Back to FrameSet

Give Me Immortality, or Give Me Death (RadioNow)


1998 - Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (Rhino Records R2 75983)

Good to have the Firesign Back, eh?

RadioNow starts off with one of the best commercial parodies I've ever heard. And it set's the mood for what's to come. Buried in that mattress are clues to what's ahead, on the last day of the millennium.
Having the fortune to have an advanced copy, I've listened to this CD the required 33 1/3 times (as per PP) and have sussed it out, quite completely, I think. The FST, after a long absence has gathered again in the studio, along with a new found camaraderie.

But first, a little history... Introduced in 'A Firesign Chat', the 'Microphone in hand' technic was used to string loosely linked bits together for the entire record. In that case, Peggy (why she would be a reporter, I'll never know) walks the town 'Microphone in hand'. This was used when there was no strong central character or theme to otherwise tie the record together. This was used again in the wonderful FST 2000 bit that the 4 or 5 did for NPR. Here, it worked like a charm, because all the characters were already well known to the listener, and in a short bit, it works well. This technic is used again, but to better effect on GMIOGMD.

The main difference between this record and the most popular FST, is that, in the previous records, the FST created a surreal world, that pulled you in for the ride. On the new CD, the FST 'reports' on this surreal world. Important distinction. The surreal world is still created, it's still there, just as deep and thought provoking as ever, it's just that here, the FST is on the other side of the microphone. This is not necessarily bad. It just appears to be the newer style of the FST.

The Bebop Loco (PA) character sets the pace of the record, as he 'talks' you from beginning to end. He's laid back, easy going, a family man. This sort of describes this record. The level of excitement is tempered by the FST's maturity. Gone is the youthful energy of 'Gary, the Seeker', Happy Harry Cox, and Porgie Tirebiter. These characters are replaced with the return of Ray Hamburger (PP) and Harold Hiphugger (DO), Pete Bergman, who gives us Chump Threads, a character who seems to be most like PB, along with some really good character voicings, and the 'never grow old' Phil Proctor, who seems to have the most energy of all, gives us Happy Pandut, General Y2K, and the ever popular Peggy.

Ray, Hal, Happy, Chump and Bebop take us through their surreal world on the last day of the millennium as things fall apart around them like 'rotten fruit'. From the 'female woman' driving the Babylon SX 4x4, to Hal in the Celebrity Storm drain, we're given the 'inside' story on the big 'To Do' at Homeless stadium where everyone is taking the big leap into the Millennium, (aka Rebus Kinebus' leap to the center of the earth). While the lack of a strong central character is noticable, this is probably the result of a new democracy surrounding the FST recording sessions.

This new record, however, is just as deep and intellectual as any of the previous FST records, and will produce "I finally got that!" remarks for years to come (I just got Porgie's Philatelist Club!). The Biblical/Babylon references alone, "will keep a man punching, 'til he's drunk, with power"! The Princess Goddess theme injects you with a eeriness that will stay with you 'till the end of time', and the Unconscious Village commercials will keep you coming back for more. And did I mention I love the background music for Chump and Unconscious village?

I did sort of expect a longer record, though. After 15 or so years you'd think the FST would lay a double record on us! Or with the CD's holding up to 74 minutes of audio, something more than 45 minutes. However, I'm certainly grateful for what we got!

This review attempts a comparison to the FST's best records of the past. This is, of course, unfair, but it's how everyone will judge it. I'm just attempting to put a little perspective on the issue. While I would rank the new CD just after, Dwarf, Bozo's, How Can You Be.., and Everything you know is Wrong, it stands head and shoulders above all the other FST records. And that, as they say, "Is high praise, indeed!"

There are some (although few) FST records that I've listened to once and couldn't get through a second time (Firesign Chat comes to mind), but GMIOGMD stands the test of time and dozens of listenings. And that's good news for everyone. The FST is Back!

Some observations on the new Firesign.

The beginning of this album is indeed a point of genius. It is a perfect example of Firesign's method of creating an image of what is going on in the scene that constantly shifts and transforms. The intro is now eerie, now horrific, now rediculous and silly yet still frightening. It reminds me a bit of Kim Cool's sexy commercial on In The Next World that transforms into a telethon promo before your amazed ears. To me, this is what is so unigue about Firesign- the ability to create a sound aritifact that trancends comedy, drama, or any other genre.

Notice also on the Unconcious Village intro the artful use of percussion: the drumming in the background never becomes quite rhythmic enough for the mind of the listener to incorperate it into the gestalt of the background music. Instead, the listener is unsure if the percussion is part of the music or is part of the chaotic sound effects.

And I gotta say, the Swiss Army Scorpion Survival Yo-Yo the most brilliantly f----d up joke I've heard all year.


This is easily the best album FST have done since "In the Next World, You're On Your Own." A little something to remember Y2K paranoia by when it's all over . . . if we can only make it past mid-night!


