Phil Kaveny

The Works of Philip Kaveny

UW Madison In the late 1960’s I was there By Philip Kaveny

UW Madison In the late 1960’s I was there

               By Philip Kaveny

         I want to start this memoir by speaking to the question of what all the fine young American men and women who died in Vietnam died for. I have thought about this a lot in the 41 years. This is the best I can come up with. They died for what soldiers always died for, keeping themselves and their buddies alive.


I was there at U.W. Madison in the late 1960’, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. That is to say I was there until I was asked to leave graduate school for writing the F word on most of my final exams. Actually I was not even formally booted out, I was only told that I would have to talk to a committee before I re-enrolled, which I did not do until 1990 when I re-enrolled and later completed two different graduate programs.


If you think this article is going to be about drugs sex and rock and roll, well, sorry to disappoint you.  This article is about the shared experience of a certain members of the “baby boom “generation that found a powerful contradiction between loving justice and loving our country and at the same time. This article is   also about   some of us who tried to do something about this it this apparent contradiction.


The 1964 presidential election is as good a place to start as any. I was a junior at U.W Madison, majoring in political theory, foreign policy, and economics and comparative government. At the time I thought I was on a career trajectory which would lead me into the Foreign Service or teaching when I finished.  Even with the Kennedy assassination in Nov. of 1963 we were a generation, at least in Madison, who took John F. Kennedy’s phrase “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country, very seriously”. “The New Frontier “, The Peace Corp’s, The Space Program, and surely the Civil Rights movement were the governments business, as we so saw it. We also thought it was the government’s business to give every American a shot at a better life.




I remember, in  the fall of 1964 when I was taking Macro-Economic theory when the United States was experiencing an adjusted GNP growth rate of around 3.5%,  “The War on Poverty” seemed winnable. The question that concerned us  was not was the War on Poverty  do-able , but was it ethical for the government  to lift people out of their poverty and give them a chance at a better life  It was  pointed out by my Macro-Economic Theory  professor that we could have both  Guns and Butter, since, the whole defense  budget  could be paid for by  real  economic growth.


However there was the shadow of Vietnam on the horizon, just as we were studying Vietnam in my Major Problem’s in American foreign policy course from Dave Tar. Dr Tarr was a young Harvard Hot Shot and student of Henry Kissinger, who was an expert on limited in the Nuclear Age. I remember in class we analyzed the madness of Barry Goldwater’s Vietnam policy that would commit three hundred thousand troops Vietnam, bomb North Vietnam, “back to the Stone Age “and defoliate the entire country. L.B.J., we were told would have no such madness and would use limited force to achieve a stable and democratic South Vietnam, with American troops serving only in advisory capacities.

I must add that as willing as we were to discuss Barry Goldwater’s Madness we were unable to recognize our own. We were less than two years from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis which by all accounts (even those by the major players) like former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, brought the world to the brink of nuclear Holocaust. Yet we talked about limited Nuclear War as if it was a viable policy alternative. Further we read theorist’s Herman Kann author of Thinking the Unthinkable who rationally compared nuclear war out comes in which thirty and forty million American and Soviet citizens were killed as if we were working out chess problems. I must add that I am certain that at least some of my classmates must have risen to the fields of power as I did not, and perhaps it was their ability to put a human face on these horrible figures, which may have lead to a nuclear stand down and end to the cold war.




About this time in 1964 Time Bob Cohen a graduate student and a number of other radical sociologists, from New York were starting to do “TEACH INS” at U.W Madison. In these teach ins”   the idea that Americans where always the good guys in the foreign policy arena was held up to rigorous scrutiny. We were the generation of American baby boomers that had just come of age.  We were a generation whose fathers and Uncles who had fought in “good war ‘WWII “to save the world from the real fascism of Nazi Germany, Italy, and Imperial Japan.  This was also a generation who had sent some its best members to the American South to work on voter registration.  We thought we were the good guys.


What I remember   about the first Vietnam protest and teach in I attended Was Bob Cohen standing on Bascom Hill mall at U.W Madison with a large map South East Asia set on an Easel next to him.  He yelled for me and a bunch of my friends to come over to look at the map. He then took his pointer and pointed to South Vietnam and said you guys should get to know this place a since lot of you are going to die there.



