Fifty years ago—in the perfect pop culture year of 1966—Woody Allen did his first film project for American International Pictures, home to Roger Corman, monsters, bikers, acid heads and futuristic Death Races looking way forward to the year 2000. I say film project as he didn’t make his first film, he sort of stole it! Legally.
Basically Allen took the Japanese action film International Secret Police: Key of Keys and re-dubbed the dialogue, changing the plot to make it revolve around a secret egg salad recipe being fought over by rival James Bond-type spy characters. The film became What’s Up Tiger Lily? and was quite well received. The idea had been done before of course, on a smaller scale by Rocky and Bullwinkle creator Jay Ward for his Fractured Flickers TV series in 1963, and surely others had toyed with the concept, but not in a feature length film. The opportunities for juvenile, MAD Magazine humor were endless and very funny.
What’s Up Tiger Lily? created a model that has been followed by some of the funniest people in history. Here is the trailer in which Allen explains to an unsuspecting public what it is that he has done. (The entire film can also be found on YouTube.)
The next one of these dubbed comedies that comes to mind was in fact done by two of the funniest people to ever grace this planet, Phillip Proctor and the late Peter Bergman of Firesign Theatre fame. In 1979 Proctor and Bergman took clips from 1940s Republic Serials and overdubbed and rewrote an extremely stoned cliffhanger entitled J-Men Forever, starring themselves in newly filmed black and white bits that were inserted into the insane mess of rearranged reality. To top this off they used modern loud rock n roll music for the soundtrack.
To quote the blurb under the YouTube clip:
J-Men Forever became the signature for Night Flight’s stoned comedy audience in the 1980’s. This ultimate late night chronic high comedy was the most demanded rerun for the entire 8 years Night Flight was on the USA Network.
After the jump, experience the inspired insanity of ‘The Rusty James Show’...
It’s a winner, folks. Simply put, Kliph has carved out an area of research and made it almost entirely his own—I refer to the development of the world of professional stand-up comedy in the decades before Richard Pryor, George Carlin, or even Lenny Bruce. (Not to worry, he also covers everything up to Louis CK too.) Kliph has made it his business to acquaint himself personally with many of the surviving old-school stand ups from the 1950s and also with the bounties of Variety’s archives.
Marijuana and LSD were huge influences on comedy at the end of the 1960s. It was not uncommon for talk show guests to show up high. George Carlin said he took “a perverse delight in knowing that I never did a television show without being stoned.” Paul Krassner dropped acid before a Tonight Show appearance with guest host Orson Bean. Krassner was immersed in his trip when he walked through the curtain. “I kept staring at Ed McMahon because his face was melting into his chest. Orson asked me, ‘Have you taken LSD?’ He meant in a general sense, but I had this thought, ‘Oh, no, he can tell!’”
Phyllis Diller encapsulated the older generation’s ignorance of counterculture elements when a reporter asked her if she would remarry. She responded, “What kind of LSD have you been smoking?” Such cluelessness was common as Hollywood’s gatekeepers struggled to relate to the new hippie demographic. Television shows like Dragnet and My Three Sons portrayed counterculture protestors as morons. Carl Reiner’s son Rob was cast in several sitcoms play-ing such roles. “I did three Gomer Pyles, played a hippie in a couple of them. Did a Beverly Hillbillies, played a hippie in that. I was like the resident Hollywood hippie at the time. I had long hair and they needed somebody. In one of the Gomer Pyle episodes I actually sang ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ with Gomer.”
Veteran filmmaker Otto Preminger gave LSD the Hollywood treatment in 1968 with a motion picture called Skidoo. Preminger contacted Rob Reiner to help write dialogue for the hippie characters in his film. “Preminger was a very interesting, liberal guy and he took acid early on,” says Carl Gottlieb. “He wanted to meet The Committee. So we all trooped down to his offices with Rob Reiner.” Reiner said, “I went in and turned out some pages for hippies so that they would say ‘groovy’ in the right place.”
