Tuesday, January 08, 2013

[Music] Dwarves, Uncrushed

Dwarves, Uncrushed: On a whim, I re-listened to a record (I call it a record because the first time I heard it was on a actual record player) that I maintain is one of the underappreciated works of art in the last half-century: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, a comedy album by The Firesign Theatre. I can also safely state that you'll probably not feel the same way.

We live in the time of the comedy of personal discomfort. Prior to that was a tsunami of irony. Prior to that was sketch comedy. Prior to that was parody. There has always been cross-pollination among those. There is still parody today and there was discomfort half a century ago, but I think that is roughly the order that the primary comedy fashion has passed through in my lifetime, each with variations that are based on either manners or raunch. Don't Crush That Dwarf... arose in 1970 at the cusp of the parody/sketch transformation, so it is a form of comedy that no one is all that familiar with anymore. There are cultural references from long ago (Vietnam, the Rosenbergs, old time radio) that no one will get. And it's a comedy record. Like a stand-up routine or an improv troupe, sound only. Kind of like a book-on-tape or a podcast. So what I'm saying is that it's weird content and a weird format. To you. To us oldsters it's fairly common.

Firesign Theatre produced a number of sketch/parody albums back then, generally good material -- they're a talented bunch, but Dwarf... was one of those rare moments in entertainment where everything comes together and the whole of the product transcends the genre.

Ostensibly an "ages of man" narrative following one character through various stages of his life mapped onto an evening of him flipping channels on the TV. That whole idea is soon swamped in a relentless firehose blast of over-the-top caricature and seamless malapropisms peppered into a cross-talking melange of linked dialogue, often tying foreground and background threads into a nice little poetic bow, eventually spiraling into a causality defying vortex of aural madness.

And no, I was not tripping at the time.

But again, I have to emphasize that you probably won't see it like that. It will be too strange to you if you are young. And if you are old (like me) you will have long passed the age where that sort of oddball beauty appeals. Luckily it won't cost you too much to find out. Amazon has the album available for download at $9.99, but note: There are only two tracks (corresponding to each side of the record), and they are available for 99 cents each. That's right, you can buy the whole album for $9.99 or you can download the two tracks individually for $1.98. Obviously a glitch in the Amazon matrix, but it's certainly worth exploiting.

If you're going to try this despite my warnings: Listen to it. The listen again. Then listen again, this time to everything going on in the background. Then listen a fourth time to take in the full effect. With your mind blown, you can thank me later.