Schulenberg’s Page: Fireside with The Firesign Theatre

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At RCA Studio B to watch The Firesign Theatre record “The Giant Rat of Sumatra!”

August 27, 1973: Ellie Silverman met me for drinks at Dorrian’s Red Hand to celebrate my birthday!

Ellie and I did not lack for conversation!

It had been a tumultuous year so far with Nixon trying to wind down the war in Vietnam while trying to simultaneously fight the committee dealing with the widening Watergate Scandal!

Another item on the home front was a protest to support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and nobody bought grapes until there was a settlement with the union. After the settlement, there was a national boycott of non-union grape and lettuce growers and also Gallo Wines who were all accused of exploiting their workers.

It appeared that some of the earlier political activism had taken hold and a lot of previously conservative thinking was changing along with a lot of disillusionment.

I had new professional representation and didn’t have to try and ignore my previous reps veiled allegiance to The Old Ways! For them it was as if the young people’s protests had been USSR-Communist inspired!

Nixon had promoted the phrase The Silent Majority to denote his non-protesting supporters, but the anti-war public saw it differently.

A few days later my cousin June and her husband Milt (Milton) Hibdon arrived in New York from Honolulu where Milt had had an executive position with radio station KORL.

The station was owned by New York financier, business and oil man John Shaheen, who became a kind of father figure for Milt. Evidently Shaheen thought highly of Milt too as he had chosen Milt to fill a high executive position at the new Come By Chance oil refinery in Newfoundland, Canada and they had come to town to discuss and plan the details of their move from Honolulu to Montreal!

Side Note: The following year, 1974, Shaheen chartered the Queen Elizabeth II for two cruises to bring dignitaries (like Henry Kissinger) to undeveloped land in Nova Scotia whose inhabitants had been cleared to make room for another oil refinery to be built. Milt and June acted as hosts on both cruises.

Unfortunately Come By Chance refinery went bankrupt in 1976 becoming at that date one of the largest bankruptcies in Canada’s history (half a billion dollars!). The Nova Scotia refinery was never built.

But that’s a story for later.

At Yellowfingers, June’s father and my Uncle Harold (on the lower right) was there, too. He was living with them at this point.

An anonymous someone at Yellowfingers.

The following day I was going to New Jersey to visit Connie Bartel at her farm on which she was turning the 68 acres into a Christmas Tree farm.  Half seriously, being an intense animal lover, she’d posted signs all over the property saying NO HUNTING!  ALL HUNTERS WILL BE SHOT!

Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The next day after I arrived, Connie and I drove to Lebanon, New Jersey in Hunterdon County, a beautiful small town that had barely 1000 residents.

It was an extremely picturesque area with many stone houses, like Connie’s dating from the 18th Century.

Connie’s friend, Doris Whitehead, lived in one. She named it Nonabel.

After visiting with Doris we went to Clinton, New Jersey, another picturesque small town.

Back in Manhattan I met Mara and Richard Amsel at Dorrian’s Red Hand.

Then we went downtown.  Wolf’s Delicatessen on Fulton Street had a television on with Nixon conducting a press conference.  It was difficult to avoid watching it as he appeared to be extremely agitated and in a way, preoccupied!  God knows he had every reason to be agitated and preoccupied!

A week later I flew out to Los Angeles to spend time with my friends, The Firesign Theatre, as they worked on their next album, The Giant Rat of Sumatra.

At Peter Bergman’s house overlooking Lake Hollywood. I didn’t know then that a decade later I’d have a house in that neighborhood.

“The Giant Rat of Sumatra” is a throwaway line in a Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire wherein Holmes tells Dr. Watson that the world isn’t yet prepared to know the story!

The Firesign Theatre guys decided to tell their own version of it for their next album for Columbia Records and they told Columbia that they wanted me to do the artwork!  Since my brother, being a lawyer, took care of their legal issues it was the first time we got to professionally work on the same project.

It was exciting and fun to see my brother’s name on the back for legal representation and my name for the album art.

Years later I found out by reading an article that it was my cousin Adrienne’s husband, John McClure, a Columbia executive who first persuaded Columbia to sign The Firesign Theatre!  And since my brother had known Phil Austin aka Nick Danger, Private Third Eye since they were in grammar school, the whole thing did feel like family!

It was interesting watching the guys working out the details and gags.

After we left them, my brother and I went to visit Pattie Sauers, a friend of mine since our days at UCLA. Pattie had also become a very close friend of my brother and my sister-in-law!

Pattie was an actress and had appeared on Broadway in Hello Dolly as Ernestina Money with Betty Grable as Dolly.  Her father had been a noted character actor in movies and television using the name, Joe Sawyer.

The Ash Grove was a legendary folk music club and eventually expanded its entertainment to include Lenny Bruce, Steve Allen and Mort Sahl and even invited Jane Fonda to appear campaigning against the war in Vietnam!

Some of the Rock & Roll artists who appeared there were Oscar Brown, Jr., Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne and James Booker — and even Ravi Shankar, Mongo Santamaría, Miriam Makeba and other world music personalities! Young Ry Cooder had his first public performance playing backup guitar at The Ash Grove when he was only 16!

But initially the club featured blues and folk legends Earl Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt and Muddy Waters and mixed in younger artists who reached prominence during the ’60s like June Carter and Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Jose Feliciano, The Weavers and almost everyone who went on to have a world wide appeal!

And that night in mid-September 1973, The Firesign Theatre was going to perform. I went with my brother.

My brother — with the glasses, sideburns, mustache and very long hair!
Peter Bergman: “Yanging out with the Yin crowd.”

After The Ash Grove we went to a party for Mott the Hoople. Being an entertainment lawyer, my brother had frequent nights like that.

Early the next morning we went to meet Peter Bergman way downtown for breakfast at his favorite Japanese restaurant.

And the next day at RCA Studio B, I sat in and watched the boys record The Giant Rat of Sumatra!

“Omigod! This looks like a bunch of high school kids getting ready to do a Firesign Theatre script. With this tin can over your mouth you sound just like Dave Ossman!” — Phil Austin. (Dave Ossman) Captain of yacht, Dr. von Ark-Type, Cape Danke Shayne!

And leaving the glamour and glitter of Hollywood and ShoBiz I flew home to the clamor and clutter of Manhattan!

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