THERE GOES JOHNNY
I don’t know what I can say about the passing of Johnny Carson that hasn’t been said already – and it’s only twenty-four hours since he drifted away from us. I was so taken aback when I heard of Mr. Carson’s death, as I’m sure many people were. I felt genuinely sad, as if someone in my own extended family had passed away. Then I realized I didn’t know the man at all – had never met him once in my entire life.
There is a myriad of things I don’t know and will never know about the late-night television guru. I can’t help but wonder, though – from the mundane, like – What was his favorite color? – To the profound, like – What made him tick? Of course, Johnny made it clear that he really didn’t want me (or anybody else outside of his immediate circle) to know any of that stuff. Moreover, he would probably have politely told me it was none of my business. He was right, of course.
Mr. Carson started hosting the “Tonight Show” just about the time I was old enough to stay up late once in a while without my parents’ knowing it. I would surreptitiously turn on the old black and white and let the grainy images and the slightly naughty jokes wash over me. This was my initiation into the fun aspect of being a grown-up. Johnny Carson seemed to imply that nothing was to be taken too seriously. We could safely make fun of just about anything. Yet he always managed to side step the most sensitive and vulnerable underbelly of the American psyche. He earned the title of “gentleman”.
In an odd way, he made me feel safe. This is a tall order in the wee small hours after we have been assaulted with a full day’s worth of troubles, both in our personal world and in the larger world. As a matter of fact, the “Tonight Show” followed on the very heels of the local news. We needed it badly as an antidote to all that violence and catastrophe. We still do.
The trouble is – Johnny’s gone. For the past twelve years we could all hope that maybe, somehow, he would return to us. It’s not that those other guys aren’t good – They are. But they’re different. Where Johnny’s message seemed to be, “The glass is half full. The world is messy and funny, but don’t worry, folks. We’ll get through it.” The message today seems to be, “The glass is half empty. The world is falling apart. You might as well laugh before the glass is totally drained”. Both will make you laugh, but only one will make you feel better for it.
Maybe Johnny left when he did because he sensed the sea change coming. Maybe he felt that the world would no longer be a place of easy laughter. Or maybe he left because he was simply tired. Thirty years is a long time to hold up the world.
We’ve missed you for twelve years, Mr. Carson. Now all we can do is thank you, and wish you God speed.
© 2005, Robin Munson