Music to My Ears

We’re All Bozos On This Bus

(sound of thunder in the distance..the only sound in the jungle besides the smoking No Smoking sign outside the 7-11.  The power in the store is out, and three men are bunkered behind the door planning their next move.)

Clem : “Wait.  Where’s Jones?”

Leo : “Dunno. Haven’t him since Tuesday.”

“Then there’s just two of us.  Idiot.”

“Who you mean?”

“Well there’s only two of us, and I don’t mean you, so who dya think?”

“I dunno.  I find his voice smoothing.”

“What? Because he’s in bloody italics?  Yer both idiots.”

(The two men were companions by accident.  Leo was dressed as a waiter from a NY deli, blonde, erudite and had the face of an educated man.  Clem was dressed like Jessica Simpson in an underwater porn clip and had gone to school on a short bus.)

“Hey!  I got these shorts at JC Penney!”

(Right. Leo thought,  ‘ I didn’t know they had a hobo porn section’.)

“Leo!”

“I didn’t say that, he did!”

“Well, you were thinkin it.  And he did say you were blonde and erudite.  You like him.”

“Don’t!  Don’t even know what erudite means.”

“It means you come from Hebrew parents.”

“What?  And what the hell does THAT mean?”

(Just then a bolt of lightning, followed closely by a crash that shook the store, revealed the quick silhouette of a boy leading a pig, snuffling like a Panamanian poodle.  The pig, the pig.  Anyway the boy was dressed like a gypsy, yellow filthy trousers, a tattered red shirt with poofy sleeves, holding an olive green handkerchief embroidered with red roses.)

“Poofy sleeves?  Really?  And I didn’t see shit.  Leo, you see anything?”

“I saw less than shit.  Certainly no ‘hankerchef’.”

(It’s handkerchief Einstein.  And it’s called writer’s license.  I was describing the next character, as a good writer would.)

“Snuff.  A good writer wouldn’t spend one sentence describing a new character and have to explain to his reader that it was the pig that was snuffling.”

“Yeah.  And I don’t care for the ‘Einstein hankerchef’ crack, especially as I come from a legacy of brewers.”

“What?”

(What?)

(Time to develop new characters.  The boy turned back to the jungle, hearing voices.  New voices.  Less argumentative voices.)

“Listen, George, what do you suppose happened to Jones?”

“Fred, stick to the script in front of ya, please?  We have to find the diamond before Professor Snuffles.”

“Yeah, because if we don’t…”

“The end of Life as we know it Fred.”

(We pause here for station identification and a word from our sponsor.)

Leo and Clem:  “Hey!  You can’t just leave us here.  It’s cold.  And dark!  And there’s something we forgot to tell you…”

(Right.)

Now for the old “You can’t talk about Firesign Theatre without The Goon Show” chestnut.  From 1951 to 1960 The Goon Show, devised and primarily written by Spike Milligan, included players Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers.  The shows were very precursive of what Firesign would start doing in the late 60’s with surreal humor and using radio as a foil, not just a medium.   Fans of Firesign would recognize bits like a character leaving the room, a door closing, and the character was still there.  Or a character would announce leaving, a door would close, with the wrong character outside the room, banging on the door for re-entrance.

Milligan and Secombe met first in the British Army (yes they used to have one of those) during WWII serving in the artillery.  As the story goes, Milligan’s artillery unit screwed up and allowed a howitzer cannon to roll over a cliff.  Secombe was sitting under the cliff in a small truck.

“Suddenly there was a terrible noise as some monstrous object fell from the sky quite close to us. There was considerable confusion, and in the middle of it all the flap of the truck was pushed open and a young, helmeted idiot asked ‘Anybody see a gun?’ It was Milligan.”  Secombe answered “What color is it?”

The show stayed on BBC through the 50’s and into 1961.  The people coming of age in this period, and have mentioned these guys as heroes, were diverse a group as the guys who would eventually form Monty Python, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Firesign Theatre.

The four guys who made up Firesign Theatre started performing live radio together in LA on KPPC and KPFK during the mid-60’s.  By 1967 Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor were co-writing half hour skits and had written an adaptation of a Jorge Luis Borges short story for Radio Free Oz.  Their writing took the surrealistic style of The Goon Show, added fast moving scripting, popular culture parody, doses of LSD and a fantastic lack of political correctness that after all wasn’t invented until later by Dr. James Dobson.   [Readers: send your comments to Woody, not me! —Ed.] Their rampant disrespect for modern sensitivity forced me to listen carefully to any clips I wanted to use in case they slipped in a currently offensive slur.

Which really pisses me off because what these guys were about, what we were about, was challenging political wisdom, convention, and the need to wear clean clothes.  I used to wear dirty clothes all the time.  It was our trademark.  I would no more wear dirty clothes today than drop acid in church, which I think I did semi-frequently.  Anyone born between 1946 and 1964 not only vaguely remembers Firesign Theatre through drug induced multi colored mufti, but may have at one time memorized their favorite Firesign album.  I personally hung out with a group of guys who regularly tortured girlfriends by listening to the stuff in groups, babbling the lines we knew as if tattooed on our wazoos, and laughing hysterically at what to the girls sounded distinctly like gibberish.   And the tone was particularly part of that generation.  The Vietnam police action which killed 3.5 million Vietnamese kids and 50,000 American kids (hardly seems fair now), the deaths of wildly popular public figures, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, and a crazy but Fairly Harmless (until later) drug culture influenced music, political thought, and comedy.  There was a camaraderie of silliness, protest, outrage, and misanthropic brouhaha that defined how we looked at Life.  For a few years anyway, until we discovered the BMW.   Then everything went to shit.

(Well, that about wraps it up.  Less than 2 days until Armageddon according to my watch.  The sound of the jungle rain with drops as large as Panamanian paddles raise the hair on the pig’s neck and slaps against the window of the 7-11.  Looking in, we see thankfully that Leo and Clem are asleep.)

Fred:  “Hey!  Wake up in there!”

(Crap)

George:  “Fred, leave em alone.  Didn’t you hear the guy?  It’s two days to Armageddon and we GOTTA find that diamond.”

“I know, but that guy creeps me out.  I think Clem was right.  He sounds like a commie bullshit laundryman.”

(He never said that.)

(Inside the store Clem sits up, lights a holy roller, and leans against the window.)

Clem:  Only thing left to do is listen to a part of my favorite Firesign album, How Can you Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All.  Headphones required.  Devotees will know the clip we had to cut out and why.  Still pisses me off.

(Me too.)