Groucho Marx was cast in Skidoo as an LSD dealer named God. It was surprising he agreed to it, as he was contemptuous of the new social mores (“That Midnight Cowboy. It’s about a stud and a pimp. I hated that movie”). Marx may have hated the counterculture, but he was hip to many of its elements. He subscribed to Paul Krassner’s paper The Realist, which featured articles about the drug culture. Krassner says, “Groucho was concerned about the script of Skidoo because it pretty much advocated LSD, which he had never tried but he was curious. Moreover, he felt a certain responsibility to his young audience not to steer them wrong, so could I possibly get him some pure stuff and would I care to accompany him on a trip.”
Groucho Marx high on LSD? Some who knew Groucho question the story. “It’s a fucking lie,” says producer George Schlatter. “Groucho never took acid. He didn’t need acid. Everyone else needed acid!” Carl Gottlieb agrees. “I doubt that story, because my contact with Groucho was around the same time. He was pretty infirm. The acid that was around in those days was the Owsley acid—Windowpane. It was brain-breaking.”
“Well, that was the reason Groucho asked me,” Krassner responds. “I have a letter from Lionel Olay, a popular magazine writer. He had interviewed Groucho and Groucho told him he was very curious about LSD. He read The Realist and about my taking trips. Bill Targ, my editor at Putnam, was a friend of Groucho. The writer of the movie Skidoo, Bill Cannon, introduced me to him. Groucho and I had lunch. He asked me if I could get him some LSD. Groucho was not going to go around boasting about this. It was just to prepare for the movie Skidoo. I accompanied him on his trip. We used the home of an actress in Beverly Hills. Phil Ochs drove me there. It was Owsley acid. Three hundred micrograms.”
Skidoo entered production with a cast that seemed plucked from Hollywood Squares. It included Frankie Avalon, Carol Channing, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Arnold Stang and Jackie Gleason. It had a soundtrack by Harry Nilsson and an unforgettable scene in which Gleason, high on psychedelics, is haunted by the disembodied head of Groucho Marx.
Robert Evans, the head of Paramount, was not happy with it. “It was a zero on every level,” said Evans after the screening. “The guy [Preminger] cost us a fuckin’ fortune. His new entry belongs in the sewer, not on the screen. He’s such a prick; he gets his nuts off seeing us sink.”
Cheech and Chong’s best-selling ‘Big Bambu’ album came with a gigantic rolling paper. For obvious reasons, these rolling papers are rare today…
Several comedians considered their psychedelic trips important, life-changing experiences. “Pot fueled Cheech & Chong during our heyday,” said Tommy Chong. “Pot and to some extent acid. It had changed our world and it put me on a path to artistic and financial success. The spiritual effects and the revelations never leave. The secrets that LSD revealed to me changed my life forever.”
George Carlin felt the same. “I know exactly when I first did acid—it was in October 1969 while I was playing a major, now long-defunct jazz club in Chicago called Mister Kelly’s. Next to my [note-book] record of that booking, which was otherwise uneventful, is written in a trembling hand the word ‘acid.’ Actually in the course of a two-week gig I did acid multiple times, maybe five, maybe ten. Fuck the drug war. Dropping acid was a profound turning point for me, a seminal experience. I make no apologies for it. More people should do acid.”
Chris Rush was another comedian who came into being with the counterculture. Psychedelics informed his act. “When I took lysergic acid diethylamide I started rapping comedy: full, polished conceptual chunks. It just flowed through me, and I was a stream-of-consciousness comedian. I started doing it for fun in loft buildings and I started doing some clubs. This guy Mark Meyers from Atlantic Records came to see me. He said, ‘This guy talks like George Carlin.’ Bingo, I had a record deal.” His album First Rush sold half a million copies in the early 1970s, mostly to pot-smoking college kids. “They’d get high with twenty of their friends and put the album on.”
