Seattle Slow Show

The Secret State

It’s months later now, of course. I’ve gone off track and let the months go by, too busy and too ??? scared to continue on with this project. I fret about what pictures to use, got to make sure not to have them so big that the writing slides off the page to the right, worried about how it looks, how good the writing is or isn’t. Where will I get the time, what the hell is the actual idea anyway? It’s trying to see the show in Seattle at the Moore from almost a year into the future. Everything is the same and everything is changed and everything I think is wrong and everything I know is probably right. All the responses are so intelligent and thoughtful and stupid and silly. The friendships that have been made on this blog seem to be developing in a way more interesting than I’d ever hoped.

So. The Seattle show was where I sat on stage and because I didn’t have to learn lines and had no costumes to change beyond a hat or two, was free to kind of think while at the same time keeping track of what was going on, what my next line was, what the audience was laughing at, what lights and sound were doing, what my partners were saying and doing and so forth. There’s nothing like being able to follow a couple of three things at once to make performing a little easier. My recurring thought was that this might be the last time I ever did this, ever sat on a stage with my three partners of nearly forty years, the last time to go through the odd experience that it all is. For. Ever. Bye-bye. Old guys go away now, young guys no more. Young Guy go away now, sleeping on stage in Seattle.

On stage, I get into a kind of mood where what I seem to want to do is slow everything and everybody down. My sense of humor has to do with going very slowly. My partners are fast, blindingly fast in a couple of instances, so this show – because it featured so much individual writing – gave me the best opportunity I’ve ever had with The Firesign Theatre to test my ideas about timing and the aching slowness I tend to practice. The audience was fine with me and the really good part was my School Menus and Billy Flamnigan of Art of the Insane and Dr. Me and my new Nick Danger and Bebop all paid off. I was – in Seattle – starting to enter into the odd state of talking to a thousand people or so and getting into a kind of pulse of laughter with them. We all got into the timing and that’s where I’m happiest, both on stage and in a recording studio. So, I guess I started to get a little happy on stage at the Moore and at the same time, overwhelmed with kids and FST politics, starting to imagine the future. I hadn’t been looking much ahead, that’s for sure.

So, to pick up the story, after the second Portland show, the Big Blonde and the dogs and I drove the hundred and fifty miles back home to Mystery Island to get ready for the Seattle show on Sunday night. The place is not completely sold out yet. Doc Tech and Lil and Bunnyboy and Cat, everyone shows up, including hundreds of friends from Tacoma. The Mooreís an old roccoco theater with a stark drop down from the upper balconies. Jeff (our stage manager) tells stories of Eddie Vetter, singer for Pearl Jam, climbing up on his stacked amps on stage and scaling the plaster-frieze walls up to the first balconies. Jeff actually manages the larger and more beautiful Paramount Theater, up the Seattle hills, where FST had its reunion show in 1993.

So, before the show, we left the Island of Mystery and drove across the Galloping Gertie Bridge and took the kids to the Frisko Freeze in Tacoma, a drive-in rite of passage for anyone from the area, but particularly for Stadium High School people like Oona. She and I try to stop there the moment we get off the freeway on our eleven hundred mile drive from the south. This is to be the greatest fun for me of the whole tour. The four kids, all born and raised across the Galloping Gertie bridge in nearby Gig Harbor, have never been to the Frisko Freeze and it turns out that they really like the steamy meat pies called burgers. We park in our usual place (The same exact place where the Big Blonde always parked with her Stay Dumb High School friends) and we eat our burgers and fries and tartar sauce. The Suburban is filled with everything good. Everything is good. Four kids and two happy adults and at least twelve burgers, a couple of meat pies for cold eating back home.

I don’t have a picture of the Freeze of our own in the files, but here’s a link to a guy who does:

Frisko Freeze

It takes a half hour on this Sunday to get up to the Big City. To these kids, Seattle is a huge place, and itís beautiful this afternoon. We take pictures of each other in the old brick alley in back of the Moore.

ah, show business ???

That’s Ben on the left, the soulful twin and next to him is Danni who’s ten and then there’s Nick who’s thirteen here and finally Carter, the incisive twin. The Sound is down the hill, behind the kids. We’re right above the Pike Street Market where grown men throw fish at each other. We’re above the Pier where we played in ’94 in August and the sun didn’t go down until ten o’clock and the show started at eight and all Jeff’s light cues were for naught and I stood on stage at one point and looked out and I could see every form of transportation known to man. It was like a travel poster from the fifties touting Washington State, Land of Transportation. I could see cruise ships moving in the sound behind the audience, planes above, helicopters at eye level, cars and trucks zooming along the elevated freeways. Now, over ten years later, it was winter, dark came at five in the afternoon and the Firesign Theatre had had ten or so years since its Reunion in this same city. It had been, I thought, one hell of a ten years when I thought about it, which I started to do on stage that night.

