Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Literary Masterpieces That Are Unsurpassed and Will Probably Make My Name Live Beyond Eternity (An Occasional Series)

And speaking as we were the other day of the great Firesign Theatre, here are my liner notes for Sony's 1993 box set THE FIRESIGN THEATRE: SHOES FOR INDUSTRY!.

For those of you who may have missed the gazillion other times I've posted them.


A self-contained four-man comedy troupe of writers/actors whose medium was the audio record, they created brilliant, multi-layered surrealist satire out of science-fiction, TV, old movies, avant-garde drama and literature, outrageous punning, the political turmoil of the Sixties, the great shows of the Golden Age of Radio, the detritus of high and low culture (James Joyce meets the found poetry of used-car pitch men) and their own intuitive understanding of the technological possibilities of multi-track recording. Their thirteen albums for CBS, recorded in various group permutations between 1967 and 1975, reveal them to have been at once the Beatles of comedy, the counter-cultural Lewis Carroll, and the slightly cracked step-children of Kafka, Bob and Ray, Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, Stan Freberg, Samuel Beckett and the Goon Show.

And as you'll hear when you play the album you now hold in your hands, they were also far ahead of their time, not just of it. In fact, while most self-consciously "hip" comedy from the late Sixties or early Seventies is as dated now as love beads and black-light posters (listened to Cheech and Chong lately?) The Firesign Theatre's satire - which dealt from the beginning with such unexpected subjects as the implication of cable network narrow-casting ("UTV! For You, the Viewer!") or New Age pseudo-philosophy (one of their albums was called Everything You Know Is Wrong) - today seems eerily prophetic. In particular, the futuristic vision of Los Angeles - sprawling, fragmented, fear-ridden, multi-cultural, both low rent and high tech - that threads throughout their "oeuvre" (in particular their 1970 masterpiece, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers) is not only as poetically detailed as anything in Raymond Chandler, but chillingly on the money in 1993.

Of course, the really important thing about The Firesign Theatre - the reason you've bought this compilation of some of their best stuff - is that they were (and are) hilariously funny.

So where did these guys come from (or, as they put it in another context, "Who am us, anyway?").

You can read the rest of it over HERE.

A pretty good job, if I do say so myself, and it was a genuine thrill interviewing all four of the guys (albeit only by phone, although I got to meet them briefly when they played the Beacon Theater in NYC a few months later).

Also: R.I.P. Peter Bergman (November 29, 1939 – March 9, 2012)


Anonymous said...

Nice job, Steve. A pretty spot-on assessment of Firesign with excellent input from the "band." Another one that you can be very proud of. How'd you get that gig, anyway?

One minor quibble. My alter-ego, Fudley Correctol, noticed that the liner notes stated that "Everything You Know Is Wrong" and "In the Next World, You're On Your Own" both came out in 1975. Not so. EYKIW is from no later than October 1974.

I know because I played the album in it's entirety during October on WLAV-FM in Grand Rapids, MI. And I did it without an FCC license, which, I think, was required back then. It was a one night gig.

I was substituting for a guy who raped me at my job. I was managing and bar-tending at a place called Beer and Burger. I didn't press charges. He was a repeat customer and we spoke often.

When I closed, he hid in the bathroom. Then he surprised me behind the bar. He wasn't a sicko, he was just mighty horny. He was a friend. And I was attracted to his physicality and personality.

For lack of a better term, I guess you'd have to call it consensual rape. I kinda turned the tables on him. It was different.

I was in Michigan to be close to my boyfriend who got a basketball scholarship to Grand Valley State. So this was definitely an unexpected wrinkle.

Beer and Burger was owned by Elias Brothers. The same guys who own the Bob's Big Boy chain. In fact, Beer and Burger was originally a Bob's. It was one of only a few that had a full bar. It was a circular bar with dining booths in a ring around it.

College kids used to frequent the place. When drunken college girls started dancing topless on the tables a time or two too many, Elias Brothers received complaints. Decent family types were shocked at the lewd behavior of the coeds.

Bob's didn't want to have their "family" reputation tarnished, so they simply renamed it Beer and Burger. This had happened just a little before I temporarily transplanted myself from California to Michigan.

So, anyway, the consensual rape guy, was a DJ on LAV which was the hipper of the two rock stations in GR. I saw him again and we went to the East Town Saloon to have a few adult beverages and shoot some pool.

I kicked his ass really bad. He sucked. Three shady looking black guys came in and one of them wanted to play me. I did. Before I finished him off, one of his "Superfly" type buddies tried to shake my "rapist" down.

It was a scam where the guy pretended that my date had sat on his expensive prescription eyeglasses. Nothing of the sort happened. He demanded sixty bucks from my date. Between the two of us we didn't have that much bread on us.

