Editor’s Note: With the help of Governor Brad Henry and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, the OKC based “bubblegum acid” band Flaming Lips recently had one of their songs named the State Rock Song. This group’s shtick is anti-religion, they debuted at a transvestite club and the highest they ever reached on American pop charts was # 83 – pitifully poor examples of Oklahoma Rock. Previous stories are linked at the end of this work.
Analysis: We were about to let this story die, or at least fade away; but it has suddenly become something else; bigger and uglier than we imagined. As Abraham Lincoln said, “For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like” or like to hate.
If some people get all warm and fuzzy at a Flaming Lips (Lips) concert, that’s great. Many people think that Madonna can sing, and that Adam Sandler is witty, but as Frank Zappa said, “Most people wouldn’t know good music if it bit them on the ass.” Jeff Moore at the Historical society made the good argument that if Leon Russell had been nominated for this in 1970, it’s likely that a majority would’ve regarded him as a filthy degenerate.
Certainly Leon experienced all the temptations of fame and fortune, and many of his close associates succumbed to them. But he never indulged in outrage for the sake of it. He is a musical genius and does not get the respect he deserves. One must cynically wonder why he is not in the rock and roll hall of fame, because he helped shape it.
Moore also said that at QT Fest, the Hanson brothers were urging their fans to vote for Leon. Hanson didn’t make the final cut of ten finalists? Why not? They were the last Oklahoma band to hit #1 on a pop chart.
One marginally credible young music writer noted that JJ Cale left Oklahoma and never comes around, whereas The Lips stayed and contributed to worthy causes. So what?
Leon tried to build on Tulsa’s talent pool, but he was practically harassed out of town by the powers that be, who wanted to lynch long hairs in those days. Maybe Cale didn’t want to go through that.
Cale is a recluse, but he sings often of his love for Oklahoma. He’s the kind of guy who would give a couple of million to charity anonymously. He hasn’t needed any more money for a very long time. There are pointed criticisms in his songs but they are subtle. He walks softly and carries a big influential guitar. He doesn’t try to agitate people, or insult those who may not care for his music. He’d prefer to just make music and remain anonymous. He tells people he’s a truck driver. Most of his neighbors don’t know who he is, though discerning music lovers worldwide do. He’s an admirable human being.
Moore said all care was taken for a clean vote. But many we have talked to never knew about the vote. How did this marginal act win? Perhaps the band was heavily promoted in OKC and people voted for them just because they were local. Maybe the fans voted on every computer they came across, even grandma’s. Maybe even the chipper morning show people urged everyone to “Vote for the homies, yay!” Perhaps it should have been on a ballot in the general election.
We did get a note from Lips drummer Steven Drozd. He cited the famous people who like them and suggested their three Grammy awards should give them “cred,” and that they’ve played for a crowd of 9,000. He also said that they do know music theory and some of their songs do have intricate musical structures.
We countered that Little Richard and many other deserving artists never won Grammies, and many Grammy winners have never been heard from again. I’m an unknown, and I’ve played for dozens of crowds much larger than 9,000. Again, so what?
I asked him how he could explain to my daughter, who would like to be a missionary, how even the title “Jesus shooting Heroin” should not be considered offensive. He did not answer.
There were few requirements for nominees; the song or artist had to have an Oklahoma connection. I suggested last year that the artists and music in question should represent Oklahoma values. Certainly, everyone has different values, but all viewpoints should be given equal consideration.
My initial position was simple; that Leon is the most deserving and the Lips are the least deserving. But now I find they are also the most offensive.
It’s interesting that first responder Mallory brands me a religious Zealot, but she prays for Gov Henry and blesses us.
To paraphrase Will Rogers, “I don’t belong to any organized religion, I’m a Christian.” In fact, I am a regular church-goer, though I don’t actively evangelize people.
The editor asked her “Is anti-religion what you get from the Flaming Lips music?” She did not answer in her reply. His intuition was spot on.
This is a religious state. Even if the hard core evangelical vote is 20%, that’s a lot more people than voted for the Lips. We’re all for free speech, but this is an official approval funded by taxpayers, and that includes everyone. I am considerate of my fellow Okies, even if they are not paying attention or don’t know enough to decide. I’m not easily offended. People can listen to whatever crap they want.
But it turns out we had unknowingly glimpsed the tip of an iceberg.
The Lips are very much anti-religion, all religions. They espouse an atheist viewpoint. “Santa Claus verses The Martians” represents Christians and Scientologists. They have repeated references to “The Christmas Skeleton” and many disturbing images about Jesus specifically. Their fans regard the concerts as being like ‘religious experiences’, so this seems to border on being an anti-Jesus cult. This might be the major theme of their message, other than gibberish.
Gazing into my crystal ball, I see Oklahoma church leaders, many of whom do rock, rising up in protest. I see the music history of the future, and I see who will stand the test of time. I see the Flaming Lips changing their name to The Burning Bush and playing the Christian Rock circuit. What delicious irony.
Art is of course subjective. Rock does not mean Rock And Roll, but that’s another essay. John Lennon said “It’s just a pop group. It’s nothing important.” In the fullness of time, is this a tempest in a teapot? Yes, but this story is not dead; not by a long shot. It just took a very dark turn. The fight is not finished. Stay tuned.
Previous stories on this topic:
Oklahoma Rock Song (April 2008)
Don’t do it Governor (April 27, 2009)
Oklahoma song fight round two (April 29, 2009)
About the author:
Jim Downing has been playing Rock and Roll since the term was coined in several influential Oklahoma bands and has written about music in various publications and online for the last 25 years. He is quoted in John Wooley’s book on Oklahoma Music and in Rosetta Wills book on her father Bob Wills. Previous articles by Jim Downing published by Tulsa Today include:
John Lennon: 28 years ago today December 2008
‘Phattys’ roll with "Red Hot Joe" June 2008
Whatever happened to Larry Dowd? Part two April 2008
Whatever happened to Larry Dowd? March 2008
Jim Sweney, Chris Campbell & Lori Duke at Lennie’s October 2007
Honoring Carl Radle June 2007
Tulsa Rocks Part Five: Global Tulsa May 2007
Music of the Century May 2007
Tulsa Rocks Part Three: Building Blocks January 2006
Tulsa Rocks Part Two: The Tulsa Sound January 2006
Tulsa Rocks Part One: The Legacy January 2006
Soul Avengers Rediscovery Release April 2003
Musical Hallowed Ground Found April 2003