[the flaming lips // “should we keep the severed head awake??”: only known release from the legendary parking lot experiment]
is it overwhelming to use a crane to crush a fly??
“should we keep the severed head awake??” can be seen as the synecdoche — the object signifier for and a part of a web of activities that transmogrified oaklahoma’s finest indie-rockers from the alternative nations b-list teeny-bopper-twee-weirdos into one of indie-rock’s most innovative, emotional artists.
the song was one of the core compositions from wayne coyne’s parking lot experiments — a series of events that took place between 1996 and 1997. The concept was inspired by an incident in Coyne’s youth, where he noticed that car radios in the parking lot at a concert were playing the same songs at the same time, Wayne Coyne created 40 cassette tapes to be played in synchronization. The band invited people to bring their cars to parking lots, where they would be given one of the tapes and then instructed when to start them. The resulting music: a strange, fluid 20 minute sound composition — blasted, bold and beautiful, which would bend shape and change depending on your relative position within the physical space.
[the parking lot experiment]
this was deconstructionist rock (as Jacques Derrida would say in his Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences this was abstract art — there was no center to ground anything, no transcendent core) but each performance was always created from the exact same pre-recorded elements –> THIS WAS MUSIC THAT ALLOWED FOR TRUE STRUCTURAL FREEPLAY. Kind of like what John Peel used to say about The Fall: “always different, always the same…”
freeplay at home
the resulting monument from the event: 1997′s 4xCD zaireeka, consisted of eight songs with four stereo tracks, one from each CD. The album was designed so that when played simultaneously on four separate audio systems, the four CDs would produce a harmonic or juxtaposed sound. The discs could also be played in different combinations, omitting one, two or three discs. The album’s title was a portmanteau of two words: Zaire, chosen as a symbol of anarchy after Wayne Coyne heard a radio news story about the political instability of the African nation, and eureka (literally: “I have found it”), archimedes’ expression of joyous discovery.
production of the album was preceded by two unfortunate events, both of which were recounted in “The Spiderbite Song” from The Soft Bulletin: bassist Michael Ivins was involved in a car crash, and drummer Steven Drozd’s hand became severely infected. Drozd initially claimed that his hand had been bitten by a spider, although later he admitted the infected abscess was caused by the injection of heroin.
the composition of the record was also marked by another major shift in the band: previous albums had been composed primarily by Coyne aided and abetted by full band jam sessions — but somewhere between the barnyard psychedelia of Clouds Taste Metallic’s “Christmas at the Zoo” and the recording of the new record Coyne discovered that Drozd was in-fact something of a song-writing genius — a melancholic melody maker who’s emotional compositions recreated the blissed out rush of good junk. Drozd was promptly promoted from playing drums to guitar.
sleeping on the roof
1999′s landmark album The Soft Bulletin was a further redaction of the lessons learned from parking lot experiments / zaireeka. Opening track Race for the Prize was actually composed and recorded for the Zaireeka album, but the band felt that the track didn’t really work in the omni-stereo format.
the album was, as a whole, a perfectly streamlined encapsulation of all of the harmonic, compositional and artistic lessons that the band had absorbed over the last three years, contributing to their newfound sense of freeplay as found in the space of a series of seemingly traditional 3 – 5 minute rock songs.
and as a final redactive capper, the final track of the album — sleeping on the roof — was in fact a 3 minute 9 second excerpt from the parking lot experiments’ should we keep the severed head awake??.
Here’s a fantastic doc on the whole thing from pitchfork:
Courtesy of Faux Victorian Rag.
For more from this blog, check out an interview with its author on Biology of the Blog.