Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fearless Freaks

Today is a Flaming Lips day.  This morning, I listened to five Lips albums in a row.  It was quite the hoot, I tell you what.  I got the idea last night, while watching the documentary The Flaming Lips: Fearless Freaks (filmed by Wayne Coyne's neighbor).  Pretty great stuff.

As a non-rabid Lips fan, I was unaware of the band's backstory, so it was interesting to learn about the earlier Lips incarnations.  But unlike many "writing the history books" documentaries, the filmmakers did not construct a narrative.  There's no discussion of histrionics, no discussion of "why do you think The Soft Bulletin resonated so much, and so forth... they left that side of things alone.  Events and landmarks are observed and discussed, without much expository BS from anyone.  The insights provided by the band are strictly about their process, philosophy, and personality.  There's no back-patting, no self-congratulation, no "let's be honest, we're a big deal"-type pragmatism.  They pretty much just stay on-topic... "how do you guys do what you do?"

It's also neat to see that Coyne pretty much just does whatever he's interested in at the time, without regard for whether anything useful comes from it.  If it means organizing an experiment with 20-something car stereos in a parking lot, all of which are playing different tapes simultaneously, that's what he does.  If it means making a self-financed absurdist sci-fi film (Christmas on Mars), that's what he does.  Sure, the "parking lot" test eventually spawned the four-disc Zaireeka album, but nobody would even conceive of anything like that, or its related "boombox" experiment, with any commercial aspirations in mind.  You can tell Coyne just thought it would be interesting to do.  That helps the movie bang home the image of Wayne Coyne not as a musical visionary, but as a visionary, period.

Related to that notion is the film's emphasis on Steven Drozd's contributions to the band.  Coyne is portrayed as a tireless worker who has a lot of ideas about things, but not music necessarily; Drozd, on the other hand, is shown as a musical savant from a family of musical savants.  When Gabby Hayes of the Butthole Surfers was asked what Coyne's biggest asset is, he laughingly exclaimed, "Steven!!!"  I can't speak to whether that's real or not, but the filmmakers have certainly framed it that way.

Anyway, good movie.  It was worth it just to see Wayne Coyne floating around the crowd in an inflatable bubble.

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