COLLECTOR'S CORNER |
ANNOUNCER: The Record Detective spends his daylight hours hanging around the local Union Rescue Mission outlet store, perusing the rejected record racks and spinning split-end yarns woven full of the endless threads of rare discs and hard to find pressings to the homeless patrons living on the leftovers of a careless consumer oriented society, as if anyone really cares. His own home life, or lack of it, has created a mystery of its own that he's unable to solve so he delves into the shelves of someone else's lost world. He surveys the scene like a manic monitor lizard on a mind bend, and spies through the middle aged female harlequin with a tainted blue beehive sitting behind the counter, a box of records. Fresh meat for his starving libido.
"They're not ready to go out yet!", she snaps with a pre-prepared prebutal to his unspoken thoughts. He knows the answer to the next question already, but he asks it anyway. "Well, can I just take a look through them?" She raises her well trained eyebrows and looks over her rhinestoned cat's eye glasses at him from her royal roost and emphatically dictates, "No!", with the familiar pompostic self-righteousness of the religious right. They've gone through this record rondo before. She knows the power she wields over him and hates him for some reason known only to herself for he is one of her best customers. She waits until she's sure he's gone before putting the box of grooved goodies out on the floor in the dirtiest corner of the room, knowing that he'll come back, and soon. This time her slave will have to crawl around on hands and knees to spend his money. She likes to make him crawl, it makes her feel important. The scene is set. The die is cast. Our players are on their marks. Get ready now for another adventure pulled from the tea stained typewriter of... The Record Detective.
RECORD DETECTIVE: I had another record dream last night in black and white, except for the label. I found that elusive savory sliver of polyvinyl chloride that satisfies even the sated soul of a demented Disc Dick like myself. It was as if that moment when I flipped another record over is frozen in time. And there it was, the Holy Grail. I pick it up to look at it and for some reason I feel different than I expected. Searching for it was the real thrill. Was it all a dream or was it real? At this point in my life I can no longer tell the difference.
There I was, going through endless stacks of albums, all standing on end, just like I'd done a million times before. All the usual suspects were lined up: Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Herb Albert, Shawn Cassidy, Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Mantovani... all staring back at me like orphans with big sad eyes. Suddenly, this cat Cosby catches my cornea, waving that super stogie and smiling like he knew something I didn't. I thought "What the hell! A half a buck's a small price to pay for a laugh, and I could use one after wasting another afternoon in this dump. So I flip it like a plantation pancake on a too hot griddle and there, plain as a pickle in a peach pie, were liner notes written by my old pal David Ossman. "I'll be damned!", I said out loud. I'd seen "The Best Of Bill Cosby" in the bins for years and never noticed Ossman's moniker before. I spun my spare change on the counter and drifted out of the store on gilded slippers.
ANNOUNCER: Sniffing a story, The Record Detective did what any vinyl hound with a hand me down Nick Danger hat would do. He quickly sequestered a quarter to phone call the senior Firesigner for the lowdown on the LP liner notes.
RECORD DETECTIVE: What's the deal on "The Best Of Bill Cosby" jacket job?
DAVID OSSMAN: At sometime around that time I was working for Warner Bros. and all I can remember is being pleased to be asked, because he was such a huge hit at the time. I think that was the first "Best Of" sampler of his, kind of a double recognition and I was very pleased to be asked. I see it frequently in discard piles, much more often than any Firesign records. I didn't have any special affinity with Cosby. I liked his storyteller manner, which was what he had really perfected in the beginning. People at Warner Bros. knew who I was, and I'm sure that's how it happened to come around.
I was the voice for Warner Bros. on the radio for one season. I think it may have come from that. That year I was advertising for them and doing spot ads that were released actually on 45's, which are me doing Don Ho, things like that. Little, you know, (Announcer voice) "Brand new release from Warner Bros. - 7 Arts," or whatever it was. It was just a straight advertising job and I did a lot of them, 10, 12, 15, a whole season's worth. They were for radio. There's probably more. Someone sent me one I did not have. It was a long time ago. I really considered those things to be a job, you know, work for hire. I didn't really consider it to be any kind of Firesign activity. I was doing quite a bit of it then.
I'll dub the commercials for you. There are a number of voices on them, including Phil Austin's. I have a calendar and the sessions are marked. There were about four or five sessions. These commercials and probably others were recorded on one of more of the following dates in 1969: June 6, July 23, July 24, July 31.
