I went to see Firesign Theatre last night in Kirkland (Seattle area). The original four guys, who have been collaborating together for 45 years. They’re my audio-theatre comedy heros and inspiration, going way back to my college radio days in Ann Arbor, as my cohorts and I distracted ourselves from our studies by producing an FM-freeform comedy show, Escapist’s Fair.
Austin, Ossman, Proctor and Bergman are the masters of multi-layered, social-commentary, high-lo-intellect, just-plain-good-bullshit “comedy” recordings. Great characters, great voices, that both honor and parody radio/TV/pop culture idioms and politics. True audio eclecticism. We were lucky enough to do a little work with them when they ventured to the Midwest back in the later 70s.
The anchor of the well-attended Seattle shows was most of “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus,” their strange tale, written and recorded in 1971, about a futuristic amusement park where “Ah…Clem,” Barney (a bozo) and others “talk” to a holographic president Nixon and get a canned answer to their questions. This was before the digital revolution (only mainframes were around) and voice-recognition – but here’s Clem breaking into the system with “maintenance” voice commands. Predicting technology was one of their talents.
At the show, they mixed in segments from their late 90s series of comeback CDs, Nick Danger,
Firesign in the 1960s - Great characters, great voices, strange plots
and some fresh political and social references. I also saw them a few months ago in LA on the Art Hill, with only about 60 of the faithful in attendance, including music-industry people and Weird Al.
Here’s the amazing part. Peter Bergman noted that they started in 1967 on the radio and with live shows, and no big-league rock band from that era has worked regularly with the original members for that long (at least that he knows of).
David Ossman, Phil Proctor, Peter Bergman, and Phil Austin - still writing and performing 45 years later
So, as a tribute, the same week as their November 17, 1966 debut, here’s a brief segment from their first album (recorded in 1967). In recent decades, doing parodies of game shows is stock- and-trade comedy skit material (Saturday Night Live does one almost every week), but I’m thinking that this one might have well been the first.
LISTEN -Firesign Theatre_Beat-the-Reaper game show parody
My Addenda: besides “Bozos,” here’s some of my favorite Firesign albums, and where to find out more about them and/or buy them.
Everything You Know is Wrong
1974's "Everything You Know is Wrong"
So it appears Firesign has a new generation of fans. These guys did a home-made movie using “Everything You Know…” as the soundtrack. Lip-sync and all. Not bad, check out the first 6 minutes.
Their third album: Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand me the Pliers. While in high school, I listened to the tales of More Science High.
More recently, there’s their 1999 tribute to LA and Y2K, Give Me Immortality, or Give me Death