I remember at  that  time I was a six foot one two hundred and sixty five-pound college heavy weight wrestler and self-proclaimed foreign policy expert. After all I was a political science major. Funny how little has   changed in Forty years.



I told Cohen that he did do not know what the hell he was talking about.


After all I said


“America was following a restrained and rational policy of democratic nation building in Vietnam with a very limited use of force. And America would never slip into the madness of Barry Goldwater’s since the country was for certain going to elect L.B.J who promised a reasonable and prudent Vietnam policy.”


Further, I added.


I knew this because I was, after all,


“I was a junior at U.W Madison, majoring in political theory, foreign policy, and economics and comparative government.”


Cohen, who was about half my size with a full and very curly beard said to me.


“If you think America is doing such a great job why don’t enlist in the Army as a Tank.”


I responded with kind simian cleverness, by offering to use him and his beard to clean my cannon barrel, if I did enlist.




However by April 1965 everything had changed. Johnson had won the election handily but we had no had half a million troops in Vietnam. However worst of all everything we studied in theory became real and grades became a life and death matter.


Here I need to mention that for the last forty years I have been a serious tournament chess player, not a great one but a player. This brought me into contact with a lot of really bright people in the science and math departments that seem to gravitate towards the game.  Gradually they became my friends an drinking buddies, and I fell away from my former wrestling buddies, some of whom I was to meet on the wrong side of fixed bayonets a few years later during the student riots, but  that’s  getting ahead  of myself.





Around that time my friend Rich Jensen a calculus TA showed me a final exam blue book he was grading next to a pitcher of beer we were sharing in Lorenzo’s, a campus  bar, a lot like  “The Joint {“ on University Avenue in Madison. The guy was about a handful of points short of a D- and had left this note on the last page of his exam along with a drawing of a skull and cross bones. The note said.


“If I don’t pass this course I will get kicked out of school and   lose my student draft deferment. This means I will get drafted and probably get killed in Vietnam.”


I told Rich if he gave the guy a D- minus I would buy the next pitcher of beer. Rich then went over the exam again and found the guy a few extra points and passed him.



(End of part one)



UW Madison in the late 1960’s Part II

           In order for to help make sense out of this article for both myself and my reader it is necessary that I make a slight digression. Forgive me if I move ahead forty years and interject just a little bit of the post modern philosophy I am presently studying here at U.W Eau Claire as it relates to language and reality. In doing this, I am not even going to do any philosophical name dropping; because even the concept of a knowing subject is contested in this field in the most radical interactions of postmodern philosophy, and it becomes an leap of faith on my part that to think   I can write a sentence, in which I communicate any aspect of my intention to my readers.  Further, all meanings are said to exist only in a positional sense as they relate to other language. Further, the idea of a referent, that is to say a meaning, and even an idea which underlies language is trivialized in the most brutal sense.

            Yet as I write this article I think of a term which I learned about ten years ago from my dear friend, and philosophy professor Dan Pekarsky,   at UW Madison in the late 90’s. Dan (a white male with a Doctorate from Harvard) was reflecting on his lifetime of scholarship and his being a beneficiary of a lifetime of “white male privilege. This privilege is invisible to those who have it, and often those who have it assume that with best intent that it is a universal and in alienable human right.  In operation what it means is that there is an easy button that you can hit to realize those things you want to base on the accident of your birth your skin color, and the social economic reality of your birth.


Well my rub Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and the rest of the Francophile critical theory enterprise is that they would deny the existence of this privilege in any sense that transcended language. I on the other hand argue based on the validity, and generalizing from my and a generations lived experience during the Vietnam era that white male privilege was the real deal. As a matter of fact it was a real deal before we had a name for it. White male privilege existed in a life and death manner which shaped the life of my generation. Whether we had it or not was literally a life and death matter





White male privilege has been with probably at least as long writing and much longer than any contemporary social system, though it seems to manifest itself through all of them. It manifests itself sometimes in simple and didactic ways.  Our last to presidents had it and it bought them time, one in the form of deferments and one in the form of a National Guard Commission, which kept them out of combat in Vietnam. But in the caste of most of us Vietnam Era Males who did  serve in the arm forces it worked a little bit more subtly than that and involved access to and knowledge of the appropriate alternatives, and perhaps even more important access to the  necessary language to pursue them. For me this was not necessary because I was ( I Y ) and not suitable for military  service according to my draft boards standard, as I found out shortly after I was sent down to Milwaukee for my draft physical in 1967 shortly after I was asked to leave school. I never planned it that way but it certainly made things easier for me at age twenty three.



