THE FIRESIGN THEATRE'S
25TH ANNIVERSARY REUNION TOUR
After months of creative conflict,
as we struggled mightily to combine our separate visions into a special 25th
Anniversary touring show, we finally assembled in a rehearsal space for our
first runthru, and guess what?
It was fun! Lines we'd agonized
over for days were changed in an instant as we careened through the material,
breaking one another up with feckless abandon.
And from the first giggle to the
last guffaw that morning, we knew why the Firefour was back together after all
We make each other laugh!
I'm confident that this sense of
play is captured in these live recordings, and I hope we will continue to
amuse and challenge you (as well as ourselves) with the classic and contemporary
material, long into the next century.
|Phil (Rocky) Proctor
Beverly Hills, 90210
|BACK FROM THE SHADOWS
What a remarkable event to be back on the boards with my three vaudeville
brothers twenty five years after we gathered around microphones at KPFK in
Los Angeles and began to make fun of the world we had somehow inherited.
There was a war going on then abroad and we were bringing it back home; and
despite what George Bush (remember him?) and his Desert Storm troopers
say, the Vietnam Syndrome has not been laid to rest. It stalks the country like
a wounded beast and I went stalking it this fall with my band of guerrilla
comedians. It was there on stage from Denver to New York, it was there in the
audience, hiding somewhere amongst the bozo noses and the squeaking pickles.
It's only fitting that now when the covert government has fallen along with
the S & L's and most of our illusions, that The Firesign Theatre should come out
of hiding and do the motley once again. Perhaps the issues are not as clear cut
as they were in the Johnson sixties and the Nixon seventies, but the need to
stand this culture on its head and shake out all the loose change (Thank you,
Bill) is just as great.
The audience was certainly there, and they came not in the name of nostalgia
but to honor the time when they bravely fought the forces of limited war and
unlimited power who tries to harden our hearts and control our minds. We
trooped their heroes back on stage, Ralph Spoilsport, Nick Danger, Clem and
George Tirebiter, and let them know that the struggle goes on.
My hope - that the art encapsulated on these two discs will reach out
beyond our generation and inform the generation that is coming into its own.
Let them know that we inhaled the poisonous air of those troubled times and
lived - may they gather some strength from our efforts and carry on the good
fight. This is America, buddy, live it or live with it.
|BACK FROM THE SHADOWS!
About a year ago - April 1993 - my wife Judith caught me after another ten
o'clock dinner for eight to say, "Look, I've got a houseful of comedians on my
hands, and it isn't funny!"
At that point, Phil Proctor was sleeping on the futon in the living room after
staying up to all hours trying testily to enter the day's adlibs and script changes
into my middle-aged Mac. Peter, Patricia, little Lilly and their several suitcases
were stashed in the guest room. Preston, at seven months, was acting like a baby
(who could blame him?) and Orson, soon to see his father live-on-stage for the
first time, was coming down with the flu. I myself was on dubious prescription
drugs to keep from losing my voice.
We were in our last week of rehearsals for what was billed on the Paramount
Theatre marquee in downtown Seattle as the Firesign's "25th Reunion." Reunion
it was. We had last performed together in 1981, appearing in various moldy
basement rathskellers, leftover Disco boites, and college "halls," fully equipped
with two spotlights. Our wonderful, stoned, bozo-nosed fans were out there, a
few of them, but mostly The Firesign Theatre was up against the Empty Eighties.
Now, dearly beloved, the Eighties was the Decade of the Nasty Comic,
MTV, and Ollie North. The Evil Emperors begat the New World Ordure.
Shit happened. Firesign fans, pushed out of the cradle into the post
Kissenrockafordafeller era, made up their minds to do the Right Thing - put aside the
bong and the beard and Get On With It. Prophesy took a back seat to profits.
By 1993, a couple of you had made a million or so by stringing ones and zeros
together. A whole lot more were working in recording studios, radio stations,
major newspapers and fabulously popular TV shows. You were, as we were
shortly to discover, everywhere! Some of you were even women and kids!
Our one night stand at the Paramount was a sold-out smash. The audience
greeted us as long-lost friends. We were back. You were back. We had no place
to go but on the road.
These CDs are as permanent a record of mutual affection as can be digitally
managed. As Phil Austin (who, fortunately for all of us, was then staying at his
own island home, some 50 miles south as the eagle flies) said to me during
rehearsal, "What year is this?"
Somehow, the quarter-century of ups and downs mellowed with laughter
into a show that headlined our favorite characters and our fans' favorite lines.
Nick and George and Rocky and Mudhead gathered themselves out of the
shadows and reminded us why we had clung together in the first place. The
folks out there in the shadows - you folks - reminded us it had been for them
- for you.
So here we all are, having a swell time in suburban Philly, newly Clintonian
D.C. and laid-back Berkeley. Have yourself a houseful of comedians. We
promise not to stay for dinner.
