How the hell does one end up backstage tryin’ out psychedelic (coloured) vegan cookies, slaggin’ off Republican Oklahoma congresswoman Mary Fallin, takin’ rockhands pictures and huggin’ The Flaming Lips‘ Wayne Coyne, anyway?
BY PESTERING HIM. And possibly intriguing him. And possibly being kinda funny. And possibly being cool. But probably the first thing.
Here’s how I ended up hanging out with the silver fox frontman of alternative (universe) Oklahoma pop band, the Flaming Lips, in Vancouver at Malkin “Mud” Bowl. Children, gather ’round.
I first met Wayne, Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins on June 15, 1993.
The Lips were opening for Porno for Pyros in Toronto. The only gimmick the band had was Wayne’s I ♥ Michelle pin. And their music, which was absolutely batshit crazy. Trippy. Clangy. Wonderful. WEIRD.
Transmissions from the Satellite Heart had just come out. I was scrounging for rare Lips imports in record shops. At the show in Toronto, I interviewed Steven, then spent a lot of time talking to Wayne. I told him Satellite Heart reminded me of sitting on a porch in a really amazing trailer park. He loved the description. He gave me a rude Lips t-shirt. Michael scrawled a note that said “Don’t pay too much for Flaming Lips junk” and gave me the address of their recordstore mate/manager, Scott. Wayne wrote his address on a pink PostIt note, which I still have. I shot the show with a Canon AE-1 and 1600 film.
This photo, from 1993, is sort of why I ended up backstage at the Flaming Lips in 2010:
One day in August it fell out of a photo album, I guess, and I was walking around the flat and got Wayne Coyne’s face stuck to my foot. So I peeled it off my heel. And then I did what anybody would do, right? I tweeted about it.
The next day I awoke to a private, direct message from Wayne Coyne. All Saturday mornings should be like this.
“How did that happen?”
“That’s a scary picture.”
I didn’t think so.
We now banter fairly regularly. We talk about square watermelons and double rainbows. He’s a great Twitterer. His blood painting pictures are cool.
So in the run up to the Vancouver gig on September 26, I asked if we could do a photoshoot for the ‘Rider. He said we could try. I asked him if I could dance on stage in a dumb costume. “Are you sure you want to?” he fired back. “It’s kind of a workout.” So then I started bugging him about whether I could come back and say howdy. Nada. But he still kept joking with me, right up until an hour before the show. So I just went to the gig, prepared to have my hair blown off, anyway. Then, this:
Persistence is utile.
Wayne Coyne sent out a roadie out to find me…by trying to match me to my Twitter profile picture on Wayne’s iPhone.
The crew guy held up the phone pic against my face. “Yeah, that’s me,” I said.
And that’s how I ended up hanging out with the Flaming Lips.
“I realized, I don’t even know your name,” Wayne said when I rocked up. “Doesn’t the Backstage Rider just, like, get backstage? Oh you need a pass? Here’s one. Now you can just come and go as you like.”
Here’s what you need to know about Wayne Coyne. He is a bit of a genius. Another musician said to me recently, “he keeps his art warm, and his business pragmatic.” He has something to say about everything. He kinda knows and acts like he’s hot shit. Because he is hot shit. He’s also incredibly creative and canny. A little more serious than one would expect, but generous with his time. He spends time talking with fans, the dancers on stage, just wandering around. He likes taking bonkers photos on his phone. He’s a warm and very cool guy. He wanted to keep his crew happy by getting them some pot. I told him he was in Vancouver, he should just ask for some from the stage. “Okay, you think? Right. I will.” He did.
He prefers “selfie” pictures to posed ones – you know, where you hold the camera and point it at yourself. “Those are way better and more fun,” he said. So we took a selfie on my suggestion. FLAMING LIPS LIPS!
Then some friends of mine, who’d been put on the list by lovely Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, showed up backstage. Christa’s a vegan baker, Mischa brews a pro-biotic super-healthy drink made from Kombucha. She’d made technicoloured shortbread cookies for the band, he brought drinks. “Do you have any lactose-intolerant people on the crew?” Christa asked. “No,” Wayne said, checking out the dayglo snacks, “but we do have vegan-intolerant people on the crew.” Michael Ivins – dressed in a flouro orange worksuit before the gig – wandered around backstage quietly, declining the cookies and checking his email.
