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Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
The Firesign Theatre
Rhino Records, 46 minutes and 23 seconds

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
The Firesign Theatre
From a Firesign Theatre PR:
First off, it's not a theatre at all -- at least it doesn't have four walls -- but the fiery foursome that created it: Phil Austin (Aries), Phil Proctor (Leo), and Peter Bergman and David Ossman (Saggittarians), have managed to make theatre wherever they go and over the years they have sold between over four million albums. Indeed, this year, they were chosen among the "Fifty Greatest Acts of All Time" by Entertainment Magazine.

Firesign first became widely known in 1966 at L.A.'s listener-supported KPFK (where Austin and Ossman were on staff), and when Proctor came West with the musical The Amorous Flea they started performing together on Peter "The Wiz" Bergman's Radio Free Oz, rapidly evolving from doing put-ons and live original half-hour comic plays before ecstatic crowds into the multi-media production and performance entitity we know today.

For the next three decades, The Firesign Theatre has enjoyed wide popular success, producing twenty-two best-selling records including the Grammy-nominated Three Faces of Al, seven nationally syndicated radio series, many local shows, musicals, and national tours, and the short films: Everything You Know Is Wrong, Eat or Be Eaten, Nick Danger in the Case of the Missing Yolks, and The Madhouse of Dr. Fear (with Don Adams) and Hot Shorts -- which by re-editing, re-scoring and re-dubbing, brought new life to old horror films and classic Republic Studio cliffhangers.

The Firesign Theatre Website
Rhino Records
PYST Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois


"It's the Millennium, stupid!"
December 31, 1999, and the biggest party of the century is just about to begin. The staffers at Radio Now ("Ah, if it's not Now, it sucks, okay?") can barely keep their minds on their work this last day of the Millennium. Boss jock Bebop Loco has the day shift, but the station management has picked this day to change the format -- in fact, the format changes every hour, to keep up with California's constantly shifting demographic. Loco and the others -- news anchors Ray Hamburger and Harold Hiphugger, celebrity stalker Danny Vanilla, traffic watcher Captain "Happy" Panditt, sports broadcaster Chump Threads, et al. -- are pros; they adapt. It's getting crazy out there: traffic is choking Route 666 as every car computer goes to zero, and the Santa Baby offramp near Homeless Stadium is blocked because of two sacred cows pulling the Ark of the Covenant in the Showoff Lane. But the big Y2K celebration is about to begin in the stadium and it looks like the Princess Goddess is going to have to be airlifted in via Operation Doll Drop! And, who are the guys in the eyeball hats?

Twenty-five years ago, everybody knew who Nick Danger was: "Los Angeles! He walks again by night! Out of the fog, into the smog -- relentlessly, ruthlessly!" "I wonder where Ruth is?" Nick, a clueless detective cut from cloth left over from Jake Gittes and Sam Spade, was star of a fifteen-minute routine titled "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye," on the Firesign Theatre's second album, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All? The Nick Danger routine was a loving homage to the hard-boiled dicks of film noir and 40s radio drama. But he was funny -- very funny. So funny, in fact, that to this day you can get aficianados to do five minutes by simply saying, "It had been snowing in Santa Barbara ever since the top of the page..." or "Why, that's just a two-bit ring from a Cracker Back Jox!"

It seems a little strange now, I suppose, but comedy records used to be very popular. Jonathan Winters and Bill Cosby regularly released concert recordings, as did many less well known talents. The Firesign Theatre was the counterculture's answer to the "establishment" acts -- although comedy has always been, by its very nature, somewhat subversive. Firesign certainly took that ball and ran with it, producing at least two of the funniest, most interesting, and enduring classics of recorded comedy, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers and I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus, full-length character-rich excursions into a future that was half Buckminster Fuller, half Hollywood wilderness and half Orwellian nightmare. Yes, that's three halves, but in Firesign's world, where James Joyce lives cheek-by-jowl with Chucko the Rocket Robot, a coke-crazed Sherlock Holmes and psychic Nino the Mind-Boggler, double-think is a necessity.

Since the days of their greatest fame, the individual members of the Firesign Theatre -- Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Phil Proctor -- have gone on to a fair bit of commercial success. (Net-aware readers of this review may well be familiar with Bergman's hilarious CD-based game parody, PYST.) The group did a critically well-received twenty-fifth anniversary tour a few years ago, and on the strength of that they caught a spark and began working on this, their first new album in fifteen years.

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death doesn't quite have the satirical edge of prime Firesign, but it sure has some good laughs -- a Princess Diana robot worshipped by the masses ("...just as virtually beautiful in full digital as she was in the fab flesh"), New Age self-sex advocate Dr. Onan WinqueDinque, the century's biggest disaster movie, Glacier ("It's coming -- slowly -- very slowly -- to a theatre near you") -- and if the narrative isn't as compelling as Peorgie Tirebiter's odyssey through the movie business of the future (or is it the past?) in Dwarf, or Clem Clone's quest to disable the Future Fair's omniscient computer overseer in Bozos, that's okay. Once again Firesign has seen the enemy, and, as always, it is us. Only now, The Firesign Theatre is a part of the establishment they so ruthlessly ("I wonder where Ruth is?") excoriated in their youth. It's almost as if they can't quite figure out what to do about that. But I'm willing to give them a chance -- it's nice to think that the group may have another masterpiece of science fiction in them. Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death isn't it, but I'll take whatever I can get. The album, which was debuted on the web via RealAudio, is beautifully recorded and produced, reflecting Firesign's own long-time experience with radio. It's a wonderful alternative to Books on Tape, that's for goddam sure!

"If it isn't Now, who cares?"
Copyright © 1998 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at

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