Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

21
The Firesign Theatre

IN THE LATE 1960s AND 1970s, millions of us walked around with alternate visions of reality dancing in our heads. No, it wasn't just drugs and the stupidity of youth; even senators and Congresspeople dared to seek a newer world, to argue about social dynamics and priorities, to doubt and oppose Official Lines and corporate power.

Now that everything has changed so drastically, that the 3 o-year-old conservative backlash has so engulfed America that alternative visions are, as they were in the 1950s, pushed to near-invisible margins, it gets hard to remember that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of us were getting deeply coded comic messages about the structures of official reality from our record players and a four-man, multivoiced, multitalented madcap troupe called The Firesign Theatre.

The 1960s may be dead, but they aren't—far from it. It was absolutely fitting that, on the eve of the millennium, the group reunited, as they regularly do, to release Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death, a brilliant send-up of America's obsessions, foibles, and unawareness that razors the chattering detritus filling a cultural void left by an absence of dreams.

“They've come to steal my dreams,” whimpers a female voice. A series of male voices drift past: “Get up, lady.” “It's the trade of the century.” “There's monster money in every sweaty mattress when you trade in your used dreams at Unconscious Village.” “But those dreams have been with me since the beginning,” she asserts weakly. The very masculine ad voiceover cuts in: “Don't be stuck with leftover dreams in the terrible days to come.”

That's the kickoff that brought the Firesign Theatre back from the shadows again in 1999 and onto Radio Now (“If it's not now, it's too late”). There's the digitized Princess Goddess (“She may be dead but she's obviously a very caring person”), now starring in Bottom Feeder Films' “Pull My String.” (“She had to die to star in the movie of her life. Now she'll live for you.”) Princess Goddess passed on while mud-boarding in the Alps—straight into a landmine. She's a spokesperson for Princess Goddess Airlines (“Let her take you for all you're worth”) and sponsors

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Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Highway 61 Revisited - The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock, & Country Music iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Avatars 5
  • 1: Louis Armstrong 7
  • 2: Woody Guthrie 17
  • Part II: The Postwar Jazz Era 31
  • 3: Mary Lou Williams 33
  • 4: Max Roach 37
  • 5: Sonny Rollins 49
  • 6: Chet Baker 64
  • 7: Miles Davis 68
  • 8: Herbie Hancock 80
  • Part III: Rebirth of the Blues 91
  • 9: The Gospel Highway 93
  • 10: Chess Records 99
  • 11: The Folk Revival 104
  • 12: Willie Nelson 119
  • 13: Lenny Bruce 124
  • 14: Sweet Soul Music 135
  • Part IV: In the Garage 151
  • 15: Bob Dylan 153
  • 16: Electric Blues Revival 171
  • 17: Buffalo Springfield 179
  • 18: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris 185
  • 19: The Grateful Dead 193
  • 20: The Band 204
  • 21: The Firesign Theatre 216
  • 22: Bruce Springsteen 223
  • 23: Tom Waits 235
  • Part V: Possible Futures 241
  • 24: Ken Burns, the Academy, and Jazz 243
  • 25: The Politics of Music Don Byron and Dave Douglas 257
  • 26: Cassandra Wilson 265
  • 27: Marty Ehrlich 278
  • 28: New Jazz Fusions 283
  • 29: Ani Difranco 297
  • Index 302
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