Sunday, April 27, 2008

From Jody Mosher

Jody Mosher worked as manager at Steep 'n Brew in the early 1990s. Like me, she's been out of Madison for more than ten years now. She sent me a few memories of those days:
Since receiving the sad news about Cosmo, I've had a rush of memories, bizarre and wonderful, of interactions with him. Strangely, he provided safety for me many a night during closing time at the Brew when he stuck around to help me stack chairs and lock up. Of course it came with a request: "Honey, you got any milk for me tonight?" I'll never forget visiting him at his apartment: the arrangement of stuffed animals, trinkets, candles; the cupboards with canned food he was certain was poisoned and his bare refrigerator with the exception of empty milk cartons. He welcomed me in his way of welcoming.

It must have been difficult for you finding out such news at a distance. You always heard him... didn't you? He seemed to know you were his friend.

Jody and Cosmo at Steep 'n Brew, around 1992.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Otherwise

Some of the following are responses I got from my own family and friends, many of whom met Cosmo or knew him while studying in Madison. Since I assume these people didn’t send their comments to be posted on the blog--they were just responding to the sad news--I will leave the writers unidentified. I post a response to the last. --E.M.

* * *

That's rotten news. Well, goodbye Pumpkin.

I'll be moving back to Wisconsin this summer to take up a new post at U.W. Oshkosh. I'll have to make a side-trip to Rio to leave a fitting memorial at the Last Man's samadhi. --J.F.

* * *

I’m so sad to hear that Cosmo died. Do you remember the second time I went with you to his apartment? I was charmed at how he showed me his collection of what he deemed to be original works of art. He was such a unique person in so many ways. I know it must have been tough for you to hear of his passing.

As I think of his life, I can only believe it was a blessing for him to be living in Madison, where he could find joy and be appreciated by many different people. Most other places would not be accepting of him. Isn't that a sad thing to have to say about the world we live in? Madison gave him a place to experience joy and friendship.

I know Cosmo is in a very special place now because that's where he belongs. --M.M.

* * *

That's sad news. I remember meeting him for the first time. He said he had been in Bosnia, where a gas container or some such ripped open and injured him. --H.H.

* * *

Big shock for all of us. I was down on State St. a couple of days before Coz died. He looked a bit rough around the edges. He seemed to be playing with a rough crowd.

As I walked about it seemed there were gangster types controlling portions of the street. I wouldn't be too suprised to find out someone gave Coz a "Hot Shot" to get him out of the way. . . It's really a different place.

I know you and Coz spent a lot of time together. I on the other hand casually knew Bob since 1981. He helped me install the air conditioner in my Studio in 1984. I helped him move in 2000 or so. He had been homeless for 3 months. His social worker said he was too picky and he told me he couldn't live in the "dives" they showed him. When we were moving his stuff he offered to sell me his air conditioner. We agreed on $50.00. I carried the thing home and plugged it in to find it didn't even work. When next I visited State St. he came into S&B asking where his $150.00 was. That was a topic of contention for 5 years until I just paid him another $25.00.

Many people liked Coz. He always seemed to always have nice things to say. . . unless you bought an air conditioner from him. In that case it was the way he saw it and that was it. I actually started to tell him I was charging him storage.

He'll be missed by many people. --M.D.

* * *

I’ve just spent a good 45 minutes poring over the news of Cosmo di Madison. Shocking that his death seemed to result from malnourishment. Yes, he was divinely skinny.

As for your writings, it seems respectful, a matter of "getting him right," that you chose to approach his stories with absolute seriousness.

There really should be a film made about him. One whose message is the brilliance of one on the edge. I have read those who have responded to the Capital Times article. Some people are obviously aggravated by Cosmo being regarded as a novelty of sorts. Compelling mosh pit of disjointed opinions on how one who is seen as “flawed” or extra-ordinary should be memorialized. There are some parallels with Jesus here, aren’t there? --K.M.

Dear K.:

Of course many people would jump at the mention of Jesus, and say it was ridiculous. But I think it's legitimate to compare anyone to Jesus, especially any Christian who takes it upon him or herself to pass on the good news or to imitate Jesus in some way. One of the important devotional texts of the Middle Ages, after all, was Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ. However unorthodox in some of his statements, Cosmo was deeply pious and certainly spent a lot of his time preaching. So why not compare him to Jesus?

But I can see what you're getting at in comparing Cosmo and Jesus--you're specifically concerned mainly with the matter of the crowd’s reaction to each. And of each we may certainly say: he was a troublemaker. Or to clarify: he was off base; he was not to be ignored; he was a man with a sharp tongue; he had a giant heart. These descriptions apply to both.

(One longtime Madisonian who bought an air conditioner would beg to differ on the "giant heart" part, sure, but even so. . . .)

