If nothing else, The Flaming Lips are a wonderfully weird band that has spent decades rightfully earning the praise of music critics worldwide.
The psychedelic rock group is continually finding new ways to surprise its fans in ways that other artists wouldn't dream of. Lead singer Wayne Coyne's signature stunt at concerts is to hop inside a giant bubble to surf/walk on top of the crowd.
In 2011, they recorded a 24-hour song that could be purchased for $5,000, and was delivered on a hard drive placed inside a REAL human skull. That's not to be confused with a four-song EP they put out that same year that had songs located on a USB drive, placed inside a life-size, seven-pound skull made out of edible gummy. (Nutritional information: 7,440 calories.)
Even if you're not immediately familiar with their music, chances are you'd recognize a cut off of one of their classic, time-tested albums, The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Their song "Do You Realize??" from the latter record, often used in commercials, was named the official state song of their native Oklahoma after an online vote a few years ago.
They are also notable because they are one of very few acts playing the Pemberton Music Festival that were also on the bill in 2008.
But some of Coyne's recent actions have been offensive to many — and no, we're not talking about his decision to collaborate with Miley Cyrus and Kesha.
Rather, Coyne has been at the centre of a controversy where he has angered Native Americans over a social media snafu.
It began with Coyne's friend Christina Fallin — a fellow Oklahoma musician and the daughter of that state's governor — posting a promotional photo of herself on Instagram wearing an aboriginal headdress, which came under fire for cultural appropriation.
Although Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock was openly critical of Fallin after she offered a halfhearted apology for the image, Coyne did quite the opposite — supporting Fallin by posting a photo of friends, and a dog, wearing headdresses.
Things got worse. Scurlock was kicked out of the band, and in a lengthy statement he posted on Facebook, said that Coyne fired him for calling out Fallin on social media. He even claimed that Coyne said to him, in a text message, to "Go stick up for your Indian friends if its so important to you !! (sic)"
Then, Fallin's band Pink Pony played a show at an Oklahoma festival last month that was protested by individuals who held signs reading "Culture is not a costume," among other messages of disapproval. Fallin allegedly mocked the protesters by performing a fake war dance while wearing a shawl with the word "SHEEP" emblazoned across the back.
Fallin's own governor-mother issued a statement denouncing the performance. But according to Buzzfeed, Coyne watched the entire performance and "was reportedly pointing and laughing at the protesters."
As all of these details have emerged, I have been wondering if The Flaming Lips might be met with some protesters of their own when they return to the Spud Valley this summer, especially considering that the Pemberton Music Festival will take place on Lil'wat Nation land.
Coyne made an apology of his own last week for his involvement in the entire incident, saying he was "very sorry" in an interview published by Rolling Stone. He also said Scurlock was booted from the band on an unrelated matter.
"I would say that if we wrongly stepped on anybody's sacredness, then we're sorry about that," Coyne said. "That was never our intention."
Coyne is an intelligent guy, and he comes from a region of the United States that has a rich aboriginal history and tradition. That's what makes the whole situation baffling — surely, he must have known many would have seen his actions as insensitive.
Credit the 53 year old for at least admitting he made a mistake. However, his apology included a bit of a disclaimer to individuals he's insulted that kind of missed the point.
"I would say you shouldn't follow my tweets; you shouldn't even probably want to be a Flaming Lips fan because we don't really have any agenda," he said.
In other words: "Ignore my band, and you can't be offended."
Here's the problem with that idea: Ignoring incidents of racism and cultural appropriation is exactly what allows them to perpetuate.
Here's hoping Coyne has learned something from this shameful incident. If he hasn't, I'm sure there are many folks in Mount Currie who would be happy to give him an education when he is a visitor in their community once again in mid-July.
NOTE: This article has been updated to indicate that Scurlock's statement was first posted to his Facebook page. A previous version attributed the statement to Indian Country Today Media Network. However, that publication has been in contact with Scurlock and continues to update this story. See the latest from Indian Country Today Media Network here.
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