If you’ve paid much attention to web video over the years, you may notice its inventory is growing massively, and not only from people posting new videos of themselves. An immense amount of archival cultural video is being unearthed and uploaded, so what’s old truly does become new again.
Actually, often it really is new because back when the video/film was recorded, distribution options were primordial. For instance, a lot of great footage from the history of rock music was taken in Europe, either by filmmmakers or, primarily, on European television broadcasts. In the 1970s, you could not watch European television in the American suburbs.
To me it is fascinating that we have access to such a growing body of footage …. of the past. Probably like the state of archaeology 120 years ago.
One caveat is that what we are getting is by no means a uniform picture. It is very eclectic. Frank Zappa and Ry Cooder, for example, left a pretty decent trove of video from that era, while Happy the Man left almost nothing.
Here is Frank with Adrian Belew on vocals and a very young Terry Bozzio on drums.
Porgie Tirebiter, he’s a spy and a girl delighter
Porgie, firefighter, he’s a student like you.
If you grew up in the U.S. in the 1930s or 1940s, you probably got to experience radio theatre as a mind-expanding and, when done well, mind-infesting form of entertainment that tapped into the imagination in a way that television usually lacks. It has something to do with allowing our brains to do the extra work of creating the visual world – which is closer to dreams, in composition, than to the concrete reality depicted in TV shows and movies.
If like me you are too young to have experienced the age of radio, the very next best thing, which was as good and probably superior, was the Firesign Theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. The selection included here was my first introduction and I can remember it like it was yesterday.
The year was 1973 and Weasel was still on the midnight shift at WHFS FM (102.3 in Bethesda, MD). If you were in junior high school and prone to lying in bed awake way too late, Weasel was one of your best friends.
Anyway, one night Weasel played the entire first side of Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers. As usual, the selection came on without any introduction (he’d detail each playlist after the half hour or so). I’d never heard of Firesign Theatre and could not tell what I was listening to, whether it was a show or separate things or bunch of commercials or what – but because of the format, and the late hour, I was drawn in. My first introduction to “theater of the mind.”
The Hour of the Wolf News came on, with the talking head noting “Adam, one threes and sebien negritude will come as a pleasant surprise to his honorary aquarium parents Ralph Bunch and Ida Lipino,” then the food was coming through the television, then Porgie and Mudhead, and though a voice in my head was saying “What the hell IS this?” they had me mesmerized.
The jokes were good enough, but it was the parallel reality that made the program so enrapturing. You often can’t tell what the joke is until your mind figures out the context …. and then you realize the context itself is part of the joke – riffing on tropes and expectations that leave you skimming along the edge between the separate reality and this one. I had never experience anything like it.
Unfortunately, I did not get to hear Weasel’s recap of what the hell that was, which meant although I tried to explain it to my friends, I couldn’t. If you were growing up in the American suburbs in 1973 reality had a fluid aspect to it anyway, so for many months afterwards all I was left with was the vague memory of another world.
Another DC station at the time used to play The National Lampoon Radio Hour every Sunday night before The King Biscuit Flower Hour. That very short-lived National Lampoon program was amazing – a couple years later sending several alumni to start Saturday Night Live – but even though I listened and listened I never heard anything like a reprise of that very weird late night episode.
Then, one night in 1974, again on WHFS, they played a selection from “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus” and I managed to hear the recap. And within a couple years I probably had bought every album the Firesign Theatre produced. I can still say, even after this many years, there has never been anything like them.
When you get a chance, and have 20 minutes or so of uninterrupted time, put on the headphones, close your eyes, and check out Don’t Crush That Dwarf. If you are in Colorado, you can probably even get the full 1973 experience.
At the time it was just plain funny, and edgy in a Mad Magazine sort of way. It was the coming out moment for those early 1970s heroes of so many adolescents and teenagers: Cheech & Chong, previously relegated to clandestine record albums our parents really had no idea about. We’d crack up in our bedrooms after school and repeat the jokes ad nauseam during the various self-directed, youth-oriented activities that filled our days.
The song sung by “Tyrone Shoelaces” appeared on a 1973 LP and featured members of George Harrison’s cadre of musician friends at the time (including Billy Preston and Jim Keltner) and the Mamas and the Papas on backing vocals. This animated short film was made the same year but most widely seen as the featurette preceding the great, and now pretty much unavailable, 1976 comedy “Tunnelvision.”
I am pretty sure I saw it on television sometime in the 70s but am a bit hazy on the specifics.
