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The Firesign Theatre
The Firesign Theatre is one of those things you can't explain...
Well, you can explain that it's Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, Phil Proctor, and David Ossman. Most folks refer to what they do as "audio comedy", which is accurate in the way that referring to the Mona Lisa as "an oil painting" is accurate. They've been doing their thing since the 1970s, and are still doing it today, which is amazing. Jerry's page is probably as good a summary as any of web material on the group.
What I can tell you is how it is that I came by it, and what it is to me.
It was Tim's fault. Tim and Ray were debate partners in high school, but it was really a comedy act. They also both did comedy bits for the speech team; Ray was a master of ADS (the link manages to miss capturing the essence of the event perfectly), while Tim did a Humorous Interpretation that he had cut together from The Firesign Theatre Big Mystery Joke Book, a collection of scripts from their work. His piece featured the further adventures of "Nick Danger, Third Eye", and it won a lot of awards for him. This was back before it was popular to do parodies of Noir radio detective dramas, and that was part of the appeal. But the other part was that the material was just insane. Impossibly clever wordplay, quick verbal brushstrokes that sketched a scene and then suddenly painted over it. OK, I may have mentioned you can't describe this stuff. Even delivered second-hand.
Anyway, I think all of us on that speech team remembered Tim's bit, and so when I ran across one of their records (I wasn't sure they even had records) at another friend's house, I got myself a copy and listened to it. Nick Danger was even funnier in the longer-than-8-minutes version, with the FT gang doing the voicing and sound effects. (The cast used a real Foley table for the sound effects, and take it on tour with them sometimes. Some of the gags revolve around this.)
The title side of the album, though, was something called How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All? and it was a much tougher listen. Layers: millions of layers of sound, with incredibly complex, twisting material. Almost like a cross between a comedy and a tone poem. Did I mention you can't describe this stuff? Like most FT fans, I gave it a second listen. Then a third. By the fourth, I was hooked. Nick Danger was kinda boring. HCYBITPAOWYNAAA was where it was at.
Well, it turns out that they had many more albums out. Better yet, they've kept making albums and touring; they come through Portland pretty regularly and play at the Aladdin, a wonderful small theater that makes for a great place to hear their work. They won a Grammy for Radio Now, and would probably have won one for The Bride of Firesign if they hadn't had the misfortune to release it on September 4, 2001. They recently did little holiday snippets for most every major holiday for NPR.
I own most of their stuff on CD. That's easy now, because the CDs are widely published. I also have a lot of it on vinyl. That's really easy now, if you can operate EBay at all.
I listen to the Firesign Theatre when I'm down. Or when I'm bored. Or when I need a break from the cold side of reality. Or when I want to remember some great bit for a specific quote or purpose. Or to recall good times gone by. Or, really, for any other reason. I listen to it a lot. I can quote large sections of most of the albums from memory.
As Firesign Theatre fans go, I'm not unusual in this regard.
In the last couple of days, they've come up a couple of different ways, so I thought it might be time to say thanks to them here. Also, to suggest that you listen to their stuff. Give it a second or third listen before you give up. Because you'll think it's amazing once you get it. But trust me, I can't explain it.
Life imitates Firesign Theatre...
Was wandering through the blogosphere when I came across this article claiming that the US Government is forcing troops to use inferior body armor to prop up the stock price of the major Republican donor who manufactures body armor for the Government. This villainous donor? Mr. Foster Friess! I kid you not, hardcore FT fans.
(For the rest of you, don't worry about it.)