Firesign Theatre — Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers

This was the third album from the Firesign Theatre, released in 1970, and it was probably the fourth of their records that I bought. I remember buying it when I was already at Syracuse University, so it came after my initial discovery of Firesign.

Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers front cover
Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers front coverthe title is a mystery. It may be a Dylan reference, it may be a drug reference, it may well be both.

This is certainly Firesign Theatre at its absolute peak. The whole album is a single story thread. The sides are titled “This Side” and “The Other Side.” Phil Austin wrote that “Dwarf is the story of the five ages of Man and in particular, the five ages of one George Leroy Tirebiter, a man named after a dog.” I’m grateful to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry for making the story sound simple and giving me something to crib from. The album centers on George Leroy Tirebiter, a former child actor who, as we meet him, is watching his old movies on late-night television. He starts watching a televangelist, then transitions through several channel changes and into a “this is your life” style show that eventually leads into his movie “High School Madness,” featuring Peorgie and Mudhead, which slides into a “war is hell” type of film in which Tirebiter, or maybe Peorgie, is put on trial by his own father (“I’m People’s Commissioner Tirebiter, now, and nobody’s sweetheart!”). By the end, Tirebiter is an old man, but the call of an ice cream truck returns him to his youth.

That barely touches it. This album was added to the National Recording Registry in 2005, and it is as flawless and surreal a piece of social commentary as you can imagine and, once again, it is still entirely timely.

There are two connecting pieces to other albums — the closing ice cream truck sounds open the next album, and George Tirebiter is revealed to be the person who called Nick Danger (on the previous album) to order a pizza. (“No anchovies? You’ve got the wrong man. I spell my name ‘Danger!’”)

Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers back cover
Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers back cover

Among the Firesign Theatre oeuvre, this album may be the biggest font of thoughts that constantly rattle around my brain, of things I say without context but completely within context.

“It’s just this little chromium switch here. My, you people are so superstitious.”

“My iron lung is working again.”

“Is it going to be all right?” “It’s going to be all right!”

“I’m high all right, but not on false drugs. I’m high on the real thing. Powerful gasoline, a clean windshield, and a shoeshine.”

“I’m not talking about hate. No, I’m talking about ate! Dinner at eight! Let’s eat”

“There’s hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut.”

“Peorgie Tirebiter! He’s a spy and a girl delighter!”

“Don’t eat with your hands, son, use your entrenching tool.”

“It isn’t every day a guy graduates from high school!” “How many times have I heard that before?”

“That Louise Wong’s got a balcony you can do Shakespeare from!”

“Shoes for Industry! Shoes for the dead!”

“Peorgie, Peorgie, you’re a white man, you’ve got to help us!”

“Will the real Dr. Pederman please report to neurosurgery immediately?”

“Mural, Auditorium, Right Rear. ‘Heroic Struggle of the Little Guys to Finish the Mural.’”

“Youth here doesn’t seem to know about the disappearance of the Old School!”

“How much do I hear?” “That’s metaphysically absurd, man! How could I know what you hear?”

“Why, this is a bag of shit!” “But it’s really great shit, Mrs. Presky.”

Honestly, nearly every line is quotable. If you’ve never listened, it will all lack context. But if you want to know what Firesign Theatre is about, this is a great starting point .

Central to the “High School Madness” piece is that Peorgie and Mudhead’s high school, Morse Science, has disappeared – and it would appear that their rivals at Communist Martyrs High School would be to blame. But of course, no one has ever even seen anyone from Communist Martyrs. It’s a bogeyman, an enemy made of propaganda. I wish that were hard to relate to 50 years later. For a species so capable of learning, we sure do hate to do it.

I bought new this at some point in my freshman year, and listened to it repeatedly during late night working sessions, desperately short of sleep and in something of a fugue state anyway, making me highly suggestible to the dreamscape they presented, moving from one reality to another through the medium of television, never quite sure which program you’re in, who the characters are (in addition to Tirebiter, several other characters repeat throughout the various scenes), or quite what is going on. So in that way, it was exactly like freshman year. Because I know it so well, in recent years I’ve been much more likely to play a later Firesign record, but this one still gets on the turntable a few times a year.

Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers label
This Side.

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