Madison in the late 1960’s part III the sexual Revolution and music I was there.

“By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong,”

.           As much I love these Joni Mitchell lyrics .I don’t think they were exactly what got us there as a matter of fact we didn’t get to Woodstock all. Not that I and my crew didn’t to try make it to Woodstock.  Seven of them both male and female took off in a van from Madison in early August 1969. This included my buddies Neil Hauser, Jeneal Quenelle, Bob McKiernan, Brigid Cook, Don Bushnell, Maureen Frazier, and a wrestler they picked out along the way as they set out for the Woodstock Music festival August 15th -18th 1969 in upstate New York. Well I could not make it because I had my first job since I dropped out of college that  lasted more few weeks and I thought I better hang onto it even if it was only the daytime bartender at John Laugin’s  Bar & Grill at 1226 Regent street  In Madison. Incidentally my buddies didn’t make it either because the got stopped by the cops about three hundred miles from Woodstock in Western Pennsylvania and were forced to turn around in and head straight back to Madison. You might say that they got off easy since the Pennsylvania State Troopers gave them a set of out jail free card and a warning, instead of busting them

I started revising this article which wrote for The Flipside a bi-weekly Eau Claire  student magazine I  was sort of the writer in residence for every issue from 2006-2008. But as I look at the roster for the Woodstock Trip I realize that four of the people who left for it are dead. And I don’t know about the wrestler they picked up. All of these people touched my life and one of them Maureen Frazier ransomed my soul back to humanity with a kiss.



I need to say a bit more about my why my job seemed so important to me. It broke down to this at the time I seemed to be virtually un employable, having failed at one hundred and three job interviews. I only got the job because my late brother John Kaveny (1939 -1993) sang at John Laugin’s when he was off duty as a Madison Firefighter. I guess I will write just a little bit about my late brother here, because I don’t think anybody else ever has, and I loved him and he is worth remembering.  I also mention him because some of the changes taking place in America at the time made his act possible. First, he worked as a folk singer and then sadly he switched to country and western. I also think it is important that Madison was not just about college students. They called my brother “Big John” because he was about six feet four inches tall and looked the perfect image of what you would expect from an Irish signing fireman. James Joyce called it Stage Irish and Brother John certainly made the most of it. Women adored him, and men loved him. If he was a better singer, then he would have got out of the bar singer ghetto. But my brother john did the best he could with what he had. Also he had the ability to make every woman in the audience think he was singing just to them. John died of alcoholism after his second wife abandoned him when he lost his boyish charm and he retired in 1988. This is why those saints who work in the protective occupations, police and firefighters usually retire at fifty because they die early, and that’s it. But, I want to add that it does not have to be that way. The one true and honest thing on just about every T.V cop shop is the way that they present the possibility of being cop, or firefighter and recovering alcoholic as a reality


I have a special place in my heart for firefighters both male and female and they are the best we have in that they protect our property and save our lives.  I would also add that I have not met anything but good cops in my lifetime some of whom really went out of their way to give me a break, especially before I quit drinking for my lifetime on Feb 2nd 1971, just in time. By the way my quitting entirely drinking thirty-five years ago will be a subject for a future article, if anyone finds thirty five years of total sobriety, and a second chance in life interesting.




This is the time when I am going to introduced former Madison Mayor into the picture, with the hope that some of the fine young men and women I worked with during the election will follow his example.  Paul Soglin a former UW while a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin History Department was first elected to Madison’s Common Council in 1968. He was re-elected in 1970, and 1972. The following year, he ran for mayor of Madison and was elected in 1973.  Soglin while representing the Eighth Ward was twice arrested at the first infamous Mifflin Street Block Party. Soglin was arrested and found guilty for “Failing to Obey the Lawful Order of a Police Officer.” As the references books say but what they don’t say is that he was arrested by the cops and bailed out by the Madison Firefighters. These were my brother’s fellow firefighters the same firefighters who bailed my brother out of jail for not paying his alimony after he told a judgethat he could not get blood turnip, “in 1966. I would add that while my brother John was doing the better part of a month   for contempt of court he polished his skills and became a part time singer out of necessity to pay his alimony and keep out of jail. His big hit around the local bar circuit was “The Alimony Blues”, or “The Screwing you get for The Screwing You got.”  As charming as my brother was he had a Neanderthals view of male female human relations.





