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There’s Womb For Improvement, But Pretend This Is Best Blog Ever… Preparing For Flaming Lips @SXSW

March 8th, 2013 · Tags:Airports · Arts · Hotels


I guess I just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time … sort of. Because out of all the hundreds of concerts where Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips has hopped inside his space ball and walked over the audience, flawlessly, the PingWi-Fi team picked the one show where everything went wrong. Two thirds into Coyne’s space walk over the people in the crowd, the power at his show in Denton, Texas went dead. The lights went black. The sound went silent … and there was Wayne, marooned way back in the back of the crowd, frantically trying to turn the ball around and head back to the safety of the stage.

He made it, and now, some three years later, I still have the tape of the show. He handled it so well, making light of the situation, calming the crowd, speaking through a bullhorn:


“Sorry about that. If it happens again, we’ll just keep going. We’ll stop and we’ll regroup. … Anyway, what would have happened, is I would have walked gloriously on the top of you people’s heads over there. (cheers and applause) And it would have been awesome! And I would have levitated across the grass, and then I would have gloriously walked on top of your heads over there. (cheers and applause) And then you would have plopped me back on the stage, and the band would have gone through this amazing introduction. So, we’re going to act like I already did all of that … But we’ll go into our first song, but you have to act like all that happened, and it was the best &%$#%^-ing thing in the world, okay?”

– Wayne Coyne


Since that night I have been determined to interview this star walker … this charismatic, psychedelic showman … this confetti spreading ambassador of Oklahoma City who disseminates a message of weirdness and love all over this planet.


Lips Video, Denton Show 


So … I’ve been trading e-mails with some of The Flaming Lips types across the Red River from Texas, and have been reading up on Coyne’s “new baby” … an art gallery … just a few blocks from OKC’s Bricktown … It’s called The Womb. In its infancy, the new gallery appears it will pick up where a Flaming Lips stage show leaves off. Yes, you might have guessed, there is a small room to one side, where you enter through a parted pair of “lips.” On a recent visit, this womb room was filled with pink balloons and a few benches because some insiders had just held a wedding there. Pretty whack.



In another room, there is a 20X20 feet Damien Hirst original painting, suspended horizontally, like a false ceiling in the room. The painting – I am told, is a collaboration of the British artist and Coyne — is covered in plastic, as a workman rigs electricity in the room.


You know I love coincidence … and I spotted some. Currently, back at PingWi-Fi headquarters, I am 450-pages deep into a book about rocker Joe Strummer of The Clash. Strummer’s friendship with Hirst is sprinkled throughout the book. Apparently Coyne and Hirst are BFFs too … or a close facsimile.


Damien Hirst


Before realizing the Hirst common denominator, I was already likening this Flaming Lips adventure to another tale featuring The Clash.


Many years ago, I hopped in my car and drove for two hours with the thought of a possible interview with Strummer and The Clash, for a newspaper. The band’s record company at the time, CBS, told me “No way!” But still … I hoped in the car, thinking positively. It turned out, I found The Clash sunbathing beside the pool of their hotel, met them and now consider them the biggest trophy on my mantle of rock journalism.


Well … this time, I hopped on my motorcycle, headed off for a couple of hundred miles over to Lipsland, hoping to capture Oklahoma’s famous sons on tape. Coyne had already committed to a telephone interview, but I was after visuals. So, I chanced it and made the ride.


After a night hot tubbing in a pretty swank hotel room for a La Quinta (with excellent Wi-Fi, I might add), I headed to breakfast … still optimistic. Thats when I received a cosmic sign that The Flaming Lips thing was going to happen. At breakfast, NBC’s today show aired a story about all the crazy things airport security and the TSA stops in the screening process … stay with me on this … gun, knives, scissors and even grenades.




Guess who — back in November — was arrested for attempting to board a plane with a gold painted (disarmed) grenade. Yes … the eclectic Mr. Wayne Coyne, and authorities shut down the entire Oklahoma City airport, or so they say. So … can you see how I thought this new grenade news story was a direct sign from the rock gods?


