13 years ago, The Flaming Lips released an album that picked up the world and gave it a big, giant warm cuddly sad-ish hug. And it was called The Soft Bulletin. To commemorate the anniversary, here is a true story about the first time I ever listened to it. Please enjoy and listen to the songs!
by Alison Leigh
In 1999, I was brand new to California and was just beginning to realize for the first time in my life the importance of bands like Motley Crue and Guns N Roses, the album Californication, and every song the Red Hot Chili Peppers ever did, really. The palm trees, the ocean, the rock n’ roll glamour, the shady streets of Hollywood – I even began picking up on lyrics by the Clash, who loved Los Angeles, that praised the Golden State. I also got to see what it felt like to share space with celebrities on a daily basis — it was so new to me and majestic.
The views of the city from the infinite vantage points inspired me daily. You could see the ocean from the back patio of the mansion my friend lived in. (She only lived there because it was divided up into cheap apartments.) Directly below the Hollywood sign, we had private yoga lessons on her patio every Wednesday late morning. Let’s just say — life was good. I was being moved daily by my general surroundings and was hypersensitive to everything I saw, smelled, and heard; my mind was wide open.
I worked at Rudy’s Barbershop in the brand new hotel, The Standard in West Hollywood. It was the celebrity hotspot for awhile, and every day we rubbed elbows with the likes of Sharon Stone, Lenny Kravitz, Mark Wahlberg, Moby, Leonardo DiCaprio, the list went on and on and on. None of us really cared, but it was weird and awesome. In the beginning, the band Korn and co. was living at the hotel and spent a lot of time lounging by the pool where we took our breaks. One day I was talking to their drum tech who was like — gorgeous in my opinion. He was sweet, semi-jaded (which I love in a person), had a nice, easy going laugh, beautiful eyes (my downfall), and we just got along.
I did his hair at the shop regularly for a few months, and despite my growing, psychotic crush which was developing rapidly, I maintained my professional attitude by never flirting with him or asking him out. It’s a rule I’ve always upheld. He could have asked me out and I would have said yes, but I could not bring myself to hit on a customer. So I sat. And waited. And hoped. I would run into him here and there; each time it was nice, but distant. I knew he would never ask me out because I am a nerd and he probably dated porn stars and models. I accepted my fate.
One day I got a phone call at the shop from one of my many male clients (it was a barbershop so most of the patrons were men, and a good percentage were gay). He was one of my regulars, but his name didn’t ring a bell, and he was wondering if I could come to the hotel he was staying at to cut his hair. He said he used to be at the Standard, but got fed up with the service, so he moved down the street. That was a fairly normal thing to do in LA, and I had done this in the Standard a lot as well. Some people just have money to spend and they had no problems having someone come to do their hair, while their friends and crew hung out, talking business, or just drinking and partying (another thing I NEVER did on the job. I was there to work). So without even blinking, I said “Yeah, sure! What day?” He asked his male friend “Hey do you want a cut too?” Answer was no. “OK just me.” We worked out the scheduling, I took down his number and that was that. I hung up wondering who it was and figured it must have been one of my gay couples.
The day of the appointment, I grabbed my stuff and went to the hotel, which was a beautiful older hotel; it was huge and flowery and ornate and dark. I liked it. I went to the front desk and gave the lady the room number and asked for the name of the guest. She looked it up and said “Rusty Nail”. This was obviously a pseudonym, and I was perplexed. I proceeded to the elevator. I got to the door, and knocked. He answered. I died.
“The softest bullet ever shot…” from ‘The Spark That Bled’
“Hey how are you?”, he smiles. As my brain is trying to get on even-footing, I say, “Great! How are you?” Wide-eyed, I followed him in while we exchanged pleasantries. He was eating a huge bowl of cereal with the balcony door wide open in the sunny eating area of the room. The biggest bed on earth was in plain sight, and I had before me the extra challenging task of exercising my self-restraint.
“Love is the place, that you’re drawn to…” The pounding heartbeat in the song ‘What Is the Light?’ matched me perfectly at that moment.
I put down my vintage makeup case covered in stickers, and began unpacking my hair cutting equipment. He asked if I’d like to smoke a joint. Still in shock from just walking through the door, I was now about to smoke weed and do this guy’s hair. That in my book, was A-OK if both parties were smoking. I began to realize this was going to potentially be a cinematic experience.
“Suddenly, everything has changed..” from the song ‘Suddenly Everything Has Changed’
I took a puff and immediately became super aware of the amazing music that had been playing the whole time in the background. I asked what we were listening to. He said,
“The Flaming Lips, ‘The Soft Bulletin.’”
I said, “Wo-o-ow,” and kept listening. We were talking and smoking and having an amazing late morning and I was in heaven on earth, while laughing at myself inwardly about how fucked up this is, and that there was nothing I could do! I said to myself, “Real life means, you cut this man’s hair, you have the best time you possibly can, you do not make out with him or go anywhere near that incredibly expensive, inviting bed, and you leave here with your money and integrity intact — the end, Alison Leigh!”
“When you fell in love it was so sweet.. so devoted, completely swept off your feet… love is the greatest thing your heart can know. But the hole that it leaves in its absence can make you feel… so… low…” from ‘The Spiderbite Song’
I would like to say that the album the Soft Bulletin, altered my very being. In that room, on that balcony looking out over the entire city of Los Angeles and the ocean, cutting this dream boy’s hair and misting him and myself with water from my spray bottle (wetting down his hair for the cut, duh!). It was like, the ultimate situation. The album is rich with textures and beauty, and goes divinely with any kind of THC-having experience. Couple that with the extreme bliss of being here with this awesome guy, and the immensely relaxing vibe of this perfect album, and you have before you, a classic tale of the senses. A forbidden crush, a perfect setting, songs that permeate your soul for the rest of your life; these things happen rarely, and I could not have been happier. Perfect, left with an eternal sense of longing, never tarnished by a squabble or bad breath or a forgotten phone call, to live on in my memory forever.
“It’s just too heavy for Superman to lift….” from the song ‘Waiting For Superman’
I went out and purchased The Soft Bulletin immediately.
“Holding onto something I may never have… and that’s too bad…” from the song The Spark That Bled
For weeks after, I held onto that tiny piece of paper with his phone number on it. I reminded myself daily that he had my number too, and if he was moved by our experience and wanted to hang out with me, he could call me. I tortured myself every single day with that paper until I eventually had to destroy it. I listened to the album sometimes three or four times a day. I played it at the shop. I fantasized about ten million things that could have happened between us. I longed for him constantly. Everywhere I went this album was playing — at stores, cafes, restaurants, on the street coming out of people’s windows. It was everywhere. I felt like Winona Ryder in the captivating, ice-shaving snow scene in Edward Scissorhands. It was the definition of Epic.
Rusty Nail, if you’re out there, kiss your hand for me and tell yourself I said, ‘Thank You.’