WHO YA GONNA CALL? The Flaming Lips!

Man
of the cloth Wayne Coyne on “Do You Realize?,” on that Teeshirtgate flap, and
on learning (or not) how to play the actual song “Oklahoma.”

BY ED MASLEY & FRED MILLS

 

The story thus far… The Flaming Lips topped an online poll last year sponsored by the Oklahoma History Center
and the Oklahoma Film and Music Office to select the official Oklahoma State
Rock Song, and the Oklahoma Senate subsequently voted 46-0 on a resolution thereby
honoring the song. But then last Thursday the Oklahoma House voted 48-39,
thereby making it fall short by a required three votes (51 in favor total
needed) to enact the measure into law: a few conservative lawmakers were quoted
as complaining
about a hammer-and-sickle T-shirt the Lips’ Michael Ivins had
worn to the House during a meet-and-greet and photo-op, additionally expressing
outrage over the so-called “foul-language” that the Lips’ Wayne Coyne had used
at one point. (“Their lips ought to be on fire,” said one state representative.)

 

Luckily, Oklahoma governor Brad Henry, presumably sane and
sober, stepped in and declared he would sign an executive order naming “Do You
Realize?” as the Official State Rock Song (and nicely putting the Lips in the
rarified company of Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills, whose “Oklahoma Hills” and
“Faded Love” are, respectively, the official State Folk Song and State Country
& Western Song). Gov. Henry signed the order on Tuesday, April 28, at the Oklahoma History Center
near the capitol, in a ceremony attended by about 300 people. Ivins,
incidentally, wore a “Ghostbusters” teeshirt.

 

In the middle of all this, a popular Oklahoma-based blog,
The Lost Ogle, published an editorial titled “Yoshimi Battles the Big
Hypocrites” accompanying a series of photos taken on March 2 depicting the Lips
posing with various Oklahoma senators and representatives. Shown in the photos
were some of the representatives who ultimately voted against the song measure,
while the hammer-and-sickle tee is clearly visible on Ivins. At the time, no
one commented on Ivins’ attire. So since it took nearly two months for a Lips
backlash set in at the House, speculation is that the state Republican
leadership, pressured by religious leaders and hardcore conservatives, got the
rank-and-file members all fired up and instructed them on how to cast their
votes.

 

The net result, however, is: the Lips come out on top once
again and attain genuine “cultural icon” status in their home state; Gov. Henry
gets a lifetime “cool pass” for being a standup kinda guy (really: not since
Jimmy Carter partied with the Allman Brothers in the ‘70s has a politician seemed
so, well, so rock ‘n’ roll); and
certain members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives will forever be
remembered as right-wing, “religious die-hard wackos” (as Coyne himself puts
it) who did their level best to make their home state look extremely uncool.

 

Coyne spoke to BLURT’s resident Lips fanatic Ed Masley about
all this a couple of days ago. With the surreal controversy still fresh, Coyne
expressed, in various measures, incredulity, humility, indignation – and maybe
just a touch of proud vindication. He’s definitely allowed the latter, in
spades. Not bad for a former 16-year old pot dealer, eh?

 

***

 

BLURT: So what did you think when you heard that “Do You
Realize?” had been voted the state rock song?

 

Somewhere
along the way, they decided that there should be a state rock song. There’s
this new museum opening up and they sort of concocted this whole thing of “Let’s
have there be a country song, a rock song and [a folk] song.” So we’re up there
– Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and the Flaming Lips. But I can totally see why
they’d want someone alive to get the honor, because if it’s just a bunch of dead
guys, there’s no one to show up and take pictures. So it’s cool. But it’s
absurd.

 

 

So
what’s with the people who voted against it in the State House? Was it really
just a case of people taking offense at a hammer-and-sickle T-shirt Michael
wore to the Capitol building?

 

Well,
when we showed up, we had been rehearsing over at Steven [Drozd’s] house just a
couple of hours beforehand and we really had no idea that we were going to be
standing in front of photographers for the next couple hours. But at the same
time, I think if we had considered it at all, we would have thought “It’s just
a T-shirt. Why would anybody care?”

