From the Archive — George Carlin arrested at Milwaukee’s Summerfest

carlinbody4

It’s been ten years since George Carlin died, depriving the world of one of our most combative, stealthily insightful voices. And it was forty-six years ago on the day I post this — or re-post it, really — reflection on his notorious arrest at Milwaukee’s annual multi-day festival. When the offending performance occurred, Summerfest was early in its existence, and the delicate Midwestern sensibilities evidently weren’t quite ready for such vigorous profanity. I wrote this as part of the “Flashback Fridays” exercise I cooked up at my formal online home.

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits. These seven words were identified by George Carlin as the ones that could never be said on television. There was no official edict from the Federal Communications Commission that Carlin drew upon to compile his list, nor any guiding memo from a network’s Standards and Practices department. Carlin made up the list himself, basing it on his own informed knowledge of what language set censors aquiver, which words never got an airing on broadcast stations.

That routine was part of Carlin’s set when he was booked as a performer at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, a lakefront showcase for bands and other performers then in its fifth year. These days, the comedians are given their own venue on the Summerfest grounds, but in 1972 Carlin was there to open for Arlo Guthrie. By most accounts, things already weren’t going that well by the time he reached his bit about the “bad words,” including extended explication of each member of the salty septet. Complaints were registered with the police officers patrolling the grounds, the preciousness of the previously unsullied ears of children evoked (even in 1972, several of those children undoubtedly had heard longer, harsher litanies of profane language whenever the Packers were losing). Carlin was arrested for disorderly conduct. Luckily for him, he’d gotten wind of it before it happened and ditched a stockpile of drugs in his possession before the officers came around with the cuffs. According to at least one individual offering some firsthand reporting, it was a busy night for Milwaukee’s finest (as opposed to Milwaukee’s Best) as they also hauled in several disgruntled Doors fans on the verge of riot when the the band’s set was cut short.

The arrest helped make “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” arguably Carlin’s most famous routine. It was the final track on his album Class Clown, which came out that fall, and immediately elevated his status as a burgeoning counter-culture icon. The incident was emblematic of the era as the authorities, previously dumbfounded by the surging claims on freedom and self-expression by the youth, decided that the best tactic was to push back hard. The fall would bring the reelection of the president as the silent majority made the nation’s transformation into Nixonland complete.

Carlin’s list of words would eventually find its way into the public record. His next record, 1973’s Operation: Foole, included a follow-up routine called “Filthy Words” which expanded upon the “Seven Words” bit. This was the track played on radio station WBAI resulting in the court case Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica, which led to the Supreme Court’s defining assertion that First Amendment rights don’t really apply to broadcasters. Carlin took pride in that, becoming, as he put it, “a kind of footnote in legal history.” The great observer of American culture wound up having a deep influence on it in a tricky, intricate, deeply embedded way. Or, again in his words, “It’s nice, because I’ve insinuated myself into the furniture of this culture, and I kind of like that.”

Beers I Have Known — Bad Weather Brewing Company Munich Helles

This series of posts is dedicated to the many, many six packs, pony kegs and pints that have sauntered into my life at one point or another.

bad weather

I’ve previously acknowledged the unique prominence of Minnesota’s Bad Weather Brewing Company in my personal collection of favored purveyors of brewed beverages. Tonight, I was lucky enough to sample a wide array of their offerings, including the exemplary Munich Helles lager, all accompanied by a V.I.P. treatment that left me feeling honored and joyful. Truthfully, I can’t elaborate much further without lapsing into overly rhapsodic sentimentality, so I’ll essentially leave it at that, adding only that I’m proud as can be to officially and unreservedly list the brewery among my absolute favorites.

 

Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Beers I Have Known” tag.

Beers I Have Known — Brewery Ommegang Neon Rainbows

This series of posts is dedicated to the many, many six packs, pony kegs and pints that have sauntered into my life at one point or another.

neon

I stood outside Brewery Ommegang in a steady rain and it was perfect. I’ve mostly outgrown the college bar table game of authoritatively rattling off the list of artists that I long to witness in a live performance, constantly curating a concert wish list. Even so, there are unseen acts that tug at me, often because of parallel lines of earnest fandom and missed opportunities. So it was of some personal import when I joined countless others braving a chilly, wet night to convene in a craft brewery’s vast field — growing muddier by the second — and watch Jack White put on a show.