As for making a film of Cosmo’s life, it is, sadly, too late. There was a student film, a very short documentary, made when I was at Steep ‘n Brew, but that is now lost. One of the goals of the film was to capture Cosmo’s laugh, which was divine in its way. But you know what? Though the Man’s laugh echoed round Madison’s downtown on many an afternoon, the student who made the film never managed to capture it. And you know what else? Though I myself recorded him a handful of times, I never got his laugh on tape either. Cosmo’s laugh seemed to know when there were recording devices around, and would not let itself be pinned down.

So now I wonder--when people read Gospels from the Last Man, people, for instance, who never knew Cosmo, and they come to the Baaaahhhh-hhhhhaaaahh-hhhahhh-hhhaaaaahhhh! can they really imagine what is represented by those letters. I think they can’t.

Regarding the malnutrition issue, I just put up a post on the blog that tries to address some aspects of it. I don't know if I got it right or not. Also we don't know, really, what he died from. But I can guess, pretty well, what Cosmo would say he died from if we could communicate with his spirit, if we could, say, ring him up where he rests at present. I believe he’d say something like this:
They fuckin' got me, the bastards! They finally fuckin’ got me! . . . Kissinger's people, who do you fucking think? I had 'em covered, but I can't do everything. I mean it's one thing to keep al Qaeda and the Venezuelan mafia out of Madison--they don't even PAY me to do that--but now we got this BOZO in the White House who doesn't fucking listen to what I tell him and my boys are busy 24-7 and there must have been a slip-up because I had 27 fucking aneurisms in less than a minute and of course I fucking died. . . .

What? . . . Oh, it's not bad here. The music is kinda bad--I'm gonna have to talk to someone about that--but at least they don't fucking try to drug you every time you put something in your mouth. . . .

No, I don't really have a body here. It’s not a body, honey. It's more like a clatification of my former body, the estiff is different. . . Yeah, everyone’s like that here, we're all claffidated and waiting for the final dalphation. . . .

I miss you too, honey, but listen, if you're in Madison you better get your ass out of town because once word gets out what happened to me you're gonna have every fuckin' terrorist and drug king pin on the planet swarming around for a piece of the action. Psssh! I bet they already starting making pornography right on the street corner. 'C'mon, little girl, we'll make you famous, me and my friend here from Hollywood! C'mon, just do what we tell ya now.' Ya hear me? It's fucking sick! Ya hear me? Ya hear me, don't ya?. . .

No, I haven't met him yet. . . . No. . . . I don't know why because he should be here to meet me. . . . No, I think they put me in the wrong level. . . . Don't worry, doll. They'll get it straightened out. . . . No, everything's fine. . . . Only the music. . . . Yeah me, too, doll. . . .

Yeah, I know. Look, I gotta go. There's something I gotta take care of. . . . Yeah, I love you too, doll. I'll talk to you next time. Or when you get here--if you fucking get here. . . . No, I just mean you gotta keep it clean. You need to be a little more serious about things, Eric. Just keep it clean, no monkey business. . . Listen, I really gotta go. I got something they want me to take care of. . . . Yeah. Seeya. . . .
I’m not sure how close I got to the voice this time. In the past I almost always worked from notes; now I have to do my best to hear him through the spirit. But I think that’d be about what Cosmo would say.



Friday, April 18, 2008

Karma Good & Loud

I once ran into Cosmo in front of the Good & Loud Music Store on University Avenue, on what can only be described as a dreadful late February day. It was about 34 degrees, and an icy frozen rain was falling steadily.

I parked my car in front, and as I was walking in the door, Cos was walking out. He was barefoot, and the only clothes he had on was a pair of black leather jeans, tighter than Jim Morrison's. He had a Fender Stratocaster strapped over his shoulder, and he just started walking out to the street. I told him to duck back inside and I'd give him a lift after I was done picking up my guitar. He just shrugged and said, "Nah, man, I gotta go."

He walked out to the road in that miserable sleet, stuck out his thumb, and about the second car picked him up. When he opened the door, the driver said, "Cosmo, get in! Where ya goin'?"

To me it was just another example of Cosmo's karma.


Cosmo di Madison: Elementary School Photo

Monday, April 14, 2008

Keeping the Streets Safe: A Family Tradition of Service

All those who knew Robert were aware that he had an "alternate life" fighting crime and foreign aggressors, in either a police or military capacity. This is because, at the bottom line, he hated criminals and corrupt politicos--and he recognized that there was no difference between them. Being on the right side of the equation was important to him, and was a part of him.