 

And
honestly, most normal, smart, rational, thinking people would look at that the
same way they would look at your shirt and say “That’s a cool shirt. I don’t
give a shit what you wear. It’s your shirt.” I mean, it’s a free
country. Who gives a shit? We’re a rock band. If Obama wore the communist
symbol, he should get in trouble for it, but Michael Ivins of the Flaming Lips?
Who gives a shit? It’s a shirt! You can get it at Urban Outfitters, you know?
And on the day we were there, that was just what we were wearing and no one
even remarked about it.

 

But
then, when this thing comes up for a vote in the House of Representatives or
whatever, these… and I don’t know them but I know their ilk. There are some
religious die-hard wackos. They happen to be Republicans, but it isn’t even the
Republicans. It’s just these few religious fanatics who have to report back to
their constituents at some church in some small town in Oklahoma. And believe me, it’s not even the
small towns in Oklahoma.
It’s just these people. They feel like, “Oh well, look at us. We stood up for
the right thing.” Their complaint was that I cuss, which was like, well, yeah,
I do. Everybody does. But I’m in a rock band. I’m not running for office. I’m
not trying to be the pastor of your fucking church. [laughs] I’m just speaking my mind and if you don’t like it, well,
too bad. If it’s illegal, call a cop. If it’s not, leave me alone.

 

The
same with Michael’s shirt. That shirt is not illegal. He’s free to wear it. And
I think their argument is, “Well, and we’re free not to like it.” No you’re
not. Not if you’re a Representative. You’re supposed to adhere to the will of
the people and push that forward. And the will of the people is that this
should be the song. This thing was voted on. It wasn’t like we just showed up
and demanded that our song should be the state rock song. We had nothing to do
with it. It was voted on. It took six months for the vote to come in and we won
over 51 percent of the vote.

 

And
I’m not bragging. I’m just saying it was voted on. It’s not like we wanted it or anything. It’s like, “This is
what Oklahoma
voted on.” And the reason they don’t want it to be the state rock song is
because of this shirt?!? It’s like, “Wow, that’s the reason?” I
mean, they could have gotten us for a million things. They could have said,
“They’ve got a song called ‘Jesus Shootin’ Heroin’ and I would be like, “Yeah,
you’ve got me.” Or, “Steven was a heroin addict for eight years.” “Yeah, I
know.”

 

 But they pick on that?!?  It’s like, “Don’t you do any research at all? I mean, you really could have
got us here.”

 

I’ve
told people openly I sold pot when I was 16. It’s like, “Yeah, you got me. I’m
not gonna lie about it.” And initially, when I was told that they wanted to take
it away from us, I thought “Well, I can kind of see. We are weirdos and there
are a lot of conservative people in the legislature.” But when they said it was
the T-shirt, I was like, “You’ve gotta be kidding.” Then, I double-checked and
I was like, “You’ve really gotta be kidding.”

 

 

Then the governor of Oklahoma stepped in and signed an executive
order proclaiming “Do You Realize?” the official song…

 

Yes.
As of Tuesday. We did this big ceremony Tuesday afternoon over at the History Museum with the big dome of the capitol
looming in the background. That’s one a week now. A week earlier, I had the
national dome in D.C. behind me. And 10 days later, I’ve got the Oklahoma capitol dome
behind me in pictures.

 

 

It’s like you’re Bono.

 

I didn’t ask for it! [laughs]
But there you go. The governor signed this proclamation making it Flaming Lips
Day as well, so at about 3:30 in the afternoon, suddenly, the rest of the day
was Flaming Lips Day, which was sort of absurd. I’ve met the governor a couple
other times so it wasn’t that weird, but it was a big deal. People were quite
overjoyed, really, and I think the opposition almost made the comeback that
much grander.  Everybody really felt that
they were fighting for a much bigger cause, not just their love of the Flaming
Lips but this idea that hey, who are the State legislators to take this thing
away from us.

 

 

And Michael didn’t
wear a Castro T-shirt or anything?

