Firesign Theater’s Original Tetralogy

I had a bunch of videos that I’d had partially drafted, going back many months. This one has been in draft since someone somewhere sorry I can’t remember who or where linked to or mentioned the Bozos album. Since this is a video site, and these are all LP-length audios, I was in no hurry, so the 4th album sat around in draft until I finally dug up “auds” of the other three original LPs from the ancient days.
Cleaning Out the Video Backlog #13 — and what backlog remains is… complicated.


File:Firesign Theatre at the Magic Mushroom.jpg
Group shot of the Firesign Theatre (Philip Proctor, David Ossman, Peter Bergman and Phil Austin) performing at the Magic Mushroom, circa 1967

Wikipedia: Firesign Theater – the seminal LPs

The Firesign Theater
Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him
(1968) (Complete Album)

The Firesign Theater
How Can You Be in Two Places at Once
When You’re Not Anywhere at All
(1969) playlist

The Firesign Theater
Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers

The Firesign Theater
I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus
(1971) (Complete Album)

dumpster3403 — I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus is the fourth comedy recording made by The Firesign Theatre for Columbia Records. It was released in 1971 and is the last of a tetralogy, comprising their first four albums. In addition to standard stereo formats, the album was released as a Quadraphonic LP and Quadraphonic 8-Track.


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.

Side One starts with an audio segue from Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers — the sound of an ice cream truck moving off down the street and out of earshot.

The piece opens as a bus appears on a typical suburban road identified as “Dutch Elm Street” in “Fifth Area”. When it stops, vegetable-shaped holograms pop out of thin air and sing a song inviting people to board the bus and visit “The Future Fair” (“A fair for all and no fare to anybody!”). The main character, a young man named Clem (Philip Proctor), boards and takes a seat next to his soon-to-be companion, Barney, who is one of many circus clowns (called bozos) who already on the bus. They are taken to the Future Fair, where they hear an announcement that they are “about to experience a period of simulated exhilaration” presented using a technique called “technical stimulation”, and encounter several virtual-reality-like, quasi-educational rides and exhibits similar to those at Disneyland and the 1964 World’s Fair.

They exit the bus and Clem enters “The Wall of Science”, a science-themed exhibit featuring recreations of historical events. The presentation includes two men, “The Honorable Chester Cadaver” and “Senator Clive Brown”, demonstrating a “model government” (which runs on electricity). When one of them asks Clem his name, hesitantly responds “Uh… Clem” and the central computer stores his name as “Ahclem”, addressing him as such. Later in the recording, the computer addresses Barney, who honks his nose horn when stating his name, as “Barney (honk sound)”. This is the first in a series of attempts by the computer to interact with the pair as another human would, but failing because inaccurate pattern recognition is a poor substitute for genuine understanding.

Clem and Barney join other tourists in various exhibits and rides, and eventually encounter a simulation of then-President Richard Nixon similar to the “audioanimatronic” President Lincoln at Disneyland. But instead of merely making a speech, it answers visitors’ questions with vague, positive-sounding replies only remotely related to the questions and completely unrelated to the citizens’ concerns. When Clem reaches the front of the line, he puts the President simulator into maintenance mode by saying, “This is worker speaking. Hello.” The computer responds with “Systat: uptime” and the length of time the it has been running. Clem then attempts to crash the system by confusing it with it questions it can’t understand, or sometimes, even parse. For example, “Why does the Porridge Bird lay its egg in the air?” is interpreted in several ways, such as “Why does the poor rich Barney (honk) delay laser’s edge in the fair?”, but the computer’s speech-recognition software rejects them all as probably erroneous. This finally causes the “President” to put itself out of service and shut down, but the attack fails to bring down the Fair’s entire network.

As Clem meets up with Barney on the Funway (a collection of carnival style attractions and games of skill), he discovers that the Fair’s security is looking for him. The loudspeakers repeatedly page for a “Mr. Ahclem” and the hologram of “Artie Choke” informs him that “Deputy Dan” will come for him. Clem then uses the hologram of Artie Choke to create a holographic image of himself and sends it into the system a-la Tron, to confront the central computer, “Dr. Memory”. His confusing questions cause this computer to crash too, bringing the fair to a halt.

The entire experience then revealed to be a vision of the future as seen in the crystal ball of a Gypsy telling the fortune of someone with the same voice and name of Barney.

Clem is one of the first “computer hackers” mentioned in pop culture, and his dialog with the fair’s computer includes messages found in the DEC PDP-10, a popular minicomputer at the time. An identification followed by the word “hello” initiated an interactive session on contemporary Univac, General Electric, and university timesharing systems.

This album was one of the inspirations for Ivan Stang’s 1973 film Let’s Visit the World of the Future.

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