Last Friday I put on a smart skirt and heels and attended my son Eli’s college graduation in Olympia, Washington. A few days later I wore a clingy Dorothy dress and danced on stage during a Flaming Lips concert at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. For what it’s worth, I didn’t show up in a slutty gingham frock. When you’re invited to join in the Lips’ live pageantry you wear whatever the guy backstage hands you. You change in a semi. You make an uber legible mental note when instructed to place a hand over one eye for ten seconds if the strobe lights scramble your brain. You are a bit dismayed, if you are me, to discover that you’re a quarter century older than the rest of the denizens of Oz.
This was a special show, a live performance of “The Soft Bulletin.” I was thrilled to be there, grateful for my good fortune, and pumped to channel the weirdness and the majesty. The last thing I wanted to feel was self-conscious, to see myself in relation to everyone else and fret about looking dumb or wrong or old. I wanted to feel loose and happy and like I belonged. So while we waited behind the stage for the lights to go down, I scrolled through the supporting evidence. Wayne Coyne is only a year younger than me. We are in a cemetery surrounded by dead people and I’m alive. The choice is mine: bottle up or break through. When we were cued to go on, my 20-year-old daughter Hannah shot to the lip of the stage. We were holding hands.
I’d like to report that the guitars and the drums and the keyboards entered my body and I closed my eyes and began to move in unchained manifestation of the music. In truth I felt pretty freaky, not in a Fearless Freaks way but in a what-am-I-doing-here way. There was a lot of swirly arm-waving, the signature psychedelic rock move. A couple of superfans who had won a contest and flown in from somewhere were jumping up and down — through symphonic swells, heavy noise, tender passages, whatever. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a a pair of lovely, nubile girls huddled near the back of our dance pack looking awkward and stiff and it hit me that feeling out of place is an all-ages affliction. And it hit me that the Flaming Lips are afflicted, too; they just transposed the strangeness into songs and invited everyone to join their alien nation.
I wondered where those two pretty girls wished they were instead. I wondered where I wished I were instead, and then I went there: right next to the band, facing them, watching the music being made. Wayne’s voice is small and strained. He sings the way a lot of people feel, and he does it in the name of love and death and courage and the human spirit. He sings with an unshakeable faith in the power of his small, strained voice. It moved me. I was moving.