 

He wore a “Ghostbusters shirt,” which was remarked upon by
all the local newscasters and all the local conservative newspapers around
here. So I think he made the right choice. We talked about it: “Let’s not wear
that damn Communist shirt again or it’ll look like we’re asking for trouble.”

 

 

There were pictures
on the Internet the other day of the representatives hugging you in March –
Michael in his commie shirt – and then they voted against you. Have you seen
those pictures?

 

Well, we saw the big batch of pictures. We actually signed
pictures for everybody a couple of weeks ago while we were up in the studio.
They sent us this batch of a couple hundred pictures. And I don’t remember
which ones they were but our manager, Scott [Booker], he sort of thought I know
who those guys are and they took pictures with us when the vote by the Senate
was unanimous.

 

But to me, I think you can change your mind. To me, that
didn’t seem, in and of itself, an overly absurd thing. I thought well, the
Flaming Lips are here and everybody’s getting their picture taken with us. In
all fairness, they could say, “My daughter loves them but I think they suck.
But I’m gonna get my picture taken with them so my daughter likes it.” We’re
all grown up people. I could point out that that seems to be kind of
hypocritical but on a couple different levels, it’s just silliness. It’s silly
getting your picture taken with the Flaming Lips. And it’s silly to bitch about
the communist flag T-shirt. I’m not gonna stoop to their level and say, “Oh,
look at this. This is proof of how hypocritical and wrong-headed they are.” To
me, it’s like you take a picture with someone, it doesn’t mean you approve of
everything they do. I do that all the time.

 

 

Right. I have a
picture of myself with Ted Nugent and I don’t really approve of much of what he
says.

 

[laughs] Well, that’s a fine example. There’s
something about the moment that overrides the symbolism of what it could mean.
There are a lot of situations in life that are like that. I mean, I probably
would have gotten my picture taken with George W. Bush if it had come up, just
as a significant strange moment. It wouldn’t have meant that I was on his side.
So I don’t want to make it sort of seem like these guys are idiots.

 

 

Do you think a rock
song could ever be the official state song? I mean, you’re the official state
rock song, not the state song.

 

I think it makes perfect sense that the Flaming Lips could
have the official state rock song. There is a country song and I think Woody
Guthrie has a song and Bob Wills has a song. But I think the official state
song is still the Rodgers and Hammerstein one from the Broadway musical Oklahoma.
And you know, that’d be hard to beat.

 

And I personally wasn’t trying to beat that. I mean, our
song doesn’t say “Oklahoma”
in it. When the governor read the bill to make this the state song, there are
elements of the song that you could read into it that are very optimistic. It
talks about you realize life goes fast; it’s hard to make the good things last.
And that is a very hokey thing to say. But it’s a great thing for a song to
proclaim because it is hopeful and optimistic and it does tend to be about a
humanistic effort somewhere in there. And there are ties to the motto of Oklahoma. I’m not sure
if I’m phrasing it exactly but it’s something along the lines of “Work conquers
all,” something to the effect that through hard work, we can achieve whatever
we want. [Editor’s note: the official Oklahoma state motto,
adopted in 1907, is “
Labor Omnia
Vincit” – “labor conquers all things.”]

 

That probably is the motto of every state in America, but I
know there is something about the Flaming Lips philosophy and the motto that is
similar if not true. So I can see if you were looking for reasons to believe
this song should be the rock [song], you’d find them. Same way if you were
looking for reasons it shouldn’t be. You could find plenty of those as well.
You’re gonna hear what you want to hear. If you like it, you’ll hear that. If
you don’t like it, you’ll hear that.

 

 

Have you guys ever
covered Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma”?

 

We probably tried to. I remember us muddling around with it.
I think we were doing some British radio program or something and it comes up a
lot: “Hey, you guys are from Oklahoma.
What’s that like?” It’s a difficult song to play as a rock group. It’s got a
lot of strange harmonies and chord changes and it’s an elaborate thing. But we
never actually tried to do it. I think it was something that we did as kind of
a semi-joke or something.

 

 

[To view images from
Gov. Henry’s signing ceremony, go to the official Flaming Lips MySpace page.
]

 

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