Peter Bergman [1939 - 2012]

Damn, this is crappy news... I've just been informed through Phil Proctor that Peter Bergman, one of the members of the Firesign Theatre (and arguably the group's founder since it started as a spin off his show Radio Free Oz) has just died of leukemia.

I first heard of the Firesign Theatre when their album Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers was nominated for a Hugo award in 1971.[1]

Curious, I sought the album out and immediately became hooked.  Don't Crush... is my favorite of their work, but I also loved I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus, their Nick Danger, Third Eye stories, and of course the wonderful off the wall riffing that they'd do called TV Glide.

TV Glide is perhaps the purest distillation of their craft.  Taking that week's TV Guide as source material, Bergman, Proctor, Phil Austin, and David Ossman would then improvise an entire alternate reality based on the short log-in descriptions of various TV shows.  As Harlan Ellison once observed re the craft of writing science fiction & fantasy, "There is no nobler chore in the universe than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the 'normal', the obvious."

The Firesign Theatre was capable of doing this every week off the cuff and have you laughing all the way through.

In addition to their work together, the various members of the Theatre worked in a variety of side projects, sometimes together in various permutations, sometimes separately.  Zachariah, The First Electric Western was as wild & wolly & weird as the title suggests with the Firesign Theatre providing the script & playing supporting roles, while Americathon was a scarily prescient view of then-future / now-contemporary American culture.  Proctor & Bergman also did a hilarious series of video mash-ups, culminating in J-Men Forever (a.k.a. The Secret World War), a hilarious re-dub parody of classic Republic serials.[2]

Bergman's own individual credits were wide ranging and impressive.  I only had a chance to meet him once, on an abortive video game project; I would have cheerfully sacrificed a testicle to have had a chance to work with the Firesign Theatre.[3] He was charming and gracious, and seemed pleased that I remembered his early work so fondly.

We'll still be remembering it fondly for many years to come.

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[1]  Not one but two LPs got nominated for Best Dramatic Hugo by the World Science Fantasy Organization that year:  Don't Crush... and Blows Against The Empire, a proto-rock opera concept album by Jefferson Starship.

[2]  View the opening here.

[3]  Not mine, somebody else's.

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