HOW CAN YOU DRIVE TO TWO PLACES AT ONCE
Gary Pig Gold
and the Firesign Theatre
Change the Course of Canadian Educational Field Trips
Once and For All.
I can now hereby unequivocally state I was actually one of the proud, the brave, and yes, the subsequently unemployable by-products of the Toronto Board of Education’s early-1970s flirtation with that dastardly “open curriculum.” “Open” as in “Let the kids take whatever courses they want and show up to class only when they feel like it …maybe that’ll prepare ’em for University life; if not, at least we can lay all our career counselors off and spend more on the football field.”
That is precisely how, and why, I routinely spent the majority of my Math, Chemistry, and most definitely Phys Ed classes hanging ’round the mysterious second floor Media Studies room at ol’ Port Credit Secondary, ostensibly learning how to make movies but really grooving to The Monkees’ Head soundtrack album on the school’s humungous new stereo system. When I should have been, well, learning stuff I suppose.
So, it was there and then – while a fellow budding Scorsese was auditioning crowd noise effects off various records one momentous day – that I encountered a quite eye and ear-catching little big long-player on the Columbia label with the above-intriguing title Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers.
Huh! I sat. I listened to it…
I listened a lot more…
Suffice to say I didn’t make it to any other classes that day and immediately made a point of, in a word, “liberating” that slab of vinyl once and for all from Media Studies. As a result, suddenly there was a grand new favorite record, and maybe even band (sorta), which even my beloved Monkees hereafter were forced to take an extremely rear seat to.
Now, like most young teens back then whose parents didn’t appreciate having Hendrix compete with Ray Conniff upon the family entertainment console, I was banished, and quite happily so, to my room following dinner most evenings …only to spend untold weeks, months, and in fact years adrift beneath Radio Shack headphones plugged all the way into my very own clandestine wee phonograph. With nary a Monty Python record yet available locally for purchase or liberation, naturally my time was spent most wisely committing that entire DCTD,HMTP LP to perfect memory. As opposed to, well, studying, you know. Consequently, on a nightly basis, a certain four or five crazee guys proceeded to forever warp my every remaining worldview clear and clean across Grades Ten straight through Twelve. And counting.
If I haven’t said it already then, may I shout it now? THANK YOU, Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Proctor. aka The Firesign Theatre.
or, as the United States Library of Congress has them filed, “The Beatles of Comedy.”
Just one more thing before I let you all go though: There was one glorious morning when all of us, um, film students ditched classes for the day so that we could be taken on a field trip to the brand spanking new Ontario (more) Science Centre ’way the far side of Toronto. This long and, yes, strange trip did require the procuring of a rickety old school bus and some seedy rent-a-driver whom I swear must have been the inspiration behind The Simpsons’ Otto Mann at least. Anyways, to fill what was already becoming a boring drive even before we left the school’s parking lot, I decided to begin reciting aloud Vinyl Side One of Don’t Crush That Dwarf for my own amusement initially …until, that is, my fellow ne’er-do-well Media Studiers Peter and then Richard decided to join in, adding quite some voluminous high school spirits as we pulled onto the highway, freeing me to now concentrate solely on the G. L. Tirebiter character(s) most fortunately.
Mind you, this being the primordial age before iPods or even Walkmen, soon the entire school bus was listening in rapt, silent (if more often than not quite confused) attention as “The Howl Of The Wolf Movie” spun off into several enthusiastic-indeed Command Performances from us Hardly Ready For Anything Players. Our voices now raised in true Shakespearian-decibel fervor, fellow bus-ridden students duly cheered us onward and upward all through Dwarf Side Two plus various encores of Nick Danger’s Further Adventures and even a bit-o-“Beat The Reaper” to boot.
Suddenly though, one seemingly conscientious mobile-Theatre-goer peered out her window and remarked “You know, we’ve been driving for nearly three hours now. We should have been there ages ago…”
You see, it seems our bus driver had been hanging so intently upon every single pun, palindrome and cross-generational Fire-reference we recited that he’d totally ignored the road signs, his map, and all sense of time and direction whatsoever, careening us instead deep into the dreaded Canadian underbrush whilst over-shooting the Science Centre by a good seventy-miles-plus!
Panicking, followed by Emergency Braking, “Otto” had no choice but to order an immediate cease and desist to me and my pals’ Parallel Hell-raising before negotiating the very first available semi-legal U-turn. Then he floored it, and us, wildly back to our school so he could make his afternoon pick-ups on time and make it appear our trip did go totally, fully according to plans.
Of course, we never did get to the Science Centre at all that day. Not a single one of us. Why, in all these decades since, I have never made it back to the Ontario Science Centre, truth finally be told.
Now, most unfortunately indeed, a full half of those original Firesigns are In the Next World (though hardly on their own); Peter Bergman having passed eleven March 9’s ago and Phil Austin three years later. Still, their bountiful wit, wisdom, and certainly prescient-and-then-some wonderful words continue to amuse and amaze all who dare dive in.
Curious then? Good! Here’s where to start… https://firesigntheatre.com