How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All

Available through

Recurring Characters:
Ralph Spoilsport, Nick Danger, Lt. Bradshaw, Rocky Rococo, Catherwood, Nancy

Category: Audio
The title track, which follows a babe in the woods as Climate Control draws him into a revisionist hysterical Americana travelogue/propaganda montage, is bookended by the omnipresent Ralph Spoilsport. It's Homer's Odyssey and Joyce's Ulysses in the blender of popular culture, set to puree. This segues into "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger," a classic parody of golden-age radio theater and one of Firesign's most enduring creations. This segues into (go back to the beginning).

How Can You Be In Two Places At once When You're Not Anywhere At All (1969)

Review from

“Ralph! Ralph! I’ll take it. I can’t wait to get away from it all.”

These lines open the CD as the hero “Babe” buys a car from Ralph Spoilsport and drives out onto the freeway (which was already in progress). How appropriate since this is one of those albums you listen to when you want to get away from it all. Released in 1969, How Can You Be is Firesign Theatre’s second album and introduced several of the group’s most lasting characters. It is here that we first meet Ralph Spoilsport, Police Lieutenant Bradshaw, Rocky Rococo and the great defective…er, detective Nick Danger.

Who am us, anyway?

Ralph Spoilsport is based on an actual used car salesman but you don’t have to know who he was because everybody has seen this guy on TV, late at night hawking cars in his plaid jacket and fast-talking huckster voice. After his introduction on How Can You Be... (HCYB), Ralph returns many times over the years including the 1999 release Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death.

The remaining characters I mentioned are the cast of “Nick Danger, 3rd Eye” in episode #666 Cut ‘em Off At The Past. Nick is the classic film noir detective as interpreted by Phil Austin. Part Sam Spade and part Rod Serling, Nick stumbles through the case getting himself into and out of several seemingly inescapable situations. Lt. Bradshaw plays Bad Cop to Nick’s Good Cop and seems more intent on putting Nick away than on catching the Bad Guy, Rocky Rococo. The core cast of the Nick Danger episodes prove so popular and successful that they continue to make appearances in Firesign works for the next 30 years including two Nick Danger albums and a movie plus "guest appearances" in other sketches.

Theatre of the mind

The Firesign Theatre are known for their mastery of audio theatre and this album stands out as one of their best. Various ambient noises are used in the background to create a richly detailed soundscape. Of course anyone could do that and maybe even do it well so the Firesign guys took it a level further. If you listen closely, the ambient noises have their own running gags, one-liners, sub plots and allusions. These guys put as much work into their background noise as most artists put into the main dialog!

For example, in the opening sequence, Babe hops in his new car and drives out onto the freeway. Babe’s voice is centered between your speakers in the foreground. The expected road noise and traffic is heard in the background but we begin to hear the billboards talking as Babe drives by. “Wrong Way.” “Entering Freeway.” “Emergency Parking Only.” The sign announcements fade from left to right with a rising and then falling volume and a hint of Doppler effect, completing the illusion of passing them in a car. They soon begin to get a little weirder… “Merging Busses Ahead.” “Shadow Valley Condoms - If you lived here you’d be home by now.”

Babe decides to take the Antelope Freeway but drives straight into Zeno’s Paradox…
“Antelope Freeway, 1 mile.”
“Antelope Freeway, 1/2 mile.”
“Antelope Freeway, 1/4 mile.”
“Antelope Freeway, 1/8 mile.”
“Antelope Freeway, 1/16 mile.”
“Antelope Freeway, 1/32 mile.”
“Antelope Freeway, 1/64 mile.”

Keep in mind that these are in the background while Babe keeps up a running dialog in the foreground! To be willing to produce such material and then hide it in the background as setting for a larger context is brilliant. Never mind the fact that so very few of the audience will even recognize it as Zeno’s Paradox! (The Greek philosopher Zeno argued that in order to finish a race, a runner must first cross the distance, then the remaining distance, then of that remaining distance, etc. Finishing the race involves crossing an infinite number of points but logic suggests that an infinite number of points cannot be crossed in a finite amount of time. Catching the reference is the key to understanding why Babe cannot and in fact does not ever reach the Antelope Freeway. Whew!) Of course the bit is funny even if you’ve never heard of Zeno. This is the reason people who listened as kids are still listening as adults. The more life experience you have, the more of the work you wil l “get”.

Free rebus with every sketch!

You can always count on FT to toss in a few puzzles in the form of self-referential dialog or allusions to other albums or characters. This is one of the intriguing aspects of the group, which subtly draws the listener in over time. On HCYB, Nick Danger runs up the stairs to his office to answer his ringing phone only to discover it’s a wrong number. The caller tries to order Pizza whereupon Nick serves up his tagline instead: I spell my name Danger! The bit serves up a deft anti-climactic break in the episode to set up a commercial. The joke is not completed until the next album Don’t Crush That Dwarf Hand Me The Pliers where the main character unsuccessfully attempts to order a pizza from Nick’s Pizzeria.

In the obscure reference department, the damsel in distress in this episode is either Melanie Haber, Audrey Farber or Betty Joe Bialowski but everyone knows her as Nancy. She is in league with arch villain Rocky Rococo. This is a tip o’ the hat to the Beatles Ballad Of Rocky Racoon. The Rocky part is obvious and Nancy is derived from the lines “Her name was MacGill/And she called herself Lil/But everyone knew her as Nancy”. Once again, if you are not a Beatles fan and the reference goes by unnoticed, it does not detract from the bit at all. If you are a Beatles fan you may recognize the reference subconsciously, and it just makes the sketch that much more surreal. If you want to really stretch your Liberal Arts education, look for the dialog lifted straight out of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Like many of us on Epinions, these guys had way too much time on their hands. Or maybe it was way too much dope.

The self-referential dialog adds greatly to the Twilight Zone mood. The characters alternately acknowledge that they are in a play or are confused by it. “It had been snowing in Santa Barbara since the top of the page…” Or “Come in out of the cornstarch and dry your mukluks by the fire.” (Cornstarch is commonly used by Foley artists to simulate the sound of walking through snow.) The device of a voice box is used to distinguish Nick’s voice as a narrator from his dialog with the other characters. At one point in the narration he asks “That reminded me – how had she gotten herself involved with that slimy weasel Rococo and…how do I make my voice do this?”

If you haven’t got ‘em, get ‘em!

This album has been re-released on Columbia’s Legacy label and is enjoying a bit of a comeback. Historically though, Firesign Theatre albums rarely are re-released and are generally hard to find on vinyl in good condition. If you only get one of their CDs, this is the one to get. What quickly becomes apparent once you start listening is how much of their work you hear out of context sprinkled throughout our culture. Radio stations use samples as source for their drops and station breaks. Books, movies and television episodes have made references or direct quotes. It is amazing to see how much influence the Firesign Theatre had on our culture. All I can say is buy the CD and see for yourself.

Display All Firesign Items By Category