FROM GEORGE L. TIREBITER
Back in the Sixties, when I first met the Firesign boys, I was living in a tie-die
teepee hidden deep under the Indian tobacco trees, in the hills behind Universal
City. I was flattered that they were amused by a few of my stories of the glory
days of Tinseltown, and even more so when they involved me, or someone like
me, in a new comedy record.
In their present Reunion Show, they have straightened out the kinky
narrative which preserved their surrealist reputation on disk, and give the
audience a straight-forward, if abbreviated, account of my retirement from the
Hollywood Madhouse. Missing are a few details - my blacklisting, perpetrated
by my ex-wife, "Bottles," and the tragic auction in which so many moviegoers'
memories were sold to the lowest of bidders.
To answer a frequently asked question, no, I do not die and go to heaven at
the end. In fact, these ingenious chaps restored to me my Youth, lost so long
before when it was necessary for me to pretend to be professionally elderly in
order to disguise my tender years. My fling with the Nat'l Surrealist Party in the
Seventies, my re-emergence as a Radio Revivalist in the Eighties, my present
happy, and genuine old age today, are due to the affection and support of four
or five of the craziest guys the Antic Muse hath ever inspired. That they have
reassembled, if even for a short time, does them great credit. When the time
comes to present them with their justly deserved golden doorstops for
Lifetime Achievement, I hope to be there to hand them out, myself.
|ACROSS AMERICA, ON THE GROUND
There's this Firesign Theatre reunion thing coming up. I don't know, Oona and
I say to each other. C'mon, we've got to do it. It's The Firesign Theatre, after
all. We love The Firesign Theatre.
If we go, we say, we're going to have fun. She decides to leave her clients behind
in Hollywood for a month and I decide to set my misgivings aside and together we
will set off on the third of our journeys doing FST shows back and forth across the
country. We'll take our four dogs with us. (These are not ordinary dogs. Three of
them are Australian Cattle Dogs - Alice, Wigeon and Waddell - and the fourth is a
Belgian Something-or-Other named Nita. They are an organized pack in which my
name is Canopener.) We'll rent an extra-long Aerostar van and not worry about
driving our Suburban, the usual vehicle of choice. Let Hertz do the worrying, that's
what Hertz is for. The rest of The Firesign Theatre will fly and be driven, and will, I
am sure, have a much different experience.
Luckily, the Chevy Chase show doesn't work out - either for Chevy or me - and
setting off with The Firesign Theatre for the first time in almost fifteen years turns out
to be by far the wisest thing for me to do. City of Dinosaurs goes on hold for a couple
of months and since nobody in San Francisco or Hollywood can decide what they
want to do about the debut of the Grateful Dead on celluloid, I'm a free man.
From the beginning, I insist on a show that highlights the four most famous pieces
from our early years, done as stand-alone pieces (as if they were the plays that in fact
they are.) After way too much opposition, as far as I'm concerned, it is finally agreed
that (with the addition of Waiting for the Electrician) Nick Danger, How Can You Be,
Bozos and Dwarf will comprise the show, to be presented in good theatres on a
riser-studded and curtained stage with a full lighting plot from our lighting director,
Jeff Payne, who endeared himself to me by somehow getting us lit in Seattle on virtually
no notice. The elaborate - mostly wireless - sound system and cues will be handled
by Angelo Arcuri, and Sunil Sinha will wrangle road management.
By the time the tour rolls around, I'm not the most popular person in FST, but as
rehearsals progress, everyone's worst fears seem to melt. Their original works not
only take on new references well, but are more interesting than they have
Suddenly there is the press to deal with. I am reminded by each interviewer that I
am either Old or Historic or Prescient or an Artifact. I am something more than
myself. I'm somehow representative of something, whereas I used to be just a kind of
freak. I might as well have been elected to this post. It's because The Firesign Theatre
means something to a generation of people who are, inevitably, getting older. In fact,
it has been years since I have been as famous as I will be during the course of putting
on this show; ten, at least, since I have even signed an autograph. Now, suddenly,
because of The Firesign Theatre - a thing seemingly forgotten by its audience over the
years - I am somehow worthy of attention. What a guy I am, I'm somewhat more than
myself. I am in The Firesign Theatre. How wonderful. Look, here are Members of the
Press to ask us questions. Are we drug-crazed Remnants? Are we Predictive? Are we
Wise? Are we Crazy? I have not thought about these questions in years, but my
answers are noted politely, giving me the false impression that I am being listened
to. I am not, of course. I am the guy in the middle wearing the Detective Hat (the
"Money Hat" Oona calls it,) I am the guy on the left with the big red rubber nose. I'm
the guy with all the white hair three in from the right. I'm one of the two guys named
Phil. I'm no longer myself, I'm part of something that talks all at once.
Oona and I and the dogs cross the Colorado river at night. We stop for gas in
Kingman. We drive in the moonlight over the mountains, through Flagstaff and
beyond, in the light of a full moon. Suddenly, we are free. We are on the road, who
Holbrook, Arizona: We are just underneath Hopi country. The Weather Channel
has predictions of cold to come. Is there anything better than the Weather Channel? I
don't think so. Not when you're traveling on the ground.
