The Strange But True Adventures of Cyanide Fish

Episode One: A First Time For Everything

It all started with a science fiction convention. No, really it did. Once upon a time, there was a little convention called Magnum Opus Con, (MOC for short) that catered to fans of science fiction, fantasy, gaming, comic books and other pastimes of the true geek. Being a true geek myself, I made a regular habit of attending each year. Along with the usual entertainments that most such conventions provide, (costume contest, guest speakers, etc.) this particular convention hosted a lip sync contest, of all things. The entries were not required to have any sort of sci-fi theme, so the songs and performances came in all varieties, from Tom Lehrer's "Masochism Tango" to the Bobs' rendition of "Helter Skelter" to a couple of guys in suits and sunglasses doing a Blues Brothers song.

I watched the show and came to a great and wise conclusion: I could do better than that.

Since MOC was an annual event, this gave me an entire year to pick out a song and rehearse a performance. I eventually settled on "Late Bar" (the B-side of "Planet Earth") for several reasons. One, of course, was that it was a Duran Duran song, which means I wouldn't have to work very hard to memorize it, since I'd already played it a million times as it was. Plus, the lyrics kicked in very quickly after the intro, which left me with less time to dither around and wait for something to actually lip-sync to. Even the interlude had some bits of Simon mumuring words, which a Duranie friend of mine had managed to (sort of) decipher with many repeated listenings with her ear against the speaker. And, best of all, it ended decisively, without a fade leaving me looking foolish. Perfect.

I was still in college at the time, and I took a beginning class in Modern Dance, which gave me some interesting ideas to add to my performance. My intent was to give the audience something worth watching, and I rehearsed constantly to deliver it. My persona was that of some kind of wild-eyed lunatic and I used a red Plexiglas knife (my brother made and sold them at one time) as a prop to wave around and then stab myself with at the end. It was definitely not your typical lip sync performance.

One year later, I trundled off to MOC and entered the lip sync contest. They were holding it Friday night, just as the con was starting, which meant that I arrived from Atlanta without having eaten or rested much. (The con was held in Greenville, SC at the time. If you're not familiar with American geography, it's a bit of a drive.) It helped with my maniacal aspect. I asked if they would carry me off stage after my performance, since it seemed kinda dorky to stab myself, collapse and then get up and bow afterwards. They reluctantly agreed.

Long and the short of it, I did my bit, stabbed myself, got carried off the stage, watched the rest of the show and then got called back up on stage because, well, I'd won. First place. Fifty bucks. Not bad. "I thought you were dead," the MC said. "I may be dead," I replied, "but I've never had more fun!"

A few years passed. I entered the lip sync contest a few more times with other songs--"I Am Stretched On Your Grave" by Sinead O'Connor and "Alien" by Japan--but didn't do as well. (Only placed Second with one of them and didn't place at all with the other.) So there the matter would have rested.

Until 1993

Duran Duran had emerged from the crash-and-burn of Liberty to the triumph of Duran Duran (aka The Wedding Album) and they were playing Lakeshore Amphitheatre in Atlanta. I was going. I'd sat in line to get fourth row tickets, you bet your ass I was going. The night before the show, a Duranie friend of mine managed to snag some time on a local radio station and play all kinds of Duran Duran stuff for about an hour. He'd given me a heads up, so I was tuned in. Somewhere in the middle of it, he announced that there was going to be a Duran Duran lip sync contest before the show, with the winner getting front row seats and backstage passes.

A lip sync contest.

I remember walking around the house and laughing. It was astonishing the adrenaline rush I was getting from the mere possibility of meeting them. I'd despaired of ever getting the chance, even after hearing the stories of others who had, and here was this chance, this one golden chance just waiting to be grasped.

I spent most of the day of the show rehearsing, rehearsing and, oh, yeah, rehearsing. It had been some years since I'd done it, but listening to the song triggered all kinds of bodily memories, so it came back to me pretty quickly. I even got another knife from my brother. And a few other things.

At the time, my brother and his friends were trying to market a comic book entitled Dan the Dangerous Dildo being the adventures of, well, a dildo that had radioactive slime dripped on it and became a superhero. They'd put together one issue to shop around to distributors, and had even printed up T-shirts and buttons.

I asked my brother if I could have a copy of the comic book to give to them, in the event that I actually won. I figured they were being handed fanzines and probably even fanfic left, right and center, and that it might be novel to get some reading material that had nothing to do with them. My brother not only agreed, but gave me a T-shirt to give to them as well. I also had a thank-you card to give them (because I really did want to thank them) and I had an enamel pin of the White Rabbit to give to Nick. (Nick being, like the White Rabbit, elegant, if a bit scattered at times, and usually late.)

I packed all these goodies into my trusty red backpack and took MARTA down to Lakewood. I got off at Lakewood station and waited for the bus to the amphitheatre. And waited. And waited. Eventually, I got a bit nervous and called the white courtesy phone to ask what was up. A bus arrived soon after. I made it into the venue (no, sir, no cameras or tape recorders in the backpack, just a big plastic knife) and saw that the lip sync contest was already in progress. Eep! I dashed up to the side and asked if I was too late. Seeing my breathless state, the MC took pity on me and let me sign up. I used the name "China Alien". ("China", from Violence of Summer, was my pen pal nickname at the time, "Alien" was from the Japan song I'd lip synced to at another time.) I handed the DJ my tape and waited for my turn. Two different people did "The Chauffeur" and a trio of very drunk and loud girls did a sloppy rendition of "All She Wants Is". To save time, they were fading the songs out after about a minute, so my entire routine with the knife at the very end was rendered moot. Ah, well.

