Flaming Lips and Dark Beaches

Last Easter we visited our favourite British seaside location, Woolacombe in north Devon. One night, after a particularly wonderful day, we headed down to the beach to take a stroll.

Other than the distant lights from the village, there was nothing to pollute the darkness. Not even the stars penetrated the black night sky. Our breathing and whispers were the only sound accompanying the gentle swish, swoosh of the far-off tide.

A bit creepy really – all that darkness, all that space.

The kids must have picked up on the vibe. They were terrified. They clung to me and their dad, begging to get back to civilisation.

Teasing them, we ran off towards the sea, turning to run back to them only when their cries of anguish reached fever-pitch. Ha ha, what a jape.

Sensibly, hubby thought it best to silence their screams before the police were called, so hoisted littlest boy on his shoulders and gripped the hand of big brother before setting off towards the bright lights of the Red Barn pub.

Because I like to frighten myself sometimes, I lingered awhile.

The sand between my toes was icy cold, making the whole of my feet tingle; the wind blowing across the beach was like gentle puffs of fairy breath. Before I knew it I got to contemplating the earth, the universe, everything. My life, where I was going, where I had been…what colour burps were…how long I would live. Then I hastened after my family, keen to swap my deep thoughts for the buzz of their noise.

I sometimes love being alone, in perfect isolation. Sometimes, like when I go for a long run or walk, or head off to take photos, being alone is inspiring and uplifting. But I’m not naturally good left to my own devices for long – I end up eating takeaways and jumping at shadows and getting greasy hair and getting melancholic.

That’s when I turn to my two loves for salvation  – people and music.

Sometimes, of course other people are not available – not in a real sense. I guess that’s why I’ve embraced social networking so wholeheartedly since I took to spending chunks of my week alone. It’s also why I dote on my iphone and my ipod – if ever I don’t like being alone, I’ve got company in my pocket.

Then there’s always my music. The first thing I tend to do when I am alone in the house and not revelling in the peace, is turn on some tunes.

Music has been a constant, loud and lively presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My dearest childhood memories involve music – from my mum blasting out Billie Jo Spears’ Blanket on the Ground, or The Carpenters, or Elvis, while spring cleaning on a Saturday morning; to listening to rock ‘n’ roll classics while she and dad practised for their world record jiving bid in 1976; to my sister loudly playing early Police, Jam  and Siouxsie and the Banshees in the bedroom we shared til I was 11.

My kids complain that I’m “always” listening to music. I tell them I am doing them a favour, educating them in pop and rock history and preparing them to be cool kids when they are teenagers. Then they insist on putting on JLS just to annoy me.

Top of my list of bands I feel a missionary zeal to teach them to love and appreciate is the Flaming Lips. Anyone who knows me well will know I have a particularly soft spot for the band’s frontman Wayne Coyne.

He turned 50 this week, and still looks amazing. I have dragged my husband to the north of Scotland to hear him perform. He doesn’t mind my infatuation though – Wayne is the sort of guy that men want to be like and women want to be with.

He is cool with a capital C, slightly mad but self aware, and has devoted his life to pushing back boundaries, both artistically and sonically.

Last year he made  a poster in his own blood to mark an appearance at a festival. When asked why he replied he thought it was better to use his own blood than extract a chicken’s. Oooookay…

This is also the man whose live festival shows start with him emerging from an alien mother ship and rolling over the audience in a giant zorbing ball, before then dazzling the audience with fantastic light and sound effects, confetti cannons, dancing teletubbies and giant yetis.

His band released an album in 1997 which has to be listened to on four separate CD players, through four separate speakers, to be properly appreciated.

Each Halloween, Wayne dresses up to scare trick-or-treaters who come to his home in America. He feels that it is good to scare children, because when they grow older, there are things “that are horribly scary…you can’t just run away from them or turn on a light and it runs away.”

He a man who believes in the power of communication, in every form, to heal, to make life better. As he eloquently puts it: “Without art, without communicating, we wouldn’t live beyond 30 because we’d be so sad and depressed.”

The incredible The Soft Bulletin, their breakthrough album of 1999, is a place I like to escape to if I’m ever feeling a need for people, but either real or virtual friends won’t do. It is a thing of beauty and brilliance; easily one of the best albums of all time.

It was written when Wayne’s father was dying, and some of the songs resonate with sadness. Waitin’ For A Superman, a track that blew me away when I first heard it, is a good entry point for people who don’t know much about the band. The opening verse is based on a conversation Wayne had with his brother, on realising his dad was not going to get well. He asked his brother: “Is it going to get heavy?” to which his brother replied: “I thought it was already as heavy as it can be.” The meaning behind the rest of the lyric is self-evident – there are some things in life that even a superman can’t lift, or make better.

The Flaming Lips are a bit like social networking. You either get it and embrace it, or you don’t. No point in dabbling – either go for it wholeheartedly or leave it. If you don’t get it, then I respect your choice – but just know that you’re missing out, all right?

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