Comedy and the counterculture coupled with the new technology of FM radio. During the early 1960s FM radio was mostly used to simulcast aurally superior versions of AM sister stations. In 1967 the FCC passed an ordinance that ended such simulcasts. It forced FM to devise original programming. In order to fill mass spaces of airtime in a pinch, young disc jockeys turned to playing entire sides of LPs rather than just one song. Soon FM was a place where hippie rawkers and their long jams received maximum exposure. Likewise, comedians who aligned themselves with the counterculture found entire sides of their comedy records being played on FM. College-aged kids tuning in to hear their favorite hippie music were turned on to the comedians being played on the same stations—and those comics saw their ticket sales increase enormously.
Amid the FM scene emerged an audio comedy troupe called the Firesign Theatre. Phil Austin, David Ossman, Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman met at the newly minted Los Angeles FM station KPFK. They worked in various executive positions and eventually left for KRLA and improvised drug-influenced comedy on the show Radio Free Oz. Surf music producer and KRLA employee Gary Usher used his industry connections to secure the boys a deal with Columbia Records. “I’d see The Byrds at Columbia Studios when we were all recording,” said Phil Proctor. “We didn’t realize how much history we were observing or even making. There was very easy access. People were very friendly and the music brought everybody together. Pot brought everybody together. It was a very sociable scene, you know, hot and cold running girls all the time…We were using the Columbia studio where The Byrds recorded, [but] also the radio studio where Fred Allen had been.”
The Firesign Theatre, George Carlin and Cheech & Chong owed their vast success to FM. The radio stations were listened to by thousands of impressionable college students. “FM radio helped expose the records, and that led to our ability to headline shows on college campuses,” said Proctor. “We were asked to go on the road with the Maharishi.”
Comedian Jimmie Walker says FM radio was a platform for comedians who never would have been accepted in traditional circles. “They would never have gotten on Carson or anything like that. Lou Adler from A&M Records came up with these guys from Vancouver—Cheech & Chong. There was a new thing called FM and Lou said, ‘I’m going to make an album with these guys.’ These guys started selling out colleges, and we were stunned. Nobody was doing that. FM changed everything. It changed the face of comedy.”
Jack Margolis, a comedy writer who once wrote for Jay Ward cartoons, composed the seminal counterculture comedy record of the time. A Child’s Garden of Grass was based on his satirical paperback of the same name, the first in-depth comedic look at the effects of marijuana. Released by Elektra, the same label that had Jim Morrison and the Doors, A Child’s Garden of Grass had its advertising turned down by every major magazine, was denied a spot on the shelves of Wallichs Music City in Hollywood and was banned in Washington State. An FCC ruling that forbade “drug lyrics” kept program managers from playing it. Despite the kibosh, it sold four hundred thousand copies. Its only real advertising came from a large billboard on Sunset Boulevard across from the Whisky a Go Go. It is impossible to calculate the number of joints that were rolled on its gatefold surface.
The longhairs dominated radio. Cinema was maturing rapidly. Battles against censorship were being won on both literary and nightclub fronts. But television, beyond its odd spontaneous talk show moment, appeared unaffected by the times. “There was a real revolution happening in other media,” said comedy writer Rosie Shuster. “There were all these Jack Nicholson movies coming out that reflected that sensibility of the sixties. In music there was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the Stones and the Beatles. But television was still stuck in some time warp that was more like the fifties.
”Comedians appearing on The Tonight Show still had to adhere to a traditional dress code. “For a long time the rule on Johnny Carson was tie and jacket,” says Robert Klein. “I came on without one once and Johnny didn’t say anything, but it came down through [Tonight Show producer] Freddy de Cordova: ‘Tie and jacket!’ ”
Oh man. Some very bad, very sad news just crossed my desk in the form of this short email from Taylor Jessen, archivist extraordinaire, of the Firesign Theatre:
I’m very sorry to report that Phil Austin died last night at his home in Fox Island, Washington. Phil had been suffering from multiple cancers and had chosen to keep his condition private, so this was a sad and terrible surprise for us all. At his request, no memorial service is being planned.
