follow us in feedly
Dreamboat Annie: Ann Magnuson’s dreams are NOT the dreams of the everyday housewife
05:41 pm


Firesign Theatre
Ann Magnuson

Photo of Ann Magnuson by Austin Young

Many of my dearest friends happen to be professional musicians. Perhaps this is because it’s a talent I respect so much and yet possess so little of myself. But this also means that all my life I’ve been put in the position of having a friend send me “my new album” and there is always that moment right before I press play when I imagine what I would say to them if I just don’t like it.

I’ve been good friends with actress/singer Ann Magnuson for half my life. We met when I—a massive fan of her group Bongwater—proposed that I do a video for their song “The Power of Pussy” sometime back in 1991. I’ve seen Ann do her various extravaganzas live probably more than any other performer and have always considered her to be a major, major talent (even if Hollywood has never known quite what to do with her). She can act, sing, write songs, curate museum exhibits and she paints fabulous fake Basquiats. She’s an energetic all-around talent who excels in the DIY arena with a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney-style “let’s put on a show” plucky work ethic. And her work is uncommonly smart and sophisticated.

Allow me to preface the following remarks by letting the reader know that as someone who reads, writes and edits the work of others all the live long day, I can’t listen to radio, TV or music with lyrics (let alone your podcast, random pesky Facebook “friend” who I have never met) during the workday, or else it’s impossible for me to do what I need to do. My wife works from home, too and she won’t have it. So we listen to classical music during the day around the house if we listen to anything at all.

When Ann Magnuson sent me her new Dream Girl CD in the post over the summer, I was pretty confident that it would be something that I would really love, so I immediately popped it on the stereo. The first number, “We’re All Mad” was lovely, a shimmering, gossamer—and eerie—folk song with classic Disney soundtrack dramatics. But the second song, “Be A Satyr,” a rambling drum-led beatnik sex rant reminiscent of “Help I’m a Rock” by the Mothers of Invention (and about as long) tested my patience to the point where I hit eject before the track was over, prompting my wife to remark tartly “Thank you.”

About a week went by. I tried listening to Dream Girl again, but I skipped around, failing to connect with any of it. Then one morning, I grabbed the CD to listen to in the car on the way to the gym. Now I go to the gym pretty early. The sun’s not shining and there are few other cars on the road at that hour. In that context, or enclosed environment, I was completely blown away by the brilliance of the exact same album that had annoyed me as I listened to it casually, with my iPad in hand, surfing Amazon and laying on the couch a few days before.

Now I think Dream Girl is one of the very best things I’ve heard so far in 2016. I listened to it nonstop for two months—for eight solid weeks, every single day—driving to the gym and back in the predawn hours and—this is the important part—giving it my undivided attention.

And that’s my message for you, the reader, who hopefully will take advantage of listening to Dream Girl in its entirety after (after!) you read the following interview with its multitalented creator. You cannot listen to this album casually and “get” it. Like a Firesign Theatre album, there are (apparently) hidden things, jokey multiple meanings and clever punning going on all over the place. It’s musical, but Ann’s vocals are as much spoken word as they are strictly singing. I’ll say it again: You have to pay attention to it, there is no other way to appreciate what she’s doing here.

And if you’re thinking this all sounds intriguing—or if you don’t believe my rave-review-but-with-a-twist approach here—for the next week we’ll be hosting a streaming file of the entire Dream Girl album. DO give it your full attention, it’s massively rewarding I think—and hope—you’ll agree. Try to listen in your car if you can. At least take a break and listen on headphones with your eyes closed and your head down on your desk (put down that mouse!) and dig Ann Magnuson’s dreamy and surreal theater of the mind. Buy the Dream Girl CD here.

I asked Ann Magnuson a few questions over email…

Richard Metzger: When you sent me the CD in the summer you wrote that it was a “return to your Bongwater days” but Dream Girl is super slick, whereas Bongwater was sort of shambolic psychedelia. What did you mean by that?

Ann Magnuson: I was referring more to the lyrical content, as opposed to the musical styles; a return to surreal storytelling via spoken word using my dreams, different voices, characters, sexual personae… and creating much of it through improvisation. But there are a couple of songs that are not unlike the folksy stuff I did on the BW records.

It’s wild that you say Dream Girl is “super slick” because it’s actually pretty stripped down, in terms of instrumentation, except for maybe “Cat in the Sun.” The Millionaire (from Combustible Edison) provided orchestrations on that. I told him to go full on sunshine-pop psychedelic with it and add a massive sprinkling of Yardley folk-hippie chick “Come With The Gentle People” Renaissance Faerie Dust. You, know, wooden wind chimes and flutes; lounging around in Mexican caftans at Nepenthe in Big Sur?