In the morning, the dogs swim in knee-deep red ponds of wet clay between the
motel and the freeway. (And you wonder why we bring them everywhere we go. The
fun has just started.) We slosh them off and dry them down at the gas station and buy
post cards and the first of what will become quite a collection of shot glasses. You
can't get too many shot glasses, we've decided. These have pictures of cactuses on
them. Oona is already writing postcards. They will become a colorful trail of our
travels, covered on the backs with her round handwriting and her wonderful drawings.
The next day we travel up to Chinle and through the plateaus and rock castles of
the Four Corners. The great red stacks. The nicest name of any town I can imagine;
Many Farms, Arizona. The sheep are herded by women in dark-blue velvet shirts in
the red canyons formed by the cliffs. We buy a few little Santa Clara pots in Durango.
We are stopped by deep snow in Cortez. We must not cross Wolf Creek Pass without
chains. Nightfall. We head south to Aztec and stop at the police station to ask
directions. I get a ticket for going seventy-something ahead of the snowstorm from
the nicest State Patrol Officer we can imagine. He offers to call in to find the weather
news for us. He advises us how his girlfriend and he used to drive to Denver to see
her son. We wonder if he and she are still together. We guess not, the way he told the
story. He liked our dogs, you could tell. The ticket is for nearly one hundred dollars.
He better like our dogs.
Santa Fe is lit up at night. We are Roto. We are sixteen hours in the car that day
and nearly a thousand miles. We have forgotten who we are supposed to be. Down
into Denver out of a blizzard - falling down into the great bowl below the Front
Range at two in the morning, bounded by Trinidad and Pueblo in the south, in the
moonlight over the snowy night - we have been listening, as travelers do, to the AM
radio, the stations heterodyning in and out of one another, things caught in the photograph
of the wave, the coincidences of radio time and place never more clear, when
out of the speakers issues a voice - not mine, nor anyone's I can identify - doing the
words of The Firesign Theatre's "Beat the Reaper" from the very first record album.
It is here and it is gone, out of range as quickly as it was in.
"That's odd. Is it an ad for the show in Denver?"
"No. The guy just said he was in New York."
"You don't think ... ?"
"Oh, my god."
It is Rush Limbaugh, that hated figure of right-wing mania, the darling of the
NRA, the sworn Enemy of Women.
Rush, it is to turn out, just plain loves The Firesign Theatre.
Denver, Colorado: I was born in Denver on April sixth, in the year of 1941, when
Joe Louis was king and the Nazis were far from defeated and when the Dodgers were
the Bums. What pictures survive show my mom and me and a chow dog named Pooh in
the snow of my grandparents' street on the east side. I am wearing a snowsuit.
Denver is built of a peculiar brown brick common to the Front Range towns. I
feel strange and exhilarated each time I am here. Denver may be the eastern edge of
the West, but it is still the West, let's face it. It's a Front Range cattle and coal and
railroad town, no matter how you look at it.
The Auditorium Theatre, right downtown and historic and old and brown-bricked, is a
place where the stage crew likes to think of itself as mean and colorful
and as taking no shit from anyone. Sunil is a young-looking twenty-three and they try
to run him around some. Jeff has not seen twenty-three in some years and is from
Seattle and yet is having trouble getting lights set, I can see. Angelo's wife, Laura, is
expecting a baby back in St. Louis any minute. (Normally, Angelo is on the road with
MegaDeath and while he loves our schedule because it gets him home - hopefully - in
time for the birth of his kid, he is unsure of the feedback problems with a show run at
such comparatively low volumes as ours.)
On television, on CNN, Los Angeles and Malibu and Orange County are on fire.
We cross our fingers for the safety of our house in the tinder-dry hills and Hilda, our
cat, and our white dove.
From Wheatridge we look down on the freight yards. The day of the show, as it
starts to snow, I happen to be looking out the window of our condo at the Residence
Inn before rehearsal and I see a power pole knocked down and across a little street by
a two-carriage semi trying to negotiate around the block. It falls slowly and is quickly
surrounded by police and firemen. Later, in the gathering snow, a homeless
wanderer, picking up trash, shouts cheerfully at me as he spies Waddell taking a big
dump in the same vacant lot the power pole fell in: "There's a lot of power in a dog
turd!" Who am I to argue?
The audience at the show is hugely appreciative. Outside, it is to snow ten inches
overnight. It is four hundred and eighty miles to Chicago. Lanny Waggoner flies in
from LA. He flew up to Seattle for the previous show as well. Has he gone mad? (He
only smiles when I ask him. He seems deliberately, maddeningly sane.) FST signs
autographs in the lobby afterwards, something that will become ritual after every
show. For the first time I am struck with how nice these audience people are. Most of
them are in their forties and a few have kids with them. Outside, as I leave the
theatre, snow is wetly falling.
