The Flaming Lips are perhaps the last great music business anomaly. In a harsh economic climate and in an outrageously competitive creative field, financial success is often found by the most generic of artists, who offer up the same tired sonic templates over and over again to the prime demographic, who lap it up in an endless loop of suckdom. Weirdos need not apply. It is the strangest of things that The Flaming Lips, who are the Weirdest of Weirdo Bands in their psychedelic way, have maintained their relationship with mega-giant music corporation Warner Brothers since 1990. Their crazy-busy recording and touring schedules have assured that the Lips now make more than a comfortable living, which gives them the freedom to do all kinds of wonderfully bizarre projects, spectacular stage shows, and keeps them from having to toil at a chain restaurant working the fry basket ever again. That job is what lead Lip Wayne Coyne did in his hometown of Oklahoma City for 11 years, even surviving a violent armed robbery at the Long John Silver's where he worked as the The Flaming Lips struggled to find an audience.

The story behind The Flaming Lips' very improbable success is a fascinating one, told in Bradley Beesley's 2005 documentary, "The Fearless Freaks." In honor of the Lips playing at Seattle's annual Capitol Hill Block Party yesterday, the Northwest Film Forum scheduled a showing of the film in the afternoon, and invited Wayne Coyne to stop by to say a few words beforehand. The opportunity to see this movie on a proper screen was more than enough, but the added bonus of an intimate Q&A with someone as cool as Coyne made my attendance a MUST-BE-THERE kind of thing. He showed up right on time, wearing a flower necklace and a button from local band La Luz, and was kind and gracious to all those who wanted to talk and get their pictures taken with him. (As always, click on the photos to enlarge, and click on the Flickr set link to see more!)

(Wayne Coyne Northwest Film Forum 7/28/13 Flickr set)

Coyne sat down with NWFF host Liz Shepherd (well, he sat and she stood, to be accurate) and immediately took questions from the theater audience. He is an articulate guy and gave lengthy, thoughtful, and entertaining responses to queries about the process of making "The Fearless Freaks," how the band has kept their Warners contract (often narrowly avoiding the corporation "pink slip" several times over the years, he noted), how "Beavis & Butthead" were responsible for the band's career taking off, discussing the merits of blueberries, and more. You can't take your eyes off the guy; charismatic, he effortlessly draws others to him. At the end of the Q&A, he asked if he could stick around to watch the beginning of the movie before slipping out to go back to the Block Party. My guess is that he wanted to see a short clip that appears early on of his beaming, sweet-faced mom. She died in 2004, and the movie is dedicated to her.

"The Fearless Freaks" masterfully pieces together hundreds of hours of film shot over the course of more than ten years to tell the story of how something big came from Ground Zero nothing -- how scruffy Bible Belt-landlocked '70s Who-fueled punks just kept at it until they caught a couple big breaks here and there, and then how they managed to build a career on what was not exactly a stable foundation. The extensive use of old Super-8 Coyne family home movies adds lo-fi warmth and context to the film, with a cast of long-haired, pot-smokin', football-playin' characters that seem to have walked straight out of Dazed and Confused. Wayne's world is the primary story focus, and there is great fun and poignancy in seeing the six siblings in their early years. Seeing the confident, effusive frontman Wayne sitting next to one of his older brothers in front of the brother's decrepit drug flophouse years later is telling; he shows an uneasy mix of family loyalty and nervous discomfort, making sure to address the camera to tell us that he himself, "isn't into any of this stuff."

Drug use continues to enter into the film in a way that may be unexpected for most casual Flaming Lips fans. There is an assumption, indeed, that a band whose music is so trippy and experimental are all blissed-out hippie acidheads, but it is not so. However, the growing heroin addiction of the musically-brilliant Steven Drozd during the years that this film was being pieced together became a problem past his own self-destruction. Guitarist Ronald Jones left the band over Drozd's drug use, and Coyne eventually came to the realization that the band could not keep up their pace with one member ensnared in a serious downward spiral, shown graphically in the film. Coyne's public reaction towards the painful experiences of Drozd and others is at first very curious -- it seems flat in affect, devoid of any emotion or pathos, a "live and let live" approach to the destructive choices his friends and family make. Upon some reflection, it is perhaps a necessary emotional shield. As he notes, there is nothing anyone else can say or do to cause addicts to become well again; they must make that choice for themselves, by themselves. It is a welcome relief to see Drozd move away from his drug contacts in Oklahoma to start life over in New York State, and quit heroin for good.

Not all, by any means, is grim in "The Fearless Freaks." It is in the end a story of triumph: the freaks who inherit the earth, or at least, win over millions of musical hearts in the process of being themselves, beating the music biz at their own game. The pacing keeps us engaged, the musical segments are explosive and lively, and the interview sections are honest and intriguing. I'm really glad The Flaming Lips kept at it, and I found "The Fearless Freaks" most enjoyable and inspiring. There's hope for Weirdos everywhere! Try to see it in a theater if you can, buy on Amazon or iTunes, or watch it right here!

"The Fearless Freaks," full movie (2005)

Thank you, Northwest Film Forum, and you, too, Wayne Coyne. What a great day.