It’s always interesting when the guy delivering the commencement address at your high school graduation begins his speech like this:
“When I was first asked to preside over this great assemblage, I was not convinced that I was the right man for the job. You see, I am not technically a high school graduate myself. … I felt I was learning more from my life experiences than I was from my classes and my teachers. It is well documented that I worked at Long John Silver’s and sold pot out of my apartment. Some of you may say it’s a wonder I did not end up going to jail. I would agree with you.”
Of course, when the guy speaking is Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, it starts to make a little more sense. For more than 23 years, Coyne has been rock’s foremost practitioner of all things bizarre (see “Flaming Lips Go To War Against Britney, Gwen On New LP” and “Flaming Lips Frontman Straps On Raw Meat, Outruns Werewolf” ). So when the students at his almost-alma mater — the Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — asked him to speak at their graduation ceremony, he certainly lived up to his reputation.
“We cannot know what we will become, but we can control what we do. So in my case, instead of becoming a drug dealer, I began to pursue art and music and discovered something that I really, really love,” Coyne said in his speech, which was videotaped last week and played during the school’s graduation ceremony on Wednesday (Coyne had a show in San Diego and could not attend in person). “We are not what we dream. We are what we do, and all we have is action, and we can only really learn from experience. So if we can only learn from experience, what use is all this knowledge?”
It’s an excellent question, and one that Coyne — who attended Classen from 1976 to 1979 before dropping out during his senior year — spent the majority of his 13-minute speech answering in his own, uh, unique way: with a rambling story about one of his friends getting stung in the face by a jellyfish while surfing in Mexico, then taking the advice of a local doctor and applying “fresh human urine” to numb the pain. When that didn’t work, the befuddled doctor recommended a bottle of strong tequila, figuring that would be the best option.
“So here’s this doctor, thinking he has knowledge, but he has no experience. And here’s [my friend], having this horrible experience, but with no formal knowledge. It’s like throwing a hot dog to try to stop a tornado: You get the same damage done, but now everything’s covered with meat and mustard,” Coyne said.
“So what have we learned?” he asked in summation. “Well, we’ve learned that we should avoid jellyfish no matter what, and we’ve learned that pain — if it’s severe enough — trumps all logic in the human brain. And we’ve learned that having urine put on your face is probably not as bad as we thought it would be.
“And so as you go out into the world, be aware of those inexperienced fools who offer easy, exotic solutions to painful and complicated problems,” he continued. “Do your best to learn from all your experiences, not just the sting of your failures, but also from the joyful accidents that will occur along the way.”