Mobile, AL – “The Bubble Machine” -South Side Music Hall – May 21, 1999

There’s no curfew in Mobile, Alabama so college students tossed “wanna fight?!?!” glances and ill-advised pick-up lines at each other into the wee hours of the morning.

As we rolled the last of our gear past the backdrop of this drunken scene, I found myself grappling with how to share the uproarious, effervescent, and brilliant spectacle that unfolded on stage earlier that evening.

Let me begin by asking if you’ve ever known the thrill of riding a rollercoaster of infectious laughter. The type that starts as a gentle simmer, a bubbly sensation, as though being shaken like a soda can, until suddenly, the pressure’s too great, and you can’t keep it in. It’s not just any type of laughter; it’s the bottle rocket, explosive kind; the type that starts with your lips tightly sealed, trying desperately to hold it in, until a sound you’d expect to come from an elephant’s trunk, comes out of your own mouth and the sound, in itself, is so funny and embarrassing you might, for an instant, forget what made you laugh in the first place and start laughing at yourself for the noise just emitted from your body.

It’s that elephant noise that kills you man, every time, because if you’d just let yourself chuckle a little “te-he” in the first place, all that energy would have dispersed evenly, the way you can let air slowly out of a shaken soda to avoid a catastrophe. But not after the elephant sound….no, no, no…Because then you are doomed for the rest of your life to laugh not only at the funny thing, not only at the embarrassing elephant squeal you allowed through your lips but at the fact that you shouldn’t even have been laughing at the funny thing in the first place.

Eric Erdman, a talented, charismatic, bubble-machine-toting virtuoso, was our opening act. He held the philosophy that a performer plus bubbles didn’t just equate to a good show but transformed it into something spectacular. He insisted, and I quote:

“A good performer makes for a good show, but a good performer with bubbles makes for a GREAT show.”

-Eric Erdman “The Birdman”

Eric had rigged his whimsical bubble generator to his guitar pedal board so that, with one stomp, he could turn any stage into a magical bubble wonderland. Did I want to use it for my set? he asked. Uh, hell yes I did.

The bubble machine was deceptively simple; a seemingly innocuous black box filled with ivory liquid soap. But inside, it harbored an arsenal of at least twenty bubble wands and a fan that could have cooled a small desert. I didn’t think to use the machine until we were about to play “Red Room.”

I was thinkin’ to myself, ‘I’ll just turn on some bubbles to create a sexy red room vibe.’ But when I crunched Eric’s guitar-peddle bubble-button, instead of lilting sexy bubbles, I inadvertently released a torrent of bubble-bees that swarmed the air.

Now, there happened to be this liquored-up biker dude standing about eye level not 3 feet from the bubble blower’s mouth. He’d been making eyes at me all night, leaning against a wooden pillar in that “I’m the shit” way. He had wavy, salt and pepper curls, a Harley Davidson t-shirt, and what looked like 10 pounds of silver rings covering his beefy hands.

When the bubble barrage began, those shimmering suckers came out at him so fast and with such profusion, his first reaction was to fight them off and he did so with comical resistance, as if battling a soapy blizzard. At some point, he must have realized how ridiculous he looked and stopped swatting but he was too cool to abandon his post, so he just let the soapy beasts envelop him and tried to resume his composure.

The thing was, these bubbles weren’t popping. They were made of Ivory soap and they were indelible! Even after the show was over we were still finding unpopped bubbles sitting on top of amplifiers and instruments.

While Eric had instructed me how to trigger the bubbles, he’d failed to mention how to make them stop. All “Red Room” long those shatterproof bubbles assaulted and attached themselves to the Harley man who didn’t understand they weren’t just hitting and bursting. THEY WERE ACCUMULATING.

As he stood there, stoically, staring at me, listening intensely to me sing he was being turned into a bubble snowman. He was covered, and I mean covered (his whole beard and hair and shoulders) in iridescent glowing bubbles. And since he was standing in the front of the crowd, most of the people in the audience saw this accumulation too and started pointing at him which he was also clueless to.

This only made keeping my laughter in, harder, so when my tightly clenched lips cracked to sing the third verse, the elephant sound came out of me and I completely lost it. I fell on the ground kneeling over my guitar. I couldn’t hide my laughter. I was practically crying for god sake. But I felt badly for laughing at the Harly dude who, albeit drunk as a skunk, was listening so sincerely. I tried to pretend I had to fix a broken string. I tried to pull myself together and make it back for the chorus but catching the Harley dude out of the corner of my eye, now wearing a bubble robe iridescently lit by the lights from the stage, I completely blew it and couldn’t even attempt the end lyrics. How could he not know he was covered in bubbles?!?!

I’ll cherish that memory for the rest of my days.
Thank you, Mobile, GOODNIGHT.

Reader interactions

5 Replies to “Mobile, AL – “The Bubble Machine” -South Side Music Hall – May 21, 1999”

  1. Sally,

    That is an AWESOME story – almost makes me want to get a bubble machine so I can wheel it out every time I feel sad! I hope you purchase one for yourself!

    1. I think everyone should own at least one bubble maker for personal everyday joy boost. I may just have to invest in one. Totally worth it!

  2. nancy lynn brewerton April 30, 2024 at 4:26 am

    I love your writing, and of course your music. I have high hopes you may churn out a book on your colorful life! ❤️

    1. Perhaps some day. Stay tuned.

      1. nancy lynn brewerton April 30, 2024 at 11:30 am

        Will do. Anxiously!💯❤️

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