Born in Denver, Colorado in 1941, but raised in Fresno, CA, Phil Austin went to Bowdoin College and then UCLA, before joining the staff of KPFK radio in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. It was at KPFK’s North Hollywood studio where he met his future partners in “the Beatles of comedy,” David Ossman and Peter Bergman, and later Phil Proctor, who’d been a friend of Bergman’s at Yale. Together as the Firesign Theatre (each of the troupe was an astrological “fire” sign), they recorded around thirty albums, including their Library of Congress recognized masterpiece, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, and other classics like Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, Everything You Know is Wrong and I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus. He is survived by his lovely wife Oona and their menagerie of pets.
Below, Phil Austin stars as “Happy” Harry Cox, a trailer-dwelling New Agey conspiracy theorist that Art Bell seems to have based his entire career on in the Firesign Theatre short Everything You Know is Wrong (This will be on the upcoming Firesign Theatre DVD in much better quality. Keep checking their website for the release date.)
In 1979, a few years after the diaspora of the surrealistic stream-of-consciousness comedy troupe Firesign Theatre, that outfit’s Philip Proctor and Peter Bergman created J-Men Forever, a pastiche film a la What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, from old crime and superhero shorts. They combined footage from several different serials and dubbed in their own dialogue to create a ridiculous plot about evil forces (“The Lightning Bug,” represented by several serial characters including the Crimson Ghost, whose face famously served as the Misfits’ logo) trying to take over the world with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, while the forces of good (“The Caped Madman,” a Captain Marvel figure whose transformation word is SH’BOOM—Sneaky, Hateful, Bigoted, Obnoxious, Obnoxious, and Mean, and yes, I know “obnoxious” is in there twice) fought back with elevator music. It rambles, it barely coheres, and it’s funny as all hell. Given its eminent stoner-friendliness, you’d think it’d have been a natural midnight movie, but it gained its life and audience when the USA Network’s treasure-filled insmoniac’s pal Night Flight played it in its entirety and harvested clips from it to use as interstitials.
Proctor recounted that producer Patrick Curtis had established a relationship with Republic Studios when he had produced an homage film to B westerns, another genre that Republic had produced.
“We thought it would be fun to do the serials,” Proctor said.
He and Bergman watched the serials and then wrote the new screenplay. They also supervised the new soundtracks, performing some of the voices themselves and casting other performers such as deejay Machine Gun Kelly.
An influx of funding allowed the pair to shoot new wrap-around footage featuring them as federal agents coordinating the fight against the Lightning Bug.
The reception the film received was so impressive that it inspired two spin-offs, a Cinemax special The Mad House of Dr. Fear and Hot Shorts for RCA Home Video, which used other members of the Firesign Theatre.
After Night Flight ended its run, the film was relegated to cinematic limbo.
“For years I tried to get it out,” said Proctor, “but we couldn’t find a good print. It was more important to have it look right. Then [Night Flight producer] Stuart Shapiro came up with a print.”
Yesterday I was listening to a Glen Campbell greatest hits collection (The Capitol Years 1965-77, the one compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, it’s excellent) and in the liner notes, it mentions that Campbell sang and played guitar on a Gary Usher-produced single called “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, that was included on Jac Holzman and Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets collection, which I have, so I checked it out. It’s odd that I had this song in my possession—I’ve played the Nuggets box set many, many times all the way through—but never took much note. How could I have missed it?
A be-quiffed Glen Campbell backstage at the Grammy awards with the Beach Boys
“My World Fell Down” is the closest thing we’ll ever get to “Good Vibrations”-era Beach Boys meets LSD-soaked psych rock. Sagittarius was basically a supergroup of session musicians under the direction of Gary Usher, a staff producer at Columbia who had also “discovered” The Firesign Theatre and produced The Byrds. Aside from Campbell, who was, of course, briefly in the Beach Boys himself, the secondary vocalist on the track is none other than Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. Also worth pointing out is that Usher had written several songs with Brian Wilson (”409” and “In My Room” among them) and included in the backing group were powerhouse session players Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye, who had both recorded with the Beach Boys. If someone played this for you and told you it was an unreleased—and especially odd—Beach Boys demo, you’d believe them, no problem.