Ten years before, we hadn’t been speaking to each other for several years, the boys and I. I’d become a solitary writer, most recently slave to the Grateful Dead, when Peter and Phil and David came up with the idea of us getting together to do something. We enlisted the help of Richard Baker and he teamed up with a big national booking company and we did the show at the Paramount as a kind of demo to see if there might be a National Tour. The promoters packed the Paramount. In fact Eddie Vetter was there, along with the babes from Heart (or at least one of them, I get a little addled after shows) and suddenly everyone hyped themselves into believing that we could do a twelve-city National Tour and make money for everyone. What had happened on stage at the Paramount was a double surprise for me and for Oona. The first thing was the huge affection shown by the audience. We were pretty terrible on stage, under-rehearsed and barely getting along and the audience didn’t care in the least. They applauded and cheered everything we did with complete glee. Everyone just wanted to have a good time. This was an eyeopener for me. I’d forgotten about the fun parts of FST life, the just wanting to have a good time part. The second revelation came when I’d walked on stage the afternoon before the show and asked if there was a lighting director I could talk to and Jeff Payne said to me, in his dour and sincere way, that he was it. He and Oona and I contrived a light plot so quickly and he fit in with us so amazingly that he’s been FST’s stage manager ever since. So, ten years later, here we were again and this time his kid Dylan was assisting him and my life was flashing before my eyes. My God, Jeff’s kid. My God, our kids. We didn’t get Alan, our usual soundman but he’d recommended Mike who, it turned out, is from Tacoma and fit in immediately. Back in ’93, when we embarked on the National Tour, it seemed as if we’d never survive.

The problem was hype, of course. The actual FST audience numbered far less than the expectations and several shows had to be cancelled and – while the four of us got paid – the promoters lost money. The four of us fought per usual and at the end, it seemed nothing could get us together. Except, a year later, there we were on the Pier in Seattle watching Modern Life pass before us in Arctic summer sunshine. And in ’97, when I finally called Peter up to make some kind of peace and propose that we approach Rhino, we entered into a five-year maelstrom of three records and several DVD’s and our PBS tv special and two trips to the Grammies and a couple of west coast tours and ???. In other words, Seattle was kind of at some kind of core in the swirlings of chance and laughter and tragedy that rings the Firesign Theatre even at this late date. And backstage, before the show in the old Moore Theater, I started to think that this might be it. I wandered down the old steep staircase from the tiny dressing rooms, down onto the backstage, cold and lit as if for a noir movie, listening to Nick and Dylan sharing the concerns of all male fourteen year olds; skateboards and hip hop, thinking about the cold city that hates us but is somehow central to our life, wondering if my stunned Republican friends will show up. Wondering if buying the kids house was the right thing to do, wondering if Oona had any limits to her astounding love for the people she loves, wondering if this could be the last time I feel the amazing click of satisfaction in me when the Firesign Theatre suddenly locks into some shared timing and the audience goes with us and suddenly I’m part of something that is just so fine that the only thing better, I sometimes think, would be sitting in my Suburban filled with burgers and french fries and chattering kids and Momo the dog-puppy and realizing that Childless Me was no more. I’m sixty-five, nearly, and never had kids, me and the Big Blonde. Now we suddenly do, for what it’s worth, for whatever amount of time and money we can throw into it, and it seems to me that I couldn’t be more prepared, as prepared now as I would have been unprepared thirty years ago when it might have/should have happened. The kids in our little house sleep everywhere, one or another in little cubby-holes they’ve found in our hundred-year-old farmhouse on the beach. Nick now has his own (the Playboy Club) in rafters upstairs and Danni has the Lincoln Bedroom (where the Griswolds once slept) to herself. The twins can be anywhere, although lately Carter’s been appropriating half the bed and Ben has built himself a fortress of pillows that he shares with one or another of the dogs.

I’m a person who comes from an unhappy family. I’m a person who’s in a comedy group that’s considerably more complicated that an unhappy family. And now, I’ve got these people sleeping in cubbies and playing xbox all day long when it rains and fishing for crabs off the dock when it doesn’t, and building model clay trains and chattering and wanting and hopefully seeing that there is a life where you get to go to college, at the very least, and where fun is the object. That’s our job, me and the Babe, and I can’t say we don’t enjoy it. In Seattle.

After the show, each of the kids has the same basic opinion. They each focus on the hilarious mistakes that were made on stage, how human we four were. They don’t see or care that most of those mistakes are made-up, part of FST’s standard bag of tricks. They just plain love that about the show. And the burgers were good. And they got to hang out backstage.

And out on stage, the show improves. I’m slowing down. I’m thinking. I’m realizing that the year will go on, that we’ll do the things we love, that the desert is calling ???

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Next, down to California, to San Jose and Marin and the Southland.

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