I remember the first time I saw the Flaming Lips. It was at the Big Day Out festival in Melbourne in 2004. It was the first time I’d seen Wayne Coyne in his gray suit, smearing blood on his face and pulling his balloon-into-the-crowd stunt. The show was… I hesitate to say “spiritual,” but it was a profoundly beautiful and moving experience in a way that very few rock shows are, a demonstration of how music can be a force that’s inspiring and healing and uplifting.
That was 2004. This is 2014. The man who held the crowd in the palm of his hand that night has spent the last five years in a quest to apparently become the worst person in rock ‘n’ roll, culminating in yesterday’s report on Gawker that he fired his drummer of 12 years for objecting to one of Coyne’s friends wearing a Native American headdress on Instagram. Wayne Coyne, what the fuck?
Clearly, we tend to project expectations onto our favorite musicians that they can rarely live up to. Wayne Coyne is just a man, as imperfect and flawed as any other, and perhaps anyone who saw in him any more than that was reaching for something that was never there. But still, there’s something singularly depressing about Coyne’s ongoing and increasingly successful quest to be crowned The Worst. He used to be a man who stood in opposition to the hollowness of rock ‘n’ roll mythology, a man whose songs preached compassion and love, rather than hedonistic destruction — that night in Melbourne, his songs kept getting drowned out by Metallica playing on another stage, but when Lips fans started booing Metallica, Coyne admonished them, telling them to have respect for their fellow patrons, even if they have different tastes.
It’s hard to believe that the man who stood on stage that night is the same guy responsible for the ceaseless litany of douchery over the last few years. Most of this has been cataloged before: the grenade at airport security, the Erykah Badu video fiasco, the working with Amanda “Fucking” Palmer, the constant nude photos on Instagram, the endless publicity stunts: Gummy skulls! Painting in his own blood! Doing drugs with Kesha! Getting stoned with Miley Cyrus! Still, it all pales in comparison to what Gawker reported yesterday.
The story goes like this: Coyne is friends with one Christina Fallin, the daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin. (If the latter name rings a bell, it’s because she’s been in the news lately for ordering executions to go ahead with untried drug combinations, resulting in the ghastly botched execution earlier this week.) The younger Fallin posted a photo of herself on Instagram in a Coachella-esque native American headdress. Native Americans were predictably unamused — and so was Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, who apparently called Fallin out on it. She complained to Coyne about this, and the singer sided with his new friend over his drummer, resulting in the latter’s firing from the band.
Coyne hasn’t said anything publicly about this, but Scurlock is quoted here as saying, “I was fired for telling Christina to go fuck herself after her lame-ass ‘apology’ when people got upset at her stupid headdress photo.” This afternoon, he went further, issuing a long statement to Pitchfork that confirmed he was fired for challenging what he saw as Fallin’s deliberate appropriation and mockery of native American culture, and claiming that he got a text message from Coyne telling him to “go stick up for your Indian friends if its [sic] so important to you!!”
It’s also probably worth noting here that Gawker’s original source for the story was a comment thread on Brooklyn Vegan, which means it should probably be taken with an entire shaker of salt. Still, the thread makes for interesting reading, not least because it contains fairly convincing comments from a bunch of people who claim to know Coyne. The consensus: he’s off the rails, and has been for some time.
Again, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but it’s been clear for the last few years that something is going on with the singer. He was always an oddball, of course, but there’s been a thoroughly depressing cast to his antics of late — a sort of determined craziness, a studied wackiness that comes across as narcissistic and contrived. His art used to mean something, but his approach in recent years can be summarized in what he told Erykah Badu about the ill-fated “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” video: “It doesn’t mean anything. I just want to make a great video that everyone is going to watch.”
The change first became apparent toward the end of the ’00s, so much so that local Oklahoma website The Lost Ogle has taken to referring to post-2010 Wayne Coyne as “New Wayne Coyne.” The easy conclusion to draw is that this is a big ol’ mid-life crisis, especially since the change corresponds roughly to the time when he broke up with his wife and started seeing a girl in her 20s (who’s also friends with, yes, Christina Fallin).
But look, I don’t know and ultimately I don’t care. Coyne’s hardly the first rock star to have a mid-life crisis, of course, and whatever happened between him and his wife is entirely their own business. All I care about is what he does. And dear god, he’s hanging out with people who think it’s hilarious to piss all over the culture of a people who’ve been screwed from pillar to post ever since Europeans set foot on this continent? He thinks it’s perfectly OK to publish a photo of a dog in a Native American headdress in response to their concerns? (Because, yes, he did.)
And look, that’s him with Mary Fallin. Barely six years ago, he was campaigning for Barack Obama, and now his political connections include a woman who ran roughshod over the decision of the Supreme Court for political capital, who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to try out untested drug combinations in the service of killing human beings?
What the fuck, Wayne Coyne? What the fuck? Whatever happened to the fearless freaks? What happened to the man who claimed that you didn’t need drugs to have psychedelic experiences? What happened to the sincere songwriter who wrote “In the Morning of the Magicians” and “Waitin’ for a Superman” and “Do You Realize???” What happened to the man who wrote “The Spiderbite Song,” perhaps the most beautiful and compassionate song that you’ll ever hear about seeing a friend fight addiction? What happened to love and empathy? What happened to this guy? Will he ever come back? And if not, was it all worth it?