12 August 2010


Adult Alternative

I am having strange feelings for a fifty-three year old. I have found much joy in listening to music created and performed by a band that started just when I was getting out of the music world, think mid 1980s, but of which I had been largely oblivious to for the following interval. Their music is challenging, pretty, energetic, serious, discordant, childish, psychedelic, enchanting, self-indulgent, condensed, lush, aspirational, down to Earth.

Oh, yeah. And weird. (I forgot weird the first time around.)

I like weird.

Yes, friends and neighbors, I have discovered the Flaming Lips.

Oh, it's not that I didn't know there was a band named the "Flaming Lips." It turns out I even owned one of their CDs, _Clouds Taste Metallic_. I think Newbury Comics included it as a freebie in an online order shipment one time. But I wasn't familiar with the CD's contents, except for the one tune, "Bad Days," that was on the _Batman Forever_ soundtrack. I couldn't have told you a thing about the band's style, the names of their records, what they were known for, at all.

I was clueless.

Discovering them was quite serendipitous: On the night early in June before we were to head to my mom's family's reunion on Sand Mountain in northwest Georgia, I wasn't sleeping well, so I got up in the middle of the night, got a drink of water, and checked in on what was going on on Facebook. Within moments, three different Facebook friends updated their status to say that they were waiting on the live webcast of the Flaming Lips performing _The Dark Side of the Moon_ at Bonnaroo. I think I had seen that on the schedule, but it's not like I was going to stay up until all hours of the morning to listen to live webcasts from Bonnaroo for anyone. Old fogey, and all that.

And even as I was curious that night about these Flaming Lips, I wasn't going to start listening to something at 1:00 in the morning when we had about 600 miles to drive the next day. I did do a search on Flaming Lips, and ran across their performance of "Do You Realize" on the Letterman show, though.

I was blown away.

This band was singing about life, death, appreciation for the now, appreciation for the other, all in a little ditty that while not under the classical three-minutes in duration for a good pop song, clocked in in less than four. I knew that I would have to hear more. So, before leaving the next morning, I downloaded the Lips' _Dark Side of the Moon_ and _Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots_ (where "Do You Realize" is found).

We cranked up _DSotM_ as our first listen on the ride that morning. It's no masterpiece, but it's fun. Good craftsmanship in making new arrangements of something that everyone knows. Hot performances. Lively recordings, with lots of punch. That was the first inclination I got as to the playfulness and love of music-making that seems to be an attribute of much of the Lips' records. But _DSotM_ has a little too much "novelty" about it for me to get a clear indication of what this band could do.

Later in the day, we listed to _Yoshimi_. It was very nice, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Would a second listening yield new responses, or was it something nice enough but nothing to get excited about?

I listened to _Yoshimi_ again on the flights to Fairbanks in June. Through headphones. What was this? Some kind of trick? A fusion of punk with prog? Of stringent production values with tunes and words that are accessible if somewhat sideways. A recording with immediacy but with sounds, lots of sounds, including squeaks and squawks and synthesizer chirps and synthesizer farts and fake audience noises, with ambiance out of the wazoo, with a mix that used both channels. With content addressing topics like when one should fight, whether programmed entities have real sensations and feelings, the nature of feelings, of love, of hate, for any entity, biological or cybernetic. And instrumentals. What is this? Another trick? Instrumentals? No one plays instrumentals any more.

I was enamored. I read up. I learned that they were from Oklahoma. Oklahoma? A perfect complement, for this one at least, to Leon Russell and Toby Keith and Merle Haggard.[*] All was well and good with a Universe in which a band as experimental and curious and out there as the Flaming Lips could come from Oklahoma, with "Do You Realize?" even being named the State Rock Song of Oklahoma.

I bought more. _The Soft Bulletin_ turned out to share many of the attributes of _Yoshimi_, if musically more lilting and lyrically more directed towards mortality, the wounds and disappointments of life (from spiderbites to AIDS and cancer to wounds in the head and gashes in the leg of unknown origin), sanity and insanity, and each of our individual demises. And bugs in your teeth.