While he couldn't participate, he could live a vicarious life through others who were putting check on the "world's assholes," endeavors he always respected. Many of his friends may not even realize it, but there, for the lack of some proper wiring, probably went a cross between an infantry officer and a Doc Holliday. Of those that he rubbed shoulders with at family gatherings, one brother-in-law was a Police Captain (Robert's statement that his brother-in law was Chief of Police wasn't as far out as some thought); his stepfather, a career military officer, actually flew in the airdrop of the 101st Airborne Division into Normandy in the wee morning hours of June 6, 1944, as Communications Officer for the 439th TCG (his photos appear in the book Into the Valley by Col. Charles Young); his brother (me) was involved in Federal anti-racketeering operations, and subsequently drove the lead limo in some of the White House motorcades during the Reagan Administration; and his nephew, Tom, spent 16 years in the Air Guard, serving a tour in the Middle East. Robert once expressed his personal appreciation, to me, for everyone's efforts at "keeping the world's jerks out of everyone's hair." He had a great personal solidarity with that.

Robert's empathy with the plight of people in any bad circumstance, individually or collectively, and his desire to do something about it, was a life-long characteristic, even reaching back, as his mother has testified, to his childhood. That part of him was never short-circuited.

After everything was sorted out, what was to be heard? The thing to be heard from Robert was just the thing most people needed to be told: "I love ya, Babe." And it was heard without doubt.

Dennis Moran
Rio, WI


Many thanks for this post, Dennis. I knew about Robert's step-father's military service, but didn't know the extent of your family's service in these other ways. Certainly Robert's similar concerns were part of an ongoing "family business": he got his desire to fight for justice from the example of you others who were doing so.

I also really appreciate getting a post from someone in the family. I know that Bob had his family life, on the one hand, and his State Street life and friends on the other. The thing that links the two, now, is the fact that both will miss Bob and his brilliant spirit.

My condolences to all of you, especially to Bob's mother, whom I only met on one occasion but remember well. As the Capital Times article made clear, Bob was lucky to have such a family backing him up.



Sunday, April 13, 2008

Flying Saucers: Providing Cosmic Sustenance

Hi, Eric:

I'm so glad you've taken on the responsibility of master of ceremonies for this virtual memorial. Not sure if you remember me: I used to work at Amy's, around the same time you worked at Steep'n Brew. (I've attached a picture to jog your memory, but you'll mentally have to shave about 20 pounds off of this image to get to what I looked like back then.)

Anyhow, I first heard about Cos' phase change yesterday, as news travels slowly to Cleveland, OH. I received an email from my friend Otis who also worked at Amy's back then. Memories flooded back faster than I could track them.

Here is my brick for the monument:

I worked at Amy's Cafe from 1988-1995, first in the kitchen, then the bar. One of my primary job responsibilities was serving Coz "flying saucers" when owner Tom Paras was not around. The flying saucer consisted of 8-10 slices of "all the cheeses, pumpkin," about a quarter cup of Dusseldorf mustard, a handful of hot peppers and onions in a whole wheat pita, nuked for about 3 times the amount of time required to completely melt the cheese. For the ambitious host or hostess, a flying saucer is best served with a gallon of milk or 3 iced coffees. It is critical, however, that you not add poison to the coffee, as poisoned coffee has been shown to interfere with the digestion of the flying saucer.

After closing the kitchen at Amy's, I would often accept Coz' invitation back to his apartment across the street to jam. Sometimes I would accompany on guitar as Coz created Roscoe Mitchell-esque lines on the recorder. Sometimes, we would play guitar duets, but only after Coz had painstakingly detuned both guitars to perfection. His alternate tunings explored the nether regions of the microtone in a way that would make Schoenberg sound like Petula Clark by comparison. Often, however, we would just chainsmoke and take in the beauty of the original Picassos and Rembrandts that adorned the walls of Coz' apartment (who knew that such treasures could be found at Goodwill?) while listening to Iron Butterfly, on vinyl of course.

I was always charmed by how sweet and gentle Cosmo was when chatting with my mother on her occasional visits to Madison. He alone realized that she was in fact Queen Elizabeth (the second) and treated her with all due reverence. I was also intrigued by his family tree: it is not every day that one meets the lovechild of James Dean (who was actually Mahatma Gandhi) and Judy Garland. Imagine my surprise upon learning that these celebrated parents were murdered by Jimmy Carter, who is in fact a vampire. The story darkens further when one learns that Coz' psychiatrist is Henry Kissinger and that Dr. Kissinger has, for years, been attempting to poison him, sometimes with the help of John Mitchell.

But there were bright spots as well: Coz was fortunate enough to have his wives, Donna Shalala and Edie Brickell, keeping the home fires burning for him.

Of course I had my own secrets, often hidden even from myself. It took Coz' clarity to help me discover that I was the head of the Israeli underground. Coz was no fan of the policies of the Israeli government, but my position did not cause friction between us because he also helped me to remember that I was using my position to subvert the hostile policies of Israel towards the Palestinians. I was one of the "good Jews."

