A Night as Santa With the Flaming Lips

"Wayne started climbing into the hamster ball less than 20 feet away from me. I mean, how many people really get to have that experience?"

When the Flaming Lips came to town last year, Seattle Weekly photographer Laura Musselman wound up onstage with the band, dressed in a Santa Claus suit. Here is her account of dancing for the Oklahoma weirdos. SW: The morning after the Flaming Lips show at the Paramount last year, you exclaimed on our Reverb blog: "I'm the Santa with the hat in her eyes! Had a blast!" How did you get roped into dressing up in a Santa Claus outfit for this band? Musselman: I was offered a part in the show by a huge Flaming Lips fan, my former boss Bob Major from Easy Street Records. My boyfriend and I, along with some friends of ours, already had tickets. Bob had a few Santa passes, so he gave me one and the other two to a couple of his superfan friends.I was a little concerned about ditching the folks I came with, but they all agreed that they weren't the type of people to dance onstage with the band. They'd be happier watching the show from the floor. That or they were just trying to make me feel less guilty. Were you given special instructions on what to do and how to do it? When we went backstage to get dressed and mingle, we were given some pretty loose instructions by the Flaming Lips' "Animal Handler," whose nickname is a residual title from the days before the band's stage show boasted dancing Santas and aliens—when there were dolphins, rabbits, etc., instead. We were basically told to watch our heads, watch out for hot lights, dance, dance, dance, and be aware of the confetti guns. Apparently, a big wad of confetti can be pretty painful if you get in its way. We signed a waiver so we couldn't sue if we did in fact get hit in the face with confetti wads or burned by hot lights.We were also instructed to stay inside the space allotted for us on the stage: a duct-tape rectangle that probably measured about 4 feet by 12 feet on either side of the stage. Aliens went stage right, dancing Santas stage left.Our main instructions were to be constantly dancing and utilizing our giant flashlights to the best of our ability. Did you have to provide your own costume, or was it provided for you? There was a rack of Santa suits and hottie alien outfits that travel with the band on tour, and I'm assuming are cleaned rarely. The Santa suits were very one-size-fits-all, and I fought with mine quite a bit. I was pretty concerned with how stupid I looked to everyone in the audience, as I kept grabbing my elastic-banded Santa pants (the elastic of which was pretty much disintegrated after all the sweaty dance parties and wear and tear it had endured) and pulling them up as high as humanly possible without giving myself a Santa cameltoe. The hat kept falling down and covering my eyes, and added to the trapped-in-a-furnace feeling that was already making me feel self-conscious. But it didn't take long for me to realize that if I were watching this amazing show from the floor and there was a Santa pulling up her Santa pants and pushing her Santa hat out of her eyes, I would probably just think she was dancing and having a blast—which, of course, I was. Give me more juicy details of your time up there onstage. Were you nervous? Did you recognize anyone you knew in the crowd? Does Wayne Coyne think he's God? There was a whole lot of jumping up and down, hugging, squeezing, and general excitement among us dancers in the moments between putting on the costumes and waiting for the show to begin. As the time came close for the show to start, we were herded behind a giant LCD screen that alternated between trippy rainbows and the camera-view of the show from Wayne Coyne's microphone. There were hundreds of huge balloons piled up behind that screen, and you could see the crowd through it. I completely lost my shit when Wayne started climbing into the hamster ball less than 20 feet away from me. I mean, how many people really get to have that experience? My first instinct was to quickly text-message my ex-boyfriend back in Wisconsin, who has been a huge Flaming Lips fan for 15-plus years. I wrote: "I am standing onstage, watching Wayne Coyne climb into the hamster ball, dressed as a Santa. I am about to dance with the Flaming Lips!!" He replied: "I fucking hate you." There were definitely a lot of us dancers up there, and we all took turns dancing in the front, the back, and everywhere in between. We got our hippie-dancing and jumping on like we were all best buds. Everyone was supportive and polite, and we each had turns in the limelight, wielding our flashlights around. You couldn't help but pump your fists and smile the entire time. I looked for friends, but had a hard time squinting through the confetti, smoke, lights, and general mayhem going on around me. It was pretty hard to watch anything other than Wayne and all the people watching Wayne. He's captivating. He was like this solid joyful/hopeful mass in the middle of complete mayhem. Everything looked like a mess from the stage, just complete chaos, and I felt like I was swirling around in it. It was really difficult to envision the stage show from the audience's perspective when I was up there, despite having seen it before and knowing that it's nothing short of life-affirming. I did my best to not overanalyze, to not worry about if I was dancing like an idiot or if I was blinding people with my flashlight. Once I let go of that (a few songs into the set), it was easy and incredibly exhilarating. All you have to do to get yourself in check is see someone out there in the sea of people having a religious experience, and you're right back in it. That's why their shows are so much fun to see. It's this big mess of audio/visual candy and high-quality like-minded folks who are just letting it all go. What else could you want? If given another opportunity to be a dancing Santa, would you do anything differently? I definitely would have worn different clothes underneath the Santa suit. I came to the show wearing a simple black skirt, calf-high boots, and a tight cotton T-shirt. I had to take the skirt off to get the pants on, and that was not a super-savory feeling. I was soaked with sweat and woozy toward the end. I also think a shot (or three) of whiskey and a quick beer beforehand would have loosened me up nicely. bbarr@seattleweekly.com

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