The Flaming Lips have a slew of celebrity admirers, which shouldn't come as a surprise. They are rock 'n' roll's most spectacular live show. They are entertainers' entertainers.
Adam Goldberg—the Hebrew Hammer, indie filmmaker, musician, costar of 2 Days in Paris—is a longtime fan and collaborated with the Lips' Steve Drozd on the soundtrack to his 2003 film I Love Your Work. To humor The Stranger, Goldberg and lead Lip Wayne Coyne sat down the day after a show in San Diego for a hungover conversation about Brian Wilson, Bon Jovi, mass hypnosis, and how to not be a dumbshit. —Ed.
Wayne Coyne: How did we come up with the idea that it would be Adam and me?
Adam Goldberg: All the other more famous guys wouldn't do it.
WC: [Laughs] Andy Dick wouldn't show up. We were warned he may have showed up last night.
Band Manager Rick Gershon: They were asking for a list of interesting people, and then we narrowed it down to the trustworthy interesting people.
WC: This is as good as it can be. My feeling is that we'd bounce this thing back and forth.
AG: I actually wrote shit down last night backstage at the show, some things that occurred to me. Some things had occurred to me anyway, but some more things occurred spontaneously, and I realized I wouldn't remember them the next day, because I was drinking heavily.
AG: I had like two beers during the show.
WC: You didn't seem loaded.
AG: No, that's the problem—I just get hungover. From sober [snaps fingers] to hungover.
On Meeting Your Heroes
AG: I still can't believe you interviewed Brian Wilson. I think you probably get lumped in a little bit with him.
WC: As we were talking about in the van last night, there's Daniel Johnston, Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett. And all those guys, when you think about it, are great company to be in. But as we know, there are different levels of...
AG: You create a sort of insanity.
WC: Out of all those guys, I am not a loony. And maybe if everybody really knew that, they wouldn't like me at all.
AG: But I think there's something to that, the fact that you create this cinematic experience, that you're directing this whole interactive insanity.
WC: With Daniel Johnston, Roky Erickson, and especially Brian Wilson, I never got the feeling that those guys would set up a giant video screen and care what was behind them. And sometimes I talk about guys being musicians—and I don't mean that in a bad way, I mean it like they play music. In a sense that's what Steven [Drozd, the Lips' chief instrumentalist] is.
AG: We had talked about the idea that some people will call me up and ask me if I want to jam. And I don't actually know how to do that. You don't know how to do that, right?
WC: Exactly. See, me and you, really, it's perfect in a sense, because we're a lot alike. We joked about it last night, that you delved into music, and I delved into film. The minute you got the idea to do a record was the same time I got an idea to do a movie.
AG: When did you conceive of the film? [The long-awaited, somewhat legendary, still unfinished Christmas on Mars.]
WC: Well, I thought about it a long time, but I didn't really begin doing it till 2001. But my point is, I think there's an element of this art that's really all the same thing. I can be doing music, I can be doing a film, I can be doing a painting, or I can be doing an album cover. I'm always doing it. But I think musicians, like a Brian Wilson, I think they're like, "Look, if I'm not playing, then I'm not doing anything."
AG: The thing I struggled with is if you make your living in a public way, and you do anything else, it confuses people. The idea of an actor doing various things, like "That's an actor's painting," or "That's an actors song." I always felt like the musician sort of has an advantage. They're allowed. Or is that just because people don't like me personally? [Laughs]
WC: I think if you like the artist, you like them. You think of someone like John Lennon, and he could almost do no wrong.
AG: Now that you brought up John Lennon...
AG: No, honestly, this is what I was thinking last night. I couldn't figure out what I could liken the shows to. When is the last time there was a collusion that created this personal and political experience in this really dramatic way? Who else is doing that? And I couldn't think of anybody since him. I never thought of the music being similar at all, but the urgency of what you guys are doing, which seems to be getting more urgent as you mature...
WC: It even surprised us last night.
AG: I was nervous about this. Nothing against San Diego, but it's a lot of white dudes.
WC: Free booze, it was Saturday night, a free concert—it's like a permanent spring break.
AG: But they were transfixed. I don't know how much you looked at them, but I took a bunch of pictures, and even when you were doing your Bush stuff, your spoken-word stuff, they were transfixed.
WC: We do pummel them. We do say, "This is loud, this is bright, there's naked women, there's drugs, there's excitement..." Stuff that you'd like.
I do think there's a little bit of mass hypnosis happening. If for some reason the tide turns, and it becomes, like, this is bullshit—and even someone sitting on the fence will say yeah, this is bullshit. But the other way is even more powerful, when people get together and say it's working.
Z-Trip played before us. His set is classic big-rock stuff. I don't know if he does a Bon Jovi song, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did.
AG: Have you thought of doing a Bon Jovi song?
WC: Um, no. I mean, there's a lot of Bon Jovi in what we're doing anyway. [Laughs]
AG: I think you're right. I was likening you to John Lennon, but I think really Jon Bon Jovi is what I meant.
