Best Of '99: Flaming Lips Getting 'Heavy As Can Be'

Lead singer strikes at the heart with 'Superman,' a song about the depths of love and death.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Sunday, May 30.]

Editorial Director Michael Goldberg writes:

For the past two months, I've been listening to "Waiting for a Superman" (RealAudio excerpt), a song off the Flaming Lips' amazing upcoming album, The Soft Bulletin, which will be released in late June.

The music itself, which has a funeral-march feel combined with an extraordinarily affecting vocal from its composer, Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne, is what hooked me at first. But then the song began to resonate in me in a new way. The feeling came from a key lyric that touched me, and continues to touch so strongly.

Until recently, I assumed the song was about a relationship between a guy and a girl. "Is it getting heavy?," goes the lyric. Then in answer: "Well I thought it was already as heavy as can be."

For me, that is certainly part of what the song is about. Maybe because my own relationship is pretty heavy these days. And I mean that in the best possible way.

But singer Wayne Coyne wasn't writing about a romantic relationship; the song was inspired by the death of his father, who succumbed to cancer last year (RealAudio excerpt of interview). Explaining the album, Coyne recently told SonicNet Music News Senior Writer Gil Kaufman, "there is a theme of analyzing the depths of love and death ... and love's impact on your life."

Coyne went on to talk about the nightmare of seeing his father dying, day by day. That's really heavy. I know, because both my parents died of cancer, my father in late 1992 and my mother last September.

Heavy? You want to talk about heavy.

Watching someone you love die of cancer is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences you can have. First there's the shock of learning that the person has cancer. The doctor talks guardedly about the possibility of trumping the disease. Perhaps chemotherapy will help. So you put the patient through chemo treatments. Their hair falls out. They feel weak. They can't eat. They're sick to their stomach.

It doesn't help. They're getting worse. "Is it getting heavy? Well I thought it was already as heavy as can be."

Death comes as a relief? Almost. As my mother got closer to the end of her life, she started asking me, each day, sometimes over and over, when death would come. Anything would be better than dealing with the cancer, she said.

Now, when I listen to "Waiting for a Superman," two stories unfold. The first is about love. And about two people struggling to understand each other and come together and hang together through the good times and the bad times.

The second is about death. About being there for a father or mother as life ebbs away.

* * *

On a more upbeat note, as you may already know, MTV Networks has acquired SonicNet, Inc. All our websites — SonicNet, Addicted To Noise, Cinemachine, Streamland and others — will be part of a new company, MTV Networks Online Music Ventures.

Together, this new company's websites attract many more music fans each day than any other music sites on the Web. The Web was barely 6 months old — and was known only to a handful of computer geeks — when, in the fall of 1993, I imagined a cybermusic outpost.

The idea was a place where people who loved cool music could go for music news, interviews with artists, album reviews, opinionated columns and the music itself.

I launched the site a year later; I called it Addicted To Noise. Within a month music fans from more than 50 countries were visiting ATN.

For nearly five years, I and many others — first at Addicted To Noise, then at SonicNet — have been experimenting, figuring out ways to deliver information and entertainment to music fans in what is still a new and exciting medium: the Internet.

Now, as part of MTV Networks Online Music Ventures, I believe we're going to take a quantum leap forward. The first five years have been the most amazing of my entire professional life.

We — all the folks on both coasts who are SonicNet — have done amazing things, from cybercasting the Tibetan Freedom Concert to creating the best daily music news service, online or off, in the world.

But let me tell ya, you ain't seen nothin' yet.