The man with the shaggy hair was the keyboardist, Derek. He led us backstage into a dressing room where a bunch of guys were sitting on a couch going through boxes of small pencil-like devices, while others were sprawled on the ground signing posters. The room was small and smelled thick with cigarette smoke. Young girls in undersized skirts and oversized band T-shirts were lounging around the room trying to live the rock dream. Groupies, I assumed. I didn’t know which of the guys was actually in the band and felt a bit weird being the youngest in the room. That’s when we met Wayne.
* * *
The day before, my friends talked about how excited they were about their tickets to the Flaming Lips show in Tulsa. This past semester, in Rock Band class, we had rehearsed their song “Free Radicals,” which I sang lead on. My teacher told us how amazing and kooky their concerts were. I loved going to concerts, and had seen a nice number of impressive shows and had been lucky enough to meet Paul McCartney, ACDC, and Roger Daltrey. But everyone knew that the Flaming Lips were known for the stunts and gimmicks they played with their audience. The show in Tulsa was bound to get crazy, but I didn’t have a ticket. Instead, I planned a date night with the TV remote and the couch.
After school, I dragged myself over to the pick-up area where I waited on a ride from my mother. I thought about the songs I had performed in class: “Free Radicals,” “Race for the Prize,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” I was so disappointed that I wasn’t getting to go. It was the one band that I really wanted to see, and having known their songs so well, and with so many people going to the concert, it made the whole situation really frustrating.
That’s when my phone dinged with a text message from my mom: “Hurry, you’re going to the Flaming Lips tonight.” My dad had pulled a few strings with an old friend to get us in. Backstage passes and all.
I leapt out of the car as soon as I got home and dashed upstairs to my room. What does a lucky 13-year-old girl wear to a Flaming Lips concert? I dug through the depths of my closet and found the hand-me-down leather pants my mom had given me. They had been sitting there waiting for the right occasion and this was their debut. I tried on various outfits before deciding on a plain white T-shirt and studded ankle boots. My dad honked from outside; it was time to go. I sprinted downstairs and stumbled into the car.
* * *
We drove downtown and passed a long line of eager fans outside the Brady Theater. We parked and joined them for about 10 minutes while my dad called his friend. As we waited with the crowd, the loud music from sound check gave us a taste of what was to come later on. My dad then received a text telling us to go behind the building to where the trucks were parked. We walked around—me trying to look as cool as possible—and there we met up with Derek. He had long brown hair and was tall and gangly. A VIP pass dangled from his neck. He walked us past burly security guards. The inside of the theater was dark with lots of steep steps practically begging me to wipe out. The haze of smoke from sound check clouded the air, and cables snaked around the floor. Big, black speakers brushed against the curtain and young, oily looking guys wheeled around boxes filled with equipment. It looked like all these people could use a good scrub in the shower and a haircut. We followed Derek into a brightly lit room with lots of people in it.
“You’re wearing leather pants!!” Wayne Coyne, the Lips’ lead singer, said to me when my dad and I walked in. He got up, shook my dad’s hand and then mine and sat us down on an old couch, crowded between many other guys. He sat down across from me and said, “Now that you’re here, let’s put you to work.”
About five years ago, Wayne explained, he bought thousands of mini red lasers that he intended on passing out to the audience of his shows, but had forgotten all about them. He’d left them in a damp warehouse and had just rediscovered them. Wayne then asked us to help him sort through the lasers, along with the other guys, and see which ones were still working, and which ones were too damaged from the water. I was glad to have a purpose in the room and I liked being treated normally by Wayne.
While we sorted through the boxes together, Wayne sat and talked with me about my school, Riverfield Country Day School, his experiences with shows, and answered all my questions about living the rock-star lifestyle. Being a performer myself, I was amazed how he didn’t get nervous at all on stage. He said, “Yep, I usually forget until the very day that we have to play.”
Surprisingly, not many people in the room were drinking alcohol. Wayne didn’t drink or smoke, but a large supply of Red Bull arrived in the room and all the guys swarmed around it and downed the cans.
* * *
About an hour before the show, the theater doors opened and a sea of elaborately costumed fans flooded into the auditorium wearing giant chicken mascots, multicolored hair, and hats with what looked like antennas sticking out of them. By this point, we had been there for a couple of hours, and had met band moms, wives, and a colorful cast of others. We were encouraged to stay and hang out with everyone for as long as we wanted. We walked around the stage, I bought myself a T-shirt, and ran into some people I knew from school.
Once back in the dressing room, I could hear the crowd in the theater getting worked up as the start of the show drew closer. Wayne left the room for a moment, then came back and told me, “Olivia, some friends out in the audience want to see you.”
I got up and Wayne led me over to the side of the stage where my friends from school were trying to get my attention. I didn’t really know what to do, my friends being in the audience and me being on the stage with the lead singer right beside me. It put me in an awkward and exhilarating position. I waved back and dashed back into the comfort and privacy of the dressing room.
As soon as I returned, Wayne asked me if I would hand out lasers to the audience with a few of his other friends. I agreed and took a cardboard box full of lasers downstairs into the crowd. My dad was concerned about me going by myself, so we stuck together, with him following me. People reached into the box I was carrying, grabbing the lasers. Crowds of people surrounded me and I lost sight of my father. I must’ve handed them out to hundreds of people. Most people in the crowd were patient and polite, however, one guy cussed me out when I missed handing him a laser. Soon, the box was empty and I hustled through the crowd, trying to find my way backstage and my dad.
It had been a long day of algebra and rock stars, and my eyelids were heavy and my feet hurt from standing for so long. But when Wayne opened the show singing from the inside of a huge bubble, I was wide awake again. The Lips played all of their best songs. Huge bug mascots came up on the stage and enormous balloons dropped onto the audience. The band members leaped around the stage full of energy and excitement. At one point, Wayne told the crowd to point their lasers in the air, and thousands of red beams crawled across the ceiling, creating a tangled dancing web of light. I danced and sang with the audience, soaking up the music and looking up at Wayne, up there on the stage doing what he does best.