Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Phil Austin goes to a better world

  "There are some people, and I'm one of them, who suspect that there is no better world than this lousy and crooked one we see all around us." So begins Phil Austin's radioplay Down Under Danger. He acted the cynic well. Hell, he was a great actor, who often complained to me about the infernal acting he was observing.
  In this picture, Phil is recording lines for my radioplay Neal Amid. Of the 4 members of the Firesign Theatre, I think Phil Austin had the least interest in the Beat generation, but volunteered to star as the dying Neal Cassady in this play. I don't know how much he sounds like the Beat muse, but Caroline Cassady told me Phil captured Neal's real intelligence, and didn't portray him as a hick. Phil gave me a lot of direction on this play, and his insistence on a narrative envelope, with the Beat-like typing creator was a stroke of genius. If I live a million years, I can't imagine ever creating something as good as Neal Amid again. Thanks, Phil.
  If there is a better world, it is one brought into existence by people like Phil Austin. People who inspire us to see beyond a heaven/hell dichotomy made lyrical in Phil's album Roller Maidens from Outer Space. "If you can laugh at it, it has no power over you," Phil told an interviewer in 1970. I asked him if he still believed that in a Q&A on Whidbey Island in 2010, the last time I'd see the 4 of them. He said he had forgotten his long ago eloquence but it was still true for him. He said those were perilous times, and as Bergman often bragged, the Firesigns brought a lot of laughter to places where it was desperately needed.
  "There's only one thing that can be truly said. And, hell, I've forgotten what it is."
Down Under Danger. Evoking Elvis, Phil's death was reported as Nick Danger has left the building. Yes, Nick was an Austin creation that resonated deeply within our civilization, but Phil was a detective of a higher sort. He looked for and helped create spaces of refuge, places of imagination that can be built beyond imagination, where no Sgt. Bradshaw can tell us what to do and dogs will always help us out. Lucky are we for the vast offerings of those visions courtesy Phil Austin. We must be sad, but we are sad in a higher place. Nick Danger has left the building, but it is a much taller, grander building. A great spirit has been breathed into it.
  Love is a rare topic in Firesign works, but more than any of his colleague's solo work, Phil Austin's stories are infused with love. Love bursts forth like a blond bombshell from his words. Tales of the Old Detective is an engine powered by the trans-formative energy of love. It is a state you want to experience. If you've never been in love or been loved, this is what you want to listen to. This is what you need to learn. Dogs don't need to learn, but people do. Phil's love for the Blond Bombshell, his dogs and the humans that crossed his path is a visit from a higher consciousness, one we can aspire to.  
  When asked where he got his great ideas, Isaac Newton said he was standing on the shoulders of giants. I feel the same about Phil Austin. Phil and his fellow Firesigns show us a better world through a better use of our brains, a less clouded awareness, a fertility of spirit. We don't have to dwell in the depths. There are ladders.


At 3:59 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


At 8:54 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, Cat, for sharing your thoughts on Phil Austin and your friendship with him. I wasn't lucky enough to meet him although I did see him perform on stage in 1974. Phil helped create several alternate worlds that you or I can visit any time we wish. Few can claim such an accomplishment.


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