A music fan from Plano introduced me to The Flaming Lips. He was a typical suburban misfit--dark, twisted, a disposable income--who played the album In a Priest Driven Ambulance as we sat Indian-style on a cigarette-stained carpet in a room with greasy handprints around the light switches. He made sure I noticed the lyrics: "wonder why you try so hard/to be/anything at all" and "it makes you think that God/was fucked up/when he made this town." His head was bent down toward his beaten Chuck Taylors; he stared at nothing. I stared at him. The music, the album, the lyrics were rough, noisy, and inaccessible to me, but they spoke to him in a way that no other institution that suburban America produced could. The artists had reached their audience.
At this time, the band had just begun their induction into local-legend status and massive local-music influence. It would be another album and some time before the release of Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, their minor hit "She Don't Use Jelly," and all it brought: European tours, critical acclaim, appearances on the Batman Forever soundtrack, and in the Peach Pit on Beverly Hills 90210. All the while, the Lips maintained the respect and the ear of the experimental underground, with innovative ideas such as the boom box and car-stereo experiments (in which the artists employed their audience in the music-making), and with the now much-in-demand album Zaireeka, composed to be played simultaneously on four different sound systems. The latter's effect on me was quite different from previous efforts. "They've created art," I thought while reading the album's liner notes. "They have done what everyone wants to do. They have broken new ground."
They had, in fact, been breaking ground since the beginning, making pop-noise when the music industry was embracing hair-metal and then continuing to push the envelope by redefining the live experience. This time around, The Flaming Lips have chosen, along with fave band Helicopter, Bradley Beesley's 20-minute documentary, The Flaming Lips Have Landed, as their opening act. Recent incarnations of the band's live show have become increasingly multi-media (last year the Lips brought their "Headphone Concert" where audience members could listen live through radio-tuned Walkmans), so the transition from film to band may be a seamless one--like watching home movies before dinner with the family. Fans come because they are as much into the band's performance as their music; they don't come to hear "the hit." They want to see what the band will do next, where the creative process has taken them, and to be part of the ongoing experiment that is The Flaming Lips.