On to the theoretical

Well if it was not the summer of love that got us there what was it? I think it was a generation of constraint and hegemonic oppression that did the trick. To say it another way we woke up from the American dream.  In order to write this article it is essential that I resort to metaphor and social theory to evoke a vast and powerful signifier. I will also need to work in the dead German philosopher and classical Greek scholar Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900).Among other things he wrote The Birth of Tragedy first published in German in 1872, for my purposes it includes a couple of highly relevant formulations, which will give this article a somewhat darker tone than I first expected and I promise to get to them in just a little while.


First the metaphor, if I visualize it l see a dark deep blue black tsunami hundreds of miles from shore, but gaining height and force and traveling  at a speed  of hundreds of miles an hour. I think of it as an embodied signifier of the postwar World War II transformations which have carried me across the span of my life. Thomas Pynchon said as much in his monumental and highly misunderstood (at least by English Professors) 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow.  Thomas Pynchon goes to the point of arguing that World II was essential to bring the world into the information age. Perhaps even more important he argues that in the second half of the 20th century at least in America technology and culture and information is same thing.  Yesterday in my atheistic class in the philosophy department   we came to the conclusion that culture was the only industry that had not move off shore. To say it another way in a classical economic sense we now live in an America that consumes everything, and produces nothing tangible its major industry now being its own cultural products, mostly in electronic format. America has come a long way, in my lifetime, from being the “Arsenal of Democracy for your grandfathers and great grandmothers’ greatest generation to the present. I must say that it is just yesterday that I finally have given up on my rust belt nostalgia for an America that will never be again.

Perhaps this embodied metaphor; is the same thing that made the second half of the 20th century, from 1945 on, American. It has carried me well into first decade of the 21st century and I hope a lot farther. The thing about tsunamis is that they are almost invisible in the open ocean until they reach a harbor, as a matter of fact the Japanese call tsunamis harbor waves even though they may start at the other side of the planet, or for my purposes across vast expanses of time, we all know when they hit a harbor, and grow to twenty meters high all hell to breaks lose, because, nothing human can contain them until their force is spent.


Next, let’s turn the social theory to get an idea of what it is I envision that this tsunami was breaking against. Stay with me, as I introduce just a little of the discourse of cultural studies and say a tiny bit about Antonio Gramsci (I890 -1937) Gramsci died while he was imprisoned in Rome by Italian Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini in 1937. Antonio Gramsci’ had a lot to think about during the last twelve years of his life while he was imprisoned and tortured, and given massive doses of castor oil, which was a fascist cathartic, or laxative, and sometimes method of execution . Between seemingly endless trips to the crapper Antonio Gramsci wondered how that little low life Fascist bastard and Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini could stay in power without having a cop on every street corner, and another under every bed. In the process of thinking about this Antonio Gramsci filled many volumes of what were later published as “The Prison Notebooks.”



That’s where he came up with his theory of cultural hegemony, which argues that those elites who are in power in any capitalist industrial society maintain that power among those who they rule by using the fiction that these elite’s values, tastes, morals, and goals are the same as those who they rule, Thus, they support the idea that they rule by consensus, whether or not it is a fiction. Thus these elites gain a kind tacit mandate to maintain their position of power and privilege. The thing that is most compelling about Antonio Gramsci analysis in absolute Marxist clarity he suggests that it is much more efficient if Fascist Dictator can put the cop inside of everybody’s head because then they will police themselves and you will need a lot fewer cops on the street corners and jumping from under peoples beds, and any hint of funny stuff.  Funny stuff is really counter-hegemonic and a threat to those who run things. Like the people   that are say anything but heterosexual married procreational only sex.  Which I would note is still the position of several major religious denominations, and is sometimes known as the missionary position.



Here I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not think America is a fascist dictatorship, if nothing else the last the results of the last election speak otherwise, but I do think that one way the power elites in America maintain themselves is by marketing the idea that maintaining their position of power, morals, privilege and tastes is what is good for everybody, and in fact speaks for everybody. Perhaps the best example of this is a statement made by Charles E. Wilson while president of the General Motors Corporation in the 1950’s Wilson who later became Secretary of Defense, and became famous for saying

“What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa.”