I have to stop myself now. It's been so easy for me to remember all the laughter and entertainment that Coz (always willingly and with that love of the spotlight) provided us. I remember equally well the intimidating first impression he made on so many. But he was, above all, a great friend and a skilled observer, with keen intuition about the emotional state of those close to him. He was an extraordinary judge of character (most of the time). The more time we spent together, the more accustomed I grew to the logic of his universe, couched as it was in his language which blended the tropes of politics, history, religion and rock 'n roll into a singular form of discourse that proved to be truly cohesive. Furthermore, it was apparent that, as with many entertainers, his own pain and adversity provided much of the fuel for his art and for the breadth of his often overlooked humanity.

Best wishes,

Dan Kamionkowski
Cleveland, OH


I remember you well, Dan, and Otis too. I much appreciate this brick you’ve added: there’s so much in it that is familiar. We knew the Man at the same time, after all, and heard him discourse on much the same range of issues.

But I appreciate your post for another reason too: it helps clarify a little about one of the Cosmic mysteries--namely, his super-subtle diet.

Considering that most of Cosmo’s current friends in Madison believe his death can be attributed to his low calorie intake, it may be that Amy’s was in fact crucial during those years for maintaining the Cosmic substance. The problem is not of course that Cosmo was malnourished through a lack of money or available food--or through neglect on the part of people watching out for him. It was rather that he was so incredibly particular about what he ate, and when he ate.

That Amy’s was right there across from his place on Gilman (the disguised ancient Phoenician building he lived in) meant that if he was in the mood to eat, he could just stop in and someone would be there who knew how to prepare what he was willing to eat. In other words: Who knows but that you guys at Amy’s, and at the other eateries around State, literally kept Cosmo alive during those years?

I myself only saw him eat on a couple occasions. One of those times was at Amy’s. I don’t know what it meant for him to have groceries in the house--how often he actually ate at home. I’d have to ask Annie McGuire more about this, as she was his case manager over recent years.

But it seems to me it was a tough case all around. You couldn’t simply force Cosmo to eat if he didn’t want to: he was a vegetarian, he had an unpredictable appetite, and most of the time the food around him was suspect--of having been poisoned, for example. You guys at Amy's were a godsend, I'd guess.

Thanks for the great post, Dan.


American, Gothically

Having Heft

Received an email yesterday from Tag Evers. Among the paragraphs, I find the following, a pretty sharp appreciation of the place Cosmic Good Humor held for many of us in Madison:
I'm pretty sad over Cosmo. I miss him, for the obvious reasons, but I also feel somewhat empty and ashamed, that most of us are cowards even. There's heft to the life he lived...for as skinny as he was, he was one heavy dude. What I translate from Cosmo's life is something like this: don't be timid, don't be shy, grab life by the balls and squeeze tight.
I like the "skinny, heavy dude" bit.

Tag also has some good things to say toward the end of the Daily Page posts (about page 5 as the forum stands now).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Capital Times Story

Katjusa Cisar's well-researched Capital Times article provides a lot of new perspective on Bob: from his supportive family, his case manager Annie McGuire and even his psychiatrist, Bill Knoedler. Knoedler told her:
He was a truth teller. He also was a performance artist--he didn't play or sing music very well, but his presentation was great. . . . He taught me to be kind. He was always more concerned for me than I was for him.
I remember meeting Comso's mother back in the early '90s and had the best impression. She certainly knew how to love him and accept what he was. I wish some of his other family members, like his nephew Thomas Johnson, would eventually take some time and write me about the Bob they knew.

Cisar does make a couple little mistakes regarding me. For one, I'm not teaching in Thailand, but in Taiwan. No matter: it's a common mix up. Her article is well balanced and gives us all some new perspective on the man we will miss.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On the "Man-Baby"

Cosmo on his bike, around 1960.

Reading in many of the online posts how Cosmo in his later years became more and more enamored of children, I'm reminded of his more mystical/religious take on his own "coming childhood." I post the following from my book Gospels from the Last Man. This was written in 1992, about a visit Cosmo and I took to the Amerindian site Aztalan:

The Doctrine of the Man-Baby

2.9. Several months following the initial visit to the ruins of the city of Aztalan, Cosmo di Madison and I decided to return there, just the two of us this time, to make a second, more rigorous visit.

"I would like to inspect things a bit more carefully," he told me. "I don't want any bimbos along this time. Alright?" [One has to read earlier parts of the book to get this remark.]

Cosmo di Madison and I drove to the site, but finding that the summer heat was too oppressive to spend time in the open field that used to be the center of the city--the area, in short, where one could sit upon the remains of the Aztalan pyramids--we wandered down to the riverside and talked in the shade. Cosmo pointed out how well suited that section of the river was for a trading port, and indicated to me precisely where the Egypto-Phonecian quays were most likely built.

"Those archaeologists are fucked when it comes to explaining central Wisconsin. You know it, don't you? This city was much larger and much more flourishing than they try to tell people. They want you to think there was hardly anybody around here before the Lutherans and Han Christian Heg and all the other finks and hoodlums arrived. Pssssssh! It's fucking sick!"

