Happy 20th anniversary to The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin. Pensive and powerful, playful and poetic, this album screams (and whispers) for bookish people to dive deep. Here’s some help:
I need to know more about The Flaming Lips.
The writer of Vinyl Me, Please’s The Soft Bulletin liner notes, Mark Richardson, wrote this installment of the 33 ⅓ series about the band’s album Zaireeka. Zaireeka was a complex album composed of four CDs that each included distinct layers of each of the album’s eight songs, designed to be played at the same time from four different CD players.
The book tells the story of the Parking Lot Experiments, which inspired Zaireeka. During the experiments, the band created individual cassette tapes and every person who showed up with a car and a cassette player got a distinct piece of the album that required them to be together in parking lots around Oklahoma City, awaiting their cue, in order to hear the entire piece. Richardson details the experience, as well as the story of how the band convinced their label to release the “simpler” version of the four CDs.
This book is the only published biography of The Flaming Lips. It was published in 2006, and while it won’t give you a complete story of the band through to today, it’s the most complete story of the band up until their festival breakthrough, including the making of The Soft Bulletin.
I got way into The Soft Bulletin, I need to stay in this headspace.
Sure sure sure. The Parking Lot Experiments was a work of profound experimental genius, but what if we start experimenting with the very idea and nature of parking lots? How has the idea and use of parking lots changed since they were created in the 1950s? They’re now the site of pop-up markets, Shakespeare in the Lot, and a whole corner of TikTok dedicated to seniors painting their class of 2020 parking spaces. How can the design and functionality of a parking lot be transformed to fit today’s need for environmentally conscious, community-centered public spaces, and still function as a spot to put our cars?
I thought of Driven after hearing Coyne explain the backstory of “The Spiderbite Song,” in which he pens an ode to his bandmates, ruminating on bassist Michael Ivins’ traumatic car crash that left him pinned for hours, and Steven Drozd’s brown recluse spider bite (which turned out to be an abscess as a result of heroin use) that nearly resulted in an arm amputation. Coyne body checks the heart with a simple, “Cause if it destroyed you / It would destroy me.”
Cars and addiction provide a similar backdrop in Stephenson’s memoir. She puts her grief behind the wheel and tells her family’s story through their cars, including the secondhand autos of her childhood in Indiana and the Ford F-150 she inherited from her brother after he died by suicide. It’s a powerful story of complicated families, addiction, complete loss, and finding one’s footing among it all.
In an interview for Pitchfork’s video history of The Soft Bulletin, Drozd says he was prescribed 10 days of antibiotics for his false spider bite, but stopped after six days of taking them. In the doc he says, “This is a lesson for everyone: If they give you antibiotics for 10 days, fucking take them for 10 days.” He’s right, folks. You get the tumultuous trial-and-error history of antibiotics in Rosen’s book chronicling the arrival of sulfa drugs in the 1930s, through the treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases, all the way to today’s hits, including the rise of Big Pharma, superbugs, and antibiotics in poultry. Read it or not, just finish your fucking course of antibiotics.
The Soft Bulletin utilizes wild sound engineering, like detuning a keyboard to better mimic an orchestra that is never perfectly in tune. This sound was so unique that the band has found it hard to recreate. In Ironheart Volume 1: Those With Courage, Riri Williams pulls off her own feat of the seemingly impossible to recreate engineering when she reverse-engineers Tony Stark’s suit in her dorm room at MIT and integrates an entirely new AI system.