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Speak like a child: My love affair with the Flaming Lips

My earliest memories involve music.

They are a bit hazy, naturally – more impressionism than realism. Nevertheless, when I think back to my childhood, I hear music. It offered me a world of wonder. A universe governed by innocence and naivete, with no one telling me to keep my imagination caged and accept conventional reality.

Perhaps this is why my deepest musical experiences, 52 years into my music-obsessed life, consistently involve a sense of childlike wonder and awe at the grand scope of it all.

And perhaps this is why I love the Flaming Lips. I can think of no other rock band capable of summoning, examining and celebrating that sense of childlike wonder with such consistency.

While the Flaming Lips – who come to Artpark with pals the Claypool Lennon Delirium on July 27 – are known for crafting psychedelic extravaganzas on the concert stage and are so comfortable with surrealism and Dadaism that they are often dismissed as being “too weird” by the straight crowd, there is something incredibly serious lurking beneath the freaked-out bells and whistles.

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In fact, though one might legitimately refer to what Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins and crew create as space rock, at its core is a consistently intense and interesting existential discourse.

As I write this, I’m halfway into my seventh listen to “King’s Mouth: Music and Songs,” which was granted full release this week, after initially being made available in a vinyl-only format for Record Store Day in April. The album, a conceptually continuous piece of music featuring narration by Mick Jones of Clash/Big Audio Dynamite fame, is at once playful and heartrendingly beautiful. Which is to say, it’s a Flaming Lips album.

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips on stage. (Getty Images)

“King’s Mouth” presents a story about a revered king who holds the entirety of the cosmos in his gargantuan, oversized head and who rules benevolently and with unflinching integrity. It’s fantastical, yes, but the story is the map, not the road. It’s a framework for lyricist/singer Coyne’s thematic concerns – the meaning of life, the value of love, the inevitability of death and how we often get it wrong when it comes to all of them.

Many of these concerns are encapsulated in what remains the closest thing to a hit that the Lips have yet accrued – “Do You Realize?” from 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”

“Do you realize/that you have the most beautiful face?/Do you realize/we’re floating in space?/Do you realize/that happiness makes you cry?/Do you realize/that everyone you know someday will die?”

The questions are posed in a voice redolent of the clear-eyed innocence of a child, but they are the deepest questions there are, really. And Coyne posits an answer to them later in the song.

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“Instead of saying all of your goodbyes/let them you know realize that life goes fast/It’s hard to make the good things last/You realize the sun doesn’t go down/It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning ‘round.”

I accept this as art. But I also accept it as advice on how to live an honest and meaningful life.

In 2013, I stood near the Artpark stage as the Lips offered one of the most moving shows I’d ever witnessed. Six years later, almost to the day, I’ll be standing in that same spot. And my childlike sense of wonder will be right there with me.

My view of the Flaming Lips at Artpark in 2013. (Jeff Miers/Buffalo News)

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