Like with Bongwater, I used my dream journals and a lot of improvisation with this new CD. Mostly, I just had fun in the studio rather than go in with too many preconceived ideas and arrangements. In that way I feel like Dream Girl has helped me get back in touch with my own voice as well as a sense of playfulness. In that way, the entire project was “shambolic.” I think we get pretty psychedelic in a lot of it, just in a very different way than Bongwater did. It’s a gentler trip. Although “Ayahuasca, The Movie” gets pretty wild!

Did “Cat in the Sun” start out as something you would sing to your own cat?

Ann Magnuson: Kind of. That one initially started out as a declaration, “Cat in the sun!” You know, like “Land, Ho!” or “Thar she blows!” Then it became more musical. And yes, I would sing it to our cat.

I’ve sung it to our cat. She liked it. I think she even got the “Band on the Run” joke.

Ann Magnuson: I am constantly making up songs and singing them around the house. 90% of them just disappear into the ether. But “Cat in the Sun” survived. So did “Be a Satyr.”

Dream Girl is the single most Firesign Theatre-esque thing I’ve ever heard that’s not actually the Firesign Theatre themselves—you’re a one-woman version of them—and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. It’s super smart, funny, nuanced and even though it’s primarily a spoken word collection, it still bears repeated listenings due to its innate musicality and to hear all of the “dog whistles” contained therein. I really think this “theater of the mind” format suits you.

Ann Magnuson: Thank you! I definitely take that as a compliment! I never owned any Firesign Theatre records myself but the older hippie dudes I hung out in high school with played Firesign Theatre records all the time. I heard that stuff at nearly every party we had back in the early 70s (usually when everyone was extremely toasted or peaking on something we shouldn’t have been frying our teenage brains on.) Yes, I love the “theater of the mind” format very much! That’s what I wanted to get back in touch with—simple, albeit “trippy”—storytelling; stories that were like little movies where the listener creates the visuals inside their head.

Didn’t we all grow up doing that while listening to music on headphones (or often with the transistor radio) before the tyranny of the image? (Which is now literally in everyone’s face thanks to cellphones.) One of the earliest memories I have is of a radio show that was actually piped in over the public address system in our grade school—in fact I think it was broadcast to all of the grade schools in West Virginia—back in the early Sixties. I think it was called “Talking Pictures.” The radio host would narrate a story and play a piece of classical music and we would all lay our heads down on our desks and just listen. Then, after it was done, our teacher gave us art supplies and we were instructed to draw or paint pictures, interpreting what we’d just heard. The one I remember the most clearly is Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.” Can you imagine any school—let alone one in West Virginia—doing that today!? I think it only lasted a couple of years. My mom narrated some of them since she was involved in the local radio station as well as community theater. I got exposed to a lot of radio and theater growing up and so this concept of the “theater of the mind” goes waaaaay back!

And yes, I love the ‘dog whistles’. I intentionally sprinkled in some specifically for the Bongwater fans; David Bowie’s toy xylophone being just one example.

Bauhaus, David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Ann Magnuson (as vampire Bowie’s soon-to-be victim) in the opening moments of Tony Scott’s ‘The Hunger’—the single best beginning to a film in all of cinema history???
There’s another self-referential one related to Bowie, too, when the drummer does the thing from “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you what it was like to meet, work with, and even make out with him, which is weird considering how long we go back and what a major Bowie freak I am. So I guess I’ll just ask you that now…

I’m glad you noticed that drum bit! Joe Berardi really created a great percussive soundscape for that track.

The whole experience of doing The Hunger was a somewhat dissociative. There were issues with British Actor’s Equity about bringing over an American to do that role. (There was dialogue in my scenes that later got cut out in favor of the prescient MTV-style editing director Tony Scott was fond of.) I got the part after auditioning but it became an off and on again ordeal. Finally it was definitely off, as they ‘had’ to hire a Brit. Then, suddenly, at the last minute, it was back on! They flew me to London first class—on Pan Am no less—which was quite a treat as I’d only previously flown to Europe on the cheapo flying-bus airline Capitol (remember them?). Then I was there on the set standing next to Catherine Deneuve and Bowie and…. it was truly an out of body experience.

More with Ann Magnuson, after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘The Rusty James Show’: The idiot bastard son of Woody Allen and Firesign Theatre, starring Elvis?

