Monday, 13 October 2014

Your First Three Words in Turkish


Towel...

In a recent comment, I mentioned the Firesign Theatre (or, possibly, Theater).  To American readers of a certain age and inclination, the Firesign Theatre will be as familar as Monty Python.  However, very few Brits seem to know their work, even those cosmopolitan types who were familiar with, say, the Cheech and Chong recorded oeuvre.  British politicos in the 1970s tended towards the puritanical, and British stoners tended towards the horizontal.  Humour was rarely a common ground between the two camps, and a taste for left-field, post-modern, acid-tinged, surrealist political sketch comedy and soap opera was more unusual than you might think.

But some tastes are like a secret cult, whose members are always looking for new recruits.  One day in my first term at college in 1973, a new friend (now, confusingly, Professor of Islamic Archaeology in the University of Oxford)  pressed into my hands two objects, saying, in effect, "Here, I think you need to know about these".  One was a book -- Musrum, by Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw (in need of a post in its own right) -- and the other was an LP album by Firesign Theatre.  I can't remember now whether it was How Can You Be In Two Places At Once, When You're Not Anywhere At All? or Waiting For the Electrician or Someone Like Him.  One or the other.  Probably the latter.  As if it matters.

Bath...

As well as being funny, Firesign's albums were pretty sophisticated for their time.  Nowadays, po-mo reflexiveness is the default setting of every jobbing standup -- it's the comedy equivalent of conceptual art -- but even today it is rare to find such acute explorations and subversions of media tropes, linguistic cliches, and political and social conventions.  If I had to characterise FT for someone who'd never heard them, I'd say it was like Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In crossed with The Goon Show, tinged with Frank Zappa and That Was The Week That Was.  Not that that would help: they would probably never had heard (or even heard of) any of those acts, either.

"Hearing" is key, though: it's very much an aural experience, with quick-change accents, scene changes and sound-effects that evoke and parody the glory days of radio.  And, as is well known, the pictures are always better on radio.  It's also very layered: some of the best jokes happen in the background, mixed behind the dialogue.  There's nothing around now that is remotely similar, as far as I know: that late sixties / early seventies mashup of politics, counterculture, and nostalgia-fuelled zaniness was a flavour all its own.  No, wait... Didn't I say that on the other side of the record?

Border...
(May I see your passport, sir?)

12 comments:

Kent Wiley said...

Have you listened to FT any time recently, as in the last decade? I think it's been since the early 70's for me. Does it still work?

Mike C. said...

Kent,

No, I was tempted to while I was writing the post, but I'm sure it would sound very dated now, and I didn't want to spoil the memory!

Similarly, the early Billy Connolly LPs (Scottish comedian) seemed hilarious and ground-breaking back then, but would probably seem pretty ordinary now.

"Never go back" is a good rule in life, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy remembering The Way We Were!

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Enjoying you guys showing us Brighton. Here's bit of video that shows the beach, on a very different day than the one you experienced recently, Mike.

Mike C. said...

Nicely made video -- as you say, a very different day, but the same spot. Though it's that "day for night" thing I posted about recently. Also, it seems a little voyeuristic...

But Sony A7, mmm... I was very tempted by one of those (being in possession of a retirement lump sum) until I picked it up. Just didn't feel right in my hands. Luckily...

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

I rented the a7s, and I have to agree with you about the feel. It's got a nice solid heft to it, but it's too small. Some of my other thoughts about the camera for video are here. (Shameless plug)

Phillip Bloom does make lovely videos, and he often goes out and photographs whoever is in the vicinity. I would imagine they know him in his neighborhood by now for testing cameras down by the river.

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Nice submarine! Watching the walk-through of your house, I always envy the amount of space you guys live in -- can't believe the acreage that Mike Johnson has ended up with out of the TOP tip-jar -- it's very crowded round here!

Mike

Alastair Deery said...

"And another thing....."
Why isn't there any decent comedy on Radio 4? » The Spectator
www.spectator.co.uk/spectator-life/spectator-life.../gagging-orders/‎
21 Sep 2013 ... Radio 4 and 4 Extra now control pretty much all radio comedy. Only the most exalted of alternative comics, Stewart Lee, has dared to mock the ...
Alastair

Mike C. said...

Well now, I'm wondering whether that is THE Alastair Deery, the prominent sawbones, or merely a cheap imitation?

Yes, the 6:30 slot on R4 continues to get worse and worse, with the honourable exception of John Finnemore and the Now Show.

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

I suppose that was why the Pilgrims headed west in the first place, wasn't it? It was "very crowded around" there, even back-in-before-the-day. I'll admit it: we are spoiled with the amount of space we have out here on the edge of the boonies. It's going to be tough to move to something more reasonably sized for two people in the not too distant future.

And Mike does appear to have found a swell new setup for TOP. I'm glad we were able to help him out. I hope he is able to follow through on some of his grand plans.

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Crowded, and intolerant of idiotic hats!

Yes, I was happy to help out (his spotlight on me launched my giddy international career!) but he had better get his act back together pretty soon, or he'll start losing readers...

Mike

Martyn Cornell said...

Musrum! I still have my copy of the first edition somewhere. I'm surprised to see that similar first editions are going for just £15 or so on ABE Books.

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

I know, disappointing, isn't it? It's never become the cult collectible one might have imagined. I know: I'll do a post on it and next thing you know it'll be pure unobtainium!

Mike