Because of the heat and the depressive mood induced by thinking on Luther and his followers, Cosmo and I decided to return at once to Madison, regardless of the fact that we'd only been at Aztalan twenty minutes and hadn't really accomplished the more careful inspection intended.

Driving back through Lake Mills rather pensively, our windows rolled down, we came to a stop sign on the sidewalk. Next to the stop sign there was a very small child on a Big Wheels tryke. I brought my car to a stop and looked here and there, trying to decide if the correct way was straight ahead or to the right. The child, resting on his tryke and with his feet splayed out languidly, looked up at Cosmo di Madison and distinctly muttered the words--


I was a bit put off by the tone of the child's voice. For it sounded as if it came directly from some depth out of keeping with the scene around us: the box houses, the toys and swings, the mowed lawns. As the child said nothing further, I began to pull away from the stop sign. We drove a couple blocks. Cosmo put out his cigarette and remarked warmly, with a little chuckle-- "Kids always know. Ya hear me?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, eager for an explanation of our uncanny encounter with the child.

"They know I'm the Man-Baby."

I sensed that Cosmo was about to relate to me something of great importance, something of which I hadn't previously had so much as a glimmer. I rolled up my window, so as to miss none of it, and asked-- "But Doll Face... What is the Man-Baby?"

"Basically, there have been fourteen of us," he began. "The Man-Baby is born old, and becomes younger and younger as he gets older. The Man-Baby doesn't ever die, but he regresses back into his childhood. I am the Man-Baby, and the Man-Baby is I."

"So the Man-Baby regresses back to childhood."

"The Man-Baby begins as a prophet, or elder statesman, and then he gradually regresses back. I am now regressing back: I am returning to absolute childhood. Soon I will be there."

"You will be where?"

"Absolute childhood."

"But what will happen to you when you reach absolute childhood?"

Cosmo di Madison rolled up his window. He leaned toward me, as if afraid someone would overhear us (nevermind we were now flying down the On-ramp onto Highway 94, in the stifling heat of a dead summer day, in a Honda Accord with both windows rolled up) he leaned toward me and whispered in a hoarse tone: "I will eskff. What did you think I would do? Psssh!"

"You will eskff," I confirmed. "Yes?"


"Like Moses and Jesus?"


"But what does it mean, specifically, for a Man-Baby--for a Man-Baby returning to absolute childhood--what does it mean for him to eskff? What, precisely, will it look like?"

"In the end I will become larger and larger. I will be larger than buildings."

"Am I to imagine a gigantic sort of baby then? A baby larger than buildings? " I ask him in a tone of mild fright.

"Oh, don't worry, pumpkin! I will just be eskffing. Finally I will fill the sky, I will be larger than Everything--I will be Everything . And then suddenly I'll eskff."

I am persistent in my inquiry. I ask him, hoping finally for a definition: "But what does it mean to eskff?"

"I will ecstatically unite with all Divine Jorphelancy," replies Cosmo di Madison.

"Divine Jorphelancy?"


"How do you spell that?"



"Just like it sounds."

I take the orange pastel pencil from my dashboard and write the world "jorphelancy" on the face of a Guns and Ammo Business Reply Mail subscription request card that I ask Cosmo to grab for me from the back seat.

"So: eskffing. You will eskff. But what precisely happens to the body in eskffing? Are there any remains? I mean--how can we build your crypt?" [From this point on, the text is based on notes from a later discussion with Cosmo di Madison concerning the Doctrine of the Man-Baby. Whereas above I could only reproduce his answers from memory, from here on the quotes are exact. I asked him again: "What precisely happens to the body in eskffing? Are there any remains?"]

"The energy cell in the body occorphelates an enzyme from a hydrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, and the more the atoms form, and the more cosmic ozone that affacates and occoilantly hits the planet, the more powerful the Man-Baby gets, the more politically powerful his body seems to be."

"Do you mean his body as a fetish, as a sort of relic?"

"Yes. The body of the Man-Baby determines the political agenda. I myself will become so powerful that I will dissipate into a large vat of energy and disappear. But my body will become powerful in another way."

"And if I could be present at the eskffing--"

"I'm not sure that's possible."

"But if I could be present, what would I experience?"

"You would experience another Man-Baby ascending into Heaven."

"You mentioned before that there were fourteen Man-Babies in history. Is that correct?"


"And could you tell me who they were?"

"Ezikel, Moses, Isaiah, Michael, Jesus, Mohammed, Akine, Buddha, and Immual." [I spelled the names as he pronounced them, unsure of some of them.]

"But--let's see--that only seems to be nine of them."

"That's because I didn't name the Man-Babies currently living."

"Could you name them?"


"It's rather important. How am I supposed to write the canon?"