Wayne’s Grenade


After that I was so-oooo encouraged.


But alas … this time, I returned home empty handed after a long journey. Some times you win … I received a couple of texts from Coyne while I was at The Womb, apologizing that he was in meetings with stage production people and such, planning the band’s next tour, including their stop in Austin, headlining the 2013 SXSW Festival.




I say “empty handed” … actually that is not the case. I have a new Flaming Lips t-shirt with Coyne sporting space alien antennae on the front … I have passed throughout The Womb twice and lived to tell about it … and I met several members of the entourage … including Jake who serves as curator at The Womb and Mary Beth who runs Dwelling Spaces gift shop under the gallery roof.


Dwelling Spaces


Dwelling Spaces has just about every Flaming Lips t-shirt you’ve ever seen, clocks made of Lips vinyl records, Wayne finger puppets (that I think look a little more like Charlton Heston playing Moses) Woody Guthrie calendars celebrating another famous Oklahoma son. There are lots of shirts featuring Big Foot … Sasquatch … or Yeti, depending on your big hairy legend of choice. I tried not to be to much of a rude Texan when I questioned Big Foot. No … I know it is real, I just don’t think the big hairy unit is an Okie.



Mary Beth


As I visited with the hosts, I stopped mid-sentence … they were mocking me. Not the Oklahomans, the rock gods. Just a few inches from where I was standing was a newspaper article, faded, yellowing, taped to the shelf — the story of Wayne and his grenade.


Grenade Clip


Nowhere in the town did I see even a mention of Three Dog Night, the last rock band everyone knew from Oklahoma (WHAT! Only one member of Three Dog Night was from Oklahoma?) … and thank goodness, I didn’t see anything with Brian Bosworth. Several water towers in the area are adorned with country singer’s names. But, on the other hand, there is a Flaming Lips Alley in the heart of Oklahoma City.


I get the impression Oklahoma City has some sort of love/hate relationship with the Lips … kind of an uneasy, reluctant acceptance that these self-proclaimed freaks are one of the biggest stage attractions all over the world. Although the band has a street, The Womb had several issues with the fire marshal before construction could continue on the gallery. And if you Google, there is an interesting story about The Oklahoma legislature locking horns on whether or not the Lips song “Do You Realize” should be the official rock song of Oklahoma. The story goes, the bill did not pass, so the governor of Oklahoma stepped in and made a special decree. Pretty cool government in action, if you ask me. Wonder if Wayne ever thought about getting a Flaming Lips drone?


The Womb looks like a warehouse from the outside, revamped with lots of pastel creatures here and there on the walls … and there is a dilapidated upright piano basking … or busking … in the sun on the sidewalk … a piano that looks like some ancient relic of a Grateful Dead stage … with skulls bejeweling it.


But the space actually was an automotive dealership at one time … poetically, it housed the most quirky of all American makes, The Studebaker. And in the back, is a very steep driveway to the second floor. There are Flaming Lips stage props everywhere. During my tour of the place, I climbed the ramp with Jake and another new friend and snapped a few shots of some of the Flaming Lips’ extended family.

Dennis Coyne

As i clicked away with the Nikon, Dennis Coyne front man of the Oklahoma group Star Death & White Dwarfs was tuning a guitar, silhouetted by Oklahoma sunshine spilling through a wall of industrial looking windows … overlooking the chilly downtown streets below.




Dennis is the nephew of Wayne … and the rest of the story — Dennis’ band opened the show for The Flaming Lips at the concert in Denton … the show with all the power failure issues.


It was a pretty cool moment. Like I said, I came back to Texas — Lipless, but I made some new friends and it was quite the trip … But you know what? As for the Wayne Coyne interview — I am just gonna pretend it happened, and it was the best &%$#%^-ing thing in the world!




Know what I sayin?