Copyright 1999, Richard R Ward
All rights reserved.
One dark winter night in 1974 I was listening to one of the local radio stations in Fairbanks, Alaska, when I happened on a radio play about the adventures of Archie and Jughead on their way to finally graduate from high school. I had never been a big Archie fan but there was nothing else really to listen to at the time so I decided to give it a listen.
It was Archie and Jughead, mostly. I remember thinking that it sounded really odd and surreal, even for an eleven-year old kid. Most of it made some kind of sense, but things were happening that never happened in the comics, like Archies' dad running for City Dog Catcher, or Dog Killer, or some such, and Archie and his dad getting in a slap fight. And something about Riverdale High being stolen and hidden in the auditorium of their cross-town rivals.
There were a few jokes that went right over my head, like Archie helping the maid make the bed and Jugheads' girlfriend having "a huge balcony".
The only dialogue I actually remembered was this exchange:
[Archie stomps on the brakes of his car and we hear the squeal of brakes]
The next day I asked everyone I knew about the program, trying to find out more about this very odd Archie and Jughead story. No one knew what the hell I was talking about. I listened to that radio station every night for a month. Not once did the odd adventures of Archie and Jughead play again.
A year later my family moved to California and over the next four years I'd occasionally ask new friends about it but no one had heard it, or had heard about it. Some people looked at me like I was nuts; Riverdale High stolen? What the hell? Most people were surprised that I had heard such a thing on the radio, radio was nothing but music and traffic reports, everyone knew that. It seemed that in California, land of cable television, no one listened to the radio anymore.
By the time I was fifteen I had given up on ever finding out anything about it and stopped asking people. For a time I even entertained the idea that I had made the whole thing up, but that didn't quite wash. I mean, I have always had a very active imagination and I did (and still do) dream up a lot of odd things, but I've always had a very firm grip on what I made up and what I experienced.
Fast forward five more years, I'm now twenty years old and am hanging out at my new friend Jerry's house listening to bootleg Pink Floyd records. Jerry and I are telling jokes and having a good time deconstructing the Pink Floyd music when Jerry looks at me and says: "Hey, I've got something for you to listen to, you'll love it."
Jerry removes the 12" black vinyl record from the turntable with all of the care of a father picking up his infant child, and delicately places it in its sleeve (sorry if I'm making you sound fem, Jerry). He then whips out an odd looking record called Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers and with the same practiced care places it on the turntable and starts it up.
Well, the record turns out to be a comedy record by this group called The Firesign Theatre and it is structured like a radio play about a man watching late night television. It starts of with him watching a TV preacher of an oddly food-centered church. After a while he gets bored with this and starts flipping channels, eventually settling on the Howl Of The Wolf Movie: High School Madness staring Porgie Tirebiter and his friend Mudhead.
Have you ever had to work out a really hard problem that has taken forever? The kind of problem you've had to worry over for days, maybe weeks, like a dog chewing on an old bone? The kind of problem your mind just can't seem to let go of? Remember when you solved it? That feeling in your guts as you feel all of the pieces of the answer coming together in your head? That cold tingle as the amorphous masses suddenly gels into a solid answer? That's the feeling that suddenly filled me.
As the "movie" progressed I found that I knew most of what was about to happen. Then the moment came. From the stereo this dialog came forth:
[Porgie stomps on the brakes of his car and we hear the squeal of brakes]
I sat bolt upright and stared right into Jerry's eyes with my mouth agape. (Jerry later told me I looked like I'd just been shot!) I stammered for a few seconds and said: "Jerry! I've been looking for this damned album for nine goddamn years!" Here it was, the "radio play" that no one else had heard that cold winter night in Alaska. I was flabergasted; without ever being asked about it Jerry had answered one of the longest riddles of my life.
I proceeded to tell him about hearing the record on the radio as a kid and thinking it was a radio play. I told him that over the years my brain had translated the parody characters of Porgie and Mudhead into Archie and Jughead, and of asking everyone I knew about it and finding no one who knew anything about such silliness.
The feeling I had that day was amazing: Here was a piece of my life that I had looked for for years and had all but given up on, handed back to me by a friend who wanted to share a favorite part of his life. Without Jerry I never would have found it, why would I look at the records of some weird group of guys called the Firesign Theatre when I was more interested in Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Playboy magazine?
Update: - Richard Frolich evidently posted a link to this here story to the alt.comedy.firesgn-thtre usenet newsgroup. For those that are interested: I used to be a regular in several of the Usenet Firesign newsgroups, but dropped out of the scene a few years before the release of "Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death".