Monday, September 14, 2009

The Salaryman's Guide: the Flaming Lips (Inaugural Edition)

About two or three summers ago, we had bought two tickets to see the Flaming Lips which, for a variety of reasons, we couldn't use. Instead of letting the tickets go to waste, I asked around the office to see if anyone could use them. I sent one email out to various co-workers that were around the same age; I sent another email out to the entire office. No one had heard of the Flaming Lips.

This blew my mind.

Granted, it's not like the Flaming Lips are the biggest band in the world: my parents would acknowledge that they've at least heard of U2, but I would never expect them to have heard of the Flaming Lips. Conversely, however, it's not like the Flaming Lips are a little garage band playing open stage hours at the pub: the show was at the Malkin Bowl, in Stanley Park (this summer, Elvis Costello, the Pretenders and Cat Power played the same venue). How does that large a phenomena in popular culture go unnoticed in an office of over a hundred, wherein the majority of people are in the 20 to 40 age bracket?

Over the past few years where I've gone from carefree student to indifferent workerman, I've noticed this happen on multiple occasions, be it with bands, movies, restaurants or some other trend or fad. It'd be easy to laugh at this in some sort of self-righteous, holier-than-thou kind of way, but it's not like these folks were some sort of backwater hicks or Stepford Wife suburbanites. Many, if not most, were simply people that spent a good chunk of their youth working extremely hard to make a career for themselves, found themselves with families to support and just plain didn't have enough time to spend surfing the web or reading magazines. (And, of course, a handful were just plain lost.)

If and when they did find time to seek out new things, I've inevitably fielded questions on all sorts of things. What's that crazy band you're listening to in your office? What's a new restaurant to go to? What movie should I take my wife to? I've always loved answering these questions, and I've found much more earnest and sincere music/movie/food/etc fans than I'd ever met in all the various circles I've been in that have purportedly been bound and formed by mutual interest.

And so, I thought I'd start this: the Salaryman Guide. A user-friendly service that will hopefully skim over the surface of the grand iceberg known as popular culture. It seemed obvious to have the Flaming Lips as the inaugural post.

The Flaming Lips
Who is This, and Why Should I Know About Them? Well, as college/art rock bands go, weird doesn't get more accessible than the Flaming Lips. Anyone that remotely listened and liked the Beach Boys beyond "Help Me Rhonda" or heard half of any prog rock album should be able to connect the dots.

When Would I Have Missed This? In 93, the Flaming Lips had a modest hit in "She Don't Use Jelly." It's one of those songs with diminishing returns; it just gets less and less amusing the more you listen to it... and, in 93, you had to listen to it ALOT.

Shortly thereafter, the Flaming Lips generated buzz with a handful of odd experiments. With their Boombox Experiments, the Flaming Lips would arrange up to 40 friends play boomboxes loaded with music that they had composed, each playing the tape, adjusting the volume, messing with the tape speed, etc. at varying times. With Zaireeka, they released an album spread over 4 CDs that were meant to be played simultaneously. So: weird for the sake of being weird. But in a delightful sense.

In 99, though, the Flaming Lips released The Soft Bulletin, which took them from weirdo art band to mainstream success (as in graduating from Conan to Leno). This saw the Flaming Lips end up in countless tv shows, movies, commercials, etc. This continued on in 2002 with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and, to a lesser extent, with War With the Mystics in 2006.

Where Should I Start? Just skip past the mid 90s output and start with Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi.
Both are honest to God albums, as in need to be listened to start-to-finish, odd for our current times where the single reigns supreme. Plus, these are the ones that Justin Timberlake latched onto, and who's to argue with that guy?

"Race for the Prize" from The Soft Bulletin

The Flaming Lips - Race For The Prize from Phil Bebbington on Vimeo.

Uh.... If this ain't your cup of tea, don't worry. I'm not sure the Lips have that much traction with the kids nowaday, either: 3 years is a long time to go when the collective attention span grows shorter and shorter, and there's been a lot of Animal Collective albums that have come out since then. But they do have a new album, Embryonic, that comes out this month, which will hopefully change that.

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