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The Firesign Theatre
"Don't Crush That Dwarf Hand Me The Pliers"

© Columbia

May 07 - 13, 2017

Year of Release: 1970
Rating:
  • This Side
  • The Other Side

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    The comedy troupe Firesign Theatre returns with their third album of their career, from 1970 - Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers. There are only two tracks from this album, as it blends in as watching a full schedule of Radio/Television programming. The two tracks are titled as "Tingings" -- Track 1: "This Side" (22 minutes, 16 seconds), and Track 2: "The Other Side" (24 minutes, 12 seconds).

    Both tracks resembles listening to Old-Time Radio, just as they did on their second album, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All. Most particularly, with the OTR format, "The Further Adventures Of Nick Danger."

    The following information was taken from the album's Wikipedia page:


    This album centers on the character of George Leroy Tirebiter (a man named after a dog). Firesign member David Ossman plays the role of Tirebiter, a former child actor, who spends his time watching himself on late-night television. As his evening unfolds, the listener hears "excerpts" from fictional movies in Tirebiter's past. One "movie" is High School Madness. It stars 'Dave Casman' as Peorgie Tirebiter and 'Joe Bertman' as his sidekick, Mudhead. Although an earlier portion of the recording intentionally blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality by identifying Tirebiter (not 'Casman') as having been the star of the "Peorgie and Mudhead" films, rather than a character in those films. High School Madness is a parody of the Aldrich Family radio show, the Archies comic book, and of 1950s youth culture in general. Another "movie" is Parallel Hell, about a war film set in Korea, where the soldiers (including Tirebiter) debate the seemingly endless war. These are interspersed with commercials and other staples of late-night television (including a televangelist and a talk show) as Tirebiter randomly changes channels. The broadcasts contain many references to warfare and Cold War paranoia (product names such as Napalmolive), indicating that Tirebiter's world exists under martial law.

    It has been said that the album's title was inspired by a photograph in Bob Dylan's album Blonde on Blonde, where Dylan is holding a small picture of a person and a pair of pliers. It has also been said that the "dwarf" represents a burning "roach" (the final portion of a marijuana cigarette), to "crush" refers to stubbing out the "roach", and "the pliers" refers to a "roach-clip", a device for protecting the fingers while burning a "roach". Some marijuana smokers from that era, pre-vapes, agree.

    The credits on the back cover most likely include pseudonyms (e.g. "Mr. Procmer," presumably a misspelling of Phil Proctor's last name similar to the mention of "Casman" for Ossman and "Bertman" for Bergman on the album) but also include Anna-Lee Austin and Tiny Ossman, then the wives of Phil Austin and David Ossman. Anna-Lee Austin also is credited for the wake-up phone call and bird sound effects heard in the final dialogue segment.

    COVER ART: The name "Firesign Theatre" was suggested by an astrologer-friend of the troupe who noted that all four members had been born under "fire signs." The cover art, by Robert Grossman, features caricatures of the members as their respective astrological animals: Austin as a ram (Aries), Proctor as a lion (Leo), and Bergman and Ossman as two Satyrs or Centaurs (Sagittarius). The Sagittarians are armed, respectively, with a bow and suction-cup arrow and a squirt gun, and the other members are seated on their backs. An eponymous pair of pliers sits on the ground beneath them. The original LP release came with a poster, featuring Polaroid snapshots of group members.


    For those who grew up from the Chicago area, and Chicago radio station WLS -- When it had the Rock music format in the 1970s, one of their DJ personalities was John "Records" Landecker. During his long stay at the station, his intro on WLS featured what would be part of the Firesign's "This Side," where you hear a crowd of people, organ music, and the infamous "Is it going to be all right? ... This bit would be originally from this Firesign album, which I did not know. Interesting to hear where famous skits used originally came from.

    Another interesting read, was on the back of the album's CD: "You might not want to play this record on the radio because of the FCC." Like Monty Python and Saturday Night Live, with its adult humor, Firesign had it's own adult humor, where in one part of "This Side," there is the line "I didn't know you masturbated." This, as well as other adult humor was banned from playing on the radio back in 1970, where today, this album would not be as shocking to hear. Times sure have changed.

    A lot of the album's style does relate to the Old-Time Radio format, and more of Monty Python. And with the long durations in time, this kind of comedy was not expected, back in 1970. Where most recently, Rock albums would have what were called "album sides," where one song would take up an entire side of an LP record. Most likely, these album sides were not played on AM radio, yet they were played on various FM stations, particularly underground FM radio.

    The Firesign Theatre consisted of four members: Phillip Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Phillip Proctor. Since their first album in 1968, their history has been in existence reaching 50 years. Unfortunately, within the past two years, two of its members have passed away. In 2012, Peter Bergman died from complications involving leukemia. He was 72. And in 2015, Phillip Austin died at the age of 74. The cause of death was cardiac arrest, although later it was changed to aneurysm. He also had cancer. The remaining members Ossman and Proctor are celebrating their 50th anniversary; as the Firesign Theatre made is official debut together at local California radio station KPFK on November 17, 1966. The anniversary program was recorded at the Trepany House at the Steve Allen Theater, in Los Angeles, California, on November 17, 2016, The anniversary show was recorded for broadcast and podcast purposes. UPDATE: The Steve Allen Theater Center For Inquiry in Los Angeles, California, is being torn down for condos, in July, 2017. More info here and here

    The Firesign Theatre podcast page is found here

    The Firesign Theatre's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers is listening to a movie, with it's different scenes. The Old-Time Radio imagination comes to mind, as you visualize in your mind the scenes as you listen. They defined their own comedic style, different than your standard one-person stand up comedy. Their stories are meant to be listened to, and always pay attention to the storylines as they appear, for your listening enjoyment. A different kind of comedy, but for all in good measures.




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