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The Fearless Freaks (2005)

June 9, 2011

7/10 Soft Bulletins 

Proves that there’s more to these guys than just crowd surfing in giant bubbles and a song about putting vaseline on toast.

The Fearless Freaks is a documentary about the alt-rock band The Flaming Lips that chronicles their early beginnings as a family affair from Oklahoma City to their current status nearly 30 years later as minor rock gods who sell out stadiums from sea to shining sea with the craziest shows this side of GWAR.

As of late, there have been two sub-genres that I’ve been itching to take a serious nose-dive into after ignoring them for years and bumping them down on my Netflix queues for God knows how long. The first is Asian revenge movies and the second is rockumentaries. I’ll save the revenge movies rant for another day, but considering how much I love music and love movies, I feel shame whenever I come across a “Best Rockumentaries” list and realize that I have not been doing my homework, that I have not only failed myself as fan, but I have failed my musical heroes. I hope that they can find it within themselves to someday forgive me, because I am not worthy.

With that being said, it’s kinda weird that I skipped Gimme Shelter, The Last Waltz and Stop Making Sense and went right to this instead. For starters, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of The Flaming Lips (not that I dislike them, I just never really gave ’em the time of day that I should have), but I effing love The Stones, The Band and Talking Heads. On top of that, I’m still not really sure how I feel about Lips front man/mastermind, Wayne Coyne. His hair is cool and people generally seem to think he’s the shit, but after he took it upon himself to crap all over Arcade Fire two years ago in a move that can only be categorized as “dick”, my opinion of the guy has been a tad jaded. Can’t really hold it against him since he apologized for it and all, but still not a good foot to start off on.

Then again, I did see this movie turn up every now and again on those “Best Rockumentary” lists, and even if I only knew a handful of their songs going into it, The Flaming Lips are a band that has always been interesting as sin.

See, I don’t know about you guys, but at the sake of sounding like a music snob, I’m of the general mindset that music kinda sucks these days. I know, I know, for every Justin Bieber there’s a Black Keys and that’s the way it’s always been, but whether it’s the fact that Nickelback is still a band or the way hip-hop has devolved to nothing more than clicks and whistles by artists who couldn’t write a song like “Things Done Changed” if Biggie’s ghost came down and started rhyming with them on Christmas Eve like Jacob-fucking-Marley, the standard seems pretty low these days. Even though they totally deserved it, Arcade Fire winning that Album of the Year Grammy was a freakin’ fluke.

Anyway, what separates The Flaming Lips from the pack is that they’ve always marched to the beat of their own drum. They don’t sound like other bands, each new album is something totally different from the one before it, and they actively try to challenge themselves as musicians rather than just go with what’s familiar. That’s why people listen, that’s why I respect them, and that’s why I turned this on. And in that regard, this movie is as interesting as the band. But in other regards, it definitely leaves something to be desired.

I mean, the bummer about their back story as a band is that there ultimately isn’t a whole lot that’s stuck with me outside of the music and that the Lips’ lead guitarist, Steven Drozd, is far and away the most interesting member of the group, especially when it gets to his on-again, off-again heroin addiction (because no rockumentary is complete with a heroin addiction). There’s a ton of home footage and behind-the-scenes stuff that will probably make die-hard fans feel like part of the family, but as a fringe fan, it doesn’t always work. I guess it goes back to my back-and-forth feelings about Coyne, it’s just that I don’t know whether I buy the shtick. It’s watching him walk around the rough neighborhood of his hometown and talking to everyone he passes by like it’s Sesame Street, it’s the revelation that his band pretty much shamelessly copied everything they loved about The Butthole Surfers from their live shows down, and it’s just this nagging feeling that he’s putting on an act.

But then again, I could be totally wrong on that, I just thought he’d come off as more authentic, I guess. Although it is cool to see a front man who’ll proudly admit to being a shitty musician (at least at the start of things) and that the band made up for it by just being loud and putting on a batshit crazy show, stolen or not.

Sorry for turning this into a soap box of sorts for all my frustrations that rise up every time I turn on the radio, but since a big reason The Flaming Lips stand out is due to the way unoriginality is embraced by the masses, this seemed like as good a time as any to vent to all you fine readers. The downside to this doc aside from how I wish it had spent more time on-stage and less on their roots is that I can’t say whether this movie will be even remotely interesting for anyone who’s never heard of The Flaming Lips, actively tries to contract Bieber Fever, or doesn’t have to skip past “She Don’t Use Jelly” every time they put on Pandora (I can’t be the only person that happens to). But as an open-minded introduction to an awfully unique band and a retrospective on why they matter, The Fearless Freaks is worth a go. Definitely makes you want to get familiar with their stuff and, as it turns out, their stuff is pretty damn good, too.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2011 12:25 am

    This sounds interesting … and odd, haha.

    Good review Aiden.

    • June 9, 2011 7:52 am

      Haha. Thanks, man. Definitely odd, but worth a look if you’re interested in the guys.

  2. June 9, 2011 1:30 am

    I don’t buy many DVDs, but I own this one because I’m a big fan of the Flaming Lips, I’ve seen them maybe eight or nine times. I learned a fair bit about them from it and, to be fair, it’s not like yer average rockumentary, but I can easily see how people who don’t like them that much could be unmoved by it. I thought the Drozd shooting-up scene was shockingly frank and heartbreaking.

    Oh, and Coyne really is that odd. Google maps satellite cameras caught him taking a bath outside in his back garden! 🙂

    • June 9, 2011 7:51 am

      Hahaha. Alright, the backyard bath definitely adds some credibility to Coyne. And the scene with Drozd shooting up was so freakin’ sad, man. Still, at least he came around. Suck it, heroin.

      Man, I really need to see these guys live already, huh? Still kicking myself over missing them in Central Park last year, especially since The Black Keys played the night before, and that would have been one hell of a back-to-back.

  3. June 11, 2011 4:08 am

    Yeah you need to grap these guys’ concert !
    Saw them once in 2007, they were cooky great on stage.
    I’m not a hardcore fan by any means, so I wonder if I’d enjoy this. I haven’t really been sucked into the world of bandfilms.

    • June 14, 2011 9:28 am

      I know, man. They’re on my Must See list. One of these days. If you’re not into rock docs, this might not be the best place to start, but if you’ve seen them live, it actually might be pretty interesting even for a fringe fan (like myself).

  4. June 12, 2011 5:16 pm

    I am a fan of the Flaming Lips, and I thought this documentary was good, but not great. They are definitely a band that you *have* to see live. I have seen ’em a few times and they never cease to amaze me. No one puts on a show quite like the Lips, that’s for sure…

    • June 14, 2011 9:29 am

      Yeah, agree with your first sentence, and I seriously need to see these guys already. Don’t know what’s taking me.

  5. HermioneO permalink
    June 20, 2011 3:28 pm

    You lost me after The Stones, The Band and Talking heads, which were the last things i’d even heard of in your article.

    • June 20, 2011 3:37 pm

      Hahahaha. Probably worth skipping then. I really need to see those three movies already, huh?

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