The Fearless Freaks

The Fearless Freaks (2005) DVD cover

(2005) dir. Bradley Beesley
viewed: 10/05/06

This film is a documentary about the alternative rock band The Flaming Lips, but more specifically about the band’s leader, singer/guitarist Wayne Coyne and drummer/keyboardist Steven Drozd. They turn into the focal points of this film as they seem to be the real creative visionaries for the band and the others are more essentially supporting cast.

There are interesting aspects of their lives, growing up in the Oklahoma City/Norman part of Oklahoma during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the mixture of middle America, drugs, boredom, creativity, and just out and out weirdness.  Their rise to semi fame is followed from their early days and Wayne’s childhood with his unusual large family.

I’ve met Wayne Coyne, back in 1987 and several times through the late 1980’s.  I first heard of them in 1985.  I had a friend who came from Norman, OK who had several flyers for The Flaming Lips that she had on her wall.  They were trippy weird cartoons, drawn by Wayne, and they fascinated me.  Years later, I came across their first EP and their first full album in San Francisco and became a huge fan.  Later that year, they played in Tallahassee and I went up to see them and interviewed them for my magazine, No Idea.  Wayne and Michael and Richard were some of the nicest people that I met in my years interviewing bands, and eventually we saw them a couple more times and helped them land some shows in Gainesville.  They were always very friendly and gracious and throughout time I often think of Wayne as the band has evolved and I am always glad that they have found success more broadly.

It’s interesting to me, having been a longtime fan, to see that their evolution which has continued since the early days has some context for me now.  It does seem that Steven has become a major force in their creativity and songwriting and the film depicts some of his later issues with heroin addiction which seem pretty brutal.

Overall, Wayne is a happy-go-lucky guy, living in a house in a rough part of Oklahoma City, still close with his family and it’s interesting how many family members of both Drozd’s and Wayne’s families have issues with drug addiction and crime.  Wayne is a particularly interesting and sweet creative fellow, even if many of the broader strokes that he uses for the band seem to have been adapted from the Butthole Surfers and lots of other stuff.  He represents a peaceful, kooky homeyness that is charming even if it’s a little put on.  The film is made by a longtime friend and collaborator.

As a film, it’s overlong and a bit rambling.  I wouldn’t necessarily think it’s something anyone who wasn’t already interested in the band would get a whole lot out of, but maybe.  I found the images of “The Fearless Freaks” themselves, Wayne’s teenage brothers and pals in the 1970’s, playing football, getting high, and doing whatever to be an interesting instance in time and culture in this country.  And that in such a totally mid-West environs, such a strange and cool character could grow.

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