In my own life I found Antonio Gramsci’s philosophy played out in a number of very interesting ways, even though I didn’t hear about the guy until forty years later. But as I mentioned the last part of this article, you can experience something without having a name for it. I was brought into opposition to the values of American hegemonic elites. This broke to me on gut and then cultural level while I was still watching” The Mickey Mouse Club” in the mid 1950’s, and sensed something was wrong.

What was wrong had do with one of my all time favorites movies Black Board Jungle starring Glenn Ford, Vic Morrow Anne Francis, Sidney Poitier, and Bill Haley, and his Comets. It was felt to be Un- American, perhaps even counter-hegemonic by the folks who ran the show, the ones whose job it was to keep us walking and living in The American Dream.  In 1955 my father told me, that he had heard from his Republican circles that American Ambassador to Italy under the Eisenhower administration, Claire Boothe Luce, who was the wife of Republican publishing magnate Henry Luce had banned one of my favorite films Black Board Jungle from the Venice Italy Film Festival, I was outraged. She banned it because of; its negative portrayals of American high schools and its sexy rock and roll theme song “Rock around the Clock,” of Black Board Jungle did not properly represent American to the world. Incidentally song “Rock around the Clock” was really about the kind of dancing that you don’t do on the dance floor and Bill Haley, and his Comets sold million copies of the 45 single, which lead them to become the first American Rock& Roll group to tour Europe.. Even as an eleven year old in 1955, with a well connected father,  and a career trajectory that was supposed to lead me to the fields of power as a corporate attorney working for a major utility company, I did not exactly buy in to all of this. However a dozen years later, I did get as far as a conditional admission to UW Madison Law School in 1969, if I could prove myself contrite enough about my life, incidentally I failed to make a good act of contrition with the dean of the U.W Madison law School, and I have never regretted it.


My own sensitivity to music has been on a kind of tectonic level. I see, and hear things happening in music like one sees the shot glass start to vibrate, and the stuff inside start to ripple just a few seconds before T Rex appears in Jurassic Park, any way that’s how I was introduced to the Beatles in early 1964 right after I won a hundred to one odds bet by predicting that Cassius Clay, later to become Muhammad Ali would defeat Sonny Liston. Incidentally, I only had a dollar to bet at the time, and no, I did not, buy stock in the company that first brought out panty hose.



I was introduced to The Beatles in early 1964 when my friend who is now Dr. John Yost told us about then.  He told Neil  Hauser, Bob Caspersen, Bob McKiernan, Don  ( all of them fine men I  wrestled with who  are dead now),  about  them   right after we  finished puking after eating  all fish  we could stand and drinking beer we could chug  at the Esquire Club’s “all you can eat for a dollar Friday night Fish fry.” I guess trying to play touch football right afterwards was not the best idea.  John took us out to his family’s fashionable house in Maple Bluff, then one of Madison’s most exclusive suburbs, to hear this great group called the Beatles, However he added, the caution they only sang in German. Well of course, what John had was a recording made from one of their 1962 Hamburg concert, and of course at the time none of us knew who they were or that they were English, but that was the first ripple in the shot glass and the Beatles changed all of our lives. If was as if the world that we were living changed almost instantly from black and white to Technicolor, I thought about how I would present these cultural changes from a value neutral perspective but I don’t know how in the hell I can do that.



More like Jim Morrison and the Doors than Joni Mitchell

Instead , I am going to turn to the  dead German philosopher and classical Frederick Nietzsche , who though a very rigorous scholar, who really knew his Greek, I am told was not a really great fan of rationality In doing this I have reduced it to it’s his work to the conflict between two distinct tendencies – the Apollonian and Dionysian. I would add that it is only as I have written this article that I have abandoned the position that in everything I did I was among the good guys. I will say that if you go back and look at my auto-biographical poem Carnival Pilgrims which appear a few issues ago in The Flipside, it is very clear that I was and am among the lucky. Reflecting a little bit more about  Frederick Nietzsche I can’t help but wonder if he was born a hundred years later in 1944, if now he would be among  the  saints in rock  heaven.