"There's Ozzie Nelson, Bob Geldoff, Myself, David Sanford, and Nat Campbell."

I asked Cosmo di Madison if there was any connection between the giant final size of the Man-Baby and the stories of giants recorded in the past. In short: were the giants in any way related to the Man-Babies?

"Perhaps there was some connection," he said. "Perhaps. But the giants in the past were mostly women. They were Amazons. Giant women Amazons."

"Really? They were Amazons? I guess I never read much concerning the Amazons."

"The Amazons were total vegetarians. They were very righteous people. You didn't fuck with the Amazons. Ya hear me?"

"I seem to remember reading about that."

"The women in the Amazon tradition would always get very large. But the men wouldn't necessarily get very big. You just didn't fuck around with 'em. Nobody did."

"Where did the Amazons first come from?"

"They came from Tibet, or India. Mostly Tibet. They wanted to get back at the Greeks and the Jews for crucifying Jesus Christ. They were very righteous. Very clean people. Fantastic cooks too."

"The Amazons were good cooks?"

"The Amazons were the best fucking cooks in ancient Greece. And don't you forget it. Don't believe any of these university professors. They don't know what the fuck they're talking about. They're all gonna vote Democrat or join some Communist front group. Eventually you won't be able to learn anything around here because everything will be rhetoric. Ya hear me?"

***This is from book II of Gospels from the Last Man. Books I to III are all online now, the first book at and the rest linked from there.***

Isthmus Article

David Medaris gets it right in his Isthmus article "Remembering Bob 'Cosmo' Hicks". Medaris notes how many people’s stories about Cosmo follow a particular formula:
Among all the Cosmo stories, there is a subcategory of tales that begin with intimidated first impressions but soon yield to appreciation for his compassion and generosity.
Indeed. This is the same dynamic that provided so much of the drama of Cosmo’s sudden entrances at places like Steep ‘n Brew on State.

I barista'd there for a couple years and witnessed it many times. Cosmo would come in dressed all in black leather, declaring something at the top of his lungs, maybe something like:
“Where is that fucking Monkey Butt? He’s lucky I didn’t have my boys take care of him already. Time to face the music, ya hear me? Baaaahhh-hhhaaahhhh-hhhhaaaaahhhh!
In the cafe would be the people who knew him well, who’d smile and think to themselves, “Cosmo’s here.” But there were the others, those who’d never seen him before, maybe people in Madison for the first time, people just quietly standing at a coffee shop counter waiting to order a cappuccino. I remember in particular the look on many a customer’s face, the wide, worried eyes that said to me: “Should we call the police?”

I’d intentionally ratchet up the drama by not responding to those eyes, my deadpan mug leaving them at a loss. Is this guy dangerous or not? they'd wonder. I gave no indication one way or another. So they'd nervously look to others in the front of the cafe, trying to get an answer. And soon, when they finally saw that most of the people in the shop were taking this sudden presence in stride, they’d dare glance over and up at the Menace himself, standing a few feet away, who’d return the look and say: “How’s it goin’, honey?” Then he’d turn back to me, all business:
“Eric, I need an icy on the double. [An iced coffee.] And I want you to get that Monkey Butt out here. [One of my coworkers.] He’s been fucking putting barbiturates in my coffee again! Psssssh!
Of course “Monkey Butt” himself loved Cosmo, just as the frightened newbie from out of town would most likely learn to love him if he or she got to know him.

It's this same fear/affection dynamic that David Medaris gets at in his article, as do so many others who’ve taken the time to write something about the man during this past week.

But all this, while we're at it, gets me thinking again of those barista days. And I wonder: Was I--were we--maybe wrong to let Cosmo so dominate the place when he came in? Were we ourselves--we behind the counter I mean--maybe a little over the edge from drinking too much top grade coffee, maybe a little rough on customers who were either 1) actually scared, or 2) annoyed by such Cosmic volume?

In fact I remember at times flatly saying "No" to people--newbies and decaf drinkers all--who'd asked me to do something about the Man and his Diatribe. Was I perhaps wrong to have such an attitude? I'm sorry, but I don't think so. And the reason is simple. There are more than enough shopping malls out there for such people to chat and page through their catalogs. Truth be told, there are far too many shopping malls and catalogs. My idea then and my idea now is simple: a good cafe in a city center will occasionally be a place of flash and conflict; it's a place for debate and drifting from table to table; read when you can, certainly, chat quietly when you can, but when the scene changes you must accept what comes.

And as for the guy behind the counter--namely me in those days, the "barista"--I've always held to the same maxim: An espresso jerk is like a soda jerk, except more of a jerk.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

From Sandy Anton

I worked at Steep ‘n Brew for several years beginning in 1995. Cosmo put up the chairs at night in exchange for coffee. He was a constant source of entertainment and he became a great friend. He always would take coffee from me, but he occasionally believed that other workers were trying to poison his coffee. I remember going to his apartments (across from Amy's and then upstairs from Amy's), seeing a cross floating in the sink with candles around it, a fridge full of milk, his record collection, and his closet full of leather clothes.

