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Flaming Lips

Based On A True Story:

So there is this business traveler sprawled out on the left side of a king size bed, the side he usually sleeps on at home. It's late and the motel room is dark except for the TV's glow. After spending the day meeting clients the businessman is spent but can't sleep. So with a lukewarm can of beer in one hand and the remote in the other, he aimlessly channel surfs. There's the millionth running of The Godfather and a channel that seems dedicated to playing every segment of CSI and Law and Order. His skips over the political hacks screaming at each other but can't focus on the sports guys doing essentially the same thing.

Then suddenly it's there - a genuinely disturbing image. A fellow with long but neat hair and a nicely trimmed beard is in a white suite, splattered with fake blood, singing a tortured, over the top, version of Judy Garland's classic "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." The rush of conflicting images is rejected by the businessman's cerebral cortex. He looks at his beer. What's in this stuff? But it's a national brand, usually harmless in quantities of six or less. That couldn't be the cause of this vision. He looks again at the TV and notices that the backing musicians are dressed like overstuffed life-size animals, the kind that usually populate a six year old's bed. Is he so tired that he's begun hallucinating? No hallucination, it's Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips.

"These were not normal guys from normal families - you're talking about freaks," a one-time Flaming Lips manager famously stated. Come on, these guys are from Oklahoma. How weird could they be? Turns out, plenty. Coyne had a slightly different perspective. "We're just normal guys trying to make interesting music," claimed the frontman. That just begs the question, "what is normal?"

As a group of inexperienced musicians, unencumbered by musical "rules," the Flaming Lips came together in the early '80s playing covers, including the "Batman Theme." That seemed to be the first of several treks off the beaten path - especially since the TV show had premiered nearly two decades earlier. Does that matter?

Then there was the name. Flaming Lips seemed like a good idea at the time, according to Coyne. Even so, they figured they'd change it to something better later on. Sure.

The Flaming Lips were a total audio/visual experience. Aside from costumes, props and stage blood, there was Coyne's trademark crowd surfing inside a huge clear plastic ball.

They never played it straight. Probably couldn't. The Lips were on their own trajectory. Check out the album and song titles (see below) for starters. If there was an audience at the end of it, that was fine. If not, that was O.K. too. They were probably best known for the song "She Don't Use Jelly," a nice little tune that amply illustrated the group's subversive humor.

The band's first live concert DVD, UFO's At The Zoo: The Legendary Concert In Oklahoma City arrived in '07. It made perfect sense considering their theatrical nature. The next year the group played Des Moines and opened the show by tossing large orange and yellow balloons into the crowd and had audience members onstage dressed in Teletubbies outfits (Teletubbies graced many subsequent shows). For The Who tribute in L.A. (the '08 VH1 Rock Honors), Coyne was dressed in psychedelic loungewear as the group performed "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me."

During this period, the group's music got some worthy recognition from a curious quarter - advertisers. Flaming Lips music landed in commercials for Mitsubishi, Range Rover and Kraft Salad Dressing ("The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"). Songs also found a place in movies, including Spider-Man 3 ("The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How To Be In Love").

Back in the studio, the Flaming Lips recorded "At War With The Mystics." According to Coyne the '06 album sounded, "like John Lennon but if he got together with Miles Davis and they went back in time, but there was a supercomputer that they could figure out how to work!" Yes, that makes it crystal clear. Three years later, the Lips issued "Embryonic." Prior to the album's release the group played the Colbert Report and announced that that album would be streamed on the show's website. The hard copy version landed a month later.

Touring can be extraordinarily difficult. Show after show after show, until they become a blur. Well, trying doing eight shows in 24 hours. That's what the Lips did in '12 to break Jay-Z's Guinness World Record. As part of the O Music Awards, presented by Viacom to honor music and technology and the melding of the two, the run began on 6/27 in Memphis and concluded seven shows later in New Orleans. They broke the record with twenty minutes to spare - enough time for another show (each show had to be a minimum of 15 minutes).

That stunt and a subsequent world tour drove drummer Steven Drozd, who kicked heroin in '01, back to drug abuse. He only got clean after the group began recording "The Terror."