Omaha, Nebraska: The next morning is a full-on blizzard and Oona and I drive
slowly past two fatal accidents up into Nebraska. The CU team is soon to play the
Cornhuskers and hate lies on the airwaves as heavy as sleet. Los Angeles is still
burning when we reach Omaha that night and settle in at another Residence Inn. It is
cold and Waddell the dog slides, grinning, on the frosty lawns. The Aerostar seems
like home now and Oona has organized our packing so that we have one motel kit that
loads in and out easily. This life is beginning to seem natural, even easy. We are
All the next day we listen to Midwestern football on the radio. First we are
Huskers, then we are Eyes against the hated Boilermakers, then we are the Fighting
Illini or the Spartans against the Catholic Horde from South Bend or perhaps just the
Military Academy of Southwestern Missouri against the Southeastern Nobodies of
Northwestern Illinois. It is Saturday down here in the flatlands and football is in the
air. We leave the world of cattle. The sagebrush and the range country slowly
disappears. We drop down some five thousand feet. We have left the Platte at Omaha
and we've entered the land of corn and pigs - and raccoons squashed flat on the roadways.
(The corn is too moist this year, but must be harvested ahead of bad weather. If
you are a farmer and happen to have a cell phone in your combine, you can get
yourself broadcast over the radio programs that deal only with farm reports at the
exact time when you are out in the sodden fields harvesting and watching the skies.
These farm reports never mention football and the football broadcasts never mention
farmers, yet they are certainly the most important things going on out here - on the
radio - along both sides of the big river. Rush Limbaugh, for all his hopes of
representing some vast, arrogant, moral sea of Americans, cannot hope to compete
with these two realities on the radio.)
In Hillsdale, Illinois, we drive up the one street and get some gas and take a trip to
the grocery store. A bare mile away from here, within the year, were the greatest
floods of the northern Mississippi and Missouri (and Raccoon and Rock and Illinois
and so forth) that any living person has ever known. We are near the quad cities area.
What are they? Rock Island, of course. And Davenport. And Moline. And Bettendorf?
Is Bettendorf the fourth city? In California, of course, we have different quad cities.
These are the cities of Eureka, Yreka, Yucaipa and Ukiah, bound together as they are
only with the sacred ties of vowel sounds.
Chicago, Illinois: City of Architects and Pork, it seems to be a model city built
cleverly in the styles of all the great builders of the Twentieth Century. These are not
just buildings, they are representative of something more than themselves. (Like me.)
The Firesign Theatre has come two-thirds of the way across the country and for only
its second show. The theatre, in the McCormick Place - a memorial to tractors? - is a
barn, but the audience is great. It has been a tough set-up for Jeff and Angelo and
they seem worn down. There just hasn't been enough rehearsal, that's obvious. Sunil
has somehow acquired Dave, who is now driving the truck for us, selling souvenirs
in the lobby and, in general, being wry and funny.
With two shows under its belt, the inevitable settling process I remember from the
old days begins. The Firesign Theatre is beginning to remember what it is on stage,
which is considerably different than what it is in recording studios. As well, Oona
decides to start giving notes to us as she used to in the other two FST tours of the
past, although she had promised herself that this was not to be on this tour. (She has
stage-managed us so often in the past, and she knows the material so well - having
been around for most of its beginnings - that everyone just takes for granted that she
speaks for all of us when she speaks to all of us. She's a big help, and everyone seems
relieved to have her careful attention focused on the show.)
She and I take the dogs up in the elevator to the seventeenth floor of the Guest
Quarters hotel after the show and a session of running them over the huge lawns next
to the theatre and the lake. Jeff and Angelo and Sunil and Dave all come out to meet
and greet them. Those wacky dogs. They make friends wherever they go. Oona gazes
out over the lake, over the apartments of people who have cultivated their roof tops.
In the morning, in the lobby, the display tables are groaning with pumpkins that have
been carved for contests. It's Halloween. The Proctors are setting off with Phil's mom
and a friend for a train trip down to Goshen and home. It is like a Moss Hart comedy,
starring Melinda, who - thank the lord - will be with us for the rest of the tour. She
has designed the costumes anyway, and has no acting jobs booked for this month,
and believe me, we are lucky to have her. One more person with a sense of humor
really can make a difference.
As for the Austins, we drive into the rain, into a world of cornfields and
increasingly dead, flat raccoons. At first it is snowing in Chicago and Lakeshore Drive
is closed off for a marathon eco-run. Suddenly, after this momentous few weeks, we
realize that we have over half a week off from The Firesign Theatre.
As we pass through Cleveland, ancestral home of the Bergmans, the rain is heavy,
like rubber sheets. The lakes are huge. The trees are everywhere. The impression of
the East is of a wilderness. The roads do not go near the cities. I wonder exactly
where the Erie Canal is and sing that traditional ditty:
"And you'll (something something something)
as the old song goes. Sort of.
and you'll never get your (something)
(something something something something)
on the Erie Canal."
