Enthusiasm for Psych Explorations

Enthusiasm for Psych Explorations

-Reposted from July 2009 http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&friendID=483132786

Part One
We never really had any particularly kind of music that we thought we were going to dedicate our lives to because we love all kinds of music.”

Wayne Coyne, KEXP 90.3’s “Seattle With Stevie Zoom,” August 5, 2002


“Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles” may be the quintessential Flaming Lips’ track (if there is any- can one song summarize such a diverse and long career?).  “Fetus” hasn’t been on Beavis and Butthead, 90210, a film soundtrack or a computer commercial –nor has it won a Grammy or become a state rock song- but it’s as representative of the Lips’ output and quirks as any:

-it hits upon all the key themes, from science and philosophy to bees and bugs…amoebas!




-a spaceship

-altering perceptions

-imagery relating to procreation

-a muted freak-out section with splendidly sloppy slide, a pulsing drone, all kinds of electronic white noises, faintly harmonized guitar lines and volatile drum hits

-an unleashed, rocked-out verse with muscular bass, a glorious racket and severe skin pounding

-a tinkerbell fairy dusted (but blasting) chorus

-Ronald Jones’ magic sounds

-John Entwistle-like eye of the storm Michael

-Drozd’s drumming at an imaginative and thrilling prime

-Wayne is Wayne (who else in the entire history of rock would write those lyrics or sing them like that?)

-every sound sparkles with producer Dave Fridmann’s touch (no previously released Lips had such a colorful and dynamic scope of texture and sonic clarity)

-it’s a live favorite of long time fans and bootleggers (and, coupled with “When You Smile,” a highlight of live comp 20 Years of Weird: 1986-2006)

-it’s a stand-out on the album that’s perhaps most cherished by die-hard Lips’ fans, Clouds Taste Metallic, where it segues directly into another “quintessential” contender, “Placebo Headwound” (whose title was aptly drawn upon to name The Lips’ gorgeous photo book)

-it was the subject of one the many engaging scenes in The Fearless Freaks, Bradley Beesley’s documentary on The Lips

-even without listening, “Fetus with Needles” is the textbook (or at least, Wikipedia) example of their long song titles from common words, uncommonly in song names 

-the only way this song could better represent the Lips’ freaky brilliance would be by adding a third verse that name-checked musical personalities and starred Santa Claus in an adventurous battle (or race) in his mind.

Then again, maybe “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear” is the quintessential Lips’ track precisely because it doesn’t sound quite like any other.  After all, The Lips aren’t like most bands: they can’t be summarized by a certain “sound” nor can their achievements be reduced to their parts.  Wayne put it this way on “Seattle With Stevie Zoom” in 2002, “even if we don’t want to change, well we’ll have to, we’ll have to do something different if we want to continue to be interesting…we’re never stuck thinking we represent a certain thing.”  So although “Enthusiasm for Life” doesn’t have Ronald working his magic or any signature Steven clobbering, as many Lips’ gems do, it does have delicate Drozd pickin’ and percussion, as well as all sorts of homespun, oddly graceful noises.  In this line of thought, “Enthusiasm” represents the idea that the Lips are defined by their continual capacity and desire for fresh sounds and approaches (cue to check out their new material from their upcoming double-album Embryonic).  “Enthusiasm” seemed upon its 2005 release like the first taste of the new, un-robotic sound the Lips were developing for Yoshimi’s follow-up (described by Wayne months previous as “space-age jazz and progressive Dixieland,” though that direction was ultimately abandoned as At War With the Mystics took shape).  Over four years later it still sounds fresh.

What’s more, “Enthusiasm” captures the unchanging core of their sonic and psychological explorations.  It may not sound like any previous Flaming Lips’ songs, but it certainly sounds like The Flaming Lips.  Likewise, their home state is a cornerstone of their public image and “Enthusiasm” precisely pronounces their slant on being Oklahoman: Wayne’s accent, the trippy banjo, dogs barkin’, trains whistlin’ and the sun rising like an image from “Oh,_What_a_Beautiful_Mornin‘.”  It’s the absolute sound of The Flaming Lips wrapped in another of their characteristic song titles and absolutely from The Sooner State.

