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How unspeakable loss allowed Sheldon to become a winner

Culture

Sheldon Lieberman, A.K.A. Salmonhead, has always erred on the weird side of life but he has learned a few lessons from grief – the main one being to always wear the shiny pants.

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Sheldon Lieberman is a few things: anti-corporate raconteur, animation wizard, grown man with a salmon on his head.

His official title is the Founder of Bigfish.tv, a local digital and brand company responsible for a load of campaigns for Brisbane institutions such as Brisbane Festival, BIGSOUND, and more recently The Princess Theatre.

Having always been a creative, Lieberman found himself restricted by a perfectionism which made him fail before he began.

After experiencing the loss of his baby daughter to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, he learned to embrace the full spectrum of life which took him from performing his songs from the inside of his cupboard to onstage at Splendour in the Grass.

Now he is staging a show at La Boite which weaves the stories from his life with the creations from songs to animations that came about as a result.

Wear the Shiny Pants is part-comedy, part-animation, part-concert which track Lieberman’s story, with proceeds donated to Spinal Muscular Atrophy Australia.

“The show is about how we all get really scared and feel really vulnerable, but when you sort of step into that and step through it, all this incredible, magic stuff happens – which I’ve got evidence of,” Lieberman told InQueensland.

Lieberman said he had always wanted to be an artist and his creative agency Bigfish allowed him to seek out work that felt more like play.

“Early on, I remember sitting in a meeting in a board room, at one of those really boring tables. I saw a Muppet, I think it was Beaker, appearing behind the client’s head. That’s when I realised the corporate stuff was driving me insane,” he said.

His award-winning animation shorts Spike and Dadda began as a “bit of fun”, recording the everyday conversations between himself and his family with young son Spike which went on win awards at Tropfest and Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival.

Lieberman’s attitude to work and play had always existed but he said it was the diagnosis and subsequent death of his daughter from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which taught him to shed the fear and fully embrace his creativity.

“She was diagnosed with SMA at six months, we had 18-months with her, and she passed at two years old. Life just sort of stopped, my partner and I became full-time carers, Bigfish went on without me, it was a huge time to get through.

“It was the hardest, most tragic time of our lives. But our daughter had the most incredible way of moving through it smiling, she was always happy, it was incredible.

“It was the most tragic thing but also the biggest gift. I used to be a pedant and a perfectionist but that experience taught me to do everything I can with what I have.

“When it came to performing, I would have thoughts of not being good enough or being too nervous, I think of my daughter’s eyes and it’s a huge strength.”

Around the same time, Lieberman met his future bandmate Sem Hen in Seoul, who would later form their genre-blending band Monkey Monkey Shake Shake featuring characters Grizzly Bear and Salmonhead.

The band has now played huge festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival after sending them an audition tape ‘as a half-joke’.

“You have to make mistakes, the amount of times we’ve died on stage there are real horror stories of people looking at us as if to say ‘you’re not even any good why are you wearing this costume?’”

‘If it fails, it really fails,” he said, “It’s about learning from the failure, then stepping forward and putting the shiny pants back on.”

Lieberman said there was a good message behind seeing a grown man with a salmon on his head – embrace the absurdity, everything is going to be alright.

Wear the Shiny Pants is a one-night performance at La Boite on 17 September, for more information visit La Boite’s website. 

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