Maidens from Outer Space
Phil Austin's 1974
solo effort, ROLLER MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE, is my favorite of
the three mid 70's Firesign "solo" albums that I have
heard. Around 10 years ago, I made copies of it, along with TV OR
NOT TV and HOW TIME FLIES, from my uncle's record collection. The
battered cassette with RMFOS and TONT on it is still with me and
still gets played fairly often. Of the three, I think RMFOS has
the best unified plot, the best use of music, and the best depth
of performance. The album explores familiar Firesign territory,
Television, but not in quite the surreal way that DCTDHMTP did.
The album starts out with a commercial, leading into the bumbling
announcer of the Television Mission. Who asks the viewers to send
in their pledges, while he speculates about the possibility of Jesus
showing up later on. He then announces their musical guests....
Red Greenback and the Blue Boys.
The music on this record is not what you might expect from the "rocker"
Phil Austin. Its pretty much straight up 70's sounding country music,
with some Cajun-country influences from time to time. It is very
well performed, but it is far from traditional as far as the lyrics
go. Two of the four songs relate directly to the plot of the story,
and the other two do much more indirectly. The first song is "C'mon
Jesus" which is about a truck driver that spots Jesus hitchhiking
in Texas, and turns around to give him a ride, only to find that
a big Caddilac picked him up first. The trucker then follows Jesus
in the Caddy, hoping that he will be able to catch up when they
have to "stop for gas." Alas, his truck broke down, with
Jesus heading off westward towards L.A.
Then, in true Firesign fashion, the TV channel is changed, by whom
it never told. The next program is "Dick Private, Private Dick,"
a detective character that acts and sounds much more serious than
Austin's Nick Danger was. Mr. Private is leaving the office for
the weekend, when the phone rings. He answers it reluctantly, and
finds his new client to be Regular Boinklin, a character from a
different TV show opposite his on another TV network. He convinces
Private that his problem is more serious than having "swallowed
his car keys" and asks him to somehow make his way across two
TV channels and help them out.
The channel is changed again, this time showing the "Regular
and Ethyl" show. This may be the best part of the record......
Its a fairly gentle but slightly twisted parody of the family oriented
TV shows of the 50's and 60's. Particularly I Love Lucy and Ozzie
and Harriet. Regular's TV world is experiencing unexplained supernatural
phenomenon. There are all sorts of strange things happening, balls
of light hovering around, everyone dreaming the same weird dream.
His neighbor, the Hispanic Tricky Retardo, comes by, and mentions
his brother Jesus had showed up the night before, dropped off by
the Caddilac from the song heard earlier on the other TV station.
Tricky and Regular's conversation is interrupted by another Red
Greenback and the Blue Boys song - Switchblade Pitchforks. This
is perhaps my most favorite song in the entire Firesign music catalog.
It's not directly related to the story, but its funny nonetheless.
It's a fast paced country song, about a trucker that stops late
at night at some diner, only to find himself on a plane "to
wrestle a nude live stewardess, in flight." When he tries to
figure out what the hell is going on, he finds that the plane appears
to be indeed heading for hell. "The man behind the counter
had horns and a tail!" And the other passengers start pulling
out "switchblade pitchforks"...... but at the end of the
song, he says "it was all a dream," as the demons come
closer and closer. Another strange dream, perhaps related in some
supernatural way to the dreams of Tricky and Regular.
The station is then turned back to Tricky and Regular, whose brother
Jesus comes over, and asks if there is anything to smoke. Tricky
goes and finds some "stuff" that had been hidden in their
"boys' bedroom." They then toke up (which is to me, a
great "audio sight gag" -- these 50's Adult figures smoking
the pot of one of their kids) while they discuss their situation.
They then hit upon the idea that they could turn on the TV and try
to tune in Dick Private and see if he has made any progress. They
manage to do so, only to witness Regular's now-decked-out wife Ethyl
kidnapping Private at gunpoint.
The story gets stranger from here. It seems that the gangster type
character Johnny Fresno wants Dick Private locked away to keep him
from figuring out the mystery at hand. Fresno mentions that "The
Boss" was going to kill Jesus Retardo that night in the desert.
As the story progresses, it appears that Jesus Retardo is a symbol
of one of the power of "good" and that having him out
of the way will let the other more Satanic forces take over that
particular world. Dick Private escapes his basement enprisonment
hoping to get to the local Country Club's Event in time to find
out what exactly what was going on.
Side 2 begins with the News being presented over on the Television
Mission. Which is performed as a song by Red Greenback. Once again,
all the news relates to the story. More supernatural occurrences
are reported ... such as the gas in the gas tanks turning to wine.
The channel is switched again and its back to Tricky and Regular
and Jesus, who have fled into the desert. Only to find that the
"balls of light" followed them there. Jesus sends Tricky
and Regular to go and rescue their wives, whose involvement in the
Mystic Roller Maidens From Outer Space Lodge appears to be integral
to this Satanic plot. (Another song, unrelated to the main plot,
but talking about supernatural, perhaps Satanic, occurrences in
a small town, appears later on Side 2)
The story comes to a head when Tricky and Regular dress up as Roller
Maidens (another audio sight gag.... I don't think I ever had seen
THAT scenario on I Love Lucy, the guys dressing up in drag.) They
then sneak in the Country Club for the Big Event that night, hoping
to rescue their wives. Inside, everyone is about to celebrate the
death of Jesus, when Tricky and Regular's disguises are uncovered.
They are about to made into "sexual objects" of a Roller
Maiden ritual, when Jesus shows up. And he is pissed off... the
scene where he confronts Johnny Fresno is one of my favorite parts
of the whole album.
But just when things look like they will start to make sense, the
dream world they all had dreamed of earlier begins to unfold. The
whole country club eventually drifts into the air and floats away
as the "Balls of Light" appear around them. Below, Dick
Private, Private Dick watches, somewhat perplexed. He trudges across
the desert, heading back for his own channel, wondering if he will
ever be the same.
This album is primarily comedy, but in the background, is something
of a struggle between good and evil. The character of the "Boss"
is never directly revealed, it appears to be a two-toned (one voice
on each stereo channel) TV personality named Nick Exxon, whom is
also identified as by Red Greenback as "The President of Everything,
and everything is sad" However, you might also speculate that
"The Boss" is the Devil, from the album's slightly Satanic
overtones, but nothing directly indicates this.
The album is also a well done send up of some things that Firesign
had not really done before. A serious detective show, 50's/60's
family TV programs, religious TV shows, and country music! The vocal
talent does an excellent job, although in one scene, one of the
girls says "Tricky Ricardo" instead of "Retardo"
- a slip that I've always wondered how it survived the editing process.
Overall, its a very unified story. And I rate it higher than the
other solo efforts, even over a couple of the full Firesign records
. I have many many favorite "mental sound bites" that
came from this record, (and i subsequently made several wav clips
of on my comptuer) - This one is right up there with GIANT RAT in
the "sound bite" category for me.
After the Reuion Tour show in Denver in 1993, the Firesign were
signing autographs, and when I got down to Phil Austin, I thanked
him for the ROLLER MAIDENS record. He didn't reply, I don't know
if he wasn't in a talkative mood, or his opinion of that record
was lower than mine. But as for me, I did then, and still do, enjoy
that record a great deal.