Dig the musique concrète bridge section of carnival (bullfight?) noises and a slamming door. This part sounds like something straight off of Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones album that came out the same year, 1967, but is not included in the album version.
When “My World Fell Down” got to #70 on the Billboard chart, the label wanted Sagittarius to tour, at which point he revealed that Sagittarius didn’t actually exist as a real group and that it was his song, too. Usher moved forward with Sagittarius and recorded a full album leaning heavily on the talents of a young Curt Boettcher. Prior to the release of that record, Present Tense, in 1968, Usher and co. released a second Sagittarius single titled “Hotel Indiscreet” that had another musique concrète bridge section that utilized Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theatre ranting about… something:
“What for and how long my children? How long will we be made to suffer the utter degradation of everything we hold sacred? My fellow flowers, the time is upon us to open the door and purify the foul and pestilent air within, standing naked before the eternal judge and proclaiming we are all hip! Two three four… Hip! Two three four… zwei drei vier… Sieg Heil! SIEG HEIL!”
That bit was only on the mono version of the song, on the single. Clive Davis didn’t like the weirdo breaks in “My World Fell Down” and “Hotel Indiscreet” so he had Usher cut them out for Present Tense.
Attention Firesign Theatre fanatics, two long out of print books transcribing their surrealist comedy classics, have just been republished. It’s fascinating to see their work in the form of plays. We think of Firesign Theatre as writer/performers, but this puts them in a literary context as well.
I asked their longtime archivist and producer, my pal Taylor Jessen (who promised me he was going to make a Firesign Theatre documentary in 2014) to fill us in:
The Firesign Theatre is one of the greatest Shibboleth manufacturers in history. Fans who’ve heard their 1970 masterwork Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers are aware that we’re all marching to Shibboleth – a Shibboleth being, of course, the original Hip password.
No one in the late sixties crossed the Jordan into Hip society without knowing the good word of Firesign: “Shoes for Industry!” “He’s no fun, he fell right over!” “What you don’t mean won’t hurt you!” “He broke the President!” In short, if a stranger came up to you in 1970 and said “No anchovies? You’ve got the wrong man!”, and you didn’t know the next line, man, forget it.
Rolling Stone’s Straight Arrow imprint published all those lines in 1972 and 1974 in the form of the script collections Big Book of Plays and Big Mystery Joke Book. Out of print for more than three decades, they now return in a new one-volume collection, Marching to Shibboleth, available exclusively from the FireSale store. 354 pages; all the words and art from the original books; all the text re-proofed and re-set to match the design and fonts of the original layout; the photos re-scanned from original source material. It’s Firesign’s classic Columbia period totally transcribed – Waiting for The Electrician or Someone Like Him, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All, Dwarf, I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus and The Giant Rat of Sumatra, plus vignettes, miniatures, a 400-year Fyre Sygne historical exegesis with a lot of really impressive footnotes that you should therefore TOTALLY BELIEVE, plus for the first time the complete script to Everything You Know Is Wrong. All this as well as a new introductory essay by Greil Marcus.
Guaranteed to look great on any comedy lover’s shelf next to Monty Python’s Flying Circus: All the Words and The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts.
One of my very first heroes in life when I was a kid—and one of my dearest and most valued friends as an adult—Peter Bergman of the legendary Firesign Theatre, died this morning of complications from leukemia. He was 72.
The last time I talked to Peter was a few weeks ago. I’d picked up the Albert Ayler Holy Ghost box set, and there, on one of the live discs recorded in Cleveland in 1966, was Peter introducing the band! I called him up that morning and he excitedly told me about that event and we laughed a lot and I told him that he just HAD to write his autobiography.
