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.
One thing about this old planet, it will always be populated by an overabundance of fools.
Someone up there must know that laughter is our best medicine.
We recently watched “Step Brothers” for a second time, which I recommend for laughs.
Will Ferell and John C. Rielly were made for each other, as well as being very funny solo comedians.
SNL is still around and I have alway looked at it as a kind of unifying force between generations. Kids today know who John Belushi was and I always enjoy the new crop of Second City graduates on SNL.
I remember seeing Eddie Murphy on SNL for the first time and predicting that he would have a big career.
Last week “Stephon”, my favorite Bill Hader character, planted a serious kiss on Seth Myers, on whom he supposedly has a crush.
Best man-on-man kiss I have seen since “My Beautiful Launderette”, really funny and brave.
“Close B Clothes Mode on Deputy Dan”
I date my own Marxist/Lennonist leanings (that’s Groucho and John for the speedreaders) from when I first saw the cover of “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”.
BTW George Tirebiter was real. A dog who once chased cars at USC where for a time he was USC’s mascot at football games, now immortalized by a statue on campus. He died doing what he loved to do best.
Thanks for the info, Greg. I wasn’t aware of the canine connection, but then I still find something new every time I listen to one of those albums. One of these days I plan to emulate Porgie and “cut the soles off my shoes, live in a tree, and learn to play the flute.”
I’ve listened to Firesign Theater so many times I’ve lost count. They were and still are like meeting old friends. Many years ago, Crabbman gave me a handful of Firesign LP’s so when I gained the ability to burn CD’s, I immediately transferred those albums to a more permanent medium. Since then I have sought and bought everything I could find recorded by those guys. They are among my favorites and I can recall many instances of swapping lines with others who were as big a fans as I. There was a lot of material there and even though we had all heard the bits hundreds of times, they were still funny, even funnier in my opinion than an the earlier group, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. THEY were inspired by an even funnier bunch of guys known as the Goons which was comprised of Spike Milligan, Harry Secomb, and the inestimable Peter Sellers. They virtually dominated the BBC Light in the 50’s and were the first bunch on radio to use pre-recorded sound effects. I’ve been fortunate enough to collect all their (remastered) CD’s and have played them over and over so many times the digital “grooves” have become nearly transparent. My point (you thought I’d never get there did you?) is that those groups (including the Credibility Gap, another LA group, comprised of Harry Shearer, David L. “Squiggy” Lander, and Michael “Lenny” McKean, and for a short time, Richard Bebe) were truly funny without being gross, racist, or an insult to my intelligence as all to many so-called comics are today. (If you check out this website http://www.harryshearer.com/projects/radio/#the_credibility_gap you will find an incredibly clever bit, a parody of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First”.) The bottom line is that I can’t think of ANYONE today who even comes close to being as funny as those who pioneered ensemble comedy in the last century. Someone once said (it was Reader’s Digest, I think) that, “Laughter is the best Medicine” and it is more true in our age than ever before. If I need a good, hearty laugh, or even a moderate chuckle, I will fire up one of those groups I mentioned before…’way before I’ll tune into “Tosh.O” arguably the most UN-funny person on the planet…unless you want to count Will Farrell (sorry Judith) Adam Sandler, or any number of other in-your-face types who fall far short of the mark. Rest in peace Peter, and we’ll see you on the flip side.