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Dear Friends


1972 - Dear Friends: Columbia PG 31099


From the RollingStone:

This one's a resting place, a respite from all that–that being the calculated and all-too-credible machinations of brilliance of the first four Firesign Theatre albums, each guaranteed (in ascending order, of course) to set you (the listener, viewer, participator) straight! As I once noted somewhere in my sleep after a not-so-negligible drug induced euphoria one evening, "The final tabulations are in following the most extensive and exhaustive poll ever taken of the ten billion cells inside my brain, and the results offer conclusive proof that the thirty eight minutes forty nine seconds spent with the Firesign Theatre's (then) newest album, We're All Bozos On The Bus, is the most valuable, stimulating, and enlightening time I'm ever likely to spend in the future again."

That was an exhausting album. I mean, I fucking worked hard on it for weeks, scouting through old book stores and encyclopedias for hints of the Truth they were talking about, talked to computer operators to get a different angle, talked with God (yes, even He was in awe of Firesign) a few times, and gradually filled in the missing links until I felt I almost understood it all (all is of course beyond the pale of mere mortal man and gods). And I was overwhelmed. A brilliant album. Perhaps too much too soon for even some of the most dedicated Firesign Fans. As Jonathan Schwarz said, and he has the first three albums down pat, "I'm having a hard time getting into it." That difficulty, however, shouldn't detract from its overall brilliance, an album conceived and dedicated to the proposition that all men will be created equal, just as all Coke bottles, all Mounds bars, all Red Sovine records are created equal. Stamped and sealed. Automated and computerized. The humor dwells in the grater Jack Oakie cosmic tradition of future man, a modern Hard Times. The dangerous absurdity of the future is our absurdity right now. Just look around and listen. Really, folks, if you haven't heard the Bozos album, you might never change.

That, however, was an album ago. Dear Friends, the newest Firesign album, is a minor respite from the Greater Trip the group is on, and a major retrospective of where they have taken us up to this point. The album is the best from the now legendary Dear Friends Sunday radio show on which Phil and Peter and David and Phillip unleashed their collective and ersatz insanity on a slick and erstwhile world of sanity (or vice versa). The two record set contains twenty nine separate bits either honed down (up?) or taken directly from the commercial airways over a six month period on KPFK in Los Angeles, and it contains favorite people from the previous albums. Deputy Dan is back, along with Mark Time, "star detective of the Circumsolar Federation, and his rocky junket buddy, Bob Bunny." The format is much freer, less contrived (no negative connotations intended), and much more readily laughable as the Firesigns breeze through yet another series of historical histrionics (As Thomas Jefferson says to Ben Franklin and set him to thinking, "Hey, let's invite over a bunch of immigrants and make cars.")

The overall thematic and contextual unity seen previously on their albums (the radio in How Can You Be blah blah blah, the TV in Don't Crush that Dwarf blah blah blah, and the computerized future of Bozos) has been dropped for a random sampling of all the media inherent in the insanity about us. They move freely from radio programs to local television ads ("Bob's Brazerko Lounge ... under the telephone poles in the exclusive Multimart Shopping Centre ... refuel yourself in an atmosphere of righteous indignation") to syndicated TV ads (40 Great Unclaimed Melodies ... Yes, you all recognize "The Saloon Song" from The Floating Prince by Stein. Now here's the lilting "Revenge Duet" from Ilvino Confuso ... isn't that byew-tee-full. It's by a great Italian composer ...) to lots of loose screwing around, mixing terrible and majestic metaphors and malapropisms that invariably end up making more sense than everyday "common tongue" as they take direct aim at the misguided mystics and master magicians of our time.

The Firesign Theatre forces you to take a second, third, and fourth look at the world through an alien's contact lenses. This album is us, specifically L.A. radio, L.A. TV, L.A. everything, L.A. as the world of the future on the Big Screen NOW!!! As a recent poll indicated, L.A. is where 18 percent of all teeners want to move to, a higher percentage than any other city or location garnered. And why? "Because L.A. is where its happening." So if you want a broad brochure glimpse of what America's dreams are all about, then don't miss this one. Dear Friends. It's an open invitation to the real world of make believe, just like you've always wanted it, always imagined it, always hoped it would be, and always feared. This is it. This is the one for you, dear friends. (RS 105)


 Next to "Everything you know is wrong," the most accessible Firesign title has to be "Dear Friends." In the pantheon of Firesign releases, "Dear Friends" is unique in three aspects:

  • It is the only double-album set they produced;
  • It does not have a discernable overarching theme or plot;
  • It is the only release presenting the work of the Firesign Theatre in their natural habitat: live radio.

"Dear Friends" was the name given to a series of 21 one-hour live Firesign Theatre broadcasts from September 1970 through February 1971. From these, 12 were selected for syndication to radio stations in the form of vinyl record albums (according to Ossman, only 100 or so of these 12-album sets were pressed and sold to college radio stations; they are among the rarest of Firesign Theatre audio artifacts.) It was from these 12 shows that excerpts were culled and packaged into the 1971 double-album Columbia Records release. The result is a kaleidoscopic view of the Firesign Theatre. It not only delivers the laughs; it provides a tantalizing glimpse into the inner workings of the group - the themes and ideas careen and swerve around one another as group members push each other into taking chances, exploring uncharted territories of their collective psyches.

Because each excerpt stands on it's own, the listener need not follow a long, twisty and at times veiled plot line. While there are numerous set-pieces, many scripted by individual members and passed out among the group to be read at air time, some of the most enjoyable moments are those that either are (or at least sound) ad-libbed. The manner in which the group expounds and expands on, for example, TV Guide listings is truly amazing, even a little scary, in its prescience.

Indeed, the main frustrations with this work for hardcore Firesign Theatre fans are that there is no overarching theme to the work, and that the segments are all taken out of context (which makes the 12-album set of syndicated shows all the more sought after by committed Fireheads.) For the neophyte, however, this is as good a place as any to become acquainted with the peculiar and often hilarious world of the Firesign Theatre.

Read the expanded CD liner notes to Dear Friends

Thomas O'Neill