The Fearless Freaks feels homely. A documentary constructed from a wealth of archive footage. The director had hung out with the band since the early ’90s and this friendship defines this film. Grainy VHS tapes of early gigs… cine-cam of childhood exploits… in terms of hazy, sun bleached nostalgia this has it all.
I was turned onto the Flaming Lips when I first heard The Soft Bulletin. One of those life changing albums, The Soft Bulletin made me re-evaluate everything I thought was good. The opening drum beat of Race for the Prize is perhaps the greatest opening to any song ever. The whole album was an eye/ear opener and spent months going round and round the CD player in my car. Then Yoshimi was released and continued the momentum. Two pretty much perfect albums in a row. The point being that, although I know of the long history of the Flaming Lips, and I have read up enough to feign supreme life-long-fan-esque knowledge… I’m really coming to this documentary with very little in the tank.
The Flaming Lips kind of remind me of my first band. Only in that we were friends first, band second. We created home videos, went clubbing and hung out together every second of every day. We would spend our time creating ‘stage-clothes’, writing set lists, producing fliers, writing songs, recording silly comedy skits and generally having a good time. I’ll be honest, we did it without the drugs. For drugs seem to weave their way throughout the story of the Flaming Lips. And… when it comes to ‘band stories’… drugs seem to colour the life of the band and become almost ‘mystical’ in a way. It’s good to see that the issue of drugs is treated so matter of factly in this documentary. There is one scene in particular that is so ‘direct’, it feels like a punch to the face. A scene that is almost worth the price of admission alone. No flowering up here. This is pretty raw. A lot of these documentaries tend to gloss over points the band would rather you knew nothing about. Will the Beatles ever release Let it Be on Blu-ray? Hmmm.
Anyway… I digress. Those first bands, bands of friends, usually break up. Or move on. Fearless Freaks shows what happens when they don’t. You get the Flaming Lips. You get artists who feel completely confident to try whatever they want. In comfort. I think this may be key to the success of the Flaming Lips. Although they probably faced similar record company hassles, I think the DIY ethic of the Flaming Lips pulled them through more so than your typical band.
Flights of fancy. Wayne Coyne making his own movies – in his back garden. Whether they’re any good or not isn’t the issue. It’s the fact that he’s doing it. Pure creative spirit. I think being in the Flaming Lips must be a great outlet. An opportunity to express yourself without having to worry about the trivialities of workaday life. You want to make a movie? No problem. You want to record a 24 hour-long song? No problem. You want to record a song that lasts forever? Yeah… give it a shot. You want to dress as cuddly animals on stage and inflate balloons with the wind of a thousand virgins? Make my day. Perhaps being in any successful band allows these liberties… but none seem so straight-ahead outlandish as the Flaming Lips. I suppose I look upon it all with a touch of jealousy. Any artistic statement I wish to make must be played out within the confines of normal life. You know… crammed in around ‘things you have to do’. The Fearless Freaks stops short of the most recent period of the Flaming Lips‘ existence, but there’s still plenty of strange food for thought. And so it is that I want to put the Soft Bulletin on again. That is the album that lifts me. That is the album that spawned a thousand clones. Still, you can’t fail to be influenced.
I didn’t really appreciate the Flaming Lips‘ band dynamic. I assumed Wayne Coyne would ‘be’ the Flaming Lips. He looks the part – mad scientist – and he has made long, greying hair cool! He just looks like a man who has a hundred magical mystery tours in his head. But, watching the DVD it dawns on you how pivotal Steven Drozd really is. The man seems to be the human personification of ‘music’. Music. I’m now listening to the Soft Bulletin as I type. This is a band that when at the top of their game really can rule the world. And yet they’ve made at least one album that I own that I don’t like. But to achieve perfection you have to make mistakes. I’ve drifted from the Flaming Lips in recent years. Rightly or wrongly I feel they became a bit ‘sugary’. Too much peace and love… and cuddly rabbits. But maybe I was just plain wrong. A band that plays I Want You (She’s So Heavy) live is a band that will always win my heart.