Thursday, October 19, 2006

And now for something completely silly

Anybody remember the Firesign Theatre?

If you answered yes to this question you've just identified yourself with a certain time (late '60s, early '70s) and place (the great American counterculture). It may be hard for those who know me today as a middle-aged housewife to imagine that I once wore hip-hugging bell bottoms, granny glasses, love beads, and ragged army surplus (what were we thinking?), placing me squarely in the group who thought the Firesign Theatre were really, really funny (though I admit that much of my amusement was probably chemically induced, which may be why I can't get my own kids to see their humor, or at least to admit to it in my presence).

For those who don't know the group, let me introduce them. The Firesign Theatre were (and actually still are, though I no longer find them very funny; I'm not sure whether to blame that on me or them) a comedy group that specialized in complex skits mostly spoofing radio programming. Their albums that are most dear to me are Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers and I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus, released in 1970 and 1971 respectively. I'm sure I still have them somewhere in the house, but I'm not sure I could bear the memories digging them out would bring. Wikipedia notes that "because of their complexity, Firesign recordings tend to become funnier with repeated listenings as new jokes are revealed." Yes, that certainly is true. They also tended to become funnier as the night wore on, as I recall, for reasons hinted at above.

Anyway, the group came to mind Tuesday when I was in chapel. (Really!) The wall behind the altar where the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians hold their services is wood-paneled, with several carved bas relief memorials. Actually the entire chapel is filled with memorials to various alumni, most of them soldiers who didn't come home from the various armed conflicts of the twentieth century, and I generally don't pay much attention to any of them.

From where I usually stand when we gather around the altar, though, I get a good view of this bas relief of a man and a large dog. It has fascinated me for the past year, and on Tuesday I finally went up to have a good look. I found writing carved into an oval frame around it, but that didn't help because I couldn't read it--I'm not even sure what language it's written in. Up close, the dog appeared to be wearing the kid of squarish lead you see on guide dogs for the blind. A religious reference: God is my guide dog? As I walked away, unenlightened, I found myself humming the tune of a "hymn" featured in a Firesign Theatre skit poking fun at religious programming. I could sing it to you today:
O blinding light
O light that blinds
Look out for me
I cannot see.

The person I was remembers the words. The person I am today no longer finds them particularly amusing, but the next step is, I start thinking about their meaning and decide it is scarily close to the truth: Look out for me, I cannot see.

I'm pretty sure the Firesign Theatre never imagined anyone would actually meditate on these words in church. I'm sure I didn't, either. How strange life is!

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