"It's a day in the life of a man who looks at himself on television, metaphorically speaking...you can see yourself on TV, anyone of those people can be you."
-- David Ossman

The third album by radio comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre. Released in 1970, much of the material was drawn from a live act they called the "TV Set" in which they re-enacted the fragments of old movies, soap operas, inane commercials, news broadcasts, and public service announcements one might see while channel surfing. When they wrote the album (working title "A Life In The Day"), they decided to tie it in with their previous works by continuing the adventures of their Everyman protagonist (previously known as "P" and "Babe"). For two albums now he had been trying to get out, to be free; this time he would succeed.

This album is one of the Theatre's finest. The channel-switching motif allows their surreal humor free rein. Unconstrained by any need for transitions from one scene to another, sketches can be cut off in the middle with a single click and a new one can begin without a pause. Their trademark wordplay flies fast and funny, providing some of the most memorable Firesign moments ever. ("Shoes for Industry!" in particular has become one of their best-known signature phrases.) But for all the seeming randomness, every element serves a story arc that gradually and subtly pulls together all the scattered bits and pieces of disconnected TV jabber and brings it to a climax that still raises goosebumps.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Commercial Announcer:
This is a line of Indians leaving beautiful Rancho Malario--to make room for YOU! Here's the beautiful Trail of Tears golf course... (click!)

It's four in the morning, and George Tirebiter has just woken up from falling asleep in front of the television. He's starving, but there's no food in the house and no one will deliver to his sector after curfew. Meanwhile, on the religious program playing in the background Pastor Flash is offering his flock mountains of pot-buttered groat cakes! George demands his share and they miraculously come pouring out of his screen, hot and delicious. As he devours them he begins to change. Suddenly he is drawn into the television, living the lives of the people on the screen while at the same time paradoxically sitting in his living room watching himself do it.

Bob Baseline:
...et's talks about your car. It's screaming "Wash me, please!" Now, if you're a Mr. Common Sense, you won't believe me when I tell you that I've got an envelope that'll clean your car while you're driving it home to work. Well, George, believe me this time, because this one isn't like the Austrian self-sharpening razors. No, friends, no overheating like the tropical fishes. No zizzing and dripping like with the dike... (click!)

Throughout the experience, which consists of the aforementioned fragments of late night TV viewing, the channel-switching George keeps returning to two old movies that, running parallel to one another and finally merging, comprise the main thread of the story. The first movie is Highschool Madness, the Theatre's version of Archie Comics as seen through the distorted lens of the Cold War. "Peorgie Tirebiter" and his wacky pal Mudhead are students at Morse Science High and, improbably, spies for it as well. (Ossman has said that the idea of focusing on school in this album came from the Kent State shootings, which occurred while they were writing it. The protests at Kent were motivated in part by rumors that the school's science department was developing technology for the CIA, including devices that had been used to track down Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara.) When Peorgie and Mudhead arrive at campus (after a hilarious flashback where delinquent students Pico and Alvarado harass Principal Poop at a re-enlistment pep rally) they find that the entire school has been stolen. Mudhead's girlfriend Bottles claims that the culprits are "those bullies at Communist Martyrs High School." The three decide to sneak into Commie Martyrs and get the school back, but when they find it--disassembled, stacked, and labeled in the gym--they are apprehended by the authorities, led by Peorgie's own father who now wields absolute power in the sector as elected Dog Killer.

Joe:
Hi! I'm Joe Beets. Say, what chance does a returning deceased war veteran have for that good-paying job, more sugar, and the free mule you've been dreaming of? Well, think it over. Then take off your shoes. Now you can see how increased spending opportunities mean harder work for everyone, and more of it, too! So do your part today, Joe. Join with millions of your neighbors and turn in your shoes!

Commercial Voice:
For INDUSTRY!

The other movie is a war film entitled Parallel Hell. George is an Army lieutenant in this one, leading troops in Korea with the able assistance of Sergeant Mudheadski. Pico and Alvarado return from a scouting mission and report that surrounding the "gooks" as ordered will be easy: there are millions of them, all over the country. ("They live here, Lieutenant! They got women and pigs and gardens and everything!") Lt. Tirebiter rattles off movieland military jargon with macho precision as he formulates a plan of attack, but when it comes to the part of the plan where he has to instruct them to kill people, Tirebiter can't get the word out.

George:
...not in any way want to put myself in a confrontatory position either with the United Snakes, or with Them. And you can believe me, because I never lie and I'm always right. So wake up! (slap and baby crying) And take a look at your only logical choice. Me. George Tirebiter.

Voice Over:
Paid for by the Tirebiter For Political Solutions Committee, Sector R.

In the finale George is on trial, both as Peorgie and Lt. Tirebiter. Peorgie is accused of trying to "Get Out in times of Declared Emergency", and the Lieutenant is declared to be in violation of the Secret Code of Military Toughness. When his own trial degenerates into a public auction of the Army's integrity (symbolized by Surrogate General Klein's uniform), gets up in disgust and walks out of his movie and into Peorgie's.

Peorgie and Mudhead realize that, although they are accused of collaborating with the kids at Communist Martyrs, they've never seen any kids at that school. Where did they all go? "They're in Korea," the judge replies uncomfortably.

"In whose movie?" the Lieutenant asks. The judge angrily retorts that this is no movie, this is real. In fact, he says, it's the last reel of the vintage motion picture Highschool Madness, now up for auction to the highest bidder.

Peorgie decides he's had enough: he's going to escape. But how? Where was he before all of this began? With Mudhead's help Peorgie remembers the exact moment that he sold out.

Bob Baseline:
...on't spurt fire like the hoses. No, friends, this one won't take over your house like the high-speed vibrating clocks. So, friends, don't change... (click!)

With that realization the spell is broken and George Leroy Tirebiter returns to reality. Now it's dawn, and George, now an elderly movie actor watching himself on television, receives a wake-up call from his message service. The operator begins reading him the names of all the people who've left messages for him during the night ("Mr. Sennett, Mr. Keaton, Babe Hardy, Stan Jefferson...") but the distant jingle of an ice cream truck's bell distracts him. He runs outside and begins chasing the truck, calling out to the driver to wait. As he runs his voice, fading into the distance, becomes younger and younger until he is a boy again.

Sources:
The Firesign Theatre's Big Book of Plays - Straight Arrow Books, 1972
http://www.firesigntheatre.com

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