“Pete, you’re the ‘Zelig’ of the rock era! You’ve been in a film with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Farrah Fawcett. You coined the terms “love-in.” You smoked a joint with Bob Marley and the Wailers when they were your opening act [True, the Wailers opened for Proctor and Bergman in Boston. Pete told me the joint was “arm-sized”!]. You guys gigged with the Buffalo Springfield. You’ve worked with Spike Milligan, and now here you are with Albert Ayler, for god’s sake! I mean, come on! You have to do this!”
Peter seemed to like the idea of writing an autobiography (a lot) and we talked about electronic publishing and Kindles and stuff like that. I had heard just a few days before, from my best friend, Michael Backes, that Peter was sick, but Mike said he played it off very cavalierly, like “Hey, if you’re going to get leukemia, this is the best kind of leukemia to get!” (meaning the most easily treated and managed with medicine).
I waited for the topic to come up on the phone that day. It didn’t, but just as I was about to broach it, Peter got another call and hopped off the line. It was the last time I spoke to him.
This morning I got a call from my wife, Tara, as I was standing in line with 4000 other people waiting to pick up my press credentials for the SXSW Festival. It’s a rainy, shitty day here in Austin, TX and with that call it got a whole lot worse:
“Honey, I’ve got some bad news for you. Some really bad news. Peter died last night. Taylor Jessen just sent you an email, but I didn’t think you’d heard.”
I stood in a room full of 4000 strangers and and quietly cried to myself, wondering how the rest of the Firesign were handling the awful news.
I’d lost a good friend, but they’d lost their brother.
Peter Bergman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the day after Russia invaded Finland and the day before Winston Churchill (Peter’s hero) turned 65. Peter’s comic career began in the sixth grade, writing comic poems with his mother for library class - a penchant that developed into co-authoring the ninth grade humor column “The High Hatters,” and his own creation “Look and See With Peter B.” for his high school newspaper.
Peter’s audio career was launched in high school as an announcer oh the school radio system, from which he was banished after his unauthorized announcement that the Chinese communists had taken over the school and that a “mandatory voluntary assembly was to take place immediately.” Russell Rupp, the school primciple, promptly relieved Peter of his announcing gig. Rupp was the inspiration for the Principle Poop character on “Don’t Crush That Dwarf”.
While attending high school, Peter formed his first recording group called “The Four Candidates,” turning out a comedy cut-up single titled “Attention Convention,” parodying the 1956 democratic convention. Released on Buddy records, it received air play in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
At college, Peter was managing editor of the Yale comedy magazine. He wrote the lyrics for two musical collaborations with Austin Pendleton, both of which starred Phil Proctor. He graduated as a scholar of the house in economics, and played point guard for the liberal basketball league whose members have since lost their dribble but not their politics.
Peter spent two graduate years at Yale as a Carnegie teaching fellow in economics, and as the Eugene O’Neill playwriting fellow at the drama school. After a six-month stint as a grunt in the U.S. Army’s 349th general hospital unit, he went to Berlin on a Ford foundation fellowship where he joined Tom Stoppard, Derek Marlow and Piers Paul Read at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. There he wrote and directed his first film, “Flowers,” and connected with the Living Theatre - a major influence on his art.
Peter worked briefly in London with Spike Milligan and the BBC before returning to America in 1966. Back in the U.S., he secured a nightly radio show on Pacifica’s KPFK in Los Angeles: “Radio Free Oz,” around which the Firesign Theatre coalesced and gestated.
Peter coined the term “Love-In” in 1967, and threw the first such event in April of that same year in Los Angeles. That event ultimately drew a crowd of some 65,000 people, blocking freeways for miles. This so impressed Gary Usher, a Columbia Records staff producer, that he offered the Firesign Theatre their first record contract.
In the 1970’s, Peter diversified his comic career as the president of a film equipment company. He also helped produce a machine for viewing angio cardiograms and measuring the blockage of the arteries of the heart.
