The Firesign Theatre
A conversation with David Ossman and Philip Proctor
The two surviving members of the Firesign Theatre took to Skype to remember their late colleagues Phil Austin and Peter Bergman. The group’s final show was in 2011, and Peter Bergman died in 2012. Phil Austin died June 18 at his home on Fox Island, Washington; he was 74.
For the generation that came of age in the Sixties, the Firesign Theatre merged the streams of rock and roll, underground radio, multitrack recording technology, science fiction, I Ching, tie die, the Summer of Love, the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, the theatre of the imagination, the legacy of radio, Citizen Kane, the Goon Show, the Marx Brothers, and the Beatles, and their own creation of an alternate comedy universe where Austin’s detective character Nick Danger investigated the soul of an America in transition.
For years, I’ve had the feeling the Boomers were a triumphant failure, the promise gone sour as Altamont sullied the Woodstock vision. We seem almost apologetic for feeling how important the swelling of the Sixties was, tucking our heads back under the covers as more pragmatic efforts took root in the coming of the computers. The Surrealists knew better. Walk among the Magrittes and behold their smug, successful smile if you don’t believe me.
Now is a time for a new mourning, when we notice the brilliance as it shimmers and falls like Independence Day fireworks on the roof. We gasp in awe, at the audacity, the tomfoolery, the quicksilver dumb genius of these four or five crazy loons. How lucky we were, and are, to have them.