One even has my ex-wife Tiny on it, probably the first recording ever of her doing anything. It's one of those dumb hippie chick sort of things. That immediately threw me back to remembering what the studio thing was, which was "Oh yeah, well sure, let's use her!" So I think there were probably people around. It was probably one session with Austin and me. A couple or three were just me. I don't remember who my contact was at Warner Bros. at that time. I don't have any specific information, it's just faded completely from my mind. I just have spaced it out.
ANNOUNCER: Ah, the life of an album angler. When he goes fishing for an answer he just digs up another can of worms. The bulky package featuring the catch of the day landed several weeks later.
RD: So David Ossman recorded some 45s for radio commercials and he doesn't even remember it? There's 10, 12, 15 more, but who's counting? I am, and that's why the hands on this jonesing disc jockey junkie shook as I opened the latest Firesign fix when it finally crossed my threshold. Gutting the loaded lunker, I found 14 xeroxed labels and a tape featuring 25 spots for everyone from Reprise rock and rollers Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac, to strictly establishment elite like Dean Martin, and Don Ho. I slapped it into the deck as fast as my carpaled clutchers could handle.
I figured a radio ad for the Fugs, if there could be such a thing, would feature some far out Firesign- like humor but how would anybody find anything really funny to say about Dean Martin's singing while being paid to tell listeners to go out and plunk down their sacred samolians for his warped warbling. Only David Ossman could get away with reading such lines as: "Dean Martin, a symbol of assurance and stability in these troubled times. A man who does with his voice what Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix do with their guitars. Heavy on your head, an album you'll tell your psychedelic grandchildren about." And "...it will reduce your mind to magenta marmalade." Or somehow playing it straight for Ella Fitzgerald and Theodore Bikel pumping out horrible versions of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones songbooks, trying to bridge the generation gap all the way to the cash register. Some of the other pieces like for Don Ho, "Hawaii's most important export since pineapple and grass skirts", and the Vogues were done as normally as quickly as possible before David ran gagging to the John. The less said about them the better.
These recording sessions were held during the time when the Firesign funsters were trying to establish themselves big time in Hollywood, writing the script for the psychedelic western Zachariah, several months after recording "How Can You Be" and right before it was released on an unsuspecting public. Their own single "Station Breaks" was recorded a little beforehand and much of that piece's put-on of the powers that be spilled over into the spots for the counter culture heroes like Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats" Lp, "We Think you'll find it almost unbearably psychedelic." "Frank Zappa took a heavy trip recently, (music), got into some new things, (music), turned into his own good vibes, (music), got heavy behind his own mind, (music), went deep into inner space and found 'Hot Rats'! An album almost too psychedelic, almost too spiffy to listen to. On Reprise / Bizarre, where the other Mothers are also heavy on your head." Or: "The music on 'Hot Rats' is written and performed by Frank Zappa. Please don't be put off by this fact. Try to be objective. Buy the record anyway." And yet again: "'Hot Rats' is a new album on Bizarre / Reprise. Now we're not going to tell you who made it yet because most people think that his music is ugly and too weird and wish to have nothing whatever to do with him and the crazed minority he represents. OK? You can see if we tell you who made this 'Hot Rats' album, right off you'd push the button to another station and that would blow it. OK. Never-the-less 'Hot Rats' is really a good album. It has a lot of pictures all over it and if you hold the outside cover, which is a pink infrared close-up of Miss Christine of the GTOs, under a yellow light it turns black and white mysteriously right there in your hand. Now in spite of this fact, we feel that it is imperative that you obtain Hot Rats. We hope that you will discover the work of this exciting composer, this, this daring arranger, this, this reasonably competent guitar player, who must unfortunately remain anonymous during this commercial."
