Phil et les hommes

I have discovered, as I’m sure others have, that almost any dissonant sound, even a jackhammer, or that awful truck-in-reverse beeping, can be neutralized by harmonizing with it; one can simply sing away a lot of the discord by making use of the cacophony.

The same purpose, and much more, is served by the illustrious Firesign Theatre, whose show, Forward Into The Past I attended recently at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood.  Their cerebral/aural creations effectively neutralize the caterwauling and nonsensical noise of current society and, by blending, harmonizing and steering the babble into unimaginable departures from established motifs, they achieve symphonic, yet relentlessly silly, symbiosis.

To quote Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, “For this relief, much thanks.”

Unlike the majority in attendance I was not familiar with the Firesign oeuvre, but I found that my appreciation of  brilliant wordplay and radio show flights of fancy were preparation enough.  Any “in” jokes I could guess at, and enjoy quite satisfactorily from my position as an “Tirebiter” tyro.

What I enjoyed probably most of all is the youthful spirit of creation that these brilliant writer/comedians exhibit, even though they are all pushing 70.  (Actually, they weren’t pushing it, exactly, they just made it look so good, I wanted to run out and get some for myself.)

By means of just a simple stage, four mics, four performers, some prerecorded music and sound effects, the assembled Firesign devotees were taken on a trip,(somewhat different perhaps than earlier “trips” when the group’s 60’s trajectory began) far above this cruel universe which has rewarded fans with graying ponytails, spreading waistlines and feet requiring sensible shoes.  The laughter, which rolled out as steadily as a roll of court stenographer’s paper, was an acknowledgment of the necromancy of this group’s ability to (at least temporarily) free their fans from the shackles of their culture, using the iconography and vocabulary of that culture, simply by applying a twist, breaking into a slightly offbeat rhythm, or turning the sky inside out with their formidable imaginations.

I’ve become a fan and friend of the ingenious, generous and hilarious Phil Proctor, (seen our short on YouTube?) and it was to see him that I chiefly made it a point to attend Forward Into The Past, but the ensemble, which also includes Peter Bergman, Phil Austin and David Ossman was irresistible; I came away marveling at the way the four could be so individual, so bright-spark creative, yet so aligned and harmonious at the same time.  They have mastered so many vocal styles, and even have their way with Shakespeare in a devastatingly clever “undiscovered comedie”,  but the fact that they have maintained this unique relationship since the days when I was learning how to play tether ball at Wilbur Avenue school is perhaps the most amazing thing of all.

If you don’t know of them, you can remedy that easily by going to, or better yet, see them live if they happen to beam themselves down to your town for a live performance.  Late as I am to the party, I plan to become a devoted fan, and be able to quote non-sequiturs from their beloved albums when they come around again.

Long may they bray!