Earth Day: Kind of Like Christmas?

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne demonstrates his sincerely weird persona

By Sara Beladi
|  Tuesday, Apr 21, 2009  |  Updated 11:04 AM EDT
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Earth Day Concert on National Mall

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Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips stole the show at Sunday's Earth Day celebration on the National Mall.

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"Obama is no longer just a name," shouted eco-activist Majora Carter as she stabbed the air with a fist.  "It's an acronym for Officially Behaving As Magnificent Americans."

With Obama-rich rhetoric and appeals to our responsibility as young Americans, Obamaism (not to mention a massive cloud of ganja smoke) seemed to envelope the National Mall this past Sunday at the Earth Day Festival.

Words like "hope," "choice" and even the phrase "yes we can" repeatedly sprang up in the speeches of the eco-conscious celebrities who attended.

Musical acts Black Violin, Los Lobos, DJ Spooky, moe. and the Flaming Lips performed.

The crowd was scant and a bit draggy, for being at an ear-drum-blowing rock concert, until Los Lobos sent an electric shock through the Mall, with their guitar and cumbria heavy set.

DJ Spooky followed with a mash-up of Jimi Hendrix's iconic "Star-Spangled Banner," hip-hop instrumentals and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Finally, the Flaming Lips--the reason 99 percent of the celebrators who weren't getting paid showed up--brought the event to a booming crescendo.

Even moe. had a little trouble concentrating on reporters' questions about water bottles and their eco-friendly amps while the Lips were getting ready to take stage.  I looked up from my notebook to make contact with guitarist Al Schnier, but his eyes were fixed on the back of Lips front-man Wayne Coyne's graying fro to his left.  "They also want to catch the Flaming Lips perform," explained a PR person for the event.

I caught up with Wayne backstage, right before his performance. Consummately weird, Wayne hardly seemed to realize he was on earth, let alone at an Earth Day concert.

He adjusted his floral dress shirt as an intense 20-something reporter from Treehugger asked him what Earth Day means to him.

"I've never really thought about Earth Day," confessed Coyne. "I'm a big advocate for, like, the idea of Christmas ... if you think something is important and believe in it, then you should do it."

He's a little out there, but Coyne is also strangely lucid.

"People will go out and spend $5 on an f****** bag of popcorn at the movies and complain when gas prices hit $3 ... it's like, 'Do you realize how easy it is to make popcorn and how hard it is to get gasoline?'"

He and the other Flaming Lips put on an insane performance, complete with an orange, construction-themed set; a light-up gong; a smoke machine; a Madonna cover song; a giant dancing caterpillar; and a confetti machine.

"The event coordinators asked me not to use my confetti," Wayne told the audience.  "But I told them that if you all are really environmentally conscious, you will pick up after me ... two policemen will escort me off-stage after the show, and if there is any of my confetti still on the ground, they will take me to jail." 

Although he doesn't know much about Earth Day, Wayne is as compassionate, if not more, than the environmental activists who preach compassion for the