What is remarkable about Basketball Jones, the film, is the extreme, err, political incorrectness that leaps off the screen today. In 1976, not so much. In fact, I thought of Basketball Jones as a tame, mainstream sort of introduction to Cheech and Chong since it wasn’t focused on the certain illicit substances that comprised the central concern of their oeuvre up to that point.
To get a sense of how our mores and rules have changed over the past 40 years, Basketball Jones is a good measuring stick: Tame at the time; outrageous today.
While some people still hold to the ridiculous idea that modern American, left-wing-driven culture is becoming more free, the reality is just the opposite. What we are becoming is more sensitive and restrictive. It’s possible the freest we have ever been was in the 1970s when our president was Richard Nixon and you could buy record albums with giant rolling papers included.
Now that the principal Firewall NOVA founder has taken leave of the site (which I will continue to think of, hopefully, as “leave of absence”), I will post this brief two-point update:
1) Firewall NOVA Right will possibly continue contributing, though he will need to clarify that matter. I have it on good authority that he is extremely grateful for the leadership provided by FW Left, and also for Left’s much more consistent work here.
2) We are going to conduct a housekeeping task which may cause some strangeness for a spell.
This has been a good experience for all involved. Perhaps we will be able to resuscitate or revive the project, on the off chance our world continues to be beset by controversy and trouble.
FirewallNOVA Left and FirewallNOVA Right are Joe Budzinski and Stevens Miller, though probably not respectively. Kudos to those who have already guessed, though it’s not like we were really keeping it a big secret.
Why have yet another political blog, particularly one with no clear political slant? It’s tempting to say that, if political slants are worth having, that makes this place twice the fun of other blogs, since we’ve got (at least) two of those here. However, that’s not the point of this project. Your proprietors are, in fact, as different in their political inclinations as you think we are. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we agree on.
Politically, we’re in mutual opposition, and that’s not likely to change. Philosophically, however, we are both way past the point of being fed up with bullshit. Theoretically, if one of our sides is correct, then straight facts and plain talk will make that clear to everyone. But, regardless of what might be promised elsewhere, it’s asking a reader to believe quite a bit when a forum is run by, for, or in the name of one side and not the other, while its hosts proclaim their God-like powers of fairness and objectivity.
We don’t claim, nor do we offer, neutrality (and we don’t suggest you put a lot of faith in anyone who offers that, either). We do claim and we will offer two things: first, we offer a place where, if you have a case to make, you can make it, provided you don’t waste anyone’s time with jive, bull, hearsay, or insults. We’re largely going to enforce that by relying on the honor system. If you’re clever enough for jive, you’re smart enough to know it. Police yourself, so we won’t have to. Second, we claim to be an example of political opponents actually cooperating with each other and making something work. Everyone says that’s what they want, but no one seems to think it’s possible. Well, this little project isn’t going to change the world, but we like to think it proves a point worth proving.
By the way, we don’t edit each other’s stuff. If you see a post or comment by FirewallNOVA Left, blame (or praise) Left, as Right had nothing to do with it. Likewise, if you see a post or comment by FirewallNOVA Right, blame (or praise) Right, as Left had nothing to do with it. When we’re on the same page, we’re just “FirewallNOVA.” (Posts from someone trading as “FirewallNOVA Guy” appear from time to time, but we’re not really sure if he’s real, a figment of our imaginations, or a hacker. Stay tuned.)
The 2015 cycle will soon be (or already is) under way. We thought this was the right moment, between elections, to go public.
STOP THE PRESSES: For those who who were dawdling around with politics and missed the big news for Washington DC on November 4: Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox announced they are returning to the East Coast on January 19 for a single show at The Birchmere in Alexandria. (They missed the DC area on their recent tour).
You might, perhaps, notice who is running the United States Senate in January. But you will definitely rue your fate for the remainder of your days if you miss the chance to see PMJ while they are in town.
If you want to see Postmodern Jukebox, you should get the tickets now, because last time they played in our area they sold out two consecutive shows at The Hamilton in DC. They have a serious fan base here.
Also, tomorrow at 2:00 pm, you can get tickets for the pre-show “mingle” with PMJ which is fun, inexpensive and, well, just silly to miss.
With the promise of mining extensive film and video footage, much of it never made public, Martin Scorsese is reported to have signed on to produce an authorized documentary of The Grateful Dead. As director and editor, Scorsese worked on both Woodstock and The Last Waltz.