I told my date not to give the guy any money. The black dude pulled a knife on him and told him that he better find the money. They got into a scuffle with the knife getting knocked loose.

All three black dudes ganged up on my DJ friend. He got the shit kicked out of him and they took his wallet which had 35 bucks in it. During the fight, he hit the back of his head on the corner of the Big Shot pinball machine.

He had to go to the ER and he asked me if I could do his 10 to 2 shift on the radio. I did. Since I didn't know the ropes at all, I just did a new album show.

On that show I played in their entirety, Everything You Know Is Wrong, The Heart of Saturday Night, Late for the Sky, Man's Slow Motion, El Dorado, Crime of the Century and the 1969 Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed 2-LP set.

Man did the phones light up during the last album. And no one was happy about it either. Fuck 'em. It was my moment in the sun.

I got into the Velvets backwards. Paid attention to Loaded first and worked my way back. That shit was largely unplayed in California. The guy who turned me on to them was fittingly strange and creepy. He was legally blind and went to XXX rated porno-slasher films obsessively. But he was a pretty intelligent guy. He was the weird brother of a girlfriend of mine. I kept my distance.
Vickie Rock

steve simels said...

Vickie -- once again, words fail me. You've got more interesting stories than O. Henry. Seriously, somebody (me?) needs to interview you for a book. Perhaps "An Oral (Heh) History of the Second Half of the 20th Century."

How I got the gig for the FT liner notes is a moderately interesting story. What happened is that Bob Irwin, who runs the great reissue label Sundazed Records, and who also is a freelance engineer/producer for Sony Legacy, invited me to watch him work on Sony's Moby Grape box (probably because I wrote a rave review of Sundazed and a Knickerbockers CD they did). Anyway, we hit it off, and he later offered me a choice of liner note gigs -- either the Firesigns or Janis Joplin.

Thank god I chose the Firesigns, because I later heard that Joplin's family made life utterly impossible for whoever the poor writer was who took the Joplin assignment.

buzzbabyjesus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buzzbabyjesus said...

I have "Shoes For Industry" and couldn't believe I didn't know you wrote the liners. I just dug it out and that's because I bought mine used from Sal, and it didn't come with the booklet. I didn't think I was missing anything since I grew up with the lp's.
I'll go read them right after this.

A lot of people found the Velvets backward from "Loaded". That's where "Sweet Jane" comes from. Back in my glam days I bought a cheapo cassette of their first, and hated the shit out of it. There are still songs on it I skip.
Later during my punk rock days, a room mate had the double "Live '69" album.
That version of "White Light/White Heat" sealed the deal for me. The original is nothing in comparison.
He also had the "couch album" which is my favorite.

For fun, here is Lou Reed from his "Pickwick" days prior to The Velvets, and where he met John Cale, doing "You're Driving Me Insane".

steve simels said...


I have (I think) Lou's complete oeuvre at Pickwick. If you want, let me know.

Anonymous said...


I'm waiting for the movie.

Allan Rosenberg

buzzbabyjesus said...

Thanks I think I have the whole shebang, or the two disc version.
Except for Lou's famously challenged sense of humor, I can't think of any reason why the Pickwick material hasn't been widely released.
It's a lot of fun, and I think adds to his reputation, rather than diminishes it.
Those would be liner notes worth writing.


tommy quest said...

i remember hearing them live on a radio station from pasadena, ca. in the early 70's when i was in junior high school. funniest thing i had heard since watching the marx brothers on late night tv

buzzbabyjesus said...

Even though my copy doesn't have the booklet, your liners seemed awfully familiar, but as I bought it in 2005 my memory has blurred. Turns out I'd printed out a copy, and I'm sure I noticed you were the author, but at the time we weren't corresponding.
Excellent job BTW.

Here's a bit from the end of "Boom Dot Bust" which I think is as sharp as their '70's stuff.

Anonymous said...


You probably heard Firesign on the legendary KPPC 106.7 Pasadena, SoCal's best underground FM. Firesign's tenure was brief at the station. Late 1969 till summer 1970. Then it was back to the "commie" Radio Pacifica KPFK.

Vickie Rock

Here's a succinct history of KPPC courtesy wikipedia:

Shriner said...

I have to admit -- I never got the Firesign Theater (apart from J-Men Forever on Night Flight…)

I was born in the mid-60s, so is the FT just a product of the zeitgeist of the early 70s more than any other comedy albums? I have stocks of comedy albums in my collection, but I just miss the boat on the FT.

Why am I not getting their output? It's the drugs, isn't it...

steve simels said...

Seriously -- you don't think NICK DANGER is laugh out loud funny?

steve simels said...

buzzbabyjesus said...

