Why the Flaming Lips are (almost) dead to me

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Me and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips in 2008


I’ve never made my unabashed adoration of the weird, wild and wacky world of The Flaming Lips a secret. I’m smitten with their earlier odd material, I really enjoyed the darker left turn of Embryonic and I‘ve gone on record stating that I want “Do You Realize??” played at my funeral (right before the exit music which will be “Yellow Ledbetter” in case you’re curious). Hell, I’ve even endured listening to Zaireeka with four stereos playing four discs at the same time, as it was meant to be heard. So needless to say I’m a fan and they’re one of the few bands that can do no wrong in my book.

That changed Sunday afternoon when I stumbled upon a video of a song the band recorded to tribute the Zombie Sonics, aka the Oklahoma City Thunder. The song is called “Thunder Up” and it takes the band’s “Race For The Prize” and replaces its lyrics with lyrics about the Thunder.  Hearing the song and factoring in its loose connection to me and my hometown of Seattle caused me to question my fandom. Go ahead and give the song a listen. It begins around the one-minute mark of the video clip below. Here’s the original for comparison.

There are two things wrong here.

1) The song choice

2) One of my favorite bands supporting the OKC Thunder

Let’s look at the second part first.

In regards to the NBA, I’ll be the first to admit that I pretty much stopped paying attention to the NBA about a decade ago. But just because I’m not a current fan doesn’t mean I don’t have attachments to the league. I have fond memories of putting together scrapbooks of the Sonics back when they were in their prime Peyton/Kemp days marching through the playoffs year after year. The Sonics hold a special spot in my heart and thinking about those teams from the 90s with Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, Ricky Pierce and the rest of the boys in green and gold always makes me smile. I’ve also seen the film Sonicsgate and I wonder if The Flaming Lips would have chosen to associate with the Thunder if they knew the full story behind the relocation of the Sonics.

I agree that I should probably get over the loss of the Sonics since I’m not a big NBA fan and just be happy there is a plan in the works to hopefully get a new team in town. But the involvement of The Flaming Lips in a situation that’s a byproduct of a something that wronged my city really bothers me as a fan of The Lips.

This brings me to the other thing about this atrocity that irks me. I understand that Wayne Coyne and Co. want to pay tribute the success of their hometown team, but couldn’t they have done it in a different manner? Like, say, by recording an original song and not ruining a classic that so many Flaming Lips fans enjoy.

“Race For The Prize,” the opening track off The Soft Bulletin, is a fantastic song and like the Sonics I attach many great memories and emotions to it. One of those memories is from few years back when I was lucky enough to dress up in a crazy costume and be a part of a pack of dancers who shared the stage with The Flaming Lips at the Gorge Amphitheatre. It was a magical moment that involved massive balloons, confetti, a great Led Zeppelin cover, naked women and all sort of other types of Flaming Lips craziness.

The band’s set started, like most Lips sets do, with “Race For The Prize” and the minute the song started I came out of my introverted music critic shell and jumped, kicked, fist-pumped, sang and danced like a madman. It was one of the most amazing, life-affirming moments of my life and I will always remember that wonderful moment in time whenever I hear “Race For The Prize.” However, after listening to “Thunder Up” the song is more or less ruined for me.

So does the band’s association with The Thunder and its butchering of a song I hold dear mean I am disowning The Flaming Lips? Not exactly. “Race For The Prize” is their song and if anyone is going to tinker with it then it definitely should be The Flaming Lips. But I am definitely not happy with their decision to do so.

I still have fond memories of the song which I cherish dearly and I will likely always pay attention to and enjoy The Flaming Lips’ musical output (the band’s 2012 Record Store Day release And Heady Fwends is one of my favorite albums of the year). But “Thunder Up” greatly tarnishes my rose-colored view of the band and I’ll definitely never think of them and that song the same way again.

Although to be fair I probably should have seen this coming. Considering Oklahoma City stole the Sonics from Seattle it was only a matter of time before their bands started stealing the Seattle tradition of rewriting their songs into tributes to hometown teams. At least I can take solace in knowing the Seattle bands did it better.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.