A Flaming Love Affair

Fearless, wild, irreverent, wicked weird and ultimately magic. If that doesn’t describe The Flaming Lips I don’t know what does. A band from Oklahoma that started as punk as it gets and has been constantly evolving going through several genres and styles but never loosing that cool originality that sets them apart from any other act out there. With insanely creative lyrics that talk of embryos, bugs, magicians, mars, robots and pretty much anything that causes awe in the human psyche, their child-like fascination with our world is contagious to anyone that stumbles upon them. Such was the story for 10-year old me.

Back then I was a scrawny kid with massive ADHD (this was before schools acknowledged ADHD was a thing) failing school and unable to concentrate on pretty much anything for too long including TV…that is unless we were talking about MTV and their music videos which were short and interesting enough to keep me seated for a while. One predestined night I came across an insanely colorful and wild video of a man with carrot-colored hair and a girl in a bathtub eating breakfast. I was too young and too Mexican and didn’t speak a word of English so I couldn’t really tell what the heck the song was about…but something stuck with me…the Vaseline factor.

The video was “She Don’t Use Jelly” by the Flaming Lips. The lyrics talk of a girl who makes breakfast but instead of jelly she uses Vaseline. I know that now but back then I was taken by surprise by this colorful music video with really cool musicians singing about Vaseline and tangerine, the only two words I could make out and stuck with me.

Like a good ADHD kid, I became obsessed with what I dubbed “the Vaseline song” and not knowing much of the band or anything else really I would visit music stores with my parents asking for the Vaseline song. It comes without surprise that nobody knew what I was talking about. I must have sung the Vaseline/tangerine chorus a hundred times to different record-store employees during that time of my life without any success. Without internet back then it was a shot in the dark finding out more about the song. So I slowly gave up and resigned myself to never listening to the Vaseline song again.

A couple years later the movie Batman Forever came out, and as any kid my age I went to see the movie, and obsessed with what I thought was the coolest movie ever I asked my parents for the soundtrack and if there is something my parents always promoted at home, was music and books, so I got it. It was a wonderful surprise to find that the very last song on the CD was “Bad Days” by The Flaming Lips themselves. It sounded so damn familiar to me, could it be the same band that played the Vaseline song?

With a band name things became much simpler. I gotta say that even though record stores were a pretty big deal back then, it took me a while to find one that had anything by The Flaming Lips, but thanks to my parents support for my obsessions one day my quest came to an end, I had in my hands a cassette tape of “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart” the album with the Vaseline song. I must have listened to that tape over ten thousand times, it’s a good things tapes don’t get scratched like CDs because that tape was abused until the song titles printed on the deck became almost illegible.

At some point I got tired of the tape and moved on to other music, so let’s skip some years until I was in high school. I’ve probably mentioned before what a drag High School was, especially if you live in a small town that has very little tolerance to young antics. Well back then my friends and I would use any opportunity to flee the small town, take the half hour drive to the next town over and loiter in the record store for hours. Well during one of those days I came across “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by The Flaming Lips. An entire wave of nostalgia washed over me as I recalled nights spent jumping on the bed with “the Vaseline song” playing so loud my dad had to come in and yell at me. It comes without saying that I had to buy the CD.

Back home listening to the album I was surprised how much their musical style had changed. The punky vibe had somehow evolved into a playful psychedelic rock that spoke of robots with feelings and a hero named Yoshimi that would save all humankind. It was incredible and I was back on the Flaming bandwagon. I listened to that album until the CD became so scratched you could no longer listen to it, so I got a new one and listened some more.

The year after that re-discovery I learned that the Lips would be playing a show in the city that was an hour drive from me. I was so damn excited to go that I jumped on the ticketmaster website only to find out it was sold out. My disappointment lasted only the mere seconds until I remembered ebay. Unfortunately the price for the tix had gone up a bunch, that was money I did not have, but I was not ready to give up. I plead with my parents to buy me the tickets but back then credit card scams on internet purchases had my dad on the fence about the whole thing. I really don’t remember how it was that I ended up begging my marine-bio teacher for the tickets and she was a badass of a person who knew the struggle of being a young rock fan who would bleed for some tickets. In the end we made an agreement, she would buy me the tickets and I would work all summer to pay them back. I could not be more grateful to anyone the way I am to that teacher for one of the greatest nights of my life. If you have ever been to a Flaming Lips concert you know I am not exaggerating, nothing compares to a live show of the Lips. It is an experience that blows your mind. It starts as a regular concert, then Wayne, suddenly starts bleeding from the head, the blood soaks his white suit and hundreds of people dressed in animal costumes come out to dance on stage and amongst the public. Confetti and streamers fall from the ceiling and when you least expect it, Wayne is walking ON the public inside a giant balloon like some sort of sci-fi prophet blessing us with his presence. There are balloons and Santa Claus is there giving you candy and at some point you are making out with a pretty girl and there is not a single person in the theater that is not having the damn time of their life.

Their colorful presence like an acid trip stays with you for the rest of your life. After that concert I was a fan for life. Their fearless leader Wayne Coyne is a force of nature, his unstoppable creativity has lead them to make a cult movie “Christmas on Mars” as well as fabulous spectacles like their yearly tradition of having a concert for the animals at the Oklahoma zoo every Christmas. Their songs have been on commercials and movies and in 2005, their childhood friend Bradley Beesley published a documentary about the band called “The Fearless Freaks” which surprises you with the fantastic story behind the band as they started as a group of neighborhood kids looking for the ultimate high from making stunts worthy of Knievel himself.

In 2009 my dream of meeting the Lips became true as they had an album release event for their hardcore fans complete with meet and greet and autographs. When the event was over and the theater had to close down for the night, the band stayed behind outside the closed theater to greet every single fan that attended the event, this shows that their fans’ devotion is well placed, the band knows it and so do the fans. With every new album the Flaming Lips reinvent themselves without loosing their essence. Through bankruptcy, addiction, loss and other adversity the band keeps playing for the fans and not the critics or the recognition. That need to create art that goes beyond acceptance is the substance that makes The Flaming Lips one of the greatest bands on earth.



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