Two hours and fifteen minutes of fame with the Flaming Lips

A "Tale from Reading" by Lani Golstab '04

Lani and Jessica in Flaming Lips costumesIn front of me stood two dark-haired girls twisting back and forth, flashlights firmly placed at their navels. Behind me stood a six foot tall bulldog. To my right was an eagle with the head of my roommate and to my left were the Flaming Lips. Yet this was not a dream brought on by spicy Indian food, it was reality. And it was by far one of the best nights of my life.

One afternoon, while walking in London, I saw an advertisement for tickets to see the Flaming Lips, a band from Oklahoma City. I had recently bought their latest CD, and seeing them in concert sounded fun. I convinced my roommate, Jessica, to go with me, despite a high ticket price. Neither one of us are avid concert-goers. Before coming to England, I had been to one proper concert and it was not exactly the experience of a lifetime. My parents and I saw ZZ Top in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; by the end of the night my ears were ringing and I had managed to stick my elbow in a glass of beer. Jessica had never been to a concert at all, so the London concert was to be a big night for us.

Jessica and I arrived at the venue early and were able to claim spots roughly three feet from the stage. The band seemed to have attracted a rougher looking crowd than we had expected. Surrounded by pierced and tattooed chainsmokers the two of us felt slightly too preppy to be at the concert. Nevertheless, we were excited to be there and began goofing around a bit to pass the time. The British, as a rule, are a reserved people, so any slightly boisterous behavior tends to separate you from the crowd. After a rousing game of thumb war, best two out of three, a man in an "Oklahoma" T-shirt approached us. "Would you two be interested in wearing the rabbit suits onstage during the concert?" he said, with a completely straight face. Now under normal circumstances such a question would have seemed odd, but I was aware that as part of their show the band recruited audience members to come onstage in animal costumes. However, I had not expected that Jessica and I would be some of the chosen audience members! He added, "You can come backstage and meet the band, take pictures." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! That was what I thought, what I said was a nonchalant "Yeah, sure."

Once the "animal wrangler" had walked away Jessica and I, overcome with giddiness, began giggling uncontrollably. As the opening act finished their set, she and I began inching our way towards a side door. Two British girls with jet black bobs were standing by the door. One of them turned to Jessica and asked, "Are you going to be rabbits, too?" Convinced that we were now standing at the correct meeting spot, our focus now was for the opening band to finish playing. Are they done now? Why is he still hitting that drum? Put the microphone down already! Finally, the band exited the stage. A few moments later, me, Jessica, the black bob girls, and some more chosen few, were taken backstage to a special dressing room.

An array of furry costumes lay around the room and we were told to pick a head, then find the corresponding suit. I carefully perused the choice of heads before me. Jessica quickly chose an eagle costume, while I continued to peruse. Unfortunately, I perused a bit too long because before I knew it only two heads remained. Faced with the choice between a robot and an elephant, I went pachyderm. After removing any extraneous clothing, we slipped into our new fuzzy skins. It soon became clear that while I was one of the smaller people in the room, I now wore the largest costume. The elephant's head had a very menacing expression. I believe, if the suit had been worn by a large person, the sight would have been truly frightening, but I think the imposing effect diminished slightly as the head sat crookedly over my head and left shoulder.

Next, all of us were given a pep talk by Corey, the man in the "Oklahoma" T-shirt. We were divided into two groups of about nine and each group designated to stand on either the left or right side of the stage. Large, yellow flashlights were passed around; our instructions were to blind the audience with the beams. It seemed the only rule was "don't sit down." Obviously, some animals in the past had tried to take a load off onstage, "You guys keep playing, I'm gonna sit this one out."

All the animals walked onstage at the same time as the band, with instructions to turn on our flashlights when they played the opening notes to "Race for the Prize." The animal heads had rendered us blind, if not because of their construction because they were so hot, sweat had rolled into our eyes; but by some psychic connection we all managed to turn our lights on at the same time! Being onstage can only be described as a surreal experience. At some point during the show I became aware that people in the audience were taking photographs of the animals—photos of me! These are probably some of the worst pictures of me ever taken considering I had quickly discarded the elephant head and now appeared as a sweaty red face attached to a bloated gray body. Nevertheless, I was excited; it signaled that I was truly part of the show.

After the show, the lead singer, Wayne Coyne, came to the animals' dressing room to thank everyone and he kindly posed for pictures with us. As Jessica and I took our places on either side of Wayne, he put his arms around our shoulders, hugging us with surprising force for someone as tired as he surely was. In the photo, you can actually see his fingers digging into my arm. So impressed were our wranglers, we were all asked return the next night. Unfortunately, Jessica and I could not; this was to be our one night in the spotlight. We still had our reminders, though: trigger-finger blisters from the flashlights, matching T-shirts, photos, and a week's worth of lingering euphoria.