Truthfully, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience for this long-awaited show. The vast outdoors of the countryside was the only environment large enough to safely accommodate the booming majesty of White and his band, and even the precipitation felt just right, creating one more sheen of texture against the flashing blue lights favorited by White on this tour. And the brewery’s official address in Cooperstown, New York — best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame — fed right into White’s romanticism for a bygone brand of Americana. At the end of the show, fireworks burst across the sky.

As our arrival at Brewery Ommegang neared, I realized that I couldn’t name a favorite beer they offered. I’ve liked Ommegang for quite some time, but nothing quite locked in as the one I’d eagerly order up if I saw it on a draft list. (The situation is complicated and compounded the exhausting number of beers themed to Game of Thrones that the brewer has offered over the years, which eventually caused me to instinctively tune them out because it all exceeded my ability to keep proper track.) That dilemma has now been erased.

Neon Rainbows, a delectable New England IPA, was in my hands as White’s first guitar chords rattled the darkening night. As I noted, everything was perfect.

Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Beers I Have Known” tag.

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #924 to #921

nils

924. The Nils, The Nils (1987)

Formed in Montreal in the late nineteen-seventies, the Nils were perfectly poised to infiltrate college radio when their self-titled debut album was released. With nearly ten years under their guitar straps, the Nils had a professional polish that couldn’t be faked, and they played earnest, well-built rock songs that recalled the likes of Let’s Active and just about any of the Minneapolis outfits that rattled left of the dial playlists. On a track like “River of Sadness,” they showed they could even adopt just enough R.E.M. jangle to add texture to their heavier, more conventional rock ‘n’ roll base.

There isn’t a staggering amount of depth to the tracks on The Nils“Wicked Politician” offers commentary that get no more insightful than the song’s title, which is only underscored by a bland guitar grind that anticipates Pearl Jam at their most slack self-satisfaction. Most of the time, though, the fuss-free verve of the band amply compensates, bolstered by the clean, robust production of Chris Spedding. On “Truce” and “In Betweens,” they approach the punchy, boisterous brand of rock that Soul Asylum eventually spun into gold.

Like a lot of band before and since, the Nils suffered from severe mismanagement by their record label. Signed to Rock Hotel, a newly formed subsidiary of Frontier Records that was investing heavily in punk bands, the Nils quickly found their corporate overlords were drastically short on cash. This dire situation was in spite of the fact that the premier act of Frontier, Run-D.M.C., was in the midst of going triple platinum with their latest record. A worldwide tour in support of The Nils was scuttled midway through the band was left stranded with no financial support. But they also couldn’t extricate themselves from a smothering contract that obligated delivery of seven albums before the band should shop around for different options.

“It was a crime,” bassist Carlos Soria reflected many years later. “We had other labels that wanted to sign us, like Reprise, Combat and Relativity, but it took so long that they went with other bands. When we finally got our release, Kurt Cobain had just died.”

For band leader Alex Soria — Carlos’s brother — the outcome was even bleaker. Idle and distraught over the stasis of a band he’d spend a decade building up, Soria began self-medicating with drugs. By the time the band was freed from their contract, the wounds were too deep. Several years later, while in the midst of working on new material, Soria took his own life by stopping his car on the train tracks in the path of an oncoming locomotive.

 

 

china flaunt

923. China Crisis, Flaunt the Imperfection (1985)

When the U.K. band China Crisis released their third album, Flaunt the Imperfection, they were arguably overshadowed by the person who’d offered his services as a producer. As one half of Steely Dan, Walter Becker’s place in rock history was secure, albeit more elevated by a subset of fans who favored pristine fusion jazz shimmer over blasts of heavy metal thunder. Following the 1981 breakup of his band, Becker largely disappeared from the music scene, absconding to Hawaii to try his hand at the farmer’s life. He was lured from his premature retirement when he heard China Crisis’s music, particular, according to some accounts, the song “Papau.” The band was excited enough about the collaboration that they chose to bill Becker not only as producer but also as a fifth member in the resulting album’s linter notes.

Flaunt the Imperfection certainly seems to bear Becker’s glassy fingerprints. “Strength of Character” sounds like Bryan Ferry took some Boz Scaggs material and tried to add a little elegant swing to it, and, in true Steely Dan style, “Bigger the Punch I’m Feeling” resembles a track that gets played when it’s time to really loosen up in the cruise ship lounge. Music writers more interested in Becker’s comeback than the emerging Brit band detected similarities, but the man himself was quick to say the cited material wasn’t his doing.

