George Carlin gets arrested at Summerfest.
It’s cooler by the lake.
You’re bound to hear that several times in Milwaukee in July. It’s especially true during the “Big Gig,” AKA Summerfest. The world famous music event is held annually at the Henry Maier Festival Park on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan.Summerfest runs for eleven days, attracting nearly one million concertgoers a year with it’s annual superb line up of national and regional acts. While the event is usually a peaceful affair, Summerfest has it’s share of notorious historical events. Most notably, when comedian George Carlin was arrested in 1972 for obscenity for performing his famous “seven dirty words” routine.
The Summerfest 1972 lineup was diverse. Acts included The Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Doors, sans deceased frontman Jim Morrison. Everything was running smoothly until frequent Tonight Show guest George Carlin hit the stage on July 21st. Carlin was in the midst of an image makeover. No longer was he the suit wearing clean cut comedian on late night television, Carlin let himself be himself. Long hair, jeans, and a t-shirt were now his attire and his comedy followed the same direction. His 1972 album, AM/FM, was a hit and his follow up album, Class Clown, was well on it’s way to becoming another success. Carlin’s new counter culture image was in full forward motion. Released just two months before his Summerfest appearance, Class Clown is the album that contains the infamous “Seven Dirty Words” routine. Carlin’s performance of this routine caught the ear of Elmer “Dirty Al” Lenz, an off duty Milwaukee cop, who happened to be attending the festival with his wife and 9 year old son.
He was not amused.
A second generation police officer, Elmer was in the crowd when Carlin hit the stage. Shocked by what he was hearing during the “Seven Dirty Words” routine, Lenz called police chief Harold Breier for the ok to arrest Carlin. Lenz was advised to wait until Carlin finished his performance. Carlin knew something was up as the police began to stake out the stage. He dragged performance on for about 30 minutes longer than normal with his wife frequently going onstage giving the comedian updates on the happenings offstage. Finally, George made a his stage exit. Circumventing the “fuzz” as best he could, Carlin made an unorthodox stage exit that is rumored to be because he needed to discreetly dispose of a certain illegal white powdery substance that he had in his possession. George Carlin was ultimately was arrested by the Milwaukee police for obscenity. He was taken downtown, booked, and after a of couple hours in custody, released on $150 bail.
The county and the state decided not press charges against Carlin. The city, on the other hand, charged him with disorderly conduct and the case went to trial in December of 1972. Carlin was not in attendance during the proceedings but a copy of his Class Clown album was used as evidence. After the laughter died down in the courtroom, Judge Raymond Gieringer declared that no disturbance was committed and dismissed the charges.
Carlin was obviously pleased with the outcome of the trail. He started referring to those seven dirty words as “The Milwaukee Seven” and seized ownership of the whole incident. Carlin knew this kind of publicity was gold and he was fond of the whole affair in general. “I wouldn’t have changed anything I did if I had known there were children in the audience. I think children need to hear those words the most because they don’t have the hang-ups” George said “In a way, I always felt kind of perversely proud of it, it was like being sent to the big principal’s office.”
George Carlin died of heart failure on June 22,2008.
Elmer “Dirty Al” Lenz died January 29,2013. Ironically, Elmer Lenz got his nickname “Dirty Al” for, you guessed it, having a dirty mouth.