By then I considered myself a fan. I bought tickets for their upcoming show in Saint Augustine. (From what I've read and seen, the shows look like a real trip. I am excited about seeing them, and not in the way you get excited about seeing some band that meant a lot to you as a kid. It's more like being a kid and being excited about seeing a band that means something to you.) And I bought their latest, _Embryonic_, a rambling double CD featuring a rougher sound, with lots of overmodulation, extreme dynamic range, and topics addressing a world that will not cooperate.

Speaking of rambling, that's what I'm doing now, since I have no intention of going through a song-by-song review of any of the albums. Go. Get the albums. Listen to them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

What I really wanted to get across was my own joy at finding something at this point in my life that speaks to me in ways I just never anticipated being spoken to again musically. Yes, Wilco moves me as a serious rock band, and I hear they put on a awesome show. But for their edginess, Wilco only gestures towards the truly weird. The Flaming Lips embrace the truly weird. Embrace it and put it on a pedestal and say, "Hey, listen to this. Isn't this cool? Isn't this freaking awesome?"

One can argue that their approach to serious issues is on the level of the dorm-room bull session, but I don't think that goes as far as those making it would like. There's enough ambiguity in their approach to those issues; there's the lack of smarminess that these are the only points of view one should have. Instead, there's pervasive mystery and questioning and lack of certainty.

And fun. Even while addressing the monetary, labor, and power imbalances that are attributes of all societies, something like the "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" is silly. Why it's a music video that wouldn't have been that out of place on MTV in 1980-something.

To Debbie Atterholt, Lars Hall, and Bill Steber, thanks for posting that you were fixing to listen to the Lips perform _DSotM_ at Bonnaroo. I owe you for the joy I've had the last few months listening to this band and learning about them.

So if you've wondered what the hell was going on with me and the Flaming Lips recently, that's it. I found new musical love at this point in my life for a band that's been around for almost the last thirty years. I think they were hiding from me.

[*] Everyone reading this knows that my lover/partner/unindicted-co-conspiritor of the last going-on sixteen years, Mr. Mack McKinley, is from Hooker, Oklahoma, in the Oklahoma panhandle, right?

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I can't tell you how happy reading this makes me Tim. I had a similar discovery of the Lips about 10 yrs. ago when an intern at the paper had me listen to something beyond their only hit to that point, "She Don't Use Jelly"-which I considered a cool novelty song. She played me the Waterbug song off a collection of obscure B sides. It's about a guy who is so stoned while shopping at a store, that the police try to arrest him and he has this kind of Willard complex and he calls on the waterbugs to save him. Crazy stuff right? Well the arrangement is just piano, violin, and Wayne's sweet, fragile voice, and the song is incredibly moving-it almost makes me cry when I hear it in fact. And that's the thing about these guys-they are the only band that evokes sincerity in a post-ironic world. It's so amazing that their music is in many ways, cold and industrial, yet the result is warmer than most modern folk music. I want to hear what you think about the concert. Wayne Cohn is one of the most amazing frontmen you'll ever see-he's liked the stoned home room teacher of romper room-shooting confetti canons into the crowd,making people sing stupid songs with udder abandon, creating an atmosphere where you don't care about being cool and ironic. He's like the dada Jesus of alternative pop. This band means a lot to me even though I don't listen to hardly anything else like them anymore. Welcome aboard the Flaming Lips caravan. You'll find a lot of great people on this train!
been a while since I've sent you a message. But today's post hits home. The Lips all reside close by me here in OKC. They also help sponser a halloween parade each year with a thousand march skeletons with torches. It's quite a site. The parade is ended with Wayne Coyne going down the parade path inside a plastic bubble. He also filmed a movie that was on the Indepentant movie network that he filmed over the course of a couple of years all around the neighborhood he lives in.

Here's a link to Waynes house that he grew up in and continues to live in. It happens to be in an area close to downtown OKC that is not a quote "most desirable" area...but he continues to support and helps to revitalize the area.

Oh, man. The links to Wayne Manor (heh heh) are great. Thanks.
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