60s Week: Firesign Theatre

60s Week: Firesign Theatre

The 60s were the golden age of headphones and sketch comedy. Firesign Theatre is a synthesis of what’s good about the 60s: random thoughts, stream of consciousness, counter-culture irreverence, terrible puns and drug humor.

1968 – Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him
(Columbia CS 9518, Mobil Fidelity MCD 762)

“A classic for those hoary hairy hippies among us who remember our Beatles lyrics. This first Firesign album was released at the Haight, sorry, the height of the Revolution on the 38th of Cunnegonde, 1968. On side one Dr. Tim treats us to a paisley sunrise but can’t find anything for his acid stomach. Then the revolutionary government seeks to correct all that is unhip, mandating all to drop out, even subjecting Nigeria to a bombardment of “The Naked Lunch” to enforce its grooviness. The supremely Kafkaesque title piece occupying all of side two (TFT’s first extended piece and a breakthrough in recorded comedy) takes a confused tourist into a shadowy world of Byzantine fascists. Strangers in an elevator speak first in Russian, reply in French and somehow still understand each other. Lord Kitchener is overthrown. Our traveler escapes the Winter Palace only to be thrown in prison where he must Beat the Reaper to survive the plague and escape, ending up breathless on side six for another lesson in Turkish. Perhaps the most poignant and lasting piece is the first, a short history of the American Indians, Temporarily Humboldt County. Few vinyl copies of Electrician survive because most had to be returned for regrooving. Beautifully recorded and worth repeated listenings on headphones, Electrician still has the power to amuse, amaze and mystify after thirty years. (Available in CD format, collector’s item in vinyl.) – (Rusty Pipes)”

Our own Uh-Clem drew his nickname from “We’re All Bozos on this Bus”.

1974 – Everything You Know is Wrong!
(Columbia KC 33141, Quadraphonic release: Columbia CQ 33141)

After dedicating a half a decade to crafting albums designed to make you wonder if you knew anything at all, the Firesign Theatre announced that Everything You Know Is Wrong! As if you didn’t know that all along… This time the fellas take a peek through the reality tunnel of a desert dwelling broadcaster obsessed with aliens, conspiracies and various other curious phenomena. Happy Harry Cox seems to have tapped the space/time continuum himself, channeling Art Bell way back in ’73. As Harry himself might say, “Could be, could be!” One of the great Firesign performances, Everything You Know was buried amidst a rush of solo and duet projects and a couple of their less successful efforts. It’s worth uncovering. – (Shaun Dale)

Phil Austin on their process:
“1. The Firesign Theatre writes communally. Every word goes through four heads for approval. We therefore write very slowly. Our energy level is intense. Grown men leave the room when we fight with each other. Nothing is sacred.

“2. Therefore, there are considerable areas of chance (*chance*) in our work since no overall motive is possible. All communal endeavors learn one thing, I think. *Only real things can be agreed upon*. The future is not real, therefore *motives* cannot be agreed upon. *Chance becomes the motive*.

“What do we mean? We mean whatever’s happening. ?Que paso, hombre?

*Our records are records of what happened to us during the period we made them.

*Our records are a continuous story that will last as long as our friendship.

*May we be friends forever.

Firesign on the founding of Terlingua:
INDIAN 1: Well, I think it’s about time . . . the way the corn’s been growing for the last two or three generations . . .

INDIAN 2: Look at that herd of Buffalo. They’re ready.

INDIAN 1: Everything’s living the Great Spirit’s way. In harmony.

INDIAN 2: He’ll be here soon.

INDIAN 1: The true white brother’s coming home. Remember what the Great Spirit said? If we did what we were supposed to do and lived according to the plan? White brother would finish his work in the East and come back to us.

INDIAN 2: It’ll be nice to have the family together again.

CONQUISTADOR 1: Buenos Dios, amigos!

INDIAN 1: Hello! You must be the true white brother.

CONQUISTADOR 1: Sure! You must be the Indians!

INDIAN 1: Yes.

INDIAN 2: Welcome home!

CONQUISTADOR 1: Welcome to New Spain! This is your new father, Father Corona.

FATHER CORONA [with thick Irish brogue]: [Mutters in Latin.] Down on your knees now! Do you recognize what I’m holding over your heads, lads?

INDIAN 1: It’s a cross: the symbol of the quartering of the universe into active and passive principles.

FATHER CORONA: God have mercy on their heathen souls.

CONQUISTADOR 1: What the Father means . . . is what is the cross made of? Gold! Have you got any?


CONQUISTADOR 1: What about the seven cities of gold? Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas?

INDIAN 2: Uh, this is gold.

CONQUISTADOR 1: What’s that?

INDIAN 1: Corn.

CONQUISTADOR 2: Hey, corn! Now we can make tortillas!

CONQUISTADOR 3: We’ve been waiting for this for hundreds of years.

CONQUISTADOR 4: I’ve just invented tacos.

CONQUISTADOR 1: So this is all you’ve got?

INDIAN 1: Yes . . . but aren’t you the true white brother who’s supposed to come live with us in peace?

CONQUISTADOR 1: Sure, therefore I claim this rich world of pasture land in the name of the Empire of Spain!

CONQUISTADOR 2: Hey hey hey capitano! The rain . . . she’s-a stoppa to fall . . . and the corn . . . she’s all-a dead!

CONQUISTADOR 1: Shut up-pa, Vespucc’! I claim this stinking desert in the name of the Empire of Spain forever. Let’s go!

CONQUISTADORES (all sing): God bless Vespucciland . . . .

FATHER CORONA: By the way, domini domini domini you’re all Catholics now. God bless you . . . and good luck.

CONQUISTADOR 1: Come on, Father. Nobody in their right minds would live in this stinking desert.

CONQUISTADOR 4: Come on, Cisco.

4 thoughts on “60s Week: Firesign Theatre

  1. phil austin

    hey. thanks. fun listening to old stuff. EYKIW is indeed undiscovered compared to our earlier work and worth listening to. check out firesigntheatre.com, etc.

  2. Sperry

    My first conversation with my wife ever was an exchange of dialog lifted from from the “Nick Danger” album by the Firesign Theater.

    We met in a “class” in Humanism held at a bar in Austin. She said something to my friend about the Firesign Theater.

    I said, “You can sit here in the waiting room.”

    She replied, “Or you can wait here in the sitting room.”

    The rest of the story is thirty-nine years of marriage.

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