First let me deal with what I would call a kind of historically constructed image of Apollonian, America, and the American Dream. It is ordered, individualistic, dream like, for example everybody believed in no dreams last forever: at some point the sleep wakes.  The American Dream started I suppose with the end of the Second World War on September 2nd

1945, when General Macarthur sailed the battle Ship Missouri into Tokyo bay to accept the unconditional surrender of the Japanese empire, (the Third Reich had surrendered four Months earlier on May 7th in the ruins of Berlin while Radio Berlin played the Twilight of the Gods. American, rationality , know how, individuality, had turned us into the savior of the world, we had delivered the world from the evil Third Reich, Imperial Japan, and crushed that Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, before breakfast. And now we were off to build a brave new world in America’s Image, or perhaps better in the Image of a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting Freedom from want. We even had our own ideology of American exceptionalism which dated back to 1837 and was coined by French Critic August de Tocqueville. It seemed to say America was the last best hope of the world, and we were going to make that world conform to and share our dream.




We seemed to have been proven in 1945. After the Second World War America was really the last man standing, in the blood soaked ring of international relations that we called World war II, among the great powers, I use the phrase “blood soaked with no reservations since World War II cost fifty Million human lives To give some sort of human scale I think of the American Military cemetery I visited and prayed at in Cambridge England where I saw thirty thousand white crosses and Stars of David commemorating Americans dead. The total American dead for World War Two was no small number three hundred thousand, enough to fill Camp Randal football Stadium in Madison  nearly five times. But to commemorate all the dead civilians and military that perished in World War II you would need to fill a thousand stadiums with fifty or sixty million crosses and stars of David, or however the dead are commemorated.

According to perhaps the foremost military historian John Keegan who his monumental history of the Second World War points out the Americans produced half of the gross national product of the entire planet. So what this all mean is that at that historical moment when the Big Mo sailed into Tokyo Bay on Sept 2nd right up to the instant of Kennedy John F. Kennedy assassination November 22nd 1963 a lot of America’s energy was eaten sustaining the dream and perhaps to some it seemed like that was making the country like an armed camp. This may seem extreme but ask anybody who lived through the Cold War, and what came to be known can tell you that one had to be very careful what and who one associated with.

“If you can remember the 1960’s you weren’t there”

R Crumb



(But he can’t remember where and when he said it.)


Some of the 1960’s Icons would say that they are impossible to write about. For example, R Crumb who was the emblematic underground comic artist in late 1960’s and famous for his work in Zap Comics and his character’s Fritz Cat, Mr. Natural, The Furry Freak Brother’s, and lives in a Villa in the south of France because he sold his comic portfolio for a million dollars after his New Museum of Fine Arts exhibition in the 1990’s. Of course he was implying that you had Kentucky Fried all your brain cells with bad, or for   matter good drugs. In way Crumb falls in with some of the worst critics of the period and gives one the feeling that it was a time of total self indulgence, hedonism and moral collapse. What was true however was the birth control pill had made its first appearance in 1962, and by 1967 among the educated classes and their children it was both readily available, and in general reliable, but it turned out to be not so safe because of side effects But, the biggest factor was that there were no AIDS to deal with so sex was not a life threatening act. Through there is some strong argument out there did and still wish that sex outside of marriage was life threatening, and you know who you are..


Next Time Part 4 Dionysian Hedonism and the counter Culture and still more about music and the sexual revolution.


Part 4 Dionysian Hedonism and the counter Culture and still more about the sexual revolution in at U.W Madison in the Late 1960’s

I wish the Flipside  could include two  color photos of one taken in 1968 and  the taken in 1972, because I think that they would really help part four of this article make sense. But for now, unless we get a really big grant which we so richly deserve to make this rag all color, I will just have to rely on my words to make the picture your minds.
The first photo is of this hopeless pathetic pasty skinned fat guy he weighs close to four hundred pounds. He has short hair and a mustache and he is has a beer next to him and he is sitting in his mother’s back yard.  That’s me I am twenty four years old, and it was taken in 1968.  When the picture was taken I had been drinking very heavily for the last five six years, and I have been reduced to earning my living as a remittance man.  That is to say I got small amounts of money from my family members to stay out of sight, and in return they got to have the fun of humiliating whenever it took their fancy. Not the kind of job that looks very good on ones resumes, but it was the best job I could get at the time. You might remember I mentioned that I had one hundred and three or four job interviews and no takers until I got my bartender’s job in May of 1969.
This situation was pretty bad but was yet to reach to bottom out.  But it did, when my mother’s sister Cleo Sammis (1914-2002) fired me from my dog sitter’s job. One of my sources of income at that time was taking care of her sixty pound female Dachshund Machen when she and her husband would take a road trip to The House on The Rock and then whoop it up by having dinner at a supper in Dodgeville club afterward. I was fired for growing that same mustache, which I then shaved to get back on the dole with her as a clean-shaven dog sitter.


