Sunday, August 16, 2015

Firesign's Electrician

So, it's time to get back to Firesign Theatre, and their first album, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, released in 1968. As I noted in my previous posts (Waiting for the Firesigns, Sending Up the 60s, and The Enola McLuhan), side 1 of the album consisted of 3 separate, short (in comparison to most of their releases) pieces. Side 2, on the other hand, is made up of one extended radioplay, the title track, "Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him," clocked in at 17 minutes and 48 seconds. 

This piece is more like the surrealistic journeys that characterize the albums that follow, although it lacks the same amount of textured sound and sense of soundscape as can be found on their second album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All (see my previous posts, A Nick in Time for Firesign and Of Flip Sides and Firesigns).

"Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him" is framed by a play on instructional record albums, specifically language learning records, a wonderful bit of self-reflexive satire. That the language is Turkish, which then places the subsequent action in Turkey, retrieves the old, radio days/mid-20th century sense of the former center of the Ottoman Empire as an exotic and dangerous place, as well as a crossroads of the world. References to narratives based on the old British Empire and more contemporary (circa 1968) Cold War espionage are also present.

There's also a bit of play with radio eyewitness reporting. And the game show parody, Beat The Reaper, is one of their most memorable segments, generally considered among their best work. But it fits together as part of a larger whole, as you can see, er, hear, here:

The Wikipedia entry on this album refers to this piece as "a Kafkaesque fantasy of paranoia" and there clearly is an influence from The Castle and The Trial in this recording. But I would also point to Hitchcock movies in which an innocent becomes accidentally sucked into a world of intrigue and conflict, such as North by Northwest, and The 39 Steps
"Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him" employs an acoustic and dramatic variation of stream of consciousness, and an almost Freudian form of free association in humorous form, a real dive into a collectivist unconscious. Following the topsy-turvy logic that their comedy is based on, I guess you could say that their first album was worth the wait.

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