Artist: "Firesign Theatre"
Album: "How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All"
Reviewer: Max Burbank
An older cousin who lived with my family off and on during the late sixties and early seventies introduced me to a number of things that would wield great influence over the rest of my life, and only one of them is what you’re thinking of. The others were The Beatles, National Lampoon and Firesign Theatre.
Firesign Theatre was a four man improv/sketch comedy radio group. They were (and are, they are still out there) The last magnificent gasp of a dying beast, radio comedy. You can argue some of the ‘personalities’ still clinging to radio are radio comedy, but they’re really a different branch of comedy’s evolutionary tree. The firesigns were hugely influenced by the British Goon Show, the radio comedy troupe Peter Sellars cut his teeth in. Who influenced the Goons? Damned if I know. You’ve passed beyond the fog of my expertise.
“How Can You be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All” was released in 69 and in my book it’s the second finest comedy album ever released, surpassed only by “Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Pass me the Pliers”. If comedy albums were released in sides, side one of “Two Places…” is he highwater mark of the Firesign’s genius.
An extended riff about a man who buys a car with all the extras to ‘get away from it all’ and finds that the environmental control buttons control reality within the car, “Two places...” functions on more god damned levels than the empire state building. Allow me to example you.
The Firesigns were all about ambient noise. So as the protagonist drives away talking to himself, we hear his voice in the foreground and highway noise in the background, creating a soundscape typical of radio drama. But soon we hear billboards being read aloud as they pass the car, and the sound doplars, giving you the feeling of approaching and passing roadsigns, except of course in reality, roadsigns don’t talk, but on an album you can’t see, so a false level of reality is created. As the signs pass, the driver decides to get on the ‘Antelope freeway’ and drives into an audio version of Zenon’s paradox.
“Antelope Freeway ½ mile”
“Antelope Freeway ¼ mile”
“Antelope Freeway 1/8 mile”
“Antelope Freeway 1/16 mile”
“Antelope Freeway 1/32 mile”
We’ll never get on the Antelope Freeway because according to Zenon’s paradox to get somewhere requires the crossing of an infinite number of points in a finite amount of time. Do you have to be familiar with Zenons Paradox for this to be funny? No, the simple escalating fractional differences are funny to anyone who’s ever approached an exit because they are a logical extension of the actual experience. If however one is familiar with the paradox, first of all, how genius to see it in roadsigns we all see every day, AND it opens the protagonists journey by establishing that all journeys are logically absurd, which this one will be in spades.
Almost any beat from this side of the album can be similarly deconstructed, and onion of funnyness as layer after layer peel away. I could go on for days, but I won’t because I want you to run out and by this damn album.
The flip side, “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger: Head ‘em off at the past” is far more straightforward, but very funny, as if to say Okay, maybe we lost you totally on the first side, we can hold you’re comedy hand and walk you through the kind of thing we do too. It’s a standard hard boiled detective parody, almost every comedy group has tried it at least once, just the Firesigns casually do it better than anyone before or since. It’s nowhere near as groundbreaking and astounding as “Two Places”, it’s just a masterclass in parody with plenty of surrealism sprinkled through just so you know who you’re dealing with.
Enough already, just buy it and learn.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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