“By the time I started working with them, they’d already outgrown that new wave element,” Becker told Billboard. “It’s growth on their part, not anything I’ve inserted.”

The album is better when it drifts away from those refinements, anyway. The jabbing chorus of “The World Spins I’m Part of It” is more satisfying than any lush veneer. And when the tempo picks up, as on “Wall of God” or the percolating “King in a Catholic Style,” the album shifts from a strained attempt at high recording art to pop that’s actually, you know, sorta fun. Accurate or not, those moments feel like China Crisis succeeding in spite of Becker rather than because of him.

 

 

dad details

922. My Dad is Dead, Let’s Skip the Details (1988)

My Dad is Dead certainly sounds like a band name of affected misery that a snarly post-punk band might adopt, but the Cleveland group came by it legitimately. Primary — and, at times, sole — member Mark Edwards had buried both his parents before his twenty-first birthday. The band name was less imposed, calculated gloom than a simple statement of fact.

Releasing his first album under the My Dad is Dead name in 1985, Edwards was laudably prolific. Three years later, he was on his fourth album, and the second to be released on the Homestead label. Let’s Skip the Details is a fuzzy, catchy rouser, the kind of record that might be made by someone who decided they didn’t need to listen to any more music after the first Joy Division album came out. It avoids succumbing to mere derivativeness, mainly because Edwards operates with a visceral determination.

It’s that belief in the material that also allows Edwards to escape occasional traps of self-parody. “Lay Down the Law” could become an eye-roller as the lyrics repetitively imagine acts of homicide as a revenge for personal infractions so awful that “There ain’t no words.” And yet it somehow works. Edwards is shaking out his id like a musty throw rug instead of trying to jolt the world with his anguish, and the understatement is appealing. Besides, there’s plenty of goth cred to be found across the album, right down to the mention of a black light on “Five Minutes.”

It’s not all grime and bloody knuckles. The anti-misery anthem “Put It Away” is a galloping rocker the Feelies might have come up with if they used burlier guitars, and Edwards sounds almost cheery almost sounds cheery as he sings “The days of our lives/ Just slide on by,” on “Bad Judgement Day.” The band’s name doesn’t deceive, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, either.

 

 

bragg brewing

921. Billy Bragg, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (1984)

A songwriter who’d been honing his craft since the late nineteen-seventies, Billy Bragg had no shortage of material when he recorded his debut album, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, released in 1983. So assembling the lineup for his follow-up, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg, was a snap. Largely, he just made his way through all the songs that were leftover from the first go-round in the studio. The only downside, arguably, was that Bragg’s profile as a lefty activist had already risen to the point it was expected he’d weigh in on the pressing matters of the day, such as the U.K. miners’ strike, for which he’d played benefit concerts. It was well and good to take aim at the British tabloids on “It Says Here,” but some of Bragg’s fans expected new, more specific anthems for their agitation.

The notion that Bragg was going to deliver a recruitment pamphlet in record form was driven by the misreading of his art that’s been present for his whole career, a conflation of his activism with his songwriting. As always, there are plenty of political songs on Brewing Up with Billy Bragg, such as the retort against the Falklands War “Island of No Return” and the plea for peace “Like Soldiers Do.” But Bragg also follows the well-worn pop troubadour path of chronicling wobbly romance, from school days (“The Saturday Boy”) to deep into adulthoods of wistful heartbreak (“St. Swithin’s Day”). As I’ve shared before, I find Bragg to be at his most effective, compelling, and enduring in those moments of melancholy melodizing.

Any disappointment about a dearth of up-to-the-minute commentary on Brewing Up with Billy Bragg was likely quelled quickly. Only three months after the album hit racks, Bragg released an EP entitled Between the Wars, with a title cut inspired by the striking miners and all proceeds going to the fund set up to support them.

 

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

The Art of the Sell — Converse, “For guys who want to keep playing….”

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

converse

Friends, Converse shoes have been my primary footwear for a long, long time, and I can assure you that I have never found them to have this sort of effect on lounging, bikini-clad companions. To be fair, I’ve always worn Chuck Taylors rather than Coach or Jack Purcells, but I refuse to believe those low-top compromises would produce superior outcomes in attracting other sentient human beings.

This is such an odd ad, anyway. It’s like someone in the pitch room said, “Well, sex sells,” and everyone shrugged and replied, “Good enough.”