How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All
|How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All|
|Studio album by The Firesign Theatre|
|The Firesign Theatre chronology|
|Robert Christgau||A+ link|
|The New Rolling Stone Record Guide|||
- "How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All" – 28:27:
- "Drink to Me Only with Thine Fox" (Mr. Catherwood and Ensemble) [CD retitle: "The Ralph Spoilsport Mantrum"] – 4:21
- "The Policemen's Brawl" (Officers Bradshaw and Henderson) [CD retitle: "Zeno's Evil"] – 4:34
- "Yankee Doodle Came to Terms" (All Fecal People's Chorus) [CD retitle: "The Land of the Pharaohs"] – 2:47
- "Über Dubbing Over Alice" ('Arry 'N' Friends) [CD Track retitle: "VACANCY-NO VACANCY"] – 1:34
- "You Ain't Got No Friends on the Left" (Babe and the Unknown Soldiers) [CD retitle: "The Lonesome American Choo-Choo Don' Wan' Stop Here Any Mo'"] – 7:34
- ""We're Bringing the War Back Home!" From Babes in Khaki" (Lilly Lamont*) (*Miss Lamont Courtesy of Paranoid Pictures) – 7:31 [split into 2 tracks on the CD, track titles below]:
- "Babes in Khaki" – 3:53
- "TV or Not TV" – 3:38
- The Further Adventures of Nick Danger – 28:11
- "From the Archives of the Original Firesign Theatre Radio Hour. As First Broadcast December 6, 1941. Rebroadcast Courtesy of Loostners Bros. Soap Co."
Detailed track information and commentary
The album consists of two 28-minute pieces, each taking up one side of the original vinyl release.
"How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All"
On side one, the title track opens with Philip Proctor playing car salesman Ralph Spoilsport, a spoof of Southern California Ford dealer Ralph Williams, who was well-known to Los Angeles-area late-night TV viewers of the time. (Williams is eventually imitated on this track by all four Firesign members). As Ralph is extolling the virtues of a featured new car, the main character, Babe (Peter Bergman), runs across traffic onto the lot and interrupts Ralph's spiel with an immediate desire to buy the car in question. Ralph enthusiastically invites Babe inside his "beautiful new home".
The impossibly luxurious car contains what would now be called a "home entertainment system", each component of which Ralph demonstrates one by one, in an increasingly complex stereophonic jumble that is the sonic equivalent of the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers' film A Night at the Opera.
Babe buys the car and drives it onto the freeway. As he talks to himself, the signs along the freeway also "talk" as he passes them. One set of signs even shows Babe to be caught in one of Zeno's paradoxes, as the signs intone "Antelope Freeway, 1/2 mile.. Antelope Freeway, 1/4 mile... Antelope Freeway, 1/8 mile... Antelope Freeway, 1/16 mile".
At this point, Babe notices the climate control switches, each with a themed name. He clicks "Tropical Paradise" and is suddenly transported to a tropical rainforest (complete with sounds of exotic birds and rainfall). He is then set upon by a troupe of wise-cracking explorers, including a W. C. Fields pastiche, who appear to be on a half-hearted expedition. Frustrated by the interlopers, he switches the climate control to "Land of the Pharaohs" and is then transported to Egypt... along with the explorers. Increasingly annoyed, he complains that the sun is setting and it will be night soon. They explain that he is confused, that the horizon is actually moving up, whereupon they stand him on his head to convince him that it is morning. Babe then loses his balance and falls to the ground ("He's no fun! He fell right over!" The same line is said at the same time on the Nick Danger side of the record and Nick notices it). The group continues to joke around with Babe, until one of them who claims to know Egyptian comes forward to help, but instead of speaking true Egyptian, he literally describes hieroglyphics. Hearing a loud rumbling, the group realizes that a pyramid is opening ("Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!") and Babe runs into it to discover a hotel lobby inside.
The piece gradually morphs into an ironic celebration of America itself, as presumably exemplified by Babe's new car purchase. A panoply of characters talk and sing, in a manner reminiscent of a Norman Corwin patriotic radio pageant, about America and its history, including sardonic references to slavery and the conquest of the Indians. At one point, each member of the group repeats the names of the politicians who ran in the 1968 American presidential election in a way that mimics a steam locomotive: "Rockefeller, Nixon, Humphrey, Kennedy... ." Eventually, Babe is enlisted into the army, and after a musical number performed by Lillie LaMont (also referred to as Lurlene, and Miss DeAngelo), it is revealed that the entire segment, titled "Babes In Khaki", was a television program, and the channel soon is changed repeatedly, cycling through snippets of random commercials and program segments. At one point a crime drama is heard, with tough guys saying they hate cops – until one of them says "I'm gonna – turn in my badge." The speaker is Nick Danger; this is his origin story.
