The tale is well known. In 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. It’s the stuff of legend for baseball aficionados and psychedelic adventurers alike, but both groups want to know the answer to same question: How in the hell could someone pitch a no-no while tripping on acid?
Ellis’ career and life were more than just one great performance under the most bizarre of circumstances, however, and “No No: A Dockumentary” explores the man he was on and off the field. The documentary premiered Saturday at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas as part of the annual event’s new “South By Sports” effort.
The no hitter is the central event around which “No No” revolves, but it is far from the only focus of the film. I count myself among probably many who didn’t know much more about Ellis than the acid event, but he was a lot more than that and “No No” does a great job of telling the whole story of the man.
Ellis was a fairly polarizing figure in his day, and his day was a fairly turbulent time in history. In “No No” I learned about his baseball career, his civil rights activism, his flamboyant personality, and his substance and physical abuse problems. I also learned about how Ellis was able to right the ship and use his experiences to mentor troubled and at-risk youth long after his Major League Baseball days were over. He was far from a perfect man, but Ellis managed to overcome his faults and accomplish a lot of good before his death in 2008 from a liver ailment. The film covers his ups and downs and features interviews from teammates, family members, and close friends. Footage of Ellis himself is from before filming for this movie began, but its inclusion punctuates the story perfectly.
“No No: A Dockumentary” is an incredible film that would be really hard to improve upon. It is laughs, it is tears, it is a redemption story, it is a baseball story. And if you enjoy any of the aforementioned even a little bit, it is a can’t miss. “No No: A Dockumentary” is one of the best baseball documentaries I’ve ever seen, and the long, sustained applause from the audience at its conclusion tells me I’m not alone in that assessment. Seriously, when it comes out, see it.
On this date three years ago comedian, author, and actor George Carlin died.
Those descriptors only tell part of the story, however. Carlin’s name is forever imprinted on how the U.S. views language fit for broadcast over the public airwaves. His dissection and analysis of language and the way we use it trickled into nearly every routine he shared with an audience. His social critiques were both funny and poignant, making listeners at the same time laugh and wonder what the hell is wrong with all of us.
Nothing was out of bounds in Carlin’s comedy, and that was always the point. He knew everything from the absurd to the universal and the mundane to the controversial could be funny…as long as we, the audience, were willing to laugh at ourselves.
Carlin released a dozen albums and was featured in a dozen HBO concert specials. He performed in front of countless fans over the years, won several Grammy awards, appeared on TV numerous times as both an actor and a comedian, acted in a number of movies, and wrote four best-selling books.
George Carlin has been and probably always will be my favorite comedian. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard everything he has ever recorded (and own most of them on vinyl, tape, or CD…and in some cases, all three), I’ve seen 10 of his 12 HBO specials, caught him live in concert twice, and am now starting to read his books even though I know a lot of the material in them I can recite from memory as I read.
There’s another connection here for me, too, and that’s with my dad. I have my love of vinyl records because of my dad; when I was young we’d listen to his collection all the time. Dad has three of Carlin’s earliest albums on vinyl: Take-Offs and Put-Ons, Class Clown, and An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slazso. I remember very clearly only being allowed to listen to the first album for the longest time, because it was the only one my parents thought a 10 year old kid should listen to (i.e., no bad words). Then they relented a little and let me listen to side one of Class Clown; I couldn’t listen to side two because it contained “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” But when I got a little older and started being left home alone, one of the first things I would do once I was sure my parents were really gone was pull out the Carlin records. I repaid my dad by taking him to see Carlin in concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis several years ago; it was my second show but his first, after all those years of being a fan. When Carlin died, we talked about it on the phone like it was a favorite uncle or good family friend we had lost. I guess sadness upon knowing you’ve heard the last from a favorite, even though you never met that person, is universal—and probably one of those things Carlin would explore on stage.
So here’s to George Carlin: comedy pioneer and entertainment icon. I could probably post 100 links and videos to some of my favorite Carlin routines spanning his 40+ years in show business, but I think I’ll stick with a quickie from the old days that actually fits in with the spirit of this blog: the original (and incomplete, according to his website) version of “Baseball and Football” from the 1975 album An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo.
And, in case you’re wondering, this is one of only a couple of tracks from the album that is safe to listen to at work.