David Ossman’s How Time Flys

If anyone thought that the Firesigns had completely come apart based on “Not Insane,” this 1973 release should have provided comfort that they did in fact still know how to construct a story and create a surreal world of their own. While created by and starring David Ossman, the other Firesigns are all here as well, along with a host of additional voices (something that they had avoided in their previous albums, producing nearly all voices among the four of them). Therefore, I have always filed it under The Firesign Theatre.

How Time Flys
How Time Flys front cover — The title threw me back then and made me wonder if something “starring” The Firesign Theatre but only written by one of them would be good. It is.

This is quite something. I bought it new at Spectrum Records, the Syracuse University student-run record store, despite my concerns about whether it was really a Firesign Theatre record or something else entirely. It’s every bit as good as anything they composed together. (The odd spelling of “flies” has never been explained.)

It’s a space adventure of sorts. Mark Time, who was launched from earth on an exploratory voyage to Planet X, returns to earth after 20 years. He is awakened by the ship’s computer system, which plays a prerecorded video (hosted by Jim and Nellie Houseafire with “The Years In Your Ears”) to bring him up to date (almost) on the things that happened while he was away from Earth. On waking, he finds he is greeted only by an old robot named “Tweeny” and holographic recordings of a homecoming celebration. The space program has been terminated, and no one wants to see the holologs of his journey . . . but Mark is then kidnapped by Mr. Motion and taken aboard his zeppelin, where Mr. Motion intends to sell the holologs as entertainment. They go to Panoramaland 2000, a super-accurate prediction of Las Vegas where replicas of monuments have been assembled for amusement. It appears that Mark has brought alien creatures back with him, which are suddenly all over Panoramaland. When a black hole envelops the Earth, Mark is put into a time loop, and is once again on his approach to Earth, where the record began.

While this predicted a future where everything, even the news, was entertainment, and where no one cared about scientific or exploratory achievement, I have to say I’m disappointed that I don’t get to experience the promised zep-lag.

This is just a fantastic record. Clean, focused, well-edited — even if it was only written by one of them, this is peak Firesign.

How Time Flys back cover
How Time Flys back cover — a view of Panoramaland 2000. Prescient.

A bonus with this record, along the lines of the postcards from the Fingerprintz record that I would never be able to punch out: a 3-D diorama of Mark Time descending from the zeppelin over Panoramaland 2000. No, I would never cut this out. (In the old days, there would have been no way to reproduce such a thing — now I could pop it in a scanner or take it to a Staples and get a copy.)

“You just do grass until your muscles come back.”

“Remember rivers, Nellie?”

“It’s a government job, though, and they’re hard to …”

“Solid coffee? You’re grounded now! I’ve got the real thing bubbling here on the flash!”

“And so, a proud and mumbled ‘Frank you.’”

“Have a little hot lava, uh, java…”

“See that one over there, humping the Entire State Building? They do that all the time.”

“Remember, follow directions and hump only when ready.”

“Anything he can say, I can say louder!”

“This is not entertainment, this is real!” “Amigo, it’s all entertainment.”

“She’s triple-hulled and runs on sun power and like most women is entirely self-contained.”

“Kon-tiki, Mr. M!”

“They say, too much, too soon!”

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