On Being Fucking Sincere
AG: I've seen you guys more times than I can count, and it's incredible to me that you're doing something which is, on one level, so personal and weird and so much your own point of view, and yet so unifying. That, I think, is what sets the band apart from anything that's going on.
WC: Right. There are times in the show when we think, "Oh, we're going to get to the sort of cornball thing and people are going to go, 'Ah, go fuck yourself.'" They never do. And once you win them over and they really do believe in what you're saying, you can almost keep taking that to the next level. But that's just dumb luck.
Part of it, too, is probably that people come in and see that I'm this weird old guy; they think there must be some wisdom or something attached to it. So when I talk about love and believing in each other...
AG: We're all approaching 50. I mean, I'm 36, but I'm approaching 50, you know? The advantage is, even if we don't feel sage, like, when you're 50 or in your 40s, you really do have the advantage of—not being patronizing—but playing the age card with people that are younger. It's the one thing that feels a little bit exciting and sexy about being older: being able to be as old as you always felt.
WC: I think for you it's great, because you're not a dumbshit. I think some guys get older and then they think, "Oh my god, everyone's going to find out that I'm just this fake."
AG: That's actually the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me. Honestly. And I'd put that on the back of a... I don't know... "You are not a dumbshit."
On Bad Language and Family Values
AG: You're getting really Richard Pryor lately [during performances]. You're like, "Listen motherfucka!" And the way the "motherfuckers" get increasingly Pryor-esque throughout the show. I was like, "Why does that sound so familiar? Whoa, that's Pryor!"
WC: You're right. The Richard Pryor part of it is, like, I'm not really telling you to really get into what I'm saying, I'm saying, "Look, motherfuckers, this is the deal, we're all doing this!"
AG: The cross between all the love and the "motherfuckers" is a totally symbiotic thing. What did I write down? "Family joy versus anger message."
AG: When I first met you guys, I felt there was some real familial thing, I would go to Coachella and places where I normally wouldn't feel that comfortable, hang out with you guys, and it was a very familial thing, and the show itself is very familial and filled with this real exuberance and joy. But you're singing sometimes about things that are unsettling and can be sad and moving. I mean, "Do You Realize?" is this heartbreaking thing, and yet it's anthemic. That way you're able to combine those two worlds, and then all this well-founded vitriol against a corporate society and a president... It's all weaved into anthemic, joyful, familial stuff.
I never had to think about it; I had to experience it. But then last night I was like, let's see if I can articulate it.
WC: But you're sort of like that, too. People meet you and within a couple minutes you're just being real. There's no pose going on.
On Sonic Evolution
AG: I was sort of shocked when I heard [Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots]. It was really like, this is some completely parallel universe.
WC: We did change. We purposefully went for that type of thing.
AG: Yeah, you can still see the evolution. But this is what's interesting about the last record: It doesn't feel quite as underlying with the concept.
WC: No, not at all. It's really a hodgepodge of three different eras of us. I'm sure you do this—when you can pick and choose this arc of what you want to be. I didn't want to have yet another concept or characters to talk about again.
AG: I was hoping you guys wouldn't. I thought, "Who knows, Yoshimi took off in this crazy way, so most people would do it again." But I guess it was "The W.A.N.D." [from At War with the Mystics] that Steven played for me in the car in Oklahoma and I was like, "Jesus fucking Christ, this is insane."
WC: We wanted to do more rock. People don't realize this, but we never thought we'd play live as much as we do. The more you get popular, the more you have the opportunities to do stuff. And even though we love it, we never thought we'd have to do it as much as we do. But you get out there—especially like this thing last night, this big rock festival—and you want to play some rock. And, you know, me and you listen to the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac and we consider that rock, but it's not really rock, it's not like rock like the Butt-hole Surfers or Led Zeppelin. We were playing a White Stripes cover and Black Sabbath "War Pigs," because we didn't have songs that did that. So as soon as we could, we came up with shit like "The W.A.N.D.," like, let's play our own version that's more funky or fat. When you write your own songs or make your own movies, you just make what you need. It's what we needed.
AG: I remember the first time I saw you do [an anti-Bush] rant. If you listen to John Lennon's shit, it cuts right to the point, it's an expression, it's cathartic, it gets everybody there to feel something that's united.
WC: I think by now everybody's like, "Let's fucking find a way out of this." And even though we're not saying how we're going to do anything, we just know. It's this "fuck Bush" sort of thing; we get something out of our system. I was in Norway a couple of weeks ago and this woman comes up and goes, "Why do you do such an obvious 'fuck Bush' rant? Madonna does the same rant." I tried to tell her we do "Taps" right after that. When you can get that in the right mood, that's powerful. So when that Norwegian woman said that...
AG: You were like, "Fuck Norway! That's bullshit!"
WC: No, I can understand someone in Norway not knowing what "Taps" is—it's an American military thing, so I just let it go. But I didn't try to make it seem like... That is Bon Jovi. If Bon Jovi hated George Bush, it would be like that. If we have to be this big rock band, let's play with it as best we can. That's our justification.
AG: If I was the editor I would take that and put it in bold print.
WC: The other one is "Adam Goldberg is not a dumbshit."
AG: That wouldn't be a bad caption for this part of the paper.