I loved KPPC,I don't know how I found it except by accident, but the minute my parents left the house, I cranked their Magnavox. It blew my mind. Then one day I tuned in and it was suddenly something else.

Firesign Theater was a product of the mid-late 60's. It isn't the drugs. I became a fan not knowing a thing about drugs, but later when I did, they helped.
Like Monty Python they didn't tell jokes and avoided punchlines.
The album title "All Hail Marx And Lennon" says it all(Nick Danger lives there).
As Steve said:

steve simels said...

I can't help it, but one of my all time favorite things of theirs is "I was a Cockteaser for Roosterama."


Anonymous said...

Steve: Soooo cool to know how the Sundazed connection got you the Legacy gig. If I remember, Ellen Willis did the liners for the Janis set and she brought herself to it. Ann Powers did some too. Who did Grape, David Fricke? That double was a gooood one.

I briefly met (if you could call it that) David Fricke at a Patti Smith show at 4th & B in San Diego in the mid-1990's. I was with Sandy and he absolutely did not know what to make of us. It was pretty awkward, especially for him. We were both completely sober but so ebullient it really seemed to drop his jaw.

We went straight from surfing at Black's Beach to the show. We stupidly left our change of clothes at the motel, so we just wore our sheer scarf beach dresses. A plus since it was hot and stuffy as Hades in the venue.

We were super energized and Fricke was ridiculously calm. He seemed kind of dorky. If nothing else, he was taken aback that we even knew who he was. He was going to interview Patti backstage. At least that's what he said, and who am I to doubt him. For the life of me I can't remember if we chatted before or after the show. We were there for the soundcheck, so maybe that's when.

It was a weird show and the 1,500 seater wasn't close to being sold out - maybe not even halfway full. It looked like a small school auditorium with folding chairs for seating.

She was supposed to play Vegas too. I bought a ticket for that one, but the show was canceled due to lack of interest. Less than a hundred people purchased tickets. At the same time, I bought Vegas tickets for a planned Willie Nelson / Gregg Allman joint show ala Willie & Leon. It too got canceled but I think that was because of the artists, not the lack of interest.

At the San Diego show, she even had a mid-show intermission due to the lack of turnout. She said the promoter had requested it so that he could recoup his losses with alcohol sales between "sets." Verlaine was with her band too.

Just days before, I had seen her at the Wiltern and twice at the Roxy which were both well attended. The Roxy shows were really good.

San Diego was an OK show, but kinda strange. The place didn't lend itself to good acoustics. It was my fourth Patti show in five days. So, it was understandable that I was tiring of it. I was kind of relieved that Vegas got canceled. I was beginning to feel like "I" was on the road.

I had heard most of the new material at the intimate shows at the Coach House and Belly Up the year before. That was most excellent. Reminds me, I promised a tape of the Coach House gig to a guy named Ken that I met for the second time at a 1998 Patti Smith show at the Hollywood Athletic Club.

He had some rough and heavily edited reel to reel tapes of live stuff from the Topanga Corral circa late 1960's and early 1970's. The owner made them. Lots of weird jams with members of various bands. Also Neil with Crazy Horse. Even the Rockets. But it was all in bits and pieces, unfortunately. No complete shows. Lots of songs were cut too.

Ken let me take the flaking reels home where I transferred them to DAT for both of us. Out of gratitude and goodwill I gave him some of my Emmylou/Lanois tapes and a Dead show from 1969 that wasn't widely circulated at the time. He called me Stella Blue Persuasion. I was actually flattered.

He wasn't interested in the 2 hour 45 minute John Prine show from the Galaxy in Santa Ana that I offered him. What a fool! It’s arguably in my Top Twenty of all time. Prine never left the stage the entire time. You'd think he'd need a piss break. I know I sure did, but I was wearing the mics so I had to hold it. Ah, the joys of taping. I've actually talked to guys that wear Depends when taping to avoid the worry. Yeccch.

Vickie Rock

Here's the Smith stubs:

Anonymous said...

You don't need drugs to enjoy Firesign Theatre. It's pretty heady stuff on its own. In fact, a total stoner wouldn't be able to appreciate the tantalizing layers of the cake they baked. The smarter you were, the better it was.

Which is different than saying you're dumb if you don't like them. I suppose it's not for everyone.

Steve: You like the Roosterama bit? Cool. When I got my first high school job I worked at a coffee shop / bar named "Cock-A-Doodle."

People would ask me where I worked and look funny at me when I told them. Oh well, it was better than working up the street at Big Cock Liquor.

The liquor store changed its name sometime later and took the big rooster off the roof for obvious reasons. Cock-A-Doddle still stands erect.

Vickie Rock

Anonymous said...

