The seven words that made Milwaukee famous
George Carlin happened 40 years ago this week in Milwaukee.
Anyone old enough to remember knows exactly what I'm talking about. Those too young to have been there probably know, too.
The comedian got busted at Summerfest the night of July 21, 1972. His offense? Doing one of his routines, one that included his self-proclaimed "seven words you can't say on television."
If you don't know what they are, may I suggest a visit to YouTube or a trip to the Googles.
I wasn't at Summerfest for the event, but myself and most of my junior high school contemporaries already spoke fluent Carlin, who'd given up his shirt-and-tie Ed Sullivan appearance for something more akin to what you're seeing above, that being Carlin's Milwaukee mug shot. My friend, Richard Saaman, had Carlin's recorded works as part of his album collection, and we'd spend Saturday night's eating call-out pizza and listening to George's more suggestive works after his parents had left for their weekly bowling league. Then came "All-Star Wrestling" and our bawdy night was complete.
Bawdy wasn't what Summerfest Director Henry Jordan was banking on that night in 1972. He thought he was getting the Johnny-Carson-Tonight-Show version of Carlin, instead of George 2.0. The cops would come by Carlin's trailer after the show--my former partner, Bob Reitman was there, remembering the arresting officers using the same language Carlin had used on stage in their efforts get the comedian to let them in.
Jeez, how many police officers does it take to arrest an unarmed comedian? Mustn't have been any other crime going on that night in Milwaukee. If Lee Harvey Oswald had that many cops around him that Sunday in Dallas, he'd still be alive today.
Carlin would beat the rap but the incident would remain a huge piece of his personal and professional biography, his legend as a provocateur secured. Milwaukee would remain a place where those who pushed the envelope would sometimes make acquaintances with police--Wendy O. Williams got busted at The Palms in the early 80's, her trial for obscenity also generating national headlines while calling attention to what some considered our quaint Midwest sensibilities.
George is long gone, dying eight years ago after a career that spawned some 23 comedy albums, a host of HBO specials and a re-invention as a children's TV show character on PBS.
Summerfest turned 45, the mudpits and temporary stages replaced by pavement and permanent venues. Tastes and standards changed, too. Carlin's act now would probably not raise many eyebrows.
In '72, it lifted a nation's consciousness.