The Four or Five Crazy Guys are Back

Amidst the turbulence of the Vietnam War era and the rise and fall of the counter-culture, comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre were there on the scene, interpreting the chaos and social upheaval with their surreal brand of stream-of-consciousness humor. In a series of classic comedy albums, the Firesign Theatre took satire to it's logical extreme and created a world gone utterly mad, and then proceeded to show us how our own was even nuttier than this.

Now, after almost twenty years, the four or five crazy guys are back in our ears again. And not in any half-assed way, either. No rehash of old ideas, old formulas here, as understandable and forgiveable as that would be (considering that these gents are all pushing the big 6-0....aren't they about due for a bit of nostalgia yet?).

No, dear friends, this is not only a new Firesign Theatre album, it also happens to be one of their best releases yet, a stunning return to form delivered just in the nick of time, as we cross the threshold into the twenty-first century.

The opening is a perfectly frightening curve ball hurled right between our ears. Is it a commercial? Is it confrontational theatre? Is it an outbreak of temporary insanity?

Then, this mindbender (on one level it really was a commercial--a radio spot to be precise) ends and we get a station identification. We're listening to Radio Now! (you can hear the exclaimation point), a radio station so hip, so fresh, so utterly NOW that it changes formats every half hour or so. Run by the Firesign Theatre's cast of eccentrics, the station becomes the center of a plot that loops and zooms around the goings on on the last day of the millenium, a day where the nation is collectively going somewhat kind-of mostly bonkers for a little while, whipped into a Y2K hysteria.

Bebop Loco, played with rock-n-roll panache and tremendous crackling energy by Phil Austen, is our DJ, spinning out the scenes for us. Phil Proctor (who's all over this disc, and ringing true every time he's there) plays both the Celebrity Stalker Danny Vanilla, and Vietnam vet-turned-eye-in-the-sky traffic reporter Captain 'Happy' Pandit, with a memorable line that involves putting the words "female" and "woman" together. Peter Bergman is Chump Threads, sports reporter with a gnawing conscience (he's betting on his own kid's soccer games), as well as the street-tough station producer. David Ossman adds an achorman with a bad case of the millenial Fear, who also hawks Scorpion Survival Yoyos and D.O.A. Antfarms in his spare time.

And then there's Joe Camel who, ticked off at years of tobacco-company-bashing, governmental harrassment ("they went across the line...they wanted to take my shades away"), and saddened at the prospect of a future on the other side of midnight where his toxic lifestyle is no longer welcome, climbs down from his last billboard and gives a hotheaded press conference, and then roars away in his big souped-up muscle-car, headed for the "Big One", the New Years Eve party at Homeless Stadium. And there's narcissistic radio therapist Dr. O'Nann Winquedinque ("an old hand at self-love") who can't seem to get his head out of his lap. And wonderful cameos by Ralph Spoilsport and Caroline P. And many, many more characters (too many to name). And in between are commercial spots for omnicorporation "US-Plus" that are simply hilarious.

Friends, listen to this CD five times and you will hear five different albums, each of which will include at least ten new things you didn't notice before, each of which will usually prompt either (1) a swarm of chuckles and guffaws, and/or (2) a paranoid double-take...did they mean to do that?...just who am us anyway? Well, this is the trademark of all their best work, from the recombinant chains of punnery found in The Giant Rat of Sumatra to the nonlinear channel-flipping mayhem of Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers (long before nonlinear channel-flipping mayhem became a popular thing to do). Call it one of their special talents, this Joycean knack for finding weird connections and quirks of language (and particularly the abuses of language), and parading them around the mind's stage like a series of teratological weirdities.

However, since it has been almost twenty years since the release of a Firesign Theatre album, I confess I was a little nervous as I flipped this disc into the CD-ROM drive for the first time and put on my headphones. I was hoping for a bit of the old magic, hoping to spot a few of these strange creatures, these bat-winged cows, these three-headed-fire-breathing ducks. I should learn to have a little more faith, I suppose. Fact is, this is veritable managerie of cinematic weirdity. From the Clinton/Monica/Poe reference (listen veeeeery closely) to the ubiquitous eyeball hats, there's plenty here to keep the attentive listener searching for more clues....and in hysterics.

-=Trent D.

This is the only one I have heard so far..I got it as a sbscription gift from KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles, wher this all began long ago in a galaxy far away..wait, that's a different category..
What a relief to have the Firesign Theatre back when we need them to help us through the Y2K madness..These guys take all the fear and make it funny. 'The Princess Goddess is to Di for' lines are so apt! and the Auction--Eleanor Roosevelt and the Djuchess of Windsor together..makes perfect sense. I liked reading all the family members names in the booklet..I knew these guys way back when the did not have albums or CD's or computers...I hope I'll get to see them live again someday..I'm going to hear some more albums soon and can then compare.Thanks for the opportunity to communicate.I'm just beginning to explore the wonders of computer land on my new computer...bye for now...