Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Peter Bergman RIP

For some reason, the death of Peter Bergman hit me harder than I thought. Perhaps it was because ideas of mortality were rattling around in my head as we had attended the memorial service of a person we knew who died unexpectedly and was just a few years older than I am.

Or perhaps it was just another reminder that someone who played a prominent role in my youth was gone.

What Bergman's death means is there will never again be a Firesign Theater production that features the entire cast. Perhaps there never would have been another recording or video or tour, but now the possibility of any of that has been determined.

Explaining the impact of The Firesign Theater on me is like talking about the impact of the Marx Brothers or Monty Python. For me, each of these comedy groups had an anti-establishment tone and attitude – very appealing to me – and a certainly density of material. I can watch the films all three of these groups produced over and over. They never fail to entertain.

Of the three, The Firesigners had the least amount of mainstream media attention. They were truly an underground act with just enough success to keep them in the marketplace for 40 years. They were also the ones who produced the work that truly demanded your engagement.

I've been trying to remember when I first heard them and recalled being at a high school party where their first album was played. I didn't get it, but then again I'm sure my attention was focused on whatever girls were there. In college and beyond is when my interest in them really flowered.

One of the true privileges of being a journalist is being able to find reasons to interview people whose work you love. The Firesigners were no exception. I pursued them whenever I could.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor 1986 when "Eat or be Eaten" first came out. I'm looking for both the recording of the interview and the printed version to post here. The amazing thing about that discussion was how the Firesigners were working on a very early CD video game based on the TV special and subsequent album.

I attended a performance of their 25th anniversary tour and it was a great evening. I met the guys in person afterwards and David Ossman said he recognized my name from a publication to which we were both contributors. That made my night.

In 2001, I interviewed David Ossman with the DVD release of "Weirdly Cool." Great guy and a fun discussion with me flying my not-so-inner fanboy proudly.

In Nov. 2002, I interviewed Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor again on the release of "J Men Forever," their delirious re-dubbing and editing of Republic serials into a rock and rock reefer comedy. When the film was first released in 1979, I went the theater twice where it was playing as I was so amazed by it. The DVD is one of the my standard "go to" discs when I need a laugh.

I wonder who will replace them – a group who is funny and smart, willing to do challenging material, but not above a cheap laugh as well. The Kids in the Hall come closest, but they don;t have the multi-media edge that made The Firesign Theater what is was.

Here is a great and little seen Firesign bit that was broadcast as part of the syndicated show "A Night at the Improv." Enjoy and thank you Peter Bergman.

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