Perhaps there was a good reason that some of my class mates from my Madison East High School class of 1962 , who would now be known as (mean girls), to have nominated me  as “class member most likely to commit suicide at my fifth high school class reunion in 1967. My wresting coach was heard to have said, something like this, never have I seen man degenerate more in such a short time his life. Well I guess I disappointed a lot of people because I did not drink myself to death. I think that was because inside the image of that pathetic fat guy in that photo was a champion and a kind of shadow warrior for the noble causes, even if that my shadow warrior was trapped inside a great big jelly doughnut, at the time that photograph was taken.

Well I am alive now and my life is much better I have not had a single drink since I quite forever on Feb 2nd 1971, so on all counts I have been clean and sober for nearly thirty six year. Well what happed? How did I survive? I have some sisters of mercy to tell you about who helped me remember who I was. The first was Cleopha Dunn 1885-1969 who was critical in my developing self-determination, when most of the rest of the family was wondering what institution I was going to end up.


Strangely a lot of my self determination seems to be expressed in the length hair, and the presence of facial hair. Later in this article I promise I will tell you about my half million-dollar beard, which I still wear. What I mean by that is the beard that I have worn since 1971 cost me half a million dollars and was worth every cent of.
Sisters of mercy

My first sister of mercy was a blood relative and my sainted grandmother. I was always my Grandmother’s, who was a full-blooded German’s, favorite. She married my full blooded Irish Grandfather in 1906 as a trophy husband, and as a result stoically, lived through the poverty, and living hell of Irish family alcoholism. It’s worse around Christmas and it really does take all the fun out of family dysfunction. The details of it play out, if you are forced to live through them, in a way that would make the John Houston movie production of the James Joyce novella The Dead seem like a musical comedy.    Maybe Grandma Dunn knew what I was up against and loved me unconditionally, whether I looked like Apollo or a great big jelly doughnut.


By the time I visited my Grandma on her death bed in Sept, 1969 I had gotten a job, got laid a few times and grew back a great big handle bar mustache. At that time I was informed by my aunt Cleo that not only would to be forever black balled as a dog sitter, but that I was persona non-grata in her home in one of Madison’s fashionable west side suburb. Strangely enough thirty years later the only thing stood between me inheriting that fashionable west side home, and her entire half million dollar estate according to her will was my thirty year refusal to shave off, my half million dollar beard.


On her death bed my grandmother informed me that my mother, rich Uncle Pete, and my Aunt Cleo wanted her to beg me to shave off my great big handle bar mustache for her impending funeral since she was near death from leukemia. She said, however, that she actually loved no matter what I looked liked and that she though that great big handle bar mustache was an improvement, and made me look like Grover Cleveland one of the hottest presidents in American History. I remember that my uncle Pete who made it big in international finance and leg breaking, made me charge a four hundred dollar size sixty suit to his account, this was when four hundred dollars meant something so I could look presentable as one of Grandma’s pall bears. I guess I should not have washed and dried that same four hundred suit it in the Jiffy Speed Laundromat afterwards because it shrunk down to a size forty two and ended up in a rag rug my mother made.
Another sister of mercy was Maureen Frazier- McKiernan who was perhaps the most beautiful and powerfully ethical women I have ever met. Though she was mostly Irish with green eyes and blood hair and looked like one of Woden’s daughters, and just by the way was a member of Mensa. Maureen was  a member of  University  of Wisconsin’s most  exclusive sorority and it was from her that I learned that women to had sexual appetites, or to put another way sexual pleasure  two way street Maureen Married my best friend of a lifetime in 1972 and I was their best man. I never had sexual intercourse with her, what I had was much better, Maureen reminded me that I was human with a kiss.



