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So, How Was Your 2020, Wayne Coyne?

The Flaming Lips frontman reflects on the art that helped him through this year, from Pink Floyd to the Adventures of Peter Rabbit

Wayne Coyne

So, How Was Your 2020? is a series in which our favorite entertainers answer our questionnaire about the music, culture, and memorable moments that shaped their year. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.

It takes Wayne Coyne a minute to remember he put out a record this year. “Oh yeah!” he says when asked about the Flaming Lips’ excellent latest album American Head. “I forget that we had this record come out — we’ve been working so frantically on these shows with the bubbles.” He’s talking about the band’s first-ever Space Bubble concerts, set for next month in Oklahoma City, where a hundred socially-distanced fans will watch the band from inside plastic bubbles — the kind Coyne has made famous onstage over the last two decades. Coyne, speaking from his home in Oklahoma City with his wife Katy Waver and their 18-month-old son Bloom Bobby, took an hour to tell Rolling Stone about the art and activities that got him through this difficult year.

The album I listened to the most in 2020 was:
Probably the Beatles’ White Album. There was this giant [reissue] a couple of years ago. It has like 50 or 60 tracks on it. A lot of them are retakes of songs that you already know. So that’s always a lot of fun to hear: that it was going one way, or a song was in a different key. I end up just listening to it a lot, thinking how they worked on songs. I think it’s wonderful to hear that it wasn’t great in the beginning, but they kept working on it and made it great. I was like, “This is good news.” That’s why I love hearing that stuff, because oftentimes, you know, you’re working on some music or some art and you’re like, “This isn’t that good but I gotta keep working on it.” It’s inspiring.

The Beatles, if you’re a certain age … I compared them to chicken pot pie — my wife had made some a couple nights before Thanksgiving. There’s something uncanny about how comforting it is and how it brings back memories and subconscious things that you can’t even articulate. It is just so much a part of your life. 

My favorite TV show to stream during quarantine was:
Breaking Bad. We hadn’t watched it ever, so we had like, eight years of episodes to catch up on. So for months, we had a show to watch. We’ve watched other things, but none of them are as long and as good as that.

The song that will define “2020” for me is: 
I don’t think I’ve ever really kept up with with music per se, like, “Oh, this came out this year,” but I do know that I loved the song that someone put into this little meme right as we started to think that [Joe] Biden had really won the election: “You about to lose your job.” I listened to it 1,000 times. There’s a little clip of Biden dancing and it’s priceless. But only priceless once we felt he won. Previously, you didn’t want to be a part of any jokes or any irony that took away from the seriousness of the election. Every time I’ll hear that song for the rest of my life, I’ll think, “This was a great shining moment.”

In Oklahoma here, the coronavirus was starting to come back up, and then we had this horrible ice storm that destroyed all of our trees and knocked out the electricity. And then we thought Trump won. I don’t know if you felt that way, but that first evening of the election, we didn’t know. I think we were kind of like, “I don’t give a fuck [anymore].” It was very, very fatalistic. Not having electricity, the coronavirus climbing up, and then Trump perhaps winning, there was an element of like, “Oh shit, what else could happen now?” But I have to say just 24 hours later — though the electricity was still off and the coronavirus was still going — it seemed like, “No, wait a minute, we think Biden’s gonna win.”

Sometimes I do think that you don’t really know what pleasure is. Pleasure to some people is just the absence of pain and discomfort. [Trump] just drives you crazy. We let him drive us crazy, because we give him our attention, but there was a lot of satisfaction in starting to think maybe these lies really aren’t working. So that that song helped helped us feel like, “Hey, we’re gonna have fun again.”

I’d define my current state of mind as:
At the moment, I think I’m back to my typical fairly optimistic [self]. I’m lucky. I’m very healthy. I’ve got a lot of cool, healthy people around me helping me do stuff. So I’m always lucky in that way.

I feel like once the announcement of the vaccine happened, everybody’s like, “Well, fuck it, I’m partying again!” And you’re like, “Well, don’t do that.” You’re still so cautious and trying not to be judgmental. And then friends will say, “The coronavirus isn’t real, is it?” and there’s all these divisive things. At the moment, we’re just trying to remember to be patient and to understand everybody’s point of view and to be still cautious. Oklahoma City has got a lot of people in hospitals, the hospitals are full. There was a guy that died just last night that  Katie knew from when she worked at restaurants six years ago. So it starts creeping in.