In the 80’s Peter turned to film and tape, producing the comic feature “J-Men Forever” with Phil Proctor, as well as producing television shows that featured various members of Firesign.
Starting in 1995, Peter began touring the country as a “high tech comedian”, delivering lectures and keynote speeches to computer oriented companies and conventions. He worked on publishing the web site for one of the candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles.
His latest venture, in association with David Ossman, started in the summer of 2010: the podcast revival of Radio Free OZ.
I called Mike to commiserate and he said something that was true for me, too, and I’lll end with his words: “I don’t think there is ANYTHING that defines who I was in high school more than being that kid listening to Firesign Theatre on headphones stoned out of my gourd. I think the way I think because of the Firesign Theatre. I phrase things the way I do because of the Firesign Theatre. I look at the world the way I do because of them. There might not be anything that had a bigger formative influence on who I am today when I really think about it!”
Losing Peter Bergman is a great personal loss. Farewell, my dear friend, farewell. And to the rest of the Firesign Theatre, know that I am feeling the same things that you are today.
Below, the Firesign Theatre’s anarchic 1969 TV ads for a local Los Angeles car dealer, Jack Poet Volkswagen.
I just found out, by way of the brand new issue of Phil Proctor’s always wonderful Planet Proctor e-zine, that all four members of the Firesign Theatre recently got together in the studio in Washington State to record some podcasts for Peter Bergman’s Radio Free Oz. I haven’t listened yet myself, but intend to partake immediately upon posting this and smoking an incredibly massive joint…
Surreal wordplay, witty banter and liberal kvetching with Proctor, Bergman, Philip Austin and David Ossman, together in one room again! Listen to “The Firesign Theatre’s new recordings “Talking Over Each Other” at Radio Free Oz and subscribe to Planet Proctor here (you’ll get it in your email as a PDF)
Firesign Live! Portland Center For The Arts, Winningstad Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Get tickets here for the shows on December 9 & 10!
Then at 4:30, there will be a special Firesign Theatre mini-film festival with Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre, in attendance. Films include the only film visual record of one of their legendary radio shows, Martian Space Party and a new 5.1 surround version of Everything You Know is Wrong.
On Sunday as part of the grand experiment in entertainment excess that is the five-day long Everything Is Festival! held at Cinefamily here in Los Angeles, there will be a Firesign Theatre mini-film festival starting at 4:30p.m. (just after Neil Hamburger’s Dora Hall tribute, which starts at 2:30).
The event will feature two Firesign Theatre shorts that have not been shown theatrically in many, many years (probably not since the mid-70s, in fact) and that are not currently available on home video (yet), plus other previously unseen goodies and rarities.
First up will be the only cinematic documentation of their legendary free-form radio shows, Martian Space Party. The “Martian Space Party” show was the final program in the “Let’s Eat” radio series of 1972 and was staged for cameras and a small audience.
Everything You Know is Wrong, which is a lip-sync’d visual interpretation of their 1975 album of the same name, will be premiering in a new 5.1 surround sound presentation, prepared from a digital dupe of the film supervised by famed cinematographer Allen Daviau (E.T. Bugsy, The Color Purple).
Plus some other SUPER SECRET Firesign Theatre films and videos and a live Q&A with Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre, EYKIW director Allen Daviau and Firesign Theatre archivist Taylor Jessen, author of the new book and DVD-ROM Duke of Madness Motors. Yours truly will be asking the questions.
Peter Bergman and Firesign Theatre producer and archivist, Taylor Jessen, discuss the newly released box set of Firesign Theatre radio shows (1970-72), Duke of Madness Motors, featuring over 80 hours of MP3 audio on a DVD-ROM and a 108 page full-color book! Order your copy of Duke of Madness Motors today, because there are only 200 copies left and it’s unlikely to ever be reprinted.
