Wayne Coyne points across his sprawling, pecan-tree shaded backyard to an old frame house painted a psychedelic shade of pink.
“There used to be a little house in between the pink house and here that was called the ‘Crack Shack',” he says. “You could buy crack in the front house, and then you'd go in the back sort of abandoned house and you could smoke it right there. I know, because once we bought that property, my oldest brother came by and he said, ‘Oh, you bought the old Crack Shack.' And I said, ‘What do you mean by that?' And he said, ‘I used to buy crack in the front house ...'”
This is an area of mid-town Oklahoma City known as Classen-10-Penn, the neighborhood of Coyne's rowdy youth, where he grew up with four brothers and a sister, played bloody, no-holds-barred games of sandlot football, learned how to paint and draw like Frank Frazetta, fell in love with the Beatles, the Who and Led Zeppelin — and picked up the guitar at age 14.
This is also the birthplace of a rock 'n' roll dream that's become an unlikely reality known as the Flaming Lips.
“You have to remember when we started we didn't ever dream that we would ever be rock stars or anything,” Wayne Coyne says now. “We really liked the idea (of) the music and art movements that were happening in the early '80s. We were fine just to be a part of that.”
Nearly 25 years later, through sheer determination and a relentless work ethic, the Lips have evolved from a ragtag psych-rock oddity laboring in independent-label obscurity to major-label recording artists capable of producing lush, creatively ambitious, sometimes absurdly funny neo-psychedelic music echoing the studio magic of the Beatles and the Beach Boys in their prime. Their live shows match the surreal grandeur of their sound, like a rock 'n' roll circus dreamed up by Louis B. Carroll, complete with volunteer dancers dressed as Santas and aliens, hand puppets, mirror balls, confetti cannons, smoke machines, and an Armani-clad Coyne, crowd-surfing in a giant space bubble.
Coyne, bassist and co-founder Michael Ivins and guitarist-keyboardist Steven Drozd have nailed three Grammys since 2003, their songs can be heard on major movie soundtracks and national TV ads for Range Rover and Ford Sync Technology, their gold-selling album “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is about to become a Broadway musical produced by “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, and the Lips' cult following has grown to worldwide proportions.
Upscale homes in New York or L.A. would seem in order for everyone.
Yet Coyne and his wife, Michelle Martin-Coyne, choose to remain in the house they bought in 1992, in the same rough, low-income neighborhood where Tom and Dolly Coyne raised him, and taught him about honest, hard work.
“The guy that did it up, he really knew what he was doing,” Wayne says, surveying the front of his home on NW 13. “He was a contractor around town.”
The two-story red-brick structure with its yellow-brick trim, sandstone chimneys and flat roof is a hulking squared-off affair of 1930s vintage that dwarfs the surrounding wood-frame houses, many of which are sorely in need of repair, yard clean-up or both.
But “Wayne Manor” is in splendid condition, and Coyne is obviously proud as he points out recent repairs to the mortar and roof. It's built out of materials left over from the construction of one of the old downtown movie theaters and a couple of churches, he says.
The only evidence that a Flaming Lip lives here is found around back, where a couple of mirror balls sit under a shelter in plain sight. They're worth about $3,000 apiece, but Coyne doesn't worry about thieves carting them off.
“They're huge, see? They won't fit through a door.”
This is also where Coyne, his bandmates and various friends and relatives spent a lot of their spare time from 2001 to 2006 shooting a science fiction movie called “Christmas on Mars,” tentatively set to get its long-delayed premiere at Austin's South by Southwest film and music festival in March.
The single remaining artifact from the shoot is the 10,000-gallon fiberglass underground gas tank sitting off to a side of the huge yard. The ultimate do-it-yourselfer, Coyne bought the 20-foot long, eight-foot high vessel from a junk dealer for $200, tricked it out with blinking lights, tubing and old computer parts, and — voila — he had a Martian space station.
“I always felt like rock bands need to make their own mythological path as they go,” he says. “All big bands have it. Elvis Presley has it, the Beatles have it, the Spice Girls have their own movie. And it doesn't have to be a big, pompous proclamation. It can be this ridiculous thing.
“So in the sense that the Flaming Lips have always done things themselves, it seemed perfectly normal that we could just shoot it in my backyard if I wanted to, that I would be the director and I could build the sets ... and the worst thing that could happen is that it wouldn't be any good, but it would be fun, and we'd experiment with a lot of different ideas ... and that would be enough for us.”
There is certainly plenty of room for all this experimentation, since the Coynes have bought up houses and property all around them and created a compound that stretches north to NW 14 and takes in lots to the east and west. Their only protection from the more unsavory elements of the area are a sturdy perimeter fence and some burglar alarms, but Coyne doesn't really seem worried.
“This is really the area where we all grew up and became who we are in these neighborhoods,” he says. “And I would say, not taking it lightly, that it is dangerous in a sense. There are drug dealers down on that corner, almost a perpetual gang of them have been down there since we moved in. And there are several houses that literally have had drive-by shootings.”
But the Coynes have set a goal for themselves.
“We're gonna try to stay in this neighborhood and fight to make the neighborhood better,” he says.