Sunday, January 08, 2006

Wayne's World

(Illustration by Alex Fine)

Where 40 Is The New 20, And White Linen Suits Are The New Black.

Some men are born with lightning in a bottle, and others have to catch it. I'm not just talking about the forest-fire-starting, little-children-scaring, blasphemers-smiting bolts of electricity that, more often than you'd like to think, strike some Great Plains farmer dead in his shoes. The lightning is just a metaphor, people.

Let's call it the lightning of greatness. Where does this lightning come from, you ask? Nobody knows. It just shows up on the nightstand next to the crib. It waits there, glowing like fireflies, until the onset of youth and young manhood when-because they're young, dumb and full of testosterone-the first chance they get, they let it out. All of it. Right away.

Brilliant blasts of lightning shoot across the ether, lighting a page of time for an instant and an eternity. Pick your favorite premature ejaculation: Rimbaud's Illuminations, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks. It was all downhill after that. Live fast, die young, print the legend.

Other men spend their lives standing in the rain, an empty milk bottle in one hand, a cork in the other, waiting for lightning to strike. Take, for example, a fellow like the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne. He wasn't born with lightning in a bottle. He grew up Okie trash in the dazed and confused '70s, manning the deep fryer at Long John Silver's and selling dime bags on the side.

He couldn't really sing or play guitar-still can't, really. But by trial and error and a stubborn refusal to accept repetitive defeat, he eventually willed himself into that place where the sheer power of curiosity overcomes ineptitude and greatness follows. Actually, truth be told, greatness took its sweet ol' time.

Eureka did not come early or easy to the Lips. How do you get from manning the deep fryer in a pirate costume to the man in the bubble, floating messiah-like over the multitudes at Coachella in 20 years or less? Pacing. Slow and steady wins the race.

Besides, everyone knows that when it comes to prog rock, a spoonful weighs a ton. It's a tribute to the sheer density of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots that the band can wring so much promotional mileage out of them, maintaining buzz with a soft, steady parade of super-furry mirrorball tours, remix EPs and film projects.

Three years after its initial release, Yoshimi has just been rereleased in 5.1 surround sound. There's a new photo book Waking up With a Placebo Headwound, a new video collection called Void, and the Lips are already streaming a video for the track "Mr. Ambulance Driver" that'll appear on their next full-length At War With the Mystics in 2006. The band's long-delayed sci-fi spoof Christmas on Mars is expected to be completed for holiday release.

Brad Beesley's recent Lips documentary The Fearless Freaks is remarkable for any number of reasons you've probably already discussed, not the least of which is the suggestion of a newly calibrated rock 'n' roll clock, where 40 is the new 20. On this clock, you no longer check out at 27, drunk, high or with a gun in your mouth. In fact, you don't really get undeniably great until you're a graybeard.

That's how, at the at the ripe old age of fortysomething, Coyne has established himself as the Phileas Fogg of alt-rock, megaphoning the news from his hot air balloon that the sun doesn't actually go down-it's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.

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