49 Years of Wisdom From Wayne Coyne

The Flaming Lips frontman would rather make shitty art with good people than the inverse

After a dozen-plus years working at Long John Silver's—and more than double that making music, movies, and sundry visual conceptions involving disco balls, balloons, parking lots, and human hamster balls—Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne turned 49 in January, effectively rendering the Oklahoma City resident a pop art pirate facing 50.

His psychedelic rock band's latest release, The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs With Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing the Dark Side of the Moon, serves as a family-style treatment of the Pink Floyd classic released when Coyne was still a pre-teen glomming onto his older brothers' record collections. One recent morning, oft-interrupted by Dazey, a stray yapper adopted into the four-structure compound he shares with his wife, Michelle, Coyne posited and philosophized on both his current mindset and other mile markers along the course of a sonorously singular life and career. Here are some excerpts.

Oh, man, when I read obituaries . . . Sometimes you're going through the paper and you just go, "I wonder how old these people are." I often run across people who are just dead for no apparent reason. They were old, and they were only 51. And I'm 49, and so I think, "Wow, I guess if I was in my 20s, I might think being 49 is pretty old." But, you know, once you get there, it doesn't feel like you're at the end of your youth, in a way.

As you get older, you try to find more and more examples of people who are older than you who still seem to be alive and smart, you know. And so when you were 20, you looked ahead to people who were 30, and you said, "Well, they don't seem to be as pathetic as I assumed." And as you get to be 40, I think you look ahead to 50. I have older brothers—I think my oldest brother is seven years older than me. I'm not the youngest in the family, but I'm close to the bottom of the youngest, so I've had my older brothers being in their mid-50s, and I think, "Damn, you're cool."

I don't think anybody who isn't just a complete egotistical idiot ever does anything without a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. I mean, as many records as we've made, it's always treacherous. You just don't know, ever. You never really feel like you know what you're doing.

This must be something like being the cook in the kitchen. You know, you put all the stuff into it, then you simply go to the dining room and eat it. And you can still remember all the experiences of making it. So as long as I can remember the state of mind and all the things that I was doing when I made the music, it doesn't feel like someone else's music does to me. But little by little, your mind gets full of other things, and then you forget what you were thinking about when you created this thing.

The Soft Bulletin came out in 1999, so it's quite an old record by now, and if I don't listen to it for a while, sometimes someone will put it on and I'll think, "That's just amazing. What the fuck is that?" And people will say, "Dude, that's The Soft Bulletin." And I'm like, "Oh, yeah. That's cool," because it's just not that familiar in your mind all the time. Even though we play those songs live, it is a different mindset than just simply listening and enjoying music.

With some of these tracks from our first records and stuff, there really isn't any reason to talk about them or remember them. There's no pictures of us, you know, in the studio making them, and they've really become very small, abstract things, so that when you hear a piece of music, you're like, "Wow, I don't remember who I was when I made that." But in a way, I think all that's wonderful—I mean, when I hear that early stuff, I'm so relieved that we were not some refined group of musicians. It's a ridiculous concoction that we even existed at all back then, and even a more ridiculous concoction that we made that music then and are able to make this music now. And to me, that's where it seems wonderful.

You know, those things that you do when you're 12 or 13, that really is a strange, powerful moment in your life. There's a lot of people I talk to who, you know, what they're doing when they're 12 and 13 years old is almost who they are now. And so I've always been strangely aware of the power of that time in my life. And I think it's because of my brothers. Yeah, I have parents, but I have so many brothers and all their friends and everybody pulling you along as you're being an insecure teenager. And you have to imagine growing up, especially at that time in the '70s, being surrounded by rock 'n' roll and all this stuff—there's just no way you couldn't have thought that that was going to be the greatest life ever.
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