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The Firesign Theatre
"I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus"

© Columbia

July 04 - 10, 2021

Year of Release: 1971
Rating:
  • Side .001
  • Side .002

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    The comedy group The Firesign Theatre returns this week, with their third album on our website, and their fourth album of their career - I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus (1971). Their previous albums reviewed: How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All, (what makes any music fan, and comedy fan, was this album's cover -- The Beatles' John Lennon, and Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers). Another highlight, was their take on Old-Time Radio. Don't Crush That Dwarf Hand Me The Pliers.

    I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus has only two tracks, as when released on vinyl, Side One and Side Two consisted of various skits all put together. "Side .001" has various skits, where "Side .002" pretty much focuses on one particular story. Likewise, it has a somewhat radio presentation about it. "Side .002" just maybe ahead of its time, as it includes a computer. (Remember, this is 1971, and computers were not around, as they would in future decades.)

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


    Plot:

    This album, like its predecessor Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, is one complete narrative that covers both sides of one LP. The first LP side is 20 minutes 51 seconds, and the second side is 18 minutes 7 seconds.

    Side one starts with an audio segue from the end of Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers: the music box tune played by the ice cream truck chased by George Tirebiter is heard approaching, played this time by a bus announcing a free Future Fair, which it touts as "a fair for all, and no fare to anybody". A trio of computer-generated holograms pop up outside the bus: the Whispering Squash (Phil Austin), the Lonesome Beet (David Ossman), and Artie Choke (Peter Bergman), singing "We're back from the shadows again" to the tune of Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again". They encourage the onlookers to attend the fair, which the Beet describes as "technical stimulation" and "government-inflicted simulation". Then they disappear "back to the shadows again". A young man named Clem (Philip Proctor) boards and takes a seat next to Barney (Austin), an older man who identifies himself as a bozo (person with a large nose which honks when squeezed); he says, "I think we're all bozos on this bus." After a stewardess tells the passengers to prepare for "a period of simulated exhilaration", broadcaster Floyd Dan (Bergman) tells them they are riding the rim of the Grand Canyon, the floor of which is five thousand feet below. The "bus" is apparently some sort of hybrid vehicle that can travel on the ground, yet turn into a jet plane which takes off for a "flight to the future".

    As Clem and Barney disembark at the fair, a public address announcer directs all bozos to report for cloning, so Barney leaves Clem. The Lonesome Beet pops up and recommends Clem visit the Wall of Science. He boards a moving walkway taking him to the exhibit, which opens with a parody of religious creation myth and seques into a brief overview of history from ancient times to the emergence of mankind, then to the modern scientific era. Two scientific discoveries are reenacted: Fudd's First Law of Opposition ("If you push something hard enough, it will fall over"), and Teslicle's Deviant ("What comes in, must go out"). Then recordings of selected audience members' reactions to the future are played.

    Next, the Honorable Chester Cadaver (Ossman) addresses the audience, and relates a meeting with Senator Clive Brown (Bergman), who demonstrates a "model government" consisting of a model train-sized automated maze of bureaucracies which terminates with an animatronic President as the output bus, whom Brown says everyone asks questions. When Cadaver asks Clem to state his name, he responds "Uh, Clem", and the central computer permanently identifies him as "Ah clem". As side 1 closes, Clem is directed onto another moving walkway which takes him in to see the President.

    On side two, we meet the President (Austin impersonating Richard Nixon). An African American welfare recipient named Jim (Bergman) relates the harsh urban conditions he and his wife live in and asks the President where he can get a job. The President responds with vague, positive-sounding replies only remotely related to the questions and completely unrelated to the citizens' concerns. Barney (or rather, his clone) is next in line, but is given the bum's rush without the chance to ask his question. Then it is Clem's turn; he puts the President into maintenance mode by saying, "This is Worker speaking. Hello." The computer responds with the length of time that it has been running. Clem then attempts to get access to Doctor Memory (the master control), and confuse the system with a riddle: "Why does the porridge bird lay his egg in the air?" This causes the President to shut itself down.

    Clem meets up with Barney back on the Funway. They encounter sideshows such as astronaut Mark Time (Ossman) recruiting a crew for a trip to the Haunted Space Station, and Hideo Nutt's Bolt-a-drome, where fairgoers are invited to participate in boxing matches with electrical appliances such as water heaters and toasters. Public announcers repeatedly page Clem to come to the "hospitality shelter", and Artie Choke pops up again, programmed to take lost children back to their parents. He says he will send Deputy Dan to take Clem to the hospitality shelter. Clem then uses Artie to create a clone of himself which enters the system for another confrontation with Dr. Memory. He repeats his porridge bird riddle, which the computer struggles with several attempts to parse, finally mangling it into "Why does the poor rich Barney delay laser's edge in the fair?" Clem succeeds in confusing the computer into contradicting itself, causing a total crash which ends the fair with a display of fireworks.

    The entire experience is then revealed to be a vision seen in the crystal ball of a Gypsy doctor (Proctor) telling Barney his fortune. After Barney leaves, the Gypsy plots with his partner (Bergman) to make a quick escape after their last client, a sailor.

    Portrayal of theme parks and computer technology:

    The fair rides and exhibits are similar to those at Disneyland and the 1964 New York World's Fair. Clem is one of the first "computer hackers" mentioned in pop culture, and his dialogue with the fair's computer includes messages found in the DEC PDP-10, a popular minicomputer at the time. (Some of the lines are error messages from MACLISP.) An identification followed by the word "hello" initiated an interactive session on contemporary Univac, General Electric, and university timesharing systems. Many of the things the computer said were based on ELIZA, a computer program which simulated a Rogerian psychotherapist.[5] For example, the phrase Clem used to put The President into maintenance mode, "this is Worker speaking," is based on the fact that the user could type "worker" at Eliza's command prompt, and Eliza would then display the command prompt for the Lisp software environment in which Eliza ran. And if the user neglected to end a statement or question to Eliza with a punctuation mark, Eliza's parser would fail, displaying the message "Unhappy: MkNam" to indicate that a function called "MkNam" was failing. The President said the same thing, pronouncing it "unhappy macnam."



    "Side .001" works well, with the various skits. Their parody of Gene Autry's "Back In The Saddle Again" is a hightlight - "Back In The Shadows Again" (They referenced this title during "Side .002. Just as on Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, "Side .001" is like listening to a movie, with it's different scenes/skits. Where "Side .002" is much more experimental, with the use of the computer. And, being ahead of its time. Monty Python comes to mind when listening to this album, and on "Side .002" another well-known comedy artist, Stan Freberg.

    I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus is a different look at comedy. All good to mention. The Firesign Theatre had their own unique and adult humor. They use various skits to create "Side .001" and the concept of computers on "Side .002." It's an interesting listen, and recognizing their storylines at a time where comedy artists and groups were popular during this time, the 1970s decade. The other reviewed albums on our site are also interesting to read. Look forward to another review, the album where it all began - The Firesign Theatre's first album, from 1968 -- Waiting For The Electrician Or Someone Like Him. (They sure had interesting album titles, didn't they?)




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