Nailing a Guinness World Record was just the sort of thing the Lips would do. Another off-beat example came just months later. In a 'what were you thinking" moment, Coyne was at the center of a bomb scare at Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City when dead grenade in his carry-on set off alarms at a TSA checkpoint. He told police that the grenade was given to him at a party as a joke.

Coyne was allowed to board his flight to L.A. and tweeted "Sorry Sorry Sorry!! Everyone that was inconvenienced because of my grenade at OKC airport!!"

To promote "The Terror" the Flaming Lips and their song "Sun Blows Up Today," was featured in a Super Bowl TV commercial for the Hyundai Sonata (a car).

"Why would we make this music that is 'The Terror' - this bleak, disturbing record," asked Coyne. "I don't really want to know the answer that I think is coming. Maybe this is the beginning of the answer."

In a different but still unsettling vein, Coyne unfurled a limited edition of his very first adult comic book, The Sun Is Sick, at '13's Comic-Con in San Diego. The comic came with a warning: 'this is not suitable for children and depending on what sort of person you are, it may not be suitable for some of you non-children either." The comic was available at the Flaming Lips webstore.

Next, the Flaming Lips issued the "Peace Sword" EP. It was what could be called an organic project. Asked simply to write and record a song for the closing credits of "Ender's Game," The Lips composed an additional five songs inspired by the film. The six tracks, including the one used in the film, "Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)," comprised the EP.

Longtime drummer Kliph Scurlock ('02 - '14) claimed he was fired for negative comments he'd made about Coyne's friend, Pink Pony frontwoman Christina Fallin, who had been accused of "cultural appropriation" after she wore a Native American headdress in a publicity photo.

"We parted ways because of the usual band musical differences," countered Coyne, who added that Scurlock was a "pathological liar."

So now what? Well, leave it to The Lips to undertake their concept of a concept album. "With A Little Help From My Fwends," their tribute to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," rolled out in '14. The Lips got help from Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, MGMT, Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis and Grace Potter.

Another unique project followed. "Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz," a free, 23-track experimental album that Cyrus and the Flaming Lips wrote and recorded together, was available online. Coyne referenced Pink Floyd and Portishead in his description of the '15 album, concluding that was "a slightly wiser, sadder version" of Cyrus' pop output.

Going visual once again, Coyne unveiled "King's Mouth," his art installation at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum. "Coyne's work is among the most jubilant in our 'Big Hope' Show," said American Visionary founder Rebecca Hoffberger.

The next full-fledged Lips album, "Oczy Mlody," arrived in early '17.
Flaming Lips Discography


1986 Hear It Is
1987 Oh My Gawd!!!
1989 Telepathic Surgery
1990 In A Priest Driven Ambulance
1992 Hit To Death In The Future Head
1993 Transmissions From The Satellite Heart
1995 Clouds Taste Metallic
1997 Zaireeka
1999 The Soft Bulletin
2002 Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
2006 At War With The Mystics
2009 Embryonic
2013 The Terror
2013 Peace Sword EP
2014 With A Little Help From My Fwends
2017 Oczy Mlody

The Flaming Lips have a long and reasonably distinguished recording career. They vault from gentle acoustic arrangements to incorporating electronic noise. It's either wonderfully eclectic or maddeningly inconsistent. But whatever the style, the songs often seem built around Coyne's quirky yet conversational vocals.

While '06 release, "At War With The Mystics," containing a cool little romp, "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," and the dreamy "Vein Of Stars," is a good set, the Lips really hit their stride shortly after an early '90s restructure. "Transmissions From The Satellite Heart" ('93) - with the ever popular "She Don't Use Jelly," and "Chewin' The Apple Of Your Eye" - "Clouds Taste Metallic" ('95) and "Yoshi Battles The Pink Robots" ('02) are the group's best.

The Lips' early work is chronicled on "A Collection Of Songs Representing An Enthusiasm For Recording... By Amateurs 1984-1990" and "Finally The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid" (great title). The latter has a rousing Punk take on the irrepressible "Batman Theme." But the three albums listed above are really the place to start.

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