We laughed. Tried not to be a pain. But we took another selfie, just ‘cos, you know, we could. YOU would too, right?
We hung around the festy Malkin Bowl hallway, chatting. Wayne gives good chat. I asked him about the current situation in Oklahoma, as he’d been mentioning congresswoman Mary Fallin on Twitter. “We have this cool guy now, who’s a democrat, but he’s coming to the end of his 2nd term.” He called wannabe Governor Fallin right-wing, gay-hating and Bush-loving , and lamented the impact she could have on his home state. “We were actually making some progress, you know.”
Progress was also being made in the form of the wunnerful postprogtriprock on stage. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti were wrapping up their opening slot set and so we wandered over to hang about. See? Plenty of hanging. And hand-shaking in the kind of “yo, nicely done” sort of way.
Ariel had a really bad tooth/mouthache, apparently. You’d never know it by this picture, though:
Okay, maybe you would. And judging by the look on my face here, I’m clearly sharing the pain.
BUT SOON ALL OF THE WORLD’S PAIN WOULD BE ERASED. IT WAS NIGH ON FLAMING LIPS O’CLOCK!
The funny backstage smoke wafted, we took our positions at the front of the mudpit and all became right in the world as Wayne wanderd on stage to deliver the missive from the mount and to WARN US ABOUT THE PERILS OF STROBE LIGHTS, HIS GIANT SPACEBUBBLE AND OTHER THINGS THAT CAN FUCK YOU UP. Let’s let Wayne tell it:
Then came all the really big stuff….you know, THE FLAMING LIPS, LIVE! The giant spaceball Wayne was talking about? Check this out (but excuse the sound of angry, swarming didgeridoo-playing, Vuvuzela-blasting bees, my camera was right next to giant stacks. Just put it on mute.):
Aside from the spaceball – ‘cos, like, that’s not enough – Wayne weilded a tube gun that shot out streamers and a megaphone that spewed pink smoke. He also wore five-foot tall giant rubber hands that had reflectors on them. You know, so that he could beam the green lasers that were shot at him back onto the two massive disco balls, creating an MDMA madness nightclub effect. Oh and there was also huge confetti guns that fired throughout the gig…and really, really big balloons. Like this:
Oh and don’t forget the 20 or so “dancers” on stage – comprised of local fans and a guy who travelled here from New York – bopping about in orange Yo! Gabba Gabba-esque costumes. This is one of them. She was so ridiculously happy after her experience on stage with the Lips, she told me that she didn’t think she’d ever stop smiling.
The Flaming Lips know what you want. What you want is good music (new album: Embryonic) and a spectacle that makes you smile and and makes your mouth hang open. That is what you get. On every tour. And that is what I told Wayne when I went backstage after. He threw his arm around my neck and gave me another hug. “It didn’t rain after all,” I said. “That must have been ALL YOU.” “Nahh,” he said. “Sometimes you just gotta take a chance.” Indeed.
I wandered out into the night. Found guitarist Steve Drozd. Introduced myself. He remembered me from a few mentions to him on Facebook and Twitter. “I thought you wanted to dance on stage?” he asked. “Yeah, I did at first…” I said, “but it’s much less effort and more fun just hanging out here.” “Uh, yeah, you’re probably on to something,” he said. “Tonight’s Dancers were more subdued. Which is good. There was a guy in Calgary doing like high-kicks and stuff. It kinda bummed me out.”
“It’s cool to meet you in person,” the gentlemanly Drozd said. And I’m thinking: “Uh, don’t we have this backwards?”
But soon, it was time to say goodnight. The Backstage Rider never overstays her welcome. So I leftWayne to his ministering and spreading the good word among the fandancers backstage. I hugged him goodbye and he said, as I left:
“If you keep Twittering, I’ll try to keep up with you.” \m/