Roller Maidens From Outer Space (1974)|
Review from Benway's House of Firesign
Phil Austin's 1974 solo effort, ROLLER MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE, is my favorite of the three mid 70's Firesign "solo" albums that I have heard. Around 10 years ago, I made copies of it, along with TV OR NOT TV and HOW TIME FLIES, from my uncle's record collection. The battered cassette with RMFOS and TONT on it is still with me and still gets played fairly often. Of the three, I think RMFOS has the best unified plot, the best use of music, and the best depth of performance. The album explores familiar Firesign territory, Television, but not in quite the surreal way that DCTDHMTP did.
The album starts out with a commercial, leading into the bumbling announcer of the Television Mission. Who asks the viewers to send in their pledges, while he speculates about the possibility of Jesus showing up later on. He then announces their musical guests.... Red Greenback and the Blue Boys.
The music on this record is not what you might expect from the "rocker" Phil Austin. Its pretty much straight up 70's sounding country music, with some Cajun-country influences from time to time. It is very well performed, but it is far from traditional as far as the lyrics go. Two of the four songs relate directly to the plot of the story, and the other two do much more indirectly. The first song is "C'mon Jesus" which is about a truck driver that spots Jesus hitchhiking in Texas, and turns around to give him a ride, only to find that a big Caddilac picked him up first. The trucker then follows Jesus in the Caddy, hoping that he will be able to catch up when they have to "stop for gas." Alas, his truck broke down, with Jesus heading off westward towards L.A.
Then, in true Firesign fashion, the TV channel is changed, by whom it never told. The next program is "Dick Private, Private Dick," a detective character that acts and sounds much more serious than Austin's Nick Danger was. Mr. Private is leaving the office for the weekend, when the phone rings. He answers it reluctantly, and finds his new client to be Regular Boinklin, a character from a different TV show opposite his on another TV network. He convinces Private that his problem is more serious than having "swallowed his car keys" and asks him to somehow make his way across two TV channels and help them out.
The channel is changed again, this time showing the "Regular and Ethyl" show. This may be the best part of the record...... Its a fairly gentle but slightly twisted parody of the family oriented TV shows of the 50's and 60's. Particularly I Love Lucy and Ozzie and Harriet. Regular's TV world is experiencing unexplained supernatural phenomenon. There are all sorts of strange things happening, balls of light hovering around, everyone dreaming the same weird dream. His neighbor, the Hispanic Tricky Retardo, comes by, and mentions his brother Jesus had showed up the night before, dropped off by the Caddilac from the song heard earlier on the other TV station.
Tricky and Regular's conversation is interrupted by another Red Greenback and the Blue Boys song - Switchblade Pitchforks. This is perhaps my most favorite song in the entire Firesign music catalog. It's not directly related to the story, but its funny nonetheless. It's a fast paced country song, about a trucker that stops late at night at some diner, only to find himself on a plane "to wrestle a nude live stewardess, in flight." When he tries to figure out what the hell is going on, he finds that the plane appears to be indeed heading for hell. "The man behind the counter had horns and a tail!" And the other passengers start pulling out "switchblade pitchforks"...... but at the end of the song, he says "it was all a dream," as the demons come closer and closer. Another strange dream, perhaps related in some supernatural way to the dreams of Tricky and Regular.
The station is then turned back to Tricky and Regular, whose brother Jesus comes over, and asks if there is anything to smoke. Tricky goes and finds some "stuff" that had been hidden in their "boys' bedroom." They then toke up (which is to me, a great "audio sight gag" -- these 50's Adult figures smoking the pot of one of their kids) while they discuss their situation. They then hit upon the idea that they could turn on the TV and try to tune in Dick Private and see if he has made any progress. They manage to do so, only to witness Regular's now-decked-out wife Ethyl kidnapping Private at gunpoint.
The story gets stranger from here. It seems that the gangster type character Johnny Fresno wants Dick Private locked away to keep him from figuring out the mystery at hand. Fresno mentions that "The Boss" was going to kill Jesus Retardo that night in the desert. As the story progresses, it appears that Jesus Retardo is a symbol of one of the power of "good" and that having him out of the way will let the other more Satanic forces take over that particular world. Dick Private escapes his basement enprisonment hoping to get to the local Country Club's Event in time to find out what exactly what was going on.
Side 2 begins with the News being presented over on the Television Mission. Which is performed as a song by Red Greenback. Once again, all the news relates to the story. More supernatural occurrences are reported ... such as the gas in the gas tanks turning to wine. The channel is switched again and its back to Tricky and Regular and Jesus, who have fled into the desert. Only to find that the "balls of light" followed them there. Jesus sends Tricky and Regular to go and rescue their wives, whose involvement in the Mystic Roller Maidens From Outer Space Lodge appears to be integral to this Satanic plot. (Another song, unrelated to the main plot, but talking about supernatural, perhaps Satanic, occurrences in a small town, appears later on Side 2)
The story comes to a head when Tricky and Regular dress up as Roller Maidens (another audio sight gag.... I don't think I ever had seen THAT scenario on I Love Lucy, the guys dressing up in drag.) They then sneak in the Country Club for the Big Event that night, hoping to rescue their wives. Inside, everyone is about to celebrate the death of Jesus, when Tricky and Regular's disguises are uncovered. They are about to made into "sexual objects" of a Roller Maiden ritual, when Jesus shows up. And he is pissed off... the scene where he confronts Johnny Fresno is one of my favorite parts of the whole album.
But just when things look like they will start to make sense, the dream world they all had dreamed of earlier begins to unfold. The whole country club eventually drifts into the air and floats away as the "Balls of Light" appear around them. Below, Dick Private, Private Dick watches, somewhat perplexed. He trudges across the desert, heading back for his own channel, wondering if he will ever be the same.
This album is primarily comedy, but in the background, is something of a struggle between good and evil. The character of the "Boss" is never directly revealed, it appears to be a two-toned (one voice on each stereo channel) TV personality named Nick Exxon, whom is also identified as by Red Greenback as "The President of Everything, and everything is sad" However, you might also speculate that "The Boss" is the Devil, from the album's slightly Satanic overtones, but nothing directly indicates this.
The album is also a well done send up of some things that Firesign had not really done before. A serious detective show, 50's/60's family TV programs, religious TV shows, and country music! The vocal talent does an excellent job, although in one scene, one of the girls says "Tricky Ricardo" instead of "Retardo" - a slip that I've always wondered how it survived the editing process. Overall, its a very unified story. And I rate it higher than the other solo efforts, even over a couple of the full Firesign records . I have many many favorite "mental sound bites" that came from this record, (and i subsequently made several wav clips of on my comptuer) - This one is right up there with GIANT RAT in the "sound bite" category for me.
After the Reuion Tour show in Denver in 1993, the Firesign were signing autographs, and when I got down to Phil Austin, I thanked him for the ROLLER MAIDENS record. He didn't reply, I don't know if he wasn't in a talkative mood, or his opinion of that record was lower than mine. But as for me, I did then, and still do, enjoy that record a great deal.