The Firesign Theatre

Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre invited my wife and me to a Firesign Theatre show last Saturday night at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.

The Firesign guys and I go way back. I was a fan, first and fourmost, of their first four LPs (1968-1971). They were the audio equivalent of reading a Harvey Kurtzman MAD comic. Peter Bergman cited Kurtzman’s MAD as one of their influences. They were the only comedy act whose records could be listened to over and over again, each new listening revealing a comedy gem missed on previous listenings. That’s because their comedy was densely layered (like Will Elder’s MAD work with all the little peripheral “eyeball kicks” as Kurtzman called them) with comic audio. Listening to their LPs is like experiencing a rich comedy movie for your head and ears.

My friend and comic dealer Dave Gibson got permission to reprint a collection of the fanzines the Firesign had published in the late 1960s entitled The Mixville Rocket. Dave asked me to draw the cover. I happily agreed.

The Guys were so taken by my Mixville Rocket cover that they asked me to draw their next LP cover for the album In The Next World, You’re On Your Own, much to the chagrin of a very nervous Columbia Records (“Unknown artist? Why, he’s just a kid!”). I came through like a champ, though, which led to my being asked by Columbia’s art director, Nancy Donald, to create many more LP covers for the label (my foray out of the bootleg world and into legitimacy!).

I was invited to the Next World recording sessions and became friends with The Guys (as they are known to friends and fans). This led to my creating a series of Firesign Theatre T-shirts and to work on their movie, Everything You Know Is Wrong (my first feature film work). With David Ossman as an overseer, I designed and built props and appeared in the film as an extra. At the show I was asked if I would draw the cover for the DVD release of the film (Of course!). It was Phil and Oona Austin (and their friend Harry Shearer) who first introduced me to the films of Preston Sturges (Phil ran an actual print of The Great McGinty at his Laurel Canyon home; this was in the pre-videotape days) for which I will be forever grateful.

As I got more involved in The Film Biz we drifted away (although I did a few more LP covers for records they released on the Rhino label) but I never lost my fondness for The Guys.

All four of the original Firesign gave fine performances on Saturday, both as a group, in duos and in solo bits. Their material was as sharp as ever. Like their records, I had to listen real hard to catch all of the funny bits (I maybe caught up to half, I reckon) in their still heavily layered humor.

I very briefly chatted with all four Guys after the show. They were in great spirits and seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them again after all these years.

I consider the Firesign Theatre a National Treasure. Guys — You’re the Greatest (and Oona, too!)!

The official Firesign Theatre website is at www.firesigntheatre.com

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