Erie, Pennsylvania: The snow is piled high. We are in winter on the wine coast of
Lake Huron. We would have stayed at Dunkirk, but the dogs love running in the snow
in the fields surrounding this motel. They are, after all, in charge. The car phone
came in handy last night in the snowstorm to book the motel, but Waddell had Oona
punch in the numbers because they're too small for his paws. Here at the Hojos there
is a steamy domed swimming pool with one Marine in dog tags and swimming trunks
sitting sullenly at a table. We do not swim. We look for the Weather Channel
on TV and eat and watch the snow pile up outside. Leave swimming to the Marines.
It's a tough, proud job. We're lookin' for one lonely guy ...
It turns out that Schwabel's Restaurant in West Seneca, New York, is the holy grail
of the entire journey. We are, as usual, taking suggestions from Jane and Michael
Stern's food books and we are particularly in search of what they say is a specialty of
Schwabel's, Beef on Weck. Is that beef on a weck? Does it matter? No, because B-on-W
turns out to be one of the most delectable beef dishes I have ever eaten, as if we
are lunching with Hessians on campaign in Champlain country in 1775. Schwabel's,
which advertises itself as having been in existence since 1832, is a typically narrow,
low-ceilinged old Eastern clapboard house, inside of which is the best restaurant I
have been in since the Harbor Lights in Tacoma. Weck me, babe.
Bennington, Vermont: The Marriott motel looks like a fashionable ski chalet. The
arched, covered bridge in the snow, the current rushing beneath, as we unload to our
huge, warm room. We take a trip to the grocery store where everyone seems to be
female. We watch the fires diminishing in LA on CNN. Ah, luck has been with us.
Vermont is just plain beautiful. We seem to be alone on the road. We stop and take
pictures and drag around Brattleboro, Vermont and New Hampshire under two feet
of snow laid over the end-of-fall-turning-of-the-leaves. The little white villages, the
steeples, the churches, the towns hugging the gorges of the steep rivers. When we
reach the coast, the snow is gone and the leaves are every color of fall they are
supposed to be.
Rockland, Maine: The Tradewinds on the harbor is our home for some days. We
look out on Penobscot Bay. Next door are either fishermen or drug dealers. In Maine,
in the off-season, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference. The girls have
puppies, the boys have fluorescent foul weather gear. Ok, they're lobstermen. Our
lobsters come from Dave's up on the highway toward Thomaston, where the prison
lurks. The old town of Rockland. We love it. We go to the museum to see the
paintings. How about another lobster? Don't mind if I do. Alice the dog rumbles
around the huge buoys in the park overlooking the harbor.
We go down to Bowdoin and we walk through the campus, past the dormitories
of Hawthorne and Pierce and Myself. There is snow piled up behind the hockey rink,
as in the old days, when I came here as a bermuda-shorted Californian in the late
fifties of this wacky century.
Springfield, Massachusetts: We slide over the mountains and into the
Connecticut River drainage and its tobacco farms. The leaves in the Berkshires are
bright and pink and red. The show at U. Mass. in Amherst is a watershed in spite of
the fact that FST has been booked into that nightmare of all time, the campus hockey
arena. The place cannot be cut down to much more than a third of its massive size.
This is the show, however, for all its difficulties, in which the cast and the crew come
to grips with one another. In particular, Oona and Melinda have begun to create a
backstage environment that most theatre troupes would kill to have.
Boston, Massachusetts: The Firesign Theatre is to play the Orpheum, the old
theatre on whose ancient boards trod John Wilkes Booth, the assassin. The dogs run
in the Common and Oona and I look up at the old churches and the golden domes.
Backstage smells as if John Wilkes Booth had peed pretty much down all the stairwells.
A quick dinner with Jeff and Angelo, buried in the depths of backstage. I find
myself thinking of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Was he ever in this theatre? Is it that old?
I'll bet he never peed backstage.
Finally, a decent tech rehearsal and the show goes really well. Lord be praised.
The theatre is full and crazy and wonderful. Hah. FST is back.
The Boston Harbor Hotel is quite something. Oona orders up scrod from room
service, something neither of us have ever had (typical of Northwesterners, we
consider Pacific salmon to be the end and beginning of such fare, and we are amazed
by the succulent scrod.) We peer down at the boats below, draped in the thick white
robes provided by the hotel. The show went well tonight and in our thick white robes
we are having big fun. The next morning, the dogs ride up and down the elevators
and make friends with the doormen. These dogs are taking on the air of seasoned
travelers. Nita likes this tipping thing, but she's shy and usually has me do it.
New York City: Rhode Island and Connecticut and lunch on the shore. The golden
reeds, everywhere. In New York, we are at the Mayflower, which is to hotels what the
New Yorker was to magazines but a few short years ago; eccentric and comfortable.
The lobby has a lot of young musicians with green hair mixed in with grandmas from
Albany and Atlanta. Our suite looks out over the park from the third floor and it's
huge and homey.
