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That Flaming Lips Origin Story Is Faker Than You Thought

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 30/12/2015 Todd Van Luling
ATHENA IMAGE © Lex van Rossen/MAI via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

The legend about The Flaming Lips' first-ever performance is that the band stole instruments from a local church and used them to play at a bar known for its cross-dressing clientele -- a suitably fitting origin for the psychedelic band that prides itself on not playing straight down the middle. Unfortunately, it's not exactly true.

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne laughed when the sort of rock folktale was brought up in an interview with The Huffington Post. He claimed that it's actually become "a combination of like three or four stories" that "sort of got simplified" over the years.

As Coyne tells the myth, the era in which The Flaming Lips were becoming a band was a time of depression for Oklahoma -- where the band formed in 1983 -- and so Coyne ran with people that had it "pretty bad off" and "would be hard-working guys [who] couldn't find jobs." And so, with these hard economic times, these friends "would get involved in selling drugs and whatever just because they were trying to make money." 

"I think there were a few people that my older brother knew and they said, 'Well, I think Wayne's looking for some equipment,'" Coyne explained. "I don't know if it was because I was searching for it that they went out and stole it, but I bought some equipment that I thought seemed really, really good, and really cheap, and then found out later that it was stolen from a church."

At least, in the frontman's words, it wasn't the band themselves that did the stealing. In any case, Coyne confessed with a laugh, "But I thought we really did use the equipment for the good of mankind."

Coyne went on to explain that their very first show wasn't played at a bar for cross-dressers -- that was actually the second one. "If you think about Oklahoma City in 1983, actually having a transvestite bar in it is insane," Coyne said, claiming that a year after they played, the bar was already gone. Apparently, few places in Oklahoma City would let the early iteration of The Flaming Lips play; they were lucky to have been able to start in the small window this particular bar existed.

"I think those stories get kind of condensed into being kind of the same thing," Coyne concluded about the legend that has followed his band. "But they're both a version of the truth."

The conversation with Coyne came out of promotion for the reissue of "Clouds Taste Metallic," which turned 20 this year. The album is considered to be the last straightforward rock album the band released, before getting more experimental as technology caught up to their ambitions. "Clouds Taste Metallic" still required the band to use five to six people manning different, giant mixing channels to get adequate takes in the recording process. According to Coyne it'd often take over 100 times to get mixes right which, understandably, "It would be very frustrating for people to do that."

The album also came shortly after the band jumped to popularity with the success of the single "She Don't Use Jelly" in 1993 and a track that would end up on "Clouds Taste Metallic" -- "Bad Days" -- being featured in "Batman Forever," with Val Kilmer as Batman and Jim Carey as The Riddler. "I remember when it played [at the theater], we stood up like, 'That's us, motherfuckers!'" Coyne remembered with a laugh.

The album had to thread a needle where the feat was both technically hard to accomplish as well as tricky due to the size of the hole given competing expectations of mass audiences and the wishes of The Lips' devoted fans from the '80s.

Coyne credits the album's success to the band simply getting over themselves and hoping for the best. "We're important artists, what the fuck?!" Coyne explained. It was, at one time, the de facto response from the band when popularity knocked, but then they began to feel as if fame suited them well.

Upcoming is HuffPost's conversation with Coyne about his latest collaboration with pop star Miley Cyrus on their album, "Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz."


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