Guest blogger: Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne

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For almost 25 years, we’ve seen the Flaming Lips wow audiences with onstage spectacles that have more in common with Broadway productions than your typical indie rock show (dancing aliens and bouncing bunnies, anyone?) One thing’s for sure: These guys are not what most people think of when they hear the word “Oklahoma.” That doesn’t mean they aren’t appreciated there, though. The Lips’ hometown of Oklahoma City has just renamed a downtown street Flaming Lips Alley. To help give back a little, both to the city itself and to the “weirdos around town” who’ve supported his band, Lips singer Wayne Coyne conceived and curated the city’s Halloween parade this year, and naturally, it was a rather unorthodox affair (involving said weirdos getting wasted and marching through town with flaming torches). Looking back at it all, Coyne realizes he’s about the least likely hometown hero you can find, but he is starting to embrace the role
or at least appreciate it…

Last week, I got a package addressed just to Wayne, Oklahoma City — no mention of the Flaming Lips, not my full name or even my last name, yet the UPS guy knew exactly where to deliver it. It reminded me of the first time I met William Burroughs. When he was alive, he lived five hours north of us in Lawrence, KS, and his assistant told me they’d get mail all the time that just said “William Burroughs” and didn’t need an address. They remarked how funny it was that the only other entities who would get that are Santa Claus and the IRS. And I thought, “Now that’s something to be — just ‘Wayne from Oklahoma.’”

Being from Oklahoma, where it’s always been about football, country music or religion, and doing what we do, it’s almost as though we came from outer space. So when the Mayor [Nick Cornett] and Governor [Brad Henry] gave us the public schools’ Wall of Fame Humanitarian Award, which they award to two or three people every year, and named a street after the Lips, I didn’t feel like I’d given the same service to the city and state. I’m just doing my dumb art.

I don’t know if it’s something you can say you deserve or not. The Ramones have a street in New York City, Jack Kerouac has an alley in San Francisco. It’s just not something I ever imagined possible in Oklahoma City. But I think it’s being progressive, pushing the city ahead, trying to broaden what it is that’s made this contribution to the city worthwhile… which is a great thing.

Partly, it’s just a matter of coincidence that this all came to be. The guy who became the mayor’s assistant, he’s one of these young guys who feels here’s his chance to make an imprint on this city, and to do it his way. These streets were going to be renamed anyway, why not name them for people who are alive today, who can walk them? Let’s celebrate people before they die in a plane crash, before they’re 50 years dead. These politicians are all charming and smart, and me being this strange ambassador to the state, I think they liked the idea that I’m not really one of them, but certainly speaking for a part of the population here that no one else will speak to.

We got to know a lot of these city officials through the street dedication, and in the process we proposed a Halloween Parade, which we called “The Night of a Thousand Flaming Skeletons.” Now, Oklahoma City’s parades have traditionally been these boring things that go on for two blocks with old men wearing weird hats. I wanted to see people marching down Main Street with flame torches. And we didn’t really want to compete with a Disney vibe either, where the kids come out dressed like Winnie the Pooh. When I was growing up, we all dressed up as KISS and werewolves, stole stop signs, got in fights, we did crazy s—! Maybe they still do, but either way, we wanted to embrace the inner monster with a bash where adults can come down, get drunk, have sex, take drugs, and just be weirdos. And we wanted to make it so it can be about art and inclusive of the freaks around town. From the city’s perspective, these people make Oklahoma City what it is as well; it’s not just the religious groups and the cowboys.

It started as a brash idea, like, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” Then, it showed up in the newspaper and it turned into, “F—, we have to do this.” Fortunately, it wasn’t out of the realm of what we’re good at. It’s a big undertaking, but we do have a lot of experience putting things together, from the parking lot experiment back in late 90s or even doing Christmas on Mars film shoots, where there are 100 people to organize.

So the idea was to involve all the weirdos around town who are making art in some sort of homemade project kind of way, and say, “Don’t move to a bigger city, do your art here. Why don’t you make a float and we’ll all go down Main Street and see who wants to come out and see it?” Within a couple days, we knew we had enough people to commit to this. Add the fire and people on drugs… sounds like fun!

Officially, we say 400 showed up, but really, it’s a lot more. Next time, it could easily be 1,000, and in 10 years I could see 10,000 people watching this moving spectacle that goes on for a half mile. Maybe it could be one of these things where people say, “I saw the March of the Flaming Skeletons in Oklahoma City,” like they’d say, “I saw the Running of the Bulls.” Maybe 20 years from now, kids will think of Oklahoma as Will Rogers, OU football, Garth Brooks, and the Flaming Lips, and it won’t seem like such a strange thing that we’re part of this stew of culture.

