Thursday, June 05, 2003

First time for the lifetime

Ever come across a piece of music or spoken word comedy and know immediately it's going to be with you for your whole life? That's only happened to me a couple of times. Like when I first heard Tom Waits and the White Stripes.

Another time that happened was when a friend of mine, one of the two Kevin's from my high school days, played a tape for me by the comedy troupe called Firesign Theatre. I call him one of the two Kevin's because there were these two guys that were a year older than me and they were each named Kevin. No, they were not related. The Kevin that turned me onto Firesign Theatre was the Kevin that drove the old Volkswagen Beetle. It was the Kevin that was on the football team with me that introduced me to Jimi Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland.'

The two Firesign albums that Kevin played for me were 'Waiting for the Electrician or someone like him' and 'Don't crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers.' 'Electrician' came out in 1968 and 'Crush dwarf' came out in 1971.

What first struck me about the Firesign Theatre was their amazing word play. They make up and combine words in a way that initially feels random and nonsensical. After repeated listenings the apparent nonsense began to gell and develop an odd clarity and work with the convoluted and also initially nonsensical storyline. Along with intertwining storylines and Lewis Carroll-like dialogue the albums also featured dense and realistic sound effects that offered me an audio experience unlike any other. It took me years of listening and living to even begin to digest what is offered on these recordings. Even now I throw them into my CD player occasionally and they never disappoint. I bring something new away each time like I with any great music album.

I was overjoyed a couple of years ago when the guys came out with a new album for the first time in years. It was called 'Give me immortality or give me death.' It is the story of radio station broadcasting on the last day of 1999 as the world descends into fear, madness and zaniness. It's a brilliant snapshot of the mindset of a nation at a certain point and, like their older works, will be relevant and educational for a very long time.

The Firesign Theater have been often referred as a comedy troupe that encapsulated their time period. They did do that but their wordplay and the brilliant characters voiced by David Ossman, Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, and Phil Proctor deserve your careful listening. This ain't just comedy, it's art.

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