GEORGE — Picture this: You’re standing in a confined space in complete darkness with 11 strangers. Suddenly bright flood lights shine on your surroundings and you find yourself wearing a green Teletubby costume dancing in front of 22,000 people.
Sound like your worst nightmare? Well, for me it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
The above scenario played out when I was at the Gorge Amphitheatre on Memorial Day at the Sasquatch! Music Festival. I was lucky enough to be one of 24 people chosen to be a dancer for festival-closing band The Flaming Lips. And I can now write with a straight face that dancing while dressed as a Teletubby in front of 22,000 people is the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience.
Allow me to explain.
The first time I saw the Flaming Lips it was like nothing I’d ever seen. There was confetti flying everywhere, dancers dressed as animals in plushy costumes (think Mickey Mouse at Disneyland and you’ve got it), balloons the size of VW bugs, lasers, puppets, fake blood and other spectacles no other band could pull off. I was instantly won over by the combination of moving music, a ridiculously joyous stage show and singer Wayne Coyne’s charisma.
For those unfamiliar with the group, The Flaming Lips are a Grammy-winning psychedelic art-rock band from Oklahoma City that has been around for 25 years.
Part of the Lips’ elaborate show involves having fans dress up in costumes and dance on the sides of the stage while the group performs. That’s how I ended up on stage as a neon-green Teletubby.
Twenty-four fans were dressed in green, yellow, red and purple felt Teletubby costumes and split into two groups of 12, one for each side of the stage. When we entered the stage we were herded into a space about four feet wide and 12 feet deep for our dancing area.
It was the band’s “UFO Show,” which meant a massive spaceship was going to descend on the stage and Coyne would rise out of the craft inside of a giant inflatable bubble and proceed to walk on the crowd while rolling inside the sphere. That is more of the spectacle aspect of a Flaming Lips show I was talking about.
The minute the lights went on and the spaceship landed I was right at the edge of the stage, staring at thousands of people who were singing along to “Race For The Prize,” the first song from the band’s 1999 record “The Soft Bulletin.”
I began kicking my legs and flailing my arms while bouncing up and down like a 2-year-old hopped up on Mountain Dew in an attempt to bust a groove and dance my green-colored booty off. In case you’re curious, there was no choreography involved in the Teletbubby dancing and none of us were instructed on how to dance, so everyone was doing their own thing.
I’m sure I likely looked ridiculous (actually, I know I looked ridiculous because I’ve seen the pictures) but I didn’t care because I was having the time of my life. I looked around me at my fellow dancers and I realized we were all having a blast too.
We were all sharing such a unique and positive experience it felt as if we were somehow deeply connected to each other even though we had all just met less than an hour prior. I have never felt such a connection with complete strangers. It was nearly palpable.
During breaks between songs we all hugged and handed out jumping high fives. We linked arms and swayed from side to side, did the can-can and lifted each other off of our feet at times during massive group hugs. Even when the smoke machine blasted in our faces and made it nearly impossible to see, I could make out the Cheshire grins on everyone’s faces.
But the look on my fellow dancers’ faces was nothing compared what I saw when I glanced into the eyes of the audience. Everyone in the massive sea of humanity that was the capacity crowd at the Gorge was dancing and singing and appeared to be in a state of pure ecstasy.
In a word it was unreal. Except it was real because I was right there living it.
Oh, and did I mention the part of the show where naked women danced with the band on stage during a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same?” That’s how amazing and exhilarating my time on stage was; the naked dancers were an afterthought compared to everything else that happened.
Nudity, Teletubbies, confetti, smoke machines and spaceships aside, dancing with the Flaming Lips was pure bliss. It was the most euphoric life-affirming feeling I have ever experienced. Easily the best drug trip I had ever been on, except there were no drugs involved as I was stone-cold sober.
I’ve heard people tell stories about how a certain song or band has changed their lives and I thought I understood how that could happen. But I never knew what that felt like. Now I do.
While I was dancing and living in the moment with my Teletubby brethren, the music transcended the simple vocals and instrumentation I’m used to hearing on my stereo. It became something real; something tangible I was physically and emotionally moved by.
When I woke up the next day I felt like a different person. I felt invigorated and inspired and ready to tackle whatever obstacles life had to throw. I had a newfound zest for life and wanted to share my joie de vivre with anyone who would listen.
The Lips’ set ended with “Do You Realize?,” a song about living in the moment and appreciating those around you. It includes the lyrics: “You realize that life goes fast/It’s hard to make the good things last.”
I couldn’t have written a more appropriate ending for my time with the Flaming Lips.