Well there is, and it’s called Duke of Madness Motors, the result of an over ten-year-long labor of love—indeed an odyssey of careful detective work—by their longtime archivist, and my pal, the grand and groovy Mister Taylor Jessen. The story is told of young Taylor locating a fan with a copy of one show he had not been able to track down otherwise. The problem was, the tape was in a shed that had fallen victim to a Malibu mudslide. For an entire day, Taylor tried to find the tape to no avail. So what did he do next? He returned the following week and and he DID locate the tape. That’s dedication! That’s school spirit!
It even has a blurb on the back from little old me: “This is comparable to being a James Joyce fanatic and finding not just one notebook where he’s working out the themes that would become fully developed in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but an entire crate of ‘em. Some of the most mind-bending, thought-provoking and hilarious material of their career. A counter cultural treasure of the highest order.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself…
Here’s how Firesign Theatre put it on their website:
It’s been such a long exposition, you know. Countless hours spent poring through the personal archives of Firesign group members and devoted fans alike. Fragile, aging reel-to-reel tapes handled with great care and transferred to digital media for restoration. Information and images gathered, processed and refined. Interviews conducted, transcribed and edited. The whole enchilada cubed, reheated, inspected, injected, detected, filtered, digitized, edited and assembled to perfection.
Yes, thanks to the tireless efforts of official Firesign archivist Taylor Jessen, we are proud to present, for the first time anywhere, the complete, mammoth, authoritatively definitive and totally awesome Duke of Madness Motors: The Complete “Dear Friends” Radio Era 1970-1972 book and DVD-ROM combo pack.
The DVD-ROM disc contains high-resolution MP3 audio files of every Firesign radio broadcast from their three series’ of the early 1970’s:
The Firesign Theatre Radio Hour Hour (24 episodes);
Dear Friends (21 episodes); and
Let’s Eat (12 episodes)
...ending with their big final blockbuster, Martian Space Party. A total of 58 shows in all, 80 hours of audio, on a single DVD-ROM disc. Each broadcast is completely restored and remastered for your protection. There’s also the syndicated versions of the Dear Friends and Let’s Eat episodes, and a handful of additional goodies and surprises from the vaults.
The full color 108-page 7"x10” book contains:
Complete rundowns of every broadcast;
A lengthy and thorough historical/hysterical essay on the troupe;
New intereviews with each Firesign group member;
Interviews with long-time Firesign associates, producer Bill McIntyre and engineer The Live Earl Jive;
Collages by Phil Proctor;
Vintage found objects, original scripts and more.
This is indeed the cultural landslide of a lifetime, more pure unadulterated Firesign than has ever been available in a single package. You’ll revel in the lightning-fast word play, bon mots, sparkling repartee, inside jokes, jokey insights, non-sequitors, surreal flights of fancy, bizarre sound effects, social studies, poetic justice, and downright jaw dropping serendipitous synchronicity that this landmark institution of comedy managed to pull off from out of left field in a mere two-year period. Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to own and experience this cornucopia of creamy Firesign goodness.
Here is the thing: Duke of Madness Motors has been published in a STRICTLY limited edition and when it’s sold out, it’s GONE for good (or will command top dollar on eBay). Snooze and you shall lose, in other words. My guess is that within a matter of weeks the entire run of this set will be gone. Order your copy of Duke of Madness Motors today! (My own copy should arrive this afternoon. I can assure you that I’ll be watching for the postman like a hawk!)
Dear Friends, just a reminder that the legendary comedy troupe, Firesign Theatre will be performing at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Los Angeles this weekend, doing their classic album I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus (my personal favorite) in its entirety.
Get tickets for Friday here and for the Saturday night performance, here.
It’s a time of the year even better than Christmas in the Metzger household, as my comedic heros, the legendary Firesign Theatre will once again be playing a three-day residency in Los Angeles, Oct 21,22,23, at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater and performing my personal favorite album of theirs, I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus, in its entirety. YES!
Later this week, on October 8, the “4 or 5 crazy guys” will be performing at the Marin Center Showcase Theater, San Rafael, CA and Oct 9, at the Golden State Theatre in Monterey, CA. Don’t miss them if you are in the area(s)!!!