Thursday, November 8, 2007

It's Just This Little Chromium Switch, Here: Channelling The Firesign Theatre

Cross-posted at newcritics

Zion, oh mighty Zion, your bison now are dust
As your cornflakes rise ‘gainst the rust-red skies,
then our blood requires we go…
Marching, marching to Shibboleth

On a recent car trip with my high-school-age son, just for fun, I popped into the CD player, Firesign Theatre’s Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers.

“What is this, something from the seventies?” he offered, after a while.

“Yeah. What do you think?”


“Well, sure. But don’t you think it’s pretty funny?”

He gave me, in lieu of an answer, that pity-the-old-guy look he wears when I’m singing along with a Bruce Springsteen CD or trying to explain why The Exorcist is supposed to be a scary movie.

“I guess,” he damned with faint praise.

At just his age, I found Firesign Theatre to be wildly, chaotically, subversively funny. I still do. So why doesn’t he – this man-child nourished from the very breast of modern satire, reader of The Onion, viewer of The Colbert Report – get the joke?

I attribute his reaction to three possible causes:

1) When listening to Dwarf at 16, I was likely to be – how shall I say this? – thoroughly and utterly baked to the gills. And for my son, much to his mother’s relief, that’s apparently not the case.

2) He’s not my son, but rather a student at Commie Martyrs High, diabolically disguising himself as a God-fearing American adolescent.

3) None of this truly exists.

Tempted though I am by the latter two options, I think it’s the first that begs the question. Could it be that Firesign Theatre – not unlike that dreaded 2-hour Grateful Dead space jam – is to be appreciated only, as they say, under the influence?

I’m high all right…but not on false drugs. I’m high on the real thing – powerful gasoline, a clean windshield and a shoeshine.

It’s possible, I suppose. There is a kind of low-level paranoia that hums behind the whole disc. And paranoia, strangely enough, is funny.

First, you notice that the cop is staring at you. Then, you laugh at yourself for thinking such a thing. Then, you realize the cop really is staring at you.

Don’t Crush That Dwarf works in that way quite a lot. It’s the art of non sequitor moving at a breakneck pace. At first, you laugh at it for being off-the-wall, but when you think about it, you see it’s not so off-the-wall after all. Is it going to be…all right?

Friends, it’s going to be all right tonight at the Powerhouse Church of the Presumptuous Assumption…

I don’t want to put myself in a confrontatory position, either with the United Snakes or with…them. And you can believe me, because I never lie. And I’m always right.

In Firesign Theatre world, the only thing crazier than you is…them. The real world. The world of people who tell you and sell you and teach you things that don’t quite make any sense.

Shoes for industry, shoes for the dead! What chance does a returning deceased war veteran have for that good paying job, more sugar and that free mule you’re dreaming of? Well, think it over. Then take off your shoes. Now you can see how increased spending opportunities mean harder work for everyone…and more of it, too!

It’s been a mighty long month of Sundays since I was a dope fiend. And now, I suppose, them is me. And being them, I now know what’s best for me. What’s been best for me all along…

Hot Dog, Mom, groat-cakes again!

On second thought…maybe I’ll just put that CD away now.


Will Divide said...

Alas (or hurray!!) the Fireguy's humor is very linguistic, word, more tha situation, oriented. Also handy for best appreciation is a fairly keen knowledge of 20th century history (I mean, Stuck a fuhrer in her back/and called it "Schickelgruber"?? Jesus.) and the sort of old white guy reading list that mainly went away from campuses 20 years ago.

And, let's face it, us old folk when young were far more familiar with the conventions of radio theater, the sonorities of which the boys were constantly sending up, than the sprouts of today.

But hey, try playing Bozos for him. He may not need to shudder at the sound of Nixon's voice to find it keen.

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Eleanor said...

I grew up on Firesign Theater, lying on my back on the floor of a darkened living room between the speakers, getting the full effect of their amazing sound separation. More coffins, warden?