After leaving Steep ‘n Brew, I would see Cosmo at St. Vinnies. He would ask me for fashion advice about leather jackets he found. I remember one time he asked my opinion about a women's leather jacket with large shoulder pads inside it. I don't think that he bought it.

I would also see Cosmo at my daughter's preschool, a Methodist church on the west side. He worked there once a week, taking out garbage. He loved to talk with my daughter: he called her “granddaughter.” She was a bit afraid at first-but she was slowly warming up to him. Last time I saw him, I was pregnant and he was so excited about the new baby. Unfortunately, he'll never meet her.

Cosmo had many nicknames for me: daughter, Melissa Manchester, baby, pumpkin, doll. I will miss hearing them all. He was truly a wonderful man and will be greatly missed.

Sandy Anton

Doorbell Unnecessary

When I heard the news, I was shocked. We got the phone call on April Fool’s Day, and I kept hoping it was some kind of very sick joke and that the phone would ring and when I answered I would hear "Hi, pumpkin, are they pullin' your leg again?" But unfortunatly no, as we found out when we called another friend of ours to verify that this was true.

Cosmo was a dear friend to my boyfriend and I, and even though I only knew him for a little over a year and a half I miss him dearly. We were best friends with him and he was a teacher to both of us and a father figure to my boyfriend (who has known him since he was 15 and is now almost 24). He would call us every day and ask us to come over, occasionally offering us peanut butter and sauerkraut sandwiches. We played and recorded music together all the time, and luckily my boyfriend has all the tapes. Listening to them did make us feel better, sort of like he is still hanging around with us, just in another state of being.

Madison feels very different now, very empty and just like it is just another boring town. The last time I saw him was at my birthday party in the middle of March, hardly anyone I invited came over but he did (he originially said he wasn't going to). We had music on and at first he was dancing with Skylar, our cockatiel, and then with my friend Molly when she came over, and it makes me happy to think about that because I know he loves to dance and could tell he had a really good time.

One time my boyfriend and I went over to his apartment and he put on disco and we danced for hours. We have many many Cosmo memories. We always knew in advance if he was coming over because all of a sudden you would hear this yelling down the street, and it would get louder and louder as he got closer and then "Hi baby!"

One time he came over and I wanted to play a game of chess with him. My boyfriend was like "Watch out, she's pretty good." Cosmo replies "Naw, I'll beat her." It was really funny because he kept trying to bend the rules of where you could move your pieces, and when we caught him on it he was just like "Oh, you guys just don't know how to play by the championship rules." Eventually he knocked all the pieces off the board because I was winning.

Cosmo is a one and only, that's for sure. He's one of the most intelligent and religious people I have ever met, and knowing him and then his passing has actually made me more religious. This past week has been a very difficult one, and I wish every one who was close to Cosmo consolation at this sad time. However, the most important thing to remember is that he is now in a free and happy place--"Ya hear me?" I'll be sure to post any other fun Cosmo stories when I think of them.

Sara Christenson

Capital Times Story

Katjusa Cisar has contacted me. She'll be writing a story on Cosmo for The Capital Times. Look for it as early as Thursday's paper.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Healing Bullet Wounds

I worked behind the supplements counter at Community Pharmacy on State and Gorham intermittently from 1991-2003.

Like many State St. businesses, the pharmacy could expect a Kramer-style sudden appearance of Coz at any time (and often synchronistic times, like when the store was jammed with senior summer scholars).

On days when he was happy, we were treated to fashion shows. I vividly remember the red leather Michael Jackson jacket (replete with zippers all over). He even wore it during Maxwell St., the sweatiest time of year. I also recall a full suede cowboy ensemble that hugged his scarecrow frame. Coz even rode his bike right into the store on several occasions.

My colleagues at the pharmacy loved Coz, but he was especially attached to the worker known as "Mom." I hope she submits her stories! You knew Coz trusted you if he called you "Punkin," but when he called me "Baby," it was like a small victory. In fact, Coz loved babies, and seemed to worship women who might bear them. He is the only person who could get away with (repeatedly) asking me if I was pregnant during a baggy clothes phase.

I never learned the source of Coz's afflictions, but the pharmacy staff catered to his metaphoric complaints about having gotten "bullet holes" by offering Tums or a homemade, all-purpose salve. Often "Mom" dipped into her own vitamin supply to help Coz up his immunity. The kindness paid to Cosmo even when he might have scared off a few potential customers (merely the uninitiated) made me proud to work in such a compassionate environment.

There were times I felt afraid around Coz, not of what he might do to others but what psychic pain he seemed to be experiencing. He wanted to be heard, he felt things so passionately and was not well understood. I wanted to understand him, but it wasn't always possible. But I think Coz could tell who was humoring him and who was really trying to listen.