Waddell the dog (Did I mention the important part, that he's stone deaf and has
been from puppyhood? That he responds only to hand signals?) soon becomes the
Wild Animal of New York. The squirrels of Central Park have driven him literally
mad. He soon discovers that lunging and slavering after small white dogs leading
elderly women in fur coats runs a close second to running down squirrels. Luckily,
the three girl dogs are sedate and even, New Yorkers to the core.
On one day of nearly a week without a show but with hundreds of interviews and
radio shows to attend, I walk with Phil Proctor through Midtown, where he was
raised. Michelle the publicist and Peter and David have opted for cabs, but instead
we walk. There are, it turns out, an infinite number of ways to spell "Pretzel" and
Phil stops to take pictures of each and every one of them. We walk and talk, mostly
about Melinda and Oona, each of whom has saved our respective lives, we figure.
I attend a lunch at the Museum of Broadcasting, where FST is somehow symbolically enshrined.
Fitting, I suppose, for a Museum of Air. I drink wine and eat salmon and listen to
treasured recordings from our past. Everyone is very nice to The Firesign Theatre. We are
just so respectable. Maybe it's that Rush Limbaugh thing.
One night in New York, I have dinner with three beautiful women at Wolf's Deli.
Oona orders kasha and I order brisket and we eat pickles and pastrami and kreplach
and matzo ball soup. That night, I take the dogs across to Central Park to pee, two by
two. Oona and I can wave to each other across the Avenue. That's me, the man with
two cattle dogs (the squirrels are blessedly asleep) down in Central Park at one in the
morning under the old lamps, waving up to a beautiful woman with her two dogs on
the third floor of a friendly hotel in a town that now looks as if it's going to sell out
the Beacon for our show next week. This is good. I feel like Gene Kelly. I'd swing on a
lamp post, but Waddell would probably take me for a squirrel.
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania: There are cheesesteaks - finally - at Angelicos, a
store-front pizza joint on the old highway, which is the same road that leads to the
Keswick Theatre in the North Suburbs of Philly where we will play tomorrow night.
These cheesesteaks are so good that we realize that we do not have to make our usual
pilgrimage down into South Philly to Pat's. The Residence Inn room is reassuring.
The operator on the phone says things like: "It is my pleasure to connect you." We
feel as if we are in Denver or Omaha again. We are certainly in the land of
cheesesteaks and we eat them and we keep them in the refrigerator and we eat them the
next morning and we hoard them and save them. Mr. Edgar C. Cheesesteak of Main
Line, Pennsylvania, that's me. The show that night is really fun, for really the first
time. Certain changes seem to be working, especially a return to the classic ending of
Washington, D.C.: Travel focuses life onto the small appliances of the transient:
wrapped bars of neutral-smelling soaps; the carryability of all things - particularly
coolers of food, the absolute minimization of the loss of any item; accurate and
readable maps or - at the very least - multiple pairs of powerful glasses in strategic
locations; late check-outs; grassy areas in close proximity to motels and theaters upon
which dogs may dump and pee and run around in peace.
We drive through the tunnel under the harbor in Baltimore. Crabcakes. We
wonder what runs really are and what falls really are.
Washington is the center of some odd universe. The homeless are huddled in cardboard
boxes just yards away from Hillary's sleeping face on her (presumably) lace
pillow. The dogs sniff at the sleeping platforms of the homeless. The trains run in and
Someone says that FST's presence at the Warner Theatre tonight has been noted in
the Congressional Record and the place is sold out. The theatre is huge and historic
and the show is very good except for the presence of some poor soul in the front row
who keeps screaming the right things at the wrong time throughout the first act. I
have to lean down twice and threaten him. He leaves at intermission, telling Dan
Fiala and Dan Bean, "I've been a bad boy." The poor sucker probably took some
combination of legal and illegal substances and, dressed in a complete clown outfit,
wound up trying to ruin a show for FST, whom he no doubt loves to distraction. The
odd thing is, "Entertainment Tonight," the television program, has been filming us
here and there and when, after it is all over, they broadcast their long piece about us it
will be this guy, this drunken clown, this Bozo, who will be seen briefly, lurching into
the Warner Theater to wreak havoc. "This bozo," the voiceover of Entertainment
Tonight will intone, "is typical of The Firesign Theatre's audience." The poor idiot
probably never even saw himself on TV. Hah.
New York City: A room at the Sherry-Netherlands on the other corner of Central
Park on Fifth Avenue. The elevator is a work of art. The suite is beautiful. I keep
telling Robin and Dan, the promoters, to charge me extra for these great hotels, but
they never do. The show at the Paramount is amazingly good. John Goodman does a
little bit with us at the beginning of Nick Danger and then he lies down on his belly in
the wings and watches the rest of the show from there. Often I make entrances walking
over him. He is a very nice person. Wide, but nice.
