To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.
After 30 years as the Wonka-esque ringmaster of the Flaming Lips’ psychedelic circus, Wayne Coyne shows no signs of slowing down. MAGNET visits stately Wayne Manor to talk cocaine and hand grenades, and how the new Lips album wound up on the dark side of the moon. By Jonathan Valania
We’d been traversing the spine of Tornado Alley for the last two hours when the stewardess announced that we would be landing in Oklahoma City in a few minutes, and that we should fasten our seatbelts and return our minds to the upright position, when the drugs took hold. ¶ We are, as the saying goes, off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Odd—or, if you prefer, the Wizard of OK, a.k.a. Wayne Coyne, frizzy-brained mainman of the Flaming Lips, the P.T. Barnum of The Stoned, a.k.a. The Man Who Had A Headache And Accidentally Saved The World. Why? Because, because, because of the wonderful things he does, of course. The balloons. The confetti. The blood. The boobies. The strobes and the smoke and the bunny costumes and the dancing Santas. The blood. The crowd-surfing bubble-walking. The giant hands that shoot laser beams. The blood. The limited-edition marijuana-flavored brains inside a gummy skull. The rocket ship he built in his backyard. The way he’s made a 30-year career—spanning 15 albums, 18 EPs, 22 soundtrack appearances and exactly one hit song—feel like one million billionth of a second on a Sunday morning that you’ll never get back, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Wizard lives, appropriately enough, somewhere over the rainbow, precisely one state down from Kansas, on the wrong side of the tracks in Oklahoma City, a municipality of half a million people, built upon vast reserves of fossil fuels and the oceans of sweat equity it took to extract them. Architecturally speaking, OKC looks like the sprawling low-rent campus of an unaccredited Christian college, the kind that still doesn’t allow interracial dating. The city was founded back in 1889 during the Great Land Rush, which basically meant the federal government had run all the Native American tribes off their land and was ready to cede up to 160 acres to any white man who would occupy and cultivate a plot. Fifty-thousand settlers lined up to lay claims to the 10,000 available plots of land. By the end of the day, Oklahoma City went from population zero to population 10,000. They drank creek water and cooked with buffalo dung. Schools opened within a couple weeks. By the end of the month, Oklahoma City had five banks and six newspapers.
Fast-forward 94 years. One Wayne Coyne, pirate-hatted fry cook at Long John Silver’s, invites Michael Ivins, he of the my-chemistry-experiment-blew-up-in-my-face haircut, over to jam on the Batman theme. Though neither said so at the time, each thought the other was not very good. But despite that fact, or perhaps because of it, the Flaming Lips were officially born.
Barring the occasional burr-headed, jug-eared, angry loner driving a Ryder rental truck packed with enough ammonium nitrate to blow the Alfred P. Murrha Federal Building to smithereens—killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six—not a lot happens here, and most of the locals seem fine with that. Probably the last exciting thing to happen here was Coyne getting caught trying to bring a hand grenade through airport security last fall. (More on that later.)
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in OKC, the youngest of five siblings who could have passed for the cast of Dazed And Confused, the Wizard has chosen to remain in his hometown, despite his worldwide fame. He lives in a run-down, low-income section of the city, which was, up until a few years ago when the hipsters and the art farmers started showing up, a forbidden zone that you would only venture into if you wanted to get stabbed or buy crack, or a little of both. Many of the homes in his neighborhood—mostly small, one-floor shotgun shacks—are boarded up, or should be. The Wizard bought his current residence—a handsome two-story brick house with Frank Lloyd Wright-esque accents—literally for a song, i.e. the Lips’ one proper radio hit, 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly.”
Since then, he has purchased the houses and the property they sit on to the left, right and rear of his house, built a recording-studio annex and surrounded the whole thing with a high, corrugated metal fence. Wayne Manor is not so much a residence as it is a compound. It’s a great place to raise a cult or sit out a Mexican standoff with the ATF. A taxi driver dumps me in front of the main house, but only after I convinced him that, no, I wasn’t coming here to score drugs; rather I’d flown here to interview the singer of the Flaming Lips.
“Oh, I heard of them,” he says, looking back at me in the mirror, his glare of suspicion softening into something approaching friendly. “They’re pretty far out.”