Love to all who recognized the gems inside Coz's wild exterior.

Bazile Booth,

Against Robots

My name is Josh and my dad has been taking me to State Street since I was little. Now a university student I will miss this gentle giant. My favorite Cosmo story is thus...

Cosmo flying down State St. on his sweet silver BMX bike, in a blue mechanic's jumpsuit, screaming at the top of his lungs. I just smiled that big smile that he often brought with him.

Later I was in Ragstock and Cosmo comes in. The girl working the counter tells him they are having a robot drawing competition and that he should draw a robot and they will put it up in the window.

Cosmo stops, leans over to the girl, looks her straight in the eye and yells, "I fuckin' hate Nazis!"

Then he strides out the door. Always bringing a smile.


Isthmus Thread

A lot of great comments and anecdotes have been posted by friends and family at the Isthmus forum, the Daily Page.

At livejournal, tetaelzbieta wrote:
If you haven't heard, Bob Hicks (better known as Cosmo) passed away a few days ago. Take a few minutes to remember this guy, because he was one of things that made Madison so beautiful. For those who don't know him by name, you've almost certainly seen him around: very tall and very skinny, often wearing a jumpsuit, talking or shouting or singing. If you've ever had the chance to chat with Cos, I know you'll never forget him.

There'll never be another like him. Ya hear me?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Memorial Services

According to Anne McGuire, there will be a event celebrating Cosmo's life at the Madison's Pres House on Wednesday, April 9, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. A more formal funeral service will take place in Rio, Wisconsin on April 12.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

About This Blog

Since moving to Taipei, where I work as a teacher, I’ve much missed Madison, and of the things I miss most, being friends with Cosmo certainly ranks near the top. The man was a gold mine of good humor and mythmaking wit. Madison was lucky to have him to add his particular edge to the city, and Cosmo, in turn, was lucky to live in Madison, a place where people made space for him on his ever-expansive good days and looked after him on his bad days.

I’ve read some of the recent online forums about Cosmo (check The Daily Page) and could see how many different kinds of people were saddened by his death. Many had things to say about him in memory, stories they wanted to tell. I’ve opened this blog to make a space for people to post memories, stories or anything else related to Cosmo. I’m hoping if you have some recollection of something he said or did, or how you knew him, that you'll take some time to type it out and send it to me. I’ll post it directly onto the blog. No matter how brief the entry, just send it in. Let me know where and how you knew him: "My name is . . . . I knew Cosmo when I was studying . . . / working at . . . ." and go from there.

I make this request for stories and memories to anyone who knew Cosmo: State Street acquaintances, long-time friends, family members.

In memory of Bob Hicks, aka Rock ‘n Roll Bob, aka Cosmo di Madison. He will be sorely missed.

Send your anecdotes to:

Eric Mader
April, 2008

P.S. --Enter the Labyrinth-- My own writing on Cosmo, which I sweated over considerably back in the day, is linked here, most recent things first. In this writing I was doing my best to make a complete portrait of Cosmo’s “doctrine,” his ideas as best I could get them from him, which sometimes wasn’t easy. Some people might consider this a pretty strange project, but not me: Cosmo's imagination and way with words were often magnificent. I don’t know about recent years, but back then, early 1990s, Cosmo was a great preacher and spinner of tales.

I've tried to write in a style appropriate to the sometimes Gothic, sometimes funky, usually conspiratorial Cosmo I knew. The result is that the writings are definitely murky and arcane (reader be warned!) but still, most people, once they get past a few pages, usually start to get the knack of Cosmo's way of making history:

Picnic Point: What is it Really? (And other Unpublished Texts)

Gospels from the Last Man: the Deeds and Sayings of Cosmo di Madison, vol. I

Gospels, vol. II

Gospels, vol. III

In any case, regarding the above links, my warning in the published book still holds true:
. . . .I ought to take this opportunity to warn new readers of Gospels from the Last Man, those who haven't already read Books I and II. Do not proceed too quickly, but do not lose heart either. Do not laugh too loudly while you read, lest a demon fly into your open mouth. I've seen what can happen, and believe me, it's not pretty. You are liable to feel in the beginning as if you were dangling helplessly over a valley strewn with sucked cadavers. This is because the doctrine here presented holds together in a very circuitous manner, like a giant web in fact, with the inevitable result that one cannot begin to know the pattern of the whole until one has gotten one's limbs tangled in many troublesome particulars. You yourself will get tangled up. You'll be stung by this spider repeatedly. It doesn't sound pleasant, I know. But trust me: you're in good hands with me as your guide. I've been through this web myself, and I know it like I know my own mind. And I can assure you: the beauty of the web, once glimpsed, will make any loss of blood along the way seem insignificant.