It’s scary, but it’s such a strange scary. It’s not like it would be in the Ridley Scott movie where the sky is gray, and there’s gloom and doom, dust everywhere. You walk outside [and] it’s a beautiful, wonderful day. And yet, people are dying. That’s why I think it is so painful in a way because really, everything else is really normal. 

The viral video I kept coming back to in quarantine was:
We still get caught up in the one where a little boy says, “Can I pet that dog? Can I pet that dog?” Maybe it was only viral to us. But everywhere I go, I hear someone say that. And I’ll be like, “I think they’re mimicking that meme and not just saying, ‘Can I pet that dog?’” I remember that one really gave us a great bunch of laughs and relief at the very beginning.


The old-favorite album I returned to for comfort this year was: 
Beck’s album Sea Change. There’s a Julianna Barwick album that just came out called Healing Is a Miracle. And I kept stumbling upon it with friends, and I would always have to stop and say, “What is this?” Her record really stuck with me because it’s very hymnal and sad and uplifting at the same time. It’s in the realm of what she’s done before, but this just this felt a little more saturated with the kind of understanding-everybody’s-pain-together kind of vibe, so that one I’ve probably listened to 20 or 30 times, [like] if I’m awake at four o’clock in the morning, or worried about what the fuck is gonna happen.

The old-favorite movie I returned to for comfort this year was:  
I don’t know if it’s really a movie, but Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. I’ve watched that a couple times. I saw it a couple years after it’d been released in a midnight movie here. When we were growing up, I was probably, you know, 15 or 16. We were the only ones in the movie theater, and my younger brother and I actually smoked a joint. That’s how empty it was. This has to be like 1976 or ’77. And we went into the movie theater to watch A Boy and his Dog. It’s now known as Don Johnson’s first movie and it’s meant to be kind of a druggie sci-fi underground movie. But this Pink Floyd movie played before it, and it just blew our minds. We didn’t even stay for the other movie. We didn’t even care.

A new hobby I picked up in quarantine was:
I always painted, but I would never think to give it so much serious time, because I’m doing all this other stuff already. But as the quarantine started, I started to do more painting, and then I actually set up a painting studio in my house. For probably 20 years, I’ve been thinking I’ve wanted to do it, but just didn’t really find the courage or the excuse. And now I’m like, “What the fuck have I been doing?”

Sometimes you only have a few minutes to work on something. But if it’s all there, and it’s all ready and it’s all available to you, you can do stuff. I still wake up and I walk into my painting studio and be like, “Oh, I fucking know what to do now.” And that’s the real joy of tha, and I forgot about it. So it’s not that I discovered it, as much as I think I rediscovered that.

The celebrity I’d most want to quarantine with is:
I’ve been seeing interviews with Steve-O from Jackass. He just seems like such a fuckin’ fun weirdo to be around. I don’t think he does drugs and stuff anymore, but he’s got so many great stories and he just seems like a bundle of energy. It seems like he could just wake up every day and while you’re drinking coffee together, he’d just have so many great, fun stories. I would say I’d be stuck with him. A lot of people will tell stories, and you’re like, “You’re just full of yourself, whatever.” And he just tells these stories, and I’m like, “I want to be around you and when some of these stories are happening.”

The most interesting thing I learned to cook during quarantine was: 
We cook out a lot on the grill. Just to be outside, especially during the summer, when the smoke would make the mosquitoes stay away. It’s really changed us. We really do regret how much time we spent at restaurants, finding parking, and then waiting to get seated, and then waiting for the food. At the beginning, I think we would just suck it up. But now we’re kind of like, “I don’t really want to do that anymore.” Isn’t that bizarre? I mean, we lived in restaurants. That’d be the reason we’d wake up: to go to our favorite restaurant. And now [that] we know, we don’t think we will. Why do we want to waste all of our time and money doing that? 

The best book I read in quarantine was:
We read a lot to our little baby. Our favorite book at the moment is the Adventures of Peter Rabbit. He’s a mischievous rabbit. So it’s always a little bit of a lesson that’s learned: “Don’t sneak into Mr. McGregor’s garden and steal his radishes, you’re supposed to behave like your mother said.” In the beginning, we’re reading these, and he’s just a little baby. But little by little, he’s starting to get concerned about these characters. He’s getting to be 18 months.

