LX Commentary #18: I Went With Some Friends To See The Flaming Lips

Benji Hughes rarely discusses the stories behind songs in interviews, but when he does this one is frequently cited as “a play by play.”

Impressive attention to detail!

Writing the L Extreme version as a play by play did not work at all. I probably struggled with this chapter most of all.

The song chronicles a real-life Flaming Lips concert at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC on 4/17/03—a rainy Thursday.

Trying to shoehorn an April road trip into a plot that may or may not start on Halloween ate up a lot of unnecessary mental capacity, but I gave it a go to see where the story took me.

Over in lyrical word association land, the keys were:

The Flaming Lips
Eating Mushrooms
Jessica & L Dropped By
Way Too Much MDMA
Can’t Remember Anything At All

Early on I played with this idea of ordering a whole lot of mushroom-centric dishes from room service to subvert the trippy expectations of the song but to still have a crazy, hallucinogenic event occur. And given what we knew so far about L & Jessica, having them “drop by” together was a pretty big bomb to drop.

It took a real long time for me to figure out exactly how to make the mechanics of this dropping by work, but once I did the chain reaction of falling dominoes felt perfect. Evilon, the confidentiality clause, Frank’s purpose, L’s past job as a paralegal, and the ultimate ending of the book all snapped together with less massaging than expected.

“This wasn’t Slow Century, but it may have been the next best thing. The hand-drawn title at the top included The Fearless Freaks beside an inaccurate orange representation of the United States flag.”

The last missing piece was killing the road trip so this pivotal scene could be set in the apartment instead of the Haywood Park. How was I going to write a chapter about a Flaming Lips concert without a Flaming Lips concert? Once again a song lyric held the answer:

“…it’s my favorite band I’ve got their DVD…”

Pavement has a DVD. So do the Flaming Lips…

It wasn’t easy (Zurich was most certainly stained), but thinking back to how disparate beats in multiple songs & chapters came together on one inspirational night makes me glad I took on this challenge to begin with.

Sometimes I almost forget how great that night really was…

Other tidbits:

  • “Scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath” is another Frank quote directly lifted from Frankenstein. (“I often spend the whole day searching in vain to assuage the pangs of hunger” a little later on is too.)
  • Realizing The Fearless Freaks color scheme was similar(ish) to those weird yellow-toned Thurston Moore interviews from Slow Century convinced me switching to a virtual Flaming Lips cameo was the right move.
  • “After a couple of months of planning, this might just work” shifts the lyric of planning the trip to see the show to Frank’s masterful endgame in another example of this story writing itself.
  • The memory of the bunny costume calls back to an interview mention by A Love Extreme collaborator / producer Keefus Ciancia regarding the first time he went with a friend to see the Flaming Lips. (I’m not saying C is Keefus, but they both have a C for an initial…)
  • Hot sauce is the tenth trick-or-treating item to come in handy.
  • One of the more outrageous deleted scenes was a reveal that DJ’s initials stand for “Darling Jason” while trying to capture the “sent Mark & Jason on a beer run” lyric. The Mark part stuck; stay tuned for more on that…
  • A small complication in having Jessica & L drop by was I didn’t have a character named Jessica in the book. Originally Heartman & Songstress lived inside a girl named Nancy, of “Song for Nancy” (and portrait artist of the Songs in the Key of Animals album cover) fame.
  • In my faulty memory this shirt was blue with yellow text. Didn’t realize I had the image saved until writing this post. (I also neglected to note the artist — if it’s you drop me a line so I can give you credit!)
    Mirroring the pattern of the instrumental chapters with the “Two girls. Both wear…” paragraph here is intended to both invoke how far-out this encounter is while making the reader question the nature of those previous instrumental dreams. It’s also a nod to the instrumental, lips-esque ditty that plays mid-song.
  • “I love what you’ve done with the place” isn’t just a throwaway line…
  • “As if drawn by a Magnetic Field…” is a subtle shout out to Stephin Merritt’s band—a common comparison to Benji’s vocal register.
  • Benji Hughes does a mean Clint Eastwood impression in real life, inspiring the “gruff, raspy whisper that would make Clint Eastwood proud.”
  • Who’s to say memory deficiency magical alchemy isn’t the active acronym in magic mushrooms?
  • The numbers C “randomly” spews aren’t actually random.
  • Evilon is defeated with a mix of L-fueled music and legalese this time—plus a subtle assist from Frank. A beta reader called this section “a lawyer’s wet dream.”
  • The contract with Evilon symbolically represents the record contract that prevents the Bill Bottrell produced solo piano album by Benji Hughes (which Bottrell calls “the best thing I ever produced”) from being released, hence references to a number of songs from that recording in this chapter.
  • Exhibit F is for Frank since it’s the dot matrix style printout he generated outside the hardware store and casually dropped on the ground. Bonus giddiness: it’s also the first line to a Carter USM song with a contractual authorship dispute behind it. (Carter is my favorite band; Benji is my favorite solo artist.)
  • The lighter is the eleventh of the fourteen trick-or-treating items utilized, and the first in the list of fourteen “closing credit” L words to end this chapter. Coincidence? Ask C…
  • Originally this chapter ended with an extended love letter to The Flaming Lips by C (who already began morphing into Mark), but since this is ostensibly a Benji Hughes novel I cut it. I’ll end this chapter commentary with a chunk of it:

Mark was as excited as anyone to finish the movie. Especially the second disc with bonus footage and live songs. Some say it’s not the destination but the journey, but the journeys are rarely worthwhile without an endgame in mind. Story was one thing, but ultimately the music was what mattered.

For Mark, the sequencing of a setlist could make or break a concert. What song did they open with? Which song did they close with? Which songs were in the encore? Which were b-sides? Which had new arrangements? Covers? Acoustic? How many songs, how many in each set, how many from each album, how many in each category. He loved every minute, savored and analyzed every choice.

He could tell you which songs the Flaming Lips had never played live. Or the ones they hadn’t played on the last tour. Or in the last decade. Which came from albums vs. EPs vs. import singles or compilations. Ones performed from inside the giant hamster ball vs. a more traditional stage position. (He’d also tell you very little about the Flaming Lips could be called “traditional” by a reasonable person. This was a band that sometimes birthed their way onto the stage.)

Six different surround sound mixes of Zaireeka had been created by Mark and shared with fans via online trading forums. He listened to Yoshimi so frequently and knew the story so well he would imagine it being re-issued in the future as a musical. Perhaps a novel. Maybe a few other songs from other releases could be woven in here and there as augmentation, but track by track there was a story that transcended a cult classic audio recording.

PS: I’ve often daydreamed about hearing The Flaming Lips cover this song, but returning the favor with a lyric change to “I Went With Some Friends To See Benji Hughes.” If that ever happens (paging Wayne Coyne!), I’ll put a video of it below. For now, here’s a live version of the original.

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