It happened this way it was New Years Eve of 1968-1969), in the process of accompanying me buddy Bob McKiernan on his round as a security guard at one of last Madison’s major industrial employers.  In the process I nearly cut my hand off in the middle of my forearm when I was roaring drunk, and playing with huge industrial saw. I managed to pull my hand away only just in time otherwise for the last thirty seven years we I would had a nick name like Captain Hook, or something. Since the factory was deserted for New Years Eve the only time of the year it was closed, Bob let me sleep it off for a couple hours in the factory nurses office, and then suggested we crash a party.



Actually it was more like a Visigoth raid than a party crash, Maureen had been dating some guys who were naval academy cadets, and Bob and I sort of livened up the party, and in the process drove them off. I remember at new years I grabbed Maureen and gave her a rather rude and drunk kiss, and she returned it with even greater gusto, and held me so tight with my arms pinned to my sides that I could not get away. Her sub text was really very simple I can stand up to you; you are human, worthy no stop being an asshole. In a way she gave me back my humanity and I never kissed a woman that way again. However there was a time when I averted what might have been a fatal confrontation with a motor cycle gain who out number us by about ten to one by kissing there gang leader the same way, and then just walking away . That was always my father’s side of the family’s motto always run away. Maureen died of M.S in 1991 after ten year heroic struggle.  In 1993, as a solemn tribute to her great soul, and with her husband at my side I scattered her ashes on Lake Monona in the spring of 1993. I think she is of the reasons I am now in religious studies
A Miracle in my life
Here is where I pay tribute to another sister of mercy who I thought I loved and nearly married before I knew what love was. Cathy survived but she was a nearly a causality of the old system. The one in place before the revolution, and may well be in place again. She came from private school and went to another private university fell in love with a guy who used her, lost herself respect, and had twins and a miss– carriages, and I met her in the Madison’s bar scene and somehow we expected to be miracles in each other’s lives, but that’s not what happened.

”Cathy 1969”
Cathy exploded in my arms like a startled flock of birds in a cemetery.
She filled my life with love’s first murderous madness and flew away with the morning, leaving the taste of ashes in my mouth.”

I would love to have sex, but we don’t have enough people.

I suppose I should at least say something about the orgies since we are talking about Dionysian Hedonism. Maybe Woody Allen Said it best when he is cast into the future in his very funny 1973 film Sleeper in which Woody Wakes up two centuries later and asks to have sex with Dianne Keaton and she says. She would love to have sex, but we don’t have enough people. Another funny line I once heard in person was. “I would love to have sex but I would have to miss my psychiatrist appointment” I guess what it breaks down to is if it’s not funny it’s not worth talking about. The other problem is that it’s difficult to talk about what happened 1969 then not knowing what is happening not knowing what is happen know in 2006

The Second Photo was taken in the summer of 1971 shortly after I got my first full time civil service job with benefits, a job which I held until 2000  I have been sober for six months my  shoulder length hair is blowing in the wind and my beard is very large and red and I am wearing black mirror shade wraparound sunglasses, my skin is no longer pasty, and I have a suntan and I weigh a hundred pounds less than the guy in the first picture.  I have canceled all remittances from my family and they are sure I am hell bent because the shadow warrior inside of me is fighting his demons and out trying to do some good in the world. I have yet to find out what love really is but that will happen in a handful of months later when I meet the woman I am now married to who anybody who knows me will know.


So what happened how come lady death scratched her name of my dance card the tomb stones fell away from my eyes, and lady grace gave me a ride home? Well okay here is what I think happened it all started with the arts for me. There were powerful artist forces  which the chaos of the late sixties released and cultural space was made for an artistic counter culture that people were willing to bust there asses for. Make no mistake about it that traditions still drive The Flipside and are making it look a lot better.  Not everything in the world is about making money. In the last thirty five years I have been a serious film maker, community radio, and television producer and playwright and given more guest lectures, than I can count. My most recent lecture was for a religious studies course on battlefield technology in the Hebrew Bible.  I have probably written a million words for publication, and the word from my oldest friends is that my work is getting better, thanks, I might add, to the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire office for Services for Students with Disabilities and the staff members who insisted that I get a full evaluation of my strengths and weakness, and directed me towards services which make those things that are hard for me possible, to feel this way at my age is a real hoot.


The end.














2 comments on “UW Madison In the late 1960’s I was there By Philip Kaveny

  1. Cynthia Bloczybski
    March 19, 2016

    Very powerful! And so very courageous of you!


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This entry was posted on March 19, 2016 by in Academic Paper, Film, Kaveny and tagged , , , .
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