David does a forgivable one time only Peter Lorre impersonation for Jethro Tull's "Stand Up" Lp, grooving on the "neato keeno surpriseo centerfold, what a mind blower!", and does full blown Firesignesque raps for the Fugs: "Hello this is Decency Legionnaire Warren Peace with a message of critical importance for all conscientious parents. The Fugs, 3 to 6 bathless hippie degenerates from New York's teeming hotbed of hippie depravity, the East Village, have released a new album on Reprise, it's called "The Belle Of Avenue A". Because this album is subversive smut of the lowest order, I advise you to keep it out of the reach of the young and impressionable. Thank you." And, "According to the recent District of Columbia Imaginary Census, 6 out of every 10 employees of the CIA, own and like to listen to the Fug's new Reprise album, "The Belle Of Avenue A", when they think no one is watching. The always lovable Fugs, Tuli, Ed and Ken, are not your usual run of the mill teenage dance combo, but they may be your average run of the mill gang of irreverent perverts. Those who buy and listen to the new Fug's Reprise album "The Belle of Avenue A", are taking their moral reputation into their own hands."
Ossman plays around the non-title of the Grateful Dead's Lp "Aoxomoxoa", " ...it's the new Grateful Dead thing on the Warner / 7 Arts label. You know if I were able to pronounce it, I'd tell you the title of the Lp...", And for the absurd unmusical psychedelic sound seasonings "What's Become Of The Baby", so cleverly done on the album, David does an American Bandstand record rating where it, " ...gets a 98, mainly for it's dancable beat and catchy lyric. But tell me young lady. Would you buy it?" No answer. And for the last Dead spot another Firesign-like pitchman, "Every so infrequently, you the extraordinarily sagacious public is fortunate to be a party to an artistic breakthrough so revolutionary that it changes the course of that which it is, an out growth of, or has been nurtured within. So original and artistically creative is that which I'm speaking of that it may very well become a touchstone to each other's tribe but usually of little success to emulate. So creatively original, originally creative and bolder than bold, cleaner than clean, newer than new, is the new Grateful Dead long playing record album of (pause) music and other things, that we cannot tell you it's title over these airwaves. So if you're curiously cognoscente, co- consciously creative, courageously clever and neat, why don't you drop in and ask your local record dealer for the new Grateful Dead stout hearted and un-expurgated album. It's on the Warner Bros. / 7 Arts label. This album has been rated."
I sat back in my not so easy chair smiling the sweet smile of success, a temporary lull in the lurid land of lingering loose ends. Phil Austin's voice was also obviously on some of these, but who were the other character voices: the put-on pronunciations of some Brit spouting "watermelion", and the over the top Swedish bozo coming across like Yogi Yorgesson on steroids. I began to sweat again like a piece of rancid pork. Only one thing to do... make another phone call. My dirty digits did the dialing deal to the real Nick Danger himself, Phil Austin, to puzzle out another riddle. I couldn't wait for Uncle Sam's private postal pushers to deliver up the goods so I cupped the headphones up to the receiver and played the pertinent parts to my mentor. At listening to the first few cuts Austin zeroed my Kamikaze efforts.
PHIL AUSTIN: (Pearls Before Swine 1st spot) That's not me. (Pearls Before Swine 2nd spot) No. (Fleetwood Mac) No, definitely not, but it does sound like my writing. (The Kinks: "Getting yourself a copy of "Arthur" the Kinks new rock and roll opera isn't a good way of finding out for sure whether or not Ray Davies really likes to dress up like an old woman and pass out poison gingerbread to the children of London, but it sure will knock you out. [Smack] Unhh!") Yeah, that's me. That's me in a not very good mood. I'm somehow pissed off. That's the most I can tell from it. The one (Fleetwood Mac) could be me, now that we've established that I actually did some of these.
RD: Pay Dirt. Austin's familiar patented 'sock in the mouth bit' drummed up as a kid reading the funnies over the Fresno airwaves and used recently on "Nick Danger" beat out the paradiddles of preserved pronouncements. I next played one of the Jethro Tull spots with a parodied English accent.
PA: That could be me, but I can't positively identify it. It sort of sounds like me. That's my writing too, which is really weird. I just don't place it. Ha, ha, ha. I don't get that positive thing, but it sure could be me. '69 was sort of an odd lost year anyway. That (Kinks) one I vaguely remember, so I'm not entirely Alzheimered out on this. I don't know. I find it's fascinating, God!
ANNOUNCER: And so it ends, or does it begin again. With a new batch of rare unreleased records for our guy and you to look for. Funny thing though, checking out the catalog numbers on these records, you'll find that they're not a complete sequence. Are there others missing in between as Ossman suspects, and if so, what were they? More questions, and no answers. The scene fades as our hero puts on his hat, heads back to the Rescue Mission and another case for the bulging files of...The Record Detective.