Spanning time with the Flaming Lips

Pub date February 22, 2012

I ran into a temporal anomaly while driving. My first warning sign was the police cruiser with one headlight flashing its sirens behind me. Wrong place at the wrong time? Well, I was getting pulled over in Sebastopol on the way to Richmond from SF, but when the cop told me I was doing 78 in a 55, it suggested one thing —speeding.

And speeding isn’t spatial — location is irrelevant — you are precisely where you should be, just too fucking soon. The cop seemed hopeful that he could help me, but as he took my papers and ran back to his car I knew he had abandoned me to the crush of an impending temporal singularity, as time began to move in slow motion.

Slow motion. Some refer to it as time dilation. The sensation that a certain duration lasts longer than it should. The Flaming Lips have a song about it, called, obviously, “Slow Motion.” It goes like this:

Hey, come on over.

You know the day is going slower.

It takes a year, to make a day.

And I’m feeling like a float in the Macy’s Day parade.

Or like a boat, out on the ocean. 
I’m drifting round in slow motion.

LSD and other narcotics aside, time generally doesn’t work that way. Compared to your life so far, each additional day is a smaller proportion. Time telescopes, you speed up, it goes faster. Slowing down is the opposite, unnatural. Sitting in a car waiting for the cop to come back (Is he going to search me?) or laying on a couch with friends trying not to cry — whenever time slows down — it’s unnerving.

You only know this much about “Slow Motion” — an alternate track from The Soft Bulletin not released in the US — because you saw the Flaming Lips play it once. But which time? Not at that fair in Santa Rosa. That one had a rave after. Not at the Fox Theater. That was the one where you slow danced with your girlfriend (at the time) until the staff asked you to leave. At Sasquatch, there in the Gorge? They did play The Soft Bulletin then, but it was rushed. That guy stood behind you — when Wayne Coyne was recounting Steven Drozd almost losing his hand and Michael Ivins being in a car crash — screaming “Play-a-song!” No, there just hadn’t been time.

And time, for the Flaming Lips, is important. Because as a band — one that has been through all sorts of well documented shit — the Flaming Lips know the value of time (particularly borrowed) and have made it their work to not just create music but get into the complete manufacture of moments. Which is a tricky business, because moments are bastards. Take all the pictures you want of the blinding lights, the beautiful costumed kids, the confetti cannons or all the other individual weapons that the Flaming Lips use to wage musical psychedelic war on time, and the moment still might not fit in a shutter, no matter how you slice a second.

It was at Bimbo’s. Not the time they played Noise Pop a few years back, but more recently. They were playing The Soft Bulletin, and taking their time. Hitting every single track from every single version of the album. Not quite slow motion, but close. When was that?

It was the night after the couch. When you were watching Blade Runner on TV, just the end part. Where the maniac with white hair is running around, trying to knock some sense into the other idiot character, who hardly even realizes he’s alive most of the time. And it starts getting heavy. Meaningless inevitability; the crushing force of time. Fucking tears in the rain. Before you know it, you’re happy it’s basic cable, because sometimes a commercial interruption is all that’s keeping you from crying.

It was the night after that. The Lips were going slower for sure, but still way too fast. The moments going by before you’re ready. Before you know it, they are on to other songs, and “Slow Motion” is somewhere in the past, back there with your best friends on the couch, never to return.

The band is getting ready to play something else, Steven readying both miraculous hands on another instrument while Michael stands ready, as ever, on the bass. You want to reach into your bag to take the camera out again, but you resist the urge. It won’t capture the cold press of the air canisters at your back anyway. Or, for that matter, the hookah scented air from the smoke machines. And anyway, if you’re taking pictures during “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” you’re probably irretrievably lost.

And suddenly, everything has changed. The cop comes back to the car. Tells me my record is clear, that he just marked 65 on the ticket, because I was didn’t know where I was. He gives me some directions, regarding the roads. I don’t really listen (but do thank him and let him know about his broken headlight.) I drive forward, knowing exactly where I am. I was at a Flaming Lips show, and now I’m driving home.