ACL Download: Day 3. Flaming Lips eclipse.

I wish I could tell you that I used my last day at ACL productively. That I went to as many shows as I possibly could. That I broke through my four-a-day limit and went to, like, 13.

But for me, Sunday was all about The Flaming Lips.

Maybe The Flaming Lips is a generational thing. I read an interview with Wayne Coyne recently, where he talked about being 12 or 13, and how significant a time that was in his life.

“You know, those things that you do when you’re 12 or 13, that really is a strange, powerful moment in your life. There’s a lot of people I talk to who, you know, what they’re doing when they’re 12 and 13 years old is almost who they are now. And so I’ve always been strangely aware of the power of that time in my life.”

I was 12 or 13 when “Vaseline” came out. I remember being in PE, and some girl giggling and nodding with her Walkman. I said, “what are you listening to?”

She smiled, took off the headphones, and handed them to me.

This was the same year that Kurt Cobain killed himself, as had a sweet, trouble-making, roundly beloved boy in our grade.  A few days earlier, that boy had hugged me, picked me up and spun me around off the ground.  I was a complete dork and he was kind of popular, so it felt pretty special.

His was the first funeral I went to.

Anyway, I think all pre-teens and early teenagers fancy themselves dark, but 7th grade really was a dark time for my particular class. We had all the grunge music in the world to indulge it, too, and then this girl handed me “Vaseline,” and it sounded so happy and incongruous with the whole general mood.


I eventually forgot all about Flaming Lips, until Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots came out some seven years later.

It was around this time that I began to consider myself a Proper Fan of the Flaming Lips, and not just a casual appreciator of “Vaseline” every time it played on VH1′s I Love the 90′s or whatever.  I was listening to “Do You Realize??” in Ross’s bedroom when I was 22, and he told me about going to the Flaming Lips/Beck show here in Austin.  He said that they used streamers, laser lights, a huge hand, dancing Santas, etc. during their performance.

“Was this a one-time thing?” I asked.

“I’m pretty sure they use that stuff every chance they get,” Ross said.

I vowed to see the Flaming Lips every chance I got.

*   *   *
I saw Flaming Lips at ACL back in 2008, and witnessed the streamers / the lights / the everything. But this year, I actually arrived early, and got to stand kind of close to the stage.

Are you wondering about that picture on top, that bubble Wayne Coyne is walking around in? For anyone who’s been to a Flaming Lips show, that space bubble is old news — but I still love it.  It’s so P.T. Barnum.  And I’m not above gags.

Here’s an awesome video of that moment, captured by this person:


Anyway, here is my big theory on Wayne Coyne / Flaming Lips. 

I think that band has lasted so long because Wayne and his fellow bandmates/artists genuinely love people. Wayne Coyne is not one of these disenchanted, angry-at-the-world artists, and never has been.  He has this ability to make a park full of people feel like a silly, intimate group of friends, and regularly says stuff in between songs like, “Isn’t this the most beautiful night? Can you believe we get to do this together??”

It just blows my mind that someone that ridiculously famous is, after 15+ years of touring, still so tickled to hang out with everybody. “Well Tolly, that’s clearly a shtick,” you might be saying.  But I really don’t think so. Look at this face. This is the face of a HAPPY MAN.


He looks like a baby, but in that video, Wayne Coyne is roughly 34. Now I want to point something out here.  Have you ever seen Jon Hamm interviewed?  Badass.  How about George Clooney?  Oh, he’s a lothario and we all know it, but he gives one hell of an interview. He could be in politics if he weren’t in Hollywood.

I think it’s better for people when fame comes late.  Not that I would know, but, when you get a lot of media attention in your 20s, and then at some point it drops off (as it eventually does for everyone), I think it’s a hard blow to recover from. Your core hasn’t fully developed yet, because you’ve had to tap-dance for the public for so long.

But when you’re older, you’re a little more whole and resilient.  Fame – and its fade – doesn’t make you crazy.

Wayne Coyne is 49 this year, and I am 28. I hope I am as generous a spirit as he is in 20 years. He is an atheist I believe, but if Wayne Coyne had a church, I would be a congregant.

(In my dreams, I would also totally be one of those stage dancers!)

Their show Sunday night at ACL was far and away my favorite of the festival. They have a new album out – it’s called Embryonic – and I’m sure it’s great.  But a Flaming Lips show is really about the experience, and that’s another reason they are doing so well in an unpredictable music industry. Recorded music is no longer a viable money-maker for bands; these days, it’s all about the live show.  Bands have to think much more three-dimensionally now, whether it’s laser beams, or crazy inflatable balls, or even just the way a lead singer moves his or her hips.

Because increasingly, we’re giving bands our eyes, and not just our ears.

And I think The Flaming Lips will have my eyes for a while.