In 2003, folk singer Alastair Moock got a brief but effusive message from an unlikely admirer: legendary comedian George Carlin, better known for his caustic stage performances that for leaving what amounts to an audio fan letter on a little-known singer-songwriter’s phone. 12 years later, Moock has shared that voicemail for the first time, and if all you know of Carlin is his ability to level institutional hypocrisy with a blast of finely targeted anger, the sweetness and generosity of his message is something of a revelation.
Carlin doesn’t just praise Moock’s third album, “A Life I Never Had.” In fact, he admits, he’s only listened to the first five songs, because he’s parceling them out slowly, the way he would “ice cream or a good novel.” “When I read ‘The Godfather,'” Carlin continues, as his dog, Gertie, barks in the background, “I wouldn’t read more than two pages, because I didn’t want to finish it.” And then he goes on to pay what must have been his highest compliment to the album’s first track: “‘Somewhere Elseward Bound’ is a complete motherfucker. All the best things in it. I can’t listen without crying.”
Moock waited 12 years to share Carlin’s voicemail, seven of them after Carlin was dead, because he worried it might seem self-serving or violate Carlin’s privacy. But, he writes, “over the years and now that he’s gone, I’ve come to realize that his words say far more about him than they do about me. Leaving this message took (almost exactly) a minute out of his day, but that minute is a big part of the reason I’m still a musician all these years later. He gave the gift of belief to a struggling young songwriter.”
Moock, who’s turned his talents towards making music for younger audiences, knows quite a bit about the gift of belief himself: His most recent album, “Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids,” was inspired and co-written by his daughter, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and he’s spent the last two years giving away copies to and performing for audiences at children’s hospitals around the country. Carlin’s frequently cited as an influence on comedians for his fierce attacks on institutions and conformity, but in this case, he inspired something very different.