P.S. Book? Interview? Movie? Get the fuck out of here! I'm just a fan, a nobody on the periphery. Nevertheless, I'm really holding back on the stories. I'm just sketching the bare bones.

And what’s with the "Oral (heh) History" reference? Have I talked about my prowess in that regard on this blog? I don’t remember it if I did. How’d you know?;-)

BBJ: Yeah the early Reed stuff has some classic garage sounds. Also I agree, if you don't like the VU "couch album" there's something wrong with you. And I only play “Sister Ray” to let people know they’ve overstayed their welcome. It usually gets them scooting along.

BBJ: Yeah KPPC was tops. A little difficult to pick up in my neck of the woods before they upped the power. When they fired the staff, they tried to soldier on with different people for a while. Then it became the early version of KROQ. The one that went off the air really quickly. Then it resurfaced in the mid 1970's as the KROQ we know today.

Man do I have some crazy stories about the early version of KROQ and how piss poor it was managed.

I was dating this identical twin whose dad and uncle were at least 25 percent investors. The station promoted a concert in Hawaii at which the bleachers broke and people were hurt. I forget, but I think some even died. Bob Hope had money in it too. That concert made them pull out as investors.

There was a gay heroin/cocaine addict in charge for a while and no one was getting paid. It was all going to his extravagant lifestyle. There are countless stories about this guy.

Re VU: When my daughter was 13 she bought the Juno soundtrack. That was her first exposure to Mott the Hoople and the VU. She dove into them. It's nice to know that I didn't have to lift a finger to expand her horizons out of the “emo” nonsense. She's a cool kid and she's doing it on her own. Like my parents before me, I give her a very long leash. We both appreciate it.

Vickie Rock

Shriner said...

OK. I'll give Firesign one more shot (admittedly it's been about a decade since I last tried -- maybe longer…)

What's the *one album* I should hunt down (and it's possible I might even still have it in the pile in the basement…)

Shriner said...

OK -- my local library has copies of Electrician, Bozos and Dwarf -- which one should I try first?

Anonymous said...

I'd go with Dwarf.

Vickie Rock

Anonymous said...

If you have Two Places and Everything You Know is Wrong in your basement. IMO those are really great ones too.

Vickie Rock

buzzbabyjesus said...

I never liked Electrician. I'd go with Bozo's and Dwarf.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Bozo's might be the most accessible at first. Dwarf features Porgy and Mudhead, a personal favorite, but take awhile to get going.

danny1959 said...

Best line ever: "A mighty hot dog is Our Lord."

Mark said...

As a Self-Certified Life Coach, a lot of people ask me, "Mark, how can I tell if I'm old or young?"

I use a double-blind test I developed over the years that I call the FT (Firesign Theater) test. I'd prefer to use a double-bind test, but that's another story.

The test goes like this.

Question 1: Do you know Firesign Theater?

If YES, then you're old.

If NO, I then play Ralph Spoil-Sport Motors from HOW CAN YOU BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE.

If you understand the cultural references and are overwhelmed by the speed of the images created, then you're old, regardless of your chronological age. If you use the term "get" to refer to the decoding of FT, you're also old.

If you're bored stiff, and are angry that others around you can decode Firseign references, you're young.

While I love Firesign, and Monty Python, and SCTV, I recall that even during Firesign's heyday, there were plenty of my contemporaries who refused to join the club. They understood the references, but responded with a "So What" attitude.

What always interested me was how FT became a shortcut to a perceived like-mindedness in individuals with few or no other similarities.

I've worked in broadcasting most of my life, and I can tell you that most radio people 50 and over understand FT, and some can recite pieces verbatim. Other couldn't care less.

My personal take on Firesign is that they were great comedic satirists, and that they made visible -- to those who elected to see -- the largely ignored social effects of media consumption.

steve simels said...

Rush Limbaugh is a fan. How depressing is that?

Brooklyn Girl said...

steve simels said...

Rush Limbaugh is a fan. How depressing is that?

And Ann Coulter was a Dead Head. There is no logic in any of this. I am curious to know what they are experiencing when they are listening to this stuff, but not enough so to try to figure it out, since the black, gooey recesses of either of their "minds" are places I don't want to go.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Right on Brooklyn Girl!

Shriner said...

Coming back to this...

I listened to both sides (on CD) of Bozos. I gave it my full attention. No other distractions. I wasn't sitting there thinking "man, you better make with the funny, sons, or else..." I went in with an open mind hoping to enjoy it.

I may have cracked a smile *once*.

Honestly, if Bozos (of my 3 options) was the "most accessible", I can't see myself spending my free time listening to the other two options I have.

Really, what am I missing here? Is it just too dated?

It's the drugs, isn't it? You were all stoned when you listened to this, weren't you?