humor." The show was such a success, McGowan says, "We were the only protest group in the black."
The Camden 28 defended themselves and were found innocent, in an historical trial McGowan recounts in his book, "Warriors For Peace."
We mourn George Carlin's death, and will remember his long and brilliant life of telling the truth.
for Ithaca Blog