At the end, Spoilsport returns in one of the commercials with an increasingly nonsensical monologue that begins as an ad for a marijuana dealership in the style of a Williams automobile commercial ("Our complete price to you, including sticks and stems and seeds..."), and climaxes with a close paraphrase of Molly Bloom's Soliloquy, the closing portion of James Joyce's Ulysses.
"The Further Adventures of Nick Danger"
"The Further Adventures of Nick Danger" is probably the group's most famous recording, as its characters having been reused in many subsequent sketches on albums and live. It is presented as a 1940's radio drama, this episode being titled "Cut 'Em Off at the Past."
Nick Danger (Phil Austin) is a '40s-style detective character in the Raymond Chandler mold. In live performances and photographs, he wears the stereotypical fedora and trench coat. He has the obligatory nemesis on the police force, Lieutenant Bradshaw (Bergman), who questions his every move. His "mark" is Rocky Rococo (Proctor), a Peter Lorre imitation. True to the clichés of the genre, there is a suspicious butler, Catherwood (David Ossman), and a femme fatale named Betty Jo Bialosky, an old college flame, as in the radio play she is also mysteriously known as Melanie Haber, Audrey Farber, Susan Underhill, but "everybody knew her as Nancy" (Proctor/Bergman).
Compared to other Firesign Theatre material, this sketch is a rather straightforward, basically plot-driven narrative, though it is intermixed and loaded with references to The Beatles, the I Ching, and other counterculture topics. It also features various self-reflective post-modern jokes, such as a scene where Danger and Catherwood ostensibly sitting by a fire refer to it as "the cellophane". (the sound of fire was famously simulated by crinkling cellophane on old radio dramas.)
At the end of the play, just as the mystery is revealed, the action is abruptly interrupted by a "late-breaking announcement" from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bergman), who wearily tells the American people that Pearl Harbor has just been attacked, so there is only one course of action: the United States will unconditionally surrender to the Japanese.
The record (and the track) ends with the cast 'switching' to the other side of the LP, "take 600."
Issues and reissues
This album was originally released on both LP and 8 track, and was later released on cassette.
- LP – Columbia CS-9884
- 8 Track – Columbia 18C-09884
- Cassette – PCT-09884
It has been reissued on CD at least 5 times:
- In 1988 by Mobile Fidelity – MFCD-762
- In 1995 by Sony/Legacy – CK-9884
- In 2001 by Sony/Legacy – CK-85774, purchasable from Laugh.com – Order #LGH1070
The front cover of the album features photographs of Groucho Marx and John Lennon framed by faux Cyrillic lettering, "ДLL НДІL МДЯЖ LЄИИФИ". Because of this, the album is sometimes erroneously referred to as All Hail Мarx and Lennon.
The back cover is an overhead shot of the four members looking up at the camera, with Proctor standing on Austin's foot.
Inside the gatefold of the album there are eight posed photos representing various scenes from "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger."
In popular culture
There are several bars around the United States named "Nick Danger's". There is a clothing line called "Nick Danger", as well as a garage band, a porn star, a site about board games (now defunct), and a radio DJ all using the name. "Rocky Rococo" is the name of a pizza-and-pasta restaurant chain based in Wisconsin, and there is a "Betty Jo Byoloski's" (sic) bar and grill in downtown Winona, Minnesota. (In the radio drama, Betty Jo Bialowski is one of Nancy's many aliases.)
- Firesign Theatre. Firesign Theatre. 19 Jan. 2006 <http://www.firesigntheatre.com/>.
- Firesign Theatre. How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All. Columbia Records, 1969.
- "FIREZINE: Linques!." Firesign Theatre FAQ. 20 Jan. 2006 <http://firezine.net/faq/>.
- Marsh, Dave, and Greil Marcus. "The Firesign Theatre." The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1983. 175–176.
- Smith, Ronald L. The Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide. Iola: Krause, 1996.