This is side five. Follow in your book and repeat after me as we learn three new words in Turkish:
So begins Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, from the first album released by the Firesign Theater, in 1968 (on later albums spelled as Theatre). Everything in it is a misdirection, a sidestep, a pun, an unexpected segue, a joke-within-a-joke, an opening to another place you hadn’t expected to be led to.
May I see your passport please?
Yes, I have it right here. (sounds of busy airport terminal in background)
Uhum. Uhum. Uhum. Look at this. This photograph doesn’t look a bit like you, now, does it sir?
Well, it’s an old picture.
Mmh, mmh. Precisely.
Is there, uh, anything wrong?
Oh no, no, no, no. Would you mind waiting over there, please? Just… leave your bags.
But my passport…
Who can forget that journey into the surreal that starts with these words? It’s dark, it’s zany, it’s deep. Very Firesign. Within a few moments they have created a world, and an Orwellian world at that, a world that draws you in.
If you’ve never heard it, then listen to this little snippet:
I had one of those moments, recently, when writing an email to someone, an acquaintance, when a line from the FST just popped into my head. That happens with song lyrics, at times, but less frequency for FST lines than it used to. But it still does; lines that just float to the surface unbidden. Dr. Benway. Nick Danger. Ralph Spoilsport. Antelope Freeway, one half mile…
I just tossed it in, a throwaway in my letter. And to my surprise, in his response, he noted he recognized the source. So there are still some of us left out there who remember.
That sent me scampering through my library to look for The Big Book of Plays, the scripts of the first few FST albums, a book which I once owned. Apparently not any longer. Lent to someone, I suppose, years ago, and it was never returned.
I spent some time looking to buy another online only to discover it has been reprinted with another FST book under the title Marching to Shibboleth.
Of course, I had to order a copy.
Information! May I help you, sir?
Yes, I’d like to know…
Not for twelve hours! You’ll be informed at your hotel.
Would you like to send a wire?
Yes, I guess I’d better.
One moment, please…
It’s that sort of madness that sticks with you even decades later. I have, of course, listened to the FST many times since then and, should I find myself scheduled for a long drive somewhere, I often put on an FST CD as I head out on the freeway of my choice. Antelope Freeway, one quarter mile…. Antelope Freeway one eighth mile… Antelope Freeway one sixteenth mile… If you lived here, you’d be home by now… Antelope Freeway one thirty-second mile…
All right sir. Do you want this to be a night letter, regular, or guaranteed delivery?
Which is fastest?
Ach. At this time of day, they all receive equal attention. depending, of course, on the zone involved… which zone is that, sir?
I’m sending it overseas.
Tch. No, please, the zone. Look at ze map.
Oh, oh well then I suppose it would be….
You can’t get away from it. Even almost 50 years later. It just sticks with you and lines pop up from the subconscious. Especially the first few albums. One of my favourites is I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus because of its strange scifi atmosphere. And then there’s Shakespeare’s long lost comedy, Anythynge You Want to…
I can still quote from most of them (except perhaps the Dear Friends album, which was a series of bits and pieces from their radio show, rather than a comprehensive skit). It had been snowing in Santa Barbara since the top of the page and I had to shake the cornstarch from my mukluks as I lifted the heavy obsidian door knocker…
I beg your pardon sir, but is this your bar of soap?
Well, I suppose it is.
So do we.
And it’s surprising how well these skits stand up today. Sure, there is some bits of dated humour – political, mostly – but for the most part they sound great and their atmosphere isn’t diluted by time.
All right, sir. Your telegram has been sent. You’ll be receiving it in about an hour. Guaranteed delivery. That’ll be two hundred and seventy five, sir, no tax.
Well, I haven’t had a chance to change my money yet…
Just a moment sir. Is this your bag?
No, it’s not.
Check it again. Do take your time, sir.
This is definitely not my bag.
Just as we thought…. sign here please. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here…
We’ve sent your bags on ahead, sir. Where is it that you’re staying?
I guess I should copy some of them over to my MP3 player and listen as I roam about town, walking the dogs. Renew my relationship with some of the best material ever carved into vinyl. Who’s that ugly dwarf with his hand in your mouth?