Sylvia Chase has a little dinner party for the Austins after the show, up on the
fifty-something floor of what turns out to be - get this - Rush Limbaugh's building as
well. Our oldest eastcoast friends are there: Paul and Enid and Charlie and Pixie and
John and Caroline and Mel and Sis. Sylvia has just got back from chronicling some
horror of a news story for PrimeTime and is in a wacky mood. She gets out her vast
collection of beautiful women's hats and we all put them on and shoot polaroid
pictures of each other like idiots. What a bunch of cut-ups. Clouds cover the city and
lights shoot up through them in smoky shafts of color. It is as if we are in a small
plane, swerving through the skyscrapers of Gotham. I know, I know. I should have
got in the elevator and gone up to Rush's place and knocked on the door and had a
nice long chat. But I didn't.
The next morning the weather is warm. Our only mishap of the entire trip occurs
when someone puts a crack in our windshield while parked beneath the beautiful
New Mexico-decorated apartment where Sis and Mel live on upper Broadway. He
has gone to Zabar's and brought lox and sable and bagels and cream cheese to eat,
with coffee and orange juice. We lean out over the balcony and admire their roof
gardens. When we leave, we are headed west again, this time for good.
Somerset, Pennsylvania: At night we climb up into the Alleghenies and the hill
country. I always think of Thurber when I think of the Johnstown flood. There is a
Nascar track nearby. There are numerous vacation attractions. This must surely be
our last toll road. It is so wet out in back of the Ramada Inn, on the huge expanses of
grass, that the dogs are practically swimming.
The next day, we are back home again, in Indiana, skirting Indianapolis to the
south and swinging back up to just pass the speedway at sunset. This next year will
see Nascar at the Brickyard for the first time. We wish we could be there.
Galesburg, Illinois: We find Big Jim's Barbecue in Peoria, Illinois, by following a
random sampling of University street signs and asking at gas stations. The dogs run
after the shining-eyed rabbits of Peoria in the night. Big Jim really knows what a
barbecue sauce is. Ribs. Ah. Something citrus in this sauce. More ribs? Don't mind if I
do. The rest of The Firesign Theatre is on the other end of the car phone as we drive
that night, the three of them already back in LA and talking to a reporter for the Los
Angeles Times. He is an intelligent man and lets me ramble on, driving and talking.
He doesn't ask me the key questions, though; exactly what am I passing now? Where
exactly am I? Ah, well. Let's see. Yes, we are Wise. Yes, we are Prescient, yes, yes.
Matt, the publicist, tells me we have a great review from the NY Times. Then the
phone is put away and we are passing from Indiana into Illinois. Where are the
trotters? Was the Hambletonian in Ohio or Indiana? Where exactly is the Wabash?
Galesburg is the birthplace of Carl Sandburg. We stay at an odd, but very nice
place; the Prussian Motor Inn, where there are steins in cases in the lobby and limos
ferrying people to and from the little airport. It's just a little Touch o' Prussia here in
Sandburg country. Nita the dog runs huge circles on the big lawns in the morning,
rooster-tails of spray streaking behind her.
The next day, we cross that big ol' googly river one last time and stop at a Ralph
Lauren Outlet Store in the middle of nowhere in Iowa and find many bargains. Then
we go to Casey, where we buy a string of hand-carved wooden fish at an antique
store and eat pork tenderloin sandwiches which are as big as platters and as delicious
a meal as you can get anywhere in this fine country.
North Platte, Nebraska: The Stockman's Inn. Wigeon the dog slides on the slick ice
of the Great Plains. The trip to Laramie. The smell of coal fires. Snow. The prison in
which Evil Kneivel and Offal Knoffle lay. The great combinations of locomotive
power on the UP. The continental divide. The Tetons and the Rockies, the Flaming
Gorge, the old city of Green River and the boomtowns around it. This is tough
country in a blizzard, we guess, and although we're in snow, we're glad the weather
is as good as it is.
On the radio, we listen to Rush and G. Gordon and their ilk. These guys have
senses of humor, it turns out, but are generally wrong about everything. It's too bad,
because Limbaugh is again playing "Beat The Reaper" as if it had something wise to
say about National Health Care.
We drive into Laramie, Wyoming. There are two feet of snow laid over the town.
We drive up the main street after getting gas, looking for the Museum of the Plains
and maybe a place to run the dogs. We turn right and head up a quiet side street
toward the University and there, coming toward us in a clean, green forest service
truck is something so wonderful that it will come to represent, more than any other
incident, this whole odd journey for me. Smoky, the Bear himself, sits up in the
passenger seat of a pristine, green Forest Service pickup. That's right. Smoky, the
Bear. Complete. Head on. Big Hat. Looking from side to side to make sure the driver
hasn't missed an oncoming speeder. The driver is in full Forest Service costume, too,
and betrays no emotion as she drives a bear around Laramie, Wyoming, on a snowy
day. It's the West. We're home.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Scones are the next regional food to drive us nuts.
Essentially, a scone is a burger wrapped, not in a bun, but in Indian Fry Bread. It's
like a Navajo taco with a complete American burger in it. Delicious. Winnie, Oona's
mom, grew up in the coal mines of Park City where now they mine condos for skiing.