Some of the books have been handed down a couple generations now. These old stories, the characters get killed and people are mean to each other. And in newer ones it’s a little bit more homogenized, where there’s no violence and nothing dies. Some of these old ones … there’s one where the owl clamps down on on the squirrel and the squirrel gets his tail torn in half, and it’s a funny story that I don’t think would really float today.

Something positive that happened to me that nobody noticed was:
Well, the very beginning of the pandemic, this selfish part of you knows that you need to do yoga, and work out and run, and all these things that are going to make you stronger and healthier. Luckily, I could just do that: It didn’t require so much of my time because we weren’t allowed to really do anything. And then it just sort of became the routine. I hate to have to be the one that walks in the room in shorts, like, “Sorry, I have to go exercise.” I think it’s become more normal for everybody at the house, and me and the dogs and everybody will just be like, “I’m going to be gone for 45 minutes, and I’m going to come back and I’ll be sweating, but everything will be fine.” It’s really helped helped me a lot.

The biggest mistake I learned the most from this year:
This election. I’m to blame with everybody else, because you play along with it. But for a while, all the stories we would be fascinated about were how stupid people are, and I think that’s why the Trump era worked so well, because he could always do something more stupid and more unbelievable, and we couldn’t look away. We couldn’t resist, we couldn’t believe it. And we would laugh about it — we’re laughing most of the time. And then at some point towards the end, you thought, “You know, we’ve laughed ourselves into a fucking prison here. We’ve laughed ourselves into this ridiculous regime. What have we been doing?”

It’s not just Trump. There’s lots of stupid people out there. I don’t think Kanye is stupid, but some of these things, you couldn’t believe.  Kanye was on the ballot in Oklahoma. It’s one of the states and he was actually on the ballot. I was tempted to take a picture, but I didn’t want the FBI to come get me. Part of you will spend all week talking about how stupid something is and no time talking about how wonderful and great things are. So I hope for myself that this is a great lesson of like, “We don’t have to celebrate how stupid things are. There’s always enough pain and stupidity and all that to go around. Let’s let’s look for these other things.”

The biggest hero of 2020 was:
There’s always someone badass out there, but right now I’ll maybe say Snoop Dogg. He’s in my Instagram feed and he does a lot of posting. Whenever you get on, you see something he’s done. Sometimes he just says cool shit that you’re like, “Fuck, I wish I’d have said that.”

The thing I’m least looking forward to in 2021 is:
What’s going to happen with this vaccine? It looks like it’s the thing that’s going to save us, but what is the fallout of who gets it? [The virus] just exposes all these kind of these class [issues], the privileged and the underprivileged in the worst way.

There’s so many deniers, especially here in Oklahoma, who just think, “Trump is right. Why should we wear masks?” And you want to kill them, but you can’t. Your anger doesn’t work, either. So it’s trying to spend that extra effort to get them to understand and just show them patience. “Look, I want to help you. That’s why I’m wearing the mask, because I’m going to help you.”

Concerts are wonderful. They are great, life-changing experiences, but maybe all that has to change a little bit. Maybe that’s a thing of the past as well. I don’t know, but for me, it’s like, “Well, let’s just do the new thing. Whatever we have to do, let’s do that.”

The thing I’m most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over is:
I look forward to not always having to be so worried about everybody. I really do check in with everybody that I can. I probably have a couple thousand people on my list that I text to see how everybody’s doing. Nothing is as exhilarating as being with your friends and laughing and just living in the moment, and that has disappeared a bit. I know that sounds hokey, but even just for me, it’s probably that I’ll be able to go back and get a pedicure. Yes, that’s probably what do.

My biggest hope for 2021 is:
We get rid of this idea of celebrating things that are just so stupid. And we don’t need the news to tell us what to do every day. We don’t need a weatherman to tell us it’s raining. We just get so caught up in what’s going to be happening in an hour, I don’t fucking know. We don’t really need to know every bit of news everywhere around the world. Because you do sit there and it’s just an overwhelming flood, you really don’t even get up and do something as simple as helping your neighbor, which would only take a few minutes.

From Rolling Stone US