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’...

Posted by Howie Pyro | Leave a comment
Comedians on Acid: Hippie madness at the end of the 60s

Last week we posted our interview with Kliph Nesteroff about his marvelous new book The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy, which is now available for purchase.

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.

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy is about the Chitlin Circuit and vaudeville and the Mob and drugs and everything else, in other words, the seamy underbelly of the comedy world. This book will be a staple of comedy book lists for decades to come and is a must for every comedy nerd.

Here’s an exclusive exceprt from The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy.

Chapter Nine: Hippie Madness at Decade’s End

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!’ ”

THE COMEDIANS copyright © 2015 by Kliph Nesteroff; used with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Below, the extended trailer for Otto Preminger’s ‘Skidoo’ featuring Dr. Timothy Leary, Sammy Davis Jr. and more…

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Nick Danger’ RIP: Firesign Theatre’s Phil Austin, 1941-2015
03:42 pm


Firesign Theatre
Phillip Austin

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.)

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and cheap old Republic serials: the loopy brilliance of ‘J-Men Forever’!

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.


In his 15 Minutes With…Forty Years of Interviews, film historian and radio host G. Michael Dobbs spoke with Proctor about the film.

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.”


Previously on Dangerous Minds
Farewell, dear friend: Peter Bergman 1939-2012
More sugar: Firesign Theatre’s ‘High School Madness’ visualized

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘My World Fell Down’: The oddest song The Beach Boys never recorded

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.

Gary Usher
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.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘What you don’t mean won’t hurt you!’: Marching to Shibboleth with The Firesign Theatre
05:39 pm


Firesign Theatre

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.

Get your copy of Marching to Shibboleth, available exclusively from the FireSale store

Below, eight minutes of The Firesign Theatre’s “High School Madness” cut to the corny Henry Aldrich movies they were riffing on in the first place, via filmmaker Andre Perkowski:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
More Sugar: Firesign Theatre’s ‘High School Madness’ visualized
03:22 pm


Firesign Theatre

Firesign Theatre fans will be delighted by this. I certainly was!

Video by Andre Perkowski who writes:

In this excerpt from that most paranoid of Paranoid Pictures, “High School Madness,” lovable Peorgie and Mudhead find themselves in a heapin’ pile of trouble at Morse Science High.

Eight minutes of The Firesign Theatre’s “High School Madness” set to the Henry Aldrich films they were riffing on. Don’t crush that dwarf, hand me the cut-ups!


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Farewell, Dear Friend: Peter Bergman (1939-2012)
05:19 pm


Firesign Theatre
Peter Bergman

Dear Friends,

It is with a very heavy heart that I post this.

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.

From the Firesign Theater website:

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.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Debit! Debit! Debit! Said the Chinese Machine Gun: New Firesign Theatre shows!

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!

The Firesign Theater in Debit! Debit! Debit! Said the Chinese Machine Gun

The Firesign Theater in Faster than the Speed of Light

And here’s today’s installment of Radio Free Oz:
We’ll Occupy The Streets, We’ll Occupy the Courts

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Watch Neil Hamburger & Firesign Theatre streaming LIVE from the Everything Is Festival!

If you couldn’t make it to Los Angeles this holiday weekend for the INSANE five-day long Everything Is Festival! taking place at Cinefamily, fret not because you can watch today’s festivities live beginning at 2:30 PST.

At 2:30, America’s funnyman Neil Hamburger will be doing his special tribute to Dora Hall, the septuagenarian grandmother who turned entertainer with TV specials and record albums paid for by her rich husband, who owned the Solo cup company. Not to be missed!

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.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Martian Space Party: Firesign Theatre mini-film festival

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.

Below, the trailer, which is already in progress…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Firesign Theatre: Duke of Madness Motors

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.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Duke of Madness Motors: New Firesign Theatre book with over 80 hours of radio shows!
11:11 am


Firesign Theatre
Taylor Jessen

Dear Friends,

You may or may not be aware that there is a brand new Firesign Theatre book and DVD-ROM with over 80 hours of audio material comprising ALL of their staggeringly genius radio shows from 1970 to 1972.

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!)

Here is Firesign’s Phil Proctor holding his copy of Duke of Madness Motors.

Below, my interview with Phil Proctor last summer when some of these shows were airing on WFMU.

More Firesign Theatre on Dangerous Minds


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Firesign Theatre performing live this weekend in Los Angeles!
03:33 pm

Pop Culture

Firesign Theatre

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.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Page 1 of 2  1 2 >