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The Flaming Lips: Okies From Outer Space

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Coyne, who will cop to posessing an overdeveloped work ethic, spends the rest of our afternoon in Oklahoma City running errands. As we climb into his green Ford pickup, he mentions that he's read a story I wrote about Pete Doherty. "I'm going to give you my version of a Pete Doherty story," Coyne says. "He's going around scoring crack. I'm getting duct tape."

In fact, the sheer amount of duct tape purchased by Coyne at his local Home Depot raises the concern of the matronly cashier. Coyne explains that his band uses the tape to bind concert equipment. "You make enough money to afford all this tape?" the woman asks skeptically.

Later in the afternoon, we swing by a warehouse to see Coyne's friend Mark Dillon, a novelty wholesaler who has just returned from China with several new types of laser pointers. Coyne then explains another new idea: vibrating underwear. Apparently, there is a new adult-novelty technology in which a vibrating disc built into a pair of panties can be activated via remote control. Coyne's plan is to make Flaming Lips vibrating panties available to fans and then activate them from the stage. He tested samples on his wife and female label reps during a recent European tour.

"I wasn't sure how long to go," Goyne admits. "At first I did it for a six-minute song. After, everyone was like, 'Dude, that's way too long.' I guess it got all hot. So the next time, I just did quick little spurts. By the end of the night, you could see a visible thrill in their faces, like, 'That was a better show for me than for other people,' " Coyne turns to Dillon. "So this underwear: Sound like something you could do?"

Dillon shrugs and says, "I'd have to source it out."

"See, I believe in doing things," Coyne says later. "That's the problem with most artists: They just dream and dream and dream. You gotta do stuff." Coyne delivers the line with a smile, but he's mostly serious. He seems uncomfortable with being labeled an artist, preferring the tangible results of various Lips projects and, especially, the idea of "working with men," a phrase he uses after we load a dozen boxes of confetti into the back of his truck. (He also regularly helps load the stage sets and refuses to employ a guitar tech, which prompts Hitchcock to dryly ask Drozd, "Is Wayne driving the bus as well?")

Coyne's populist love of practical labor has helped to make the Lips one of the most exciting live bands of the moment. "I'm talking to a guy who makes those inflatable things where you put a big fan on it and it stays inflated for an hour," Coyne says. "We're trying to make an inflatable woman, maybe she'll look pregnant, but she'll be spreading her legs, and when we come onstage, they'll rip off her underwear and we'll come out of her vaginal orifice." When I ask if the band will be covered in amniotic fluid, Coyne looks disgusted. "Hopefully," he says, "it'll be more of a gag."

At the Royal Albert Hall, stage dancers are dressed as Santa Claus, Jesus, alien beings and Captain America. Coyne's wife, Michelle, is dressed as Wonder Woman, and Ivins wears a human-skeleton costume. Coyne shoots Silly String at the crowd and inflates a giant balloon with a leaf blower. During one song, a microphone camera projects an image of Coyne's singing mouth onto the background screen. In such an extreme closeup, his mouth resembles a toothy anus. During another song, the band shows a video clip from a Japanese Fear Factor-style show in which enormous lizards are released into a tub, where they menace contestants. Subtitles read, "The studio is in a panic. Everyone is panicking."

The next day, the band plays Top of the Pops, the long-running British music show. Shit-talking, of course, ensues. As we pass the trashed Dirty Pretty Things' dressing room – there are actually clumps of human hair scattered about the floor – Drozd, who is wearing a one-piece flight suit, mutters, "Well, they got the dirty part down." Someone also tells a scurrilous, possibly actionable story involving John Tesh and Oprah.

In the studio, Jamie Foxx sings "Unpredictable" on the stage opposite the Lips. His belt buckle looks like it might have once been an Escalade hood ornament. Other performers on today's show include Gnarls Barkley, Goldfrapp and the Pet Shop Boys. The Lips perform their latest single, "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," and, perhaps not so oddly anymore, fit right in.

"When we went from being young to old, we wondered, "What do we do now?' " Coyne says later. "We don't want to pretend we were young. That's the worst thing in the world. Or sing songs like we did when we were twenty-two. But now we've been able to go through whatever that thing is that allows an older person to sing to a younger crowd and be acceptable. And with this persona that I have, I think some people – especially younger people – could look at me and not really know how old I am. They could think I'm forty or seventy, really. It's like Willie Nelson. He might be eighty – I don't know. If the audience lets you be an old guy, that's a great gift. I don't see any reason to stop, as long as people like it."

This story is from the July 13, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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