The glowing Mormon cities in the night snugged up into the black mountains towering
through the stars. The stately junipers everywhere. Here, they call them cedars.
Reno, Nevada: Elko, Nevada, the friendly home of Ford service in the cold western
wind. (A wheel bearing on the Aerostar is burned out and it takes a couple of
hours to fix it.) The girls with water-ski hair smoking cigarettes out in the huge shop
area, just friendly as all hell. The dogs are good in the big, drafty shop. Everyone
comes over to say hello. If there's one place on earth north of Sydney where a cattle
dog looks natural, it's Nevada. We cross the several basin-and-range blocks of
mountains, the Ruby's in particular and we wish we could go south to the Snake
Range and the new Great Basin National Park. We reach Reno after dark. (The
gamblers of Reno do not leave the motel at six o'clock in the morning, the way most
travelers do. They sleep in.) We are at the eastern foot of the Sierra. Above us is our
home range, the last hulk of fault-block mountains and the greatest of them all.
Tiburon, California: It's rare for us to cross the Sierra through the Tioga Pass and
it's fun. We're used to the southern Sierra, where the mountains are really big and no
road can cross, but we talk of the Donner Party (perhaps not the cuisine thereof) and
the building of the UP line over some horribly tough mountains, no matter how low
they seem to us.
Crossing the Richmond Bridge, one of the scariest bridges in existence, next to
Astoria and Virginia Beach. The thought of earthquakes is irresistible. We stay with
Luci and Bill Alexander, our best friends in the world, at their beautiful house overlooking
the Golden Gate in Tiburon. John Clarke shows up from Monterey and is a
big help. The show is just fine, although the audience - unlike those insane Berzerkly
crowds of the past - seems more reserved than those on the east coast. Mike, the crew
guy on the door, watches the dogs as if they are his own. Berkeley Community is a
nice theatre and it is packed full.
Los Angeles, California: It's a shame this is the last show. In some peculiar way,
we actually seem to be a unit. During Nick Danger, Dave hides under the sound-effects
table and naked, hands up incorrect magazines to David. We are all laughing.
Variety will praise Jeff and his lights and Angelo's sound to the heavens. The Wiltern
is a beautiful theatre and the show goes well.
Oona and I drive back up into the Hollywood Hills to our own house to go to
sleep. The dogs are there already, of course, watching TV and wondering if there's
room service in this joint. We ask them what they think of the Reunion Tour. Waddell
feels that he enjoyed New York most, of course (you just can't get too many squirrels.)
Alice adored Peoria (ribs). Wigeon particularly liked the sleeping in the van
quite a bit and Nita thinks that there have been some excellent runnings-around-in-circles.
All in all, they say, it's been quite a trip.
Oddly enough, that's what Oona and I think, too.
"BACK FROM THE SHADOWS"
THE FIRESIGN THEATRE'S
25th Anniversary Reunion Show
All words and music written and performed by
PHIL AUSTIN, PETER BERGMAN, DAVID OSSMAN, PHIL PROCTOR
Album produced by
Digital Editor - Dan Zadroga
Supervising Digital Engineer - Doug Black
at LodesTone Productions, Bloomington, Indiana
Performances recortied at
The Keswick Theatre, Philadelphia
The Wamer Theatre, Washington D.C. and
The Berkeley Community Theatre
by Angelo Arcuri
Mastered by Shawn Britton and Krieg Wunderlich.
TECHNICAL NOTE: The programs presented here were recorded live at
varying venues. Great lengths were taken in post-production to present
the cleanest sound possible but further attempts to eliminate all recording
flaws would have affected the program content.
Front cover, & pages 24 and 25 (1)courtesy of
Darrell Westmoreland, © 1993;
Rear cover & pages 4 and 5 (2)courtesy of
Oona Austin, © 1993
The Firesign Theatre's 25th Anniversary Tour was produced
by ECI/Contemporary Presentations.
Our thanks to Dan Bean, Robin Tate, Danny Fiala and Kathy Foley.
Stage Manager, Sunil Sinha.
Lighting by Jeff Payne.
Sound by Angelo Arcuri.
Sound design by Fred Jones.
Scenic props, Rob Thome and Barry Connor.
Public relations, Monique Moss and Matt Labov for Levine/Schneider.
Personal management, Richard Baker/Messina Baker Miller Ent.
The Firesign Theatre particularly wishes to thank Melinda Peterson for special
costumes and props, both her and Oona Austin for their rigorous post-performance notes
and keen critical observations, and Patricia Stallone and Judith Walcutt for donating their
considerable production skills at essential points during the show's development.
A tip of The Firesign Feciora to Little Johnny Goodman for ordering a
surprise pizza-to-go on stage during our Manhattan appearance.
The 25th Anniversary performances are loosely adapted from four full-length albums,
originally issued by Columbia Records between 1968 and 1971, and released on compact disc
by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. Titles include Waiting For The Electrician or Someone
Like Him, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All,
Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, and I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus.
The Firesign thanks Michael Grantham of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
for his dedication in preserving our historic recordings.