Even “Enthusiasm’s” release can be seen as a metaphor of The Lips identity, not just because its use in (and issue along with) The Fearless Freaks associates it with career retrospection –as if it’s the unofficial theme song of that film as well as of the band- but also because it’s neither one of their trademark songs (“She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Race for the Prize,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” “Do You Realize”) nor a rarity (“Jesus is Floatin’- Jesus Song #8,” “Hot Day,” “Headphones Theme From Seemingly Infinity,” “Spontaneous Composition in Oklahoma Room #3 in A Minor”).  It wasn’t a single, or technically even an album-track, but it may be their best-known song to not be.  Even if it’s not (“The Captain,” “The Golden Path,” “A Change at Christmas,” “SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy” and/or “Love the World You Find” are some that may be better known), it presumably is the Lips’ cut the most time is spent searching for (that is, the most wanted track of those that aren’t easy to find- and its title not being in the lyrics doesn’t help).  Whether it’s pairing Sonic Youth and Bee Gees covers, turning avant garde ideas (like playing four separate stereos simultaneously) into a party album or making a sci-fi Christmas flick in their backyard, the Lips’ work is full of loveable weirdness that balances contrasting conceptions.  Much like the Lips’ position as a model “cult band” -eccentric but not elitist- “Enthusiasm” represents an exceptional equilibrium: it’s neither what came before nor appallingly different, neither conventional nor inaccessible, and neither well known nor obscure.  If these are what it’s not than “the ultimate cult track by the ultimate cult band” is what it is….

Or maybe not.  The above explains what “Enthusiasm” can represent, not what it is.  Still, what keeps the above from being hyperbole is that it does portray essential traits of an essential band, as does ‘Enthusiasm,” and moreover, that song delivers on its own terms as much as it does as a symbol.  What ultimately makes “Enthusiasm for Life” quintessential is the same as what’s earned it the adoration of so many fans: Wayne’s warbling, the simplicity of the lyric, its lack of a refrain, images of the sun shining down on death, the contrast of loud and soft sections with alternating moods and textures, back porch string bending and ad-libbed talkin’, the beautiful banjo, synth orchestration, the sway of a smile and the reassurance that bad dreams pass (does that make it the opposite of Bad Days?).  Even without God, spaceship, reproduction or scientific imagery -and despite never being performed live and not on a proper album- these reasons make it quintessential Lips.

Part Two

“Inner exploration should be A VIOLENT FIGHT –a kicking and screaming BATTLE FOR SELF!!!”
-“As Diarrhea Smears The Space Bible” essay by Wayne Coyne, May 2002

The prospect that “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles” or “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear” is the quintessential Flaming Lips track (or at least two prominent examples amongst a sizeable catalog filled with jewels) certainly led to the idea of appropriating their titles as this projects’ namesake, but the main reason for doing so was actually that they create a literal description of the publication’s pursuit in Lips’ wordage.  The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi, the masterpiece albums that most fans would probably deem quintessential -as well as Zaireeka and the “indie years” early releases that rarely get their due- are not referenced in the title not as a statement on their quality but merely because they don’t fit these purposes.  Psych Exploration of the Future Heart: Enthusiasm for Life, Rock n’ Roll, Pop Culture and The Flaming Lips isn’t just pieced together to sound rad, it’s picked to define the publication -that is, to reflect its intended quintessence through quintessential Lips.  Back catalog fans will immediate recognize it’s a hybrid of “Psychiatric Exploration of the Fetus with Needles,” Hit to Death in the Future Head, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear”… but it’s also a word-for-word statement of the project’s aim.  “Psychiatric” is changed to “psych” because the multiple meanings of the shortened form mark the publication’s target: psychiatric, psyche, psychedelic thoughts, psycho sounds, psychotic reactions, psychosis, psychopath, psychogenic, psychic, psychology, to be psyched out (tricked again) or psyched up (excited) … all of these head fixations and mind power and more.  It’s an exploration of ideas on the future of music and culture, a trip that begins in the mind but ends in the heart.  The subtitle “Enthusiasm for LIFE” further states the objective: concerned with music et al, but ultimately about life and its embodiment through rock n’ roll.  Any abundance of music details is not included to be obsessive but rather to thoroughly deconstruct the conventional understandings of pop culture and rock history, re-imagine them through a lens suggested by the attitudes and aesthetics of the Lips’ work and present the result as an abstract model for creative and enthusiastic living.    

“Psych Explorations of the Future Heart” is not just a name, it’s a mission statement.  Likewise, “Enthusiasm for Life, Rock n’ Roll, Popular Culture and The Flaming Lips” is a battle call for the “fight of our lives”…because living in joy is largely an internal struggle of head and heart.

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