You know who G. Gordon Liddy
was, right? Watergate
heavy. One of Richard Nixon's
own personal assholes. Later on in life, after prison
, he was one half of a comedy act with Timothy Leary
, who didn't need Liddy so much as he needed money
Back in the late 60's, Tim Leary's future straight man was an ambitious Deputy District Attorney in Duchess County, New York, home to both Doctor Tim's acid-drenched compound of hippie freaks and the five hundred acre campus of Bard College. File this info away. We'll get back to it.
Being a small school, Bard depended on the kids who needed money just to stay there in the first place. We worked in the Dining Commons, helped out in the bookstore, mowed lawns and pulled weeds, all the usual student jobs, of course. But there was always a special place on campus for the committed entrepreneur.
To help make ends meet, one guy made sandwiches, for those fits of the munchies that seemed to be endemic in those days. The gent whose product brought the munchies on in the first place was--ipso facto--an entrepreneur, well-versed in metric measurements, with a talent for making change.
Another very enterprising lad made a weekly trip to The City (Manhattan) and brought back the very best of sounds. He sold his records (albums, LP's, vinyl, acetate) in the Dining Commons during meals. I got The Band's Music From Big Pink for $4.98. In stereo. There was no way a superior sound was going to slip by the Bard College Purveyor of the Godhead. We were happening, baby. No question about it.
And that's where I bought my first Firesign Theater album too, in the hustle and bustle of lunch in the Dining Commons. They've been enjoying a renaissance of late, those hippie trippy comedics of the Goode Olde Daze: Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, Phil Proctor and David Ossman. Nodes here proclaim their excellence, their continued relevance to today's college student, but I assure you, first time around, these guys were a phenomenon, just like Finnegans Wake. You had to be a committed Lit Major to grok their references. And you had to really like pot. Boo. Weed. Grass. Marijuana. It all means the same thing--smoke it and you get high.
My entrepreneurial friend Tony, who owned a Killer Triumph Bonneville he used to ride too fast, held a de facto Firesign Theater party every Friday night in his room. This may seem odd to those of you who have the wherewithal to Date, but in those days, with No Money After Grass, we worker bees did what we could to get by. It started with hanging out.
Friday night, Tony's crib. He had an odd little room, sort of like the Overseer's Office, out at Ward Manor. It was right by the Main Entrance to the dorm, a little cubicle where you'd expect, like, a Time Clock and some clipboards hanging on a wall, or something; glass on two sides, maybe seven by fourteen feet. And there we'd gather. A little Wine and a lotta Dew, and Thou beside me in the
Wilderness. Er, Dorm Room.
The sensation was one of Family, if you really want to know, just like in all the story books. The room was too small to do anything but get real comfortable, and as the evening waxed and the music flowed, when the bodies in his room reached critical mass and the mixture of perfumes and hashish was just right, Tony our esteemed Host would put on Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, and we would all go fucking insane.
It's just not a record to listen to straight, boys and girls. Don't ask me to explain what I'm talking about. I never heard the record straight and I don't listen to it any more, cause I really don't have the time.
Wish I did though. Cause by the time the White Man's moving West and "...Railroad's Comin' Through--RIGHT NOW!" (cue the appropriate STEREO sound effect), well, my droogies, you just want to DIE laughing. Our little Firesign Family would explode with laughter and breasts would heave and limbs would rearrange themselves more comfortably... The Overseer's windows would rattle from the speakers and our mirth, and eventually, one by one, we'd have to leave Tony's room just to stay alive. Smoke would pour out of the door like Dylan's boxcar-wheels on fire. I think we gave the janitor some kind of nervous tick, because whenever he'd see one of us, he'd set down his mop and look at us strange. Real Strange. Even the girls. Especially the girls.
On a fine Spring Friday afternoon, my beautiful new girlfriend, the one with the breasts to die for and the legs that made me follow her around like a Labrador Retriever, informed me that we would be driving to Baltimore, her hometown, for whatever reason I forget, in her brand spanking new '66 Mustang Convertible.
Madeleine taught me to smoke Marlboros (a woman's cigarette in those days, by the way), and a jaunt down to B-town was always fun. I'd get to watch her legs for five and a half hours and she'd nuzzle my ear while I was doing it. Fuck the Firesign Theater, I could get laid!
Well, her mom was home, and we had dinner, and one thing led to another and there was a little heavy petting, but nothing, really, to write home about.
My head was a little fuzzy the next morning. Madeleine had a funny look on her face as she handed me the Washington Post. It was open to an inside feature page and there was a five column photograph of a line of kids outside Tony's room at Ward Manor, most of them with their coats pulled up over their heads.
The headline was something stupid like Drug Bust at Bard College. You know, the kind of thing that would grab Mom and Dad's attention, reading it over coffee in a National Newspaper of Record while trying to figure out how to pay your tuition.
Richard Nixon's future asshole, G. Gordon Liddy, in a ludicrous attempt to get himself elected, had arrested 70 students--my Firesign Family and then some--virtually a sixth of the college. The janitor had been a Narc.
And I—because of my jones for long legs, great breasts, fast cars and Marlboros—had been spared.
The judge threw out 69 cases on technicalities. One guy went to jail. He was poor. Like me. And I went to 'Nam. Go figure.
Wanna buy my Firesign Theater album? It's got clicks and pops and it still smells like Good Times.
Addendum: Peter Bergman, a founding member of the Firesign Theater, died from complications of leukemia on Friday, March 9th, 2012, in Santa Monica, California. He was 72.
Phil Austin, suffering from cancer, died of an aneurysm at his home on Fox Island, Washington, on June 19, 2015, at the age of 74.