I could see all these things taking on a greater symbolic life, but I suppose it will depend on what’s made of me and the Flaming Lips. If in 10 years, people think we’re just a bunch of fakes and posers, I don’t suppose it’ll become anything. But you have to do what you like and hope that the stars line up. When the Flaming Lips formed in 1983, the idea of being underground and invisible, in the corner just doing whatever you wanted, that was our goal. We didn’t really care if we were ever in the newspaper or celebrated in any way. Time will tell what becomes of us, but if this is as good as it got, it’s better than I ever thought it would be.

Being from Oklahoma, where it’s always been about football, country music or religion, and doing what we do, it’s almost as though we came from outer space. So when the Mayor [Nick Cornett] and Governor [Brad Henry] gave us the public schools’ Wall of Fame Humanitarian Award, which they award to two or three people every year, and named a street after the Lips, I didn’t feel like I’d given the same service to the city and state. I’m just doing my dumb art.

I don’t know if it’s something you can say you deserve or not. The Ramones have a street in New York City, Jack Kerouac has an alley in San Francisco. It’s just not something I ever imagined possible in Oklahoma City. But I think it’s being progressive, pushing the city ahead, trying to broaden what it is that’s made this contribution to the city worthwhile… which is a great thing.

Partly, it’s just a matter of coincidence that this all came to be. The guy who became the mayor’s assistant, he’s one of these young guys who feels here’s his chance to make an imprint on this city, and to do it his way. These streets were going to be renamed anyway, why not name them for people who are alive today, who can walk them? Let’s celebrate people before they die in a plane crash, before they’re 50 years dead. These politicians are all charming and smart, and me being this strange ambassador to the state, I think they liked the idea that I’m not really one of them, but certainly speaking for a part of the population here that no one else will speak to.

We got to know a lot of these city officials through the street dedication, and in the process we proposed a Halloween Parade, which we called "The Night of a Thousand Flaming Skeletons." Now, Oklahoma City’s parades have traditionally been these boring things that go on for two blocks with old men wearing weird hats. I wanted to see people marching down Main Street with flame torches. And we didn’t really want to compete with a Disney vibe either, where the kids come out dressed like Winnie the Pooh. When I was growing up, we all dressed up as KISS and werewolves, stole stop signs, got in fights, we did crazy s—! Maybe they still do, but either way, we wanted to embrace the inner monster with a bash where adults can come down, get drunk, have sex, take drugs, and just be weirdos. And we wanted to make it so it can be about art and inclusive of the freaks around town. From the city’s perspective, these people make Oklahoma City what it is as well; it’s not just the religious groups and the cowboys.

It started as a brash idea, like, "wouldn’t it be cool if…" Then, it showed up in the newspaper and it turned into, "F—, we have to do this." Fortunately, it wasn’t out of the realm of what we’re good at. It’s a big undertaking, but we do have a lot of experience putting things together, from the parking lot experiment back in late 90s or even doing Christmas on Mars film shoots, where there are 100 people to organize.

So the idea was to involve all the weirdos around town who are making art in some sort of homemade project kind of way, and say, "Don’t move to a bigger city, do your art here. Why don’t you make a float and we’ll all go down Main Street and see who wants to come out and see it?" Within a couple days, we knew we had enough people to commit to this. Add the fire and people on drugs… sounds like fun!

Officially, we say 400 showed up, but really, it’s a lot more. Next time, it could easily be 1,000, and in 10 years I could see 10,000 people watching this moving spectacle that goes on for a half mile. Maybe it could be one of these things where people say, "I saw the March of the Flaming Skeletons in Oklahoma City," like they’d say, "I saw the Running of the Bulls." Maybe 20 years from now, kids will think of Oklahoma as Will Rogers, OU football, Garth Brooks, and the Flaming Lips, and it won’t seem like such a strange thing that we’re part of this stew of culture.

I could see all these things taking on a greater symbolic life, but I suppose it will depend on what’s made of me and the Flaming Lips. If in 10 years, people think we’re just a bunch of fakes and posers, I don’t suppose it’ll become anything. But you have to do what you like and hope that the stars line up. When the Flaming Lips formed in 1983, the idea of being underground and invisible, in the corner just doing whatever you wanted, that was our goal. We didn’t really care if we were ever in the newspaper or celebrated in any way. Time will tell what becomes of us, but if this is as good as it got, it’s better than I ever thought it would be.

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