Some people remember where they were and what they were doing when some earth-shattering event came to pass, such as when JFK was assassinated or when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. There is one instance I recall as if it happened yesterday; the first time I heard the Firesign Theatre.
I was twenty years old, working at the notorious Jacks’ Restaurant, and living at 220 Main Street in Nevada City. (The SYRCL offices are there now.) I wasn’t making a lot of money, so I couldn’t afford the deposit to get the power turned on in my penthouse apartment. I used a candle for light, and lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My only entertainment was a battery powered radio, which I usually listened to while sleeping on the floor. (No furniture either.)
One night while listening to KZAP, I thought I was going nuts. Usually there was a steady diet of Led Zeppelin or Grateful Dead music to lull me to sleep, but on this night there was some kind of crazy dialogue going on, shifting from one scenario to another like someone flipping through TV channels, and each one was weirder than the last.
There was Reverend Rod Flash, who couldn’t get enough to eat (More sugar!), ads for Old Phillipino Creamy, Ersatz Brothers Coffee (made with Chilian chickory nuts and Spanish flies), and Napalmolive, two intertwining movies (High School Madness and Parallel Hell), and a character named George Leroy Tirebiter who was somehow connected to everything.
For me, it was like hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time. Comedy so radically different and original that it boggled the mind. It was the Firesign album Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.
I became a fan immediately and collected most of the albums they produced in the following years. One of the biggest thrills of my life was when our friends the Simpsons (no, not those Simpsons, Clark and Nanette Simpson) took Mary Ann and me to see them live in Berkeley.
So it came as quite a shock to me when Judith Lowry mentioned in a comment last night that one of the four members, Peter Bergman, had passed away a few weeks ago. It was just last summer that I quoted the Firesign Theatre at Clark’s funeral. Just another reminder of our mortality.
But the Firesign boys gave us many smiles over the years, and their recordings will outlive us all. It somehow seems fitting that I’m posting this on April Fools Day. Here’s to one of the greatest fools of all.