At last, my time came, and while I'd like to say I did it perfectly, this was not the case. I muffed the beginning and did part of it backwards but since nobody had seen it before (unless somebody who'd been to MOC was lurking in the audience) nobody knew I was doing it wrong. Overall, I survived and got a goodly round of applause. "You weren't kidding about having just gotten here," the MC remarked, "What spaceship?"

A few more people came after me and at last they lined us up and told the audience to applaud each performer and the one with the loudest applause got the tickets and passes. The three drunk chicks tried to boost their numbers by yelling and screaming but the MC pointed out that it had to be the audience and not the performers, so they were quiet while the crowd gave them a subdued round of applause. When it was my turn, I raised my arms to urge them to cheer, and cheer they did. I stood in line and crossed my fingers and hoped and prayed and then I saw the woman who'd been measuring the applause lean over and speak to the MC.

"China Alien" she said.

"China Alien!" the MC announced. I walked foward and took my bow. I remember looking up at a perfect blue sky and basking in that moment. It still makes me smile to think about it.

All the contestants were given promo T-shirts and CDs to take home and I grabbed some for me. I came off the stage to see my sister (who'd gotten some lawn seats for the show) and the lady in charge of the tickets and passes. She gave me the tickets (Row A! Ohmighod!) and snapped a wristband around my wrist. My sister got another and she finagled a third to give to my boyfriend whenever he arrived. (I'd given him his ticket and we'd agreed to meet at the venue.) As I was stowing my CD and T-shirt in my trusty red backpack, people came up and congratulated me. Somebody offered me cash for my front row tickets. I refused. One group of people gave me a bag to give to Nick, which I agreed to do. (I peeked inside--it was a Zip 'n' Dash dress, as inspired by the infamous "House of Style" episode.)

So we went to where people with wristbands were waiting and I paced around and went "Eep!" a lot. I even ran into a couple of people I knew (including the fellow who'd done the radio show) and we caught up on things. We were eventually let into a little grassy fenced-off area where they do these sorts of meet and greet things. There was a table with food and drink, but my stomach was too curdled with anticipation to accept anything. I sipped on a Coke and paced some more.

At last, the boys emerged. There was something vaguely surreal about seeing their faces in three dimensions after seeing them only on pages or screens for so long. Yes, they really do look like that. Nick's hair was a pale blueish purple, John's was fire engine red and Warren actually had hair at the time. (Simon's was just brown.) I watched as different people were brought up to pose with the band, have their picture taken, and then get rushed off for the next people. Some were fanzine people, some were radio contest winners, some were just people with connections. I wasn't entirely sure which one I was; while I'd heard about the contest on the radio, there was also a large Capitol Records banner backdrop on the stage where I'd performed. My sister, who's just a tiny bit more assertive than I am, told the guy who was leading people on and off that I'd won the lip sync contest and the guy proclaims "Okay, lip sync, right up here." and up there I went.

I walked right up to Nick, handed him the bag and said "I take no responsibility for this." Then I handed him the box with the rabbit pin and said "I do take responsibility for this." "Oh, a gift!" said Nick. He opened it and remarked "A rabbit!" (I think he liked it, or was at least too polite to say otherwise.)

Simon asked me "So, what song did you lip sync to?" "Late Bar!" I told him. "Ooooooooh!" he replied, eyes smirking. By this time the photographer was yelling at me to turn around so I did so and unfurled the T-shirt.

The Dan the Dangerous Dildo T-shirt. Remember? That one.

John leaned over to have a look and (reportedly) laughed. Simon asked what it was so I turned and showed him. He grinned. I handed the shirt and the comic to Simon and said "This is yours. Well, all of yours, actually." "I don't know," Simon said "I think it'd be more appropriate for Warren, actually." I turned to Warren, who said "I never wear the things." (I think he was talking about T-shirts, though for all I know, he may have been talking about dildos. May I also parenthetically note that this was all YEARS before the infamous Rock Rod hit the design stage.) I shoved the shirt and comic book into Warren's arms and said "Whatever, it's yours, it's all of yours," and dashed off to the side, handing Nick the thank you card as I did.

Whew. So, I met Duran Duran and didn't make a complete ass of myself. Nift.

I watched other people get their moment in the sun (and flashbulb) and somewhere in the midst of this my boyfriend arrived. (My sister had ventured out and found him in the fourth row, being bored out of his mind by Terence Trent D'Arby.) I told him of my adventures and we watched the band do the meet and greet thing a little bit longer before they finally departed and so did we.

We made our way to our spiffy front row seats and saw the show. The parts that stick in my mind the most are "UMF", (Nick wheeled in on a wheelchair and parked right in front of me--no complaints) "The Chauffeur", (with Simon playing the pied piper and the rest of the band following) and "Wild Boys" (when Simon crashed out into the audience.) In my diary I subesquently complained that the show was too short but I've since learned not to take such things for granted.

So that was my first time meeting Duran Duran. I figured that having front row seats and backstage passes at least once in my life would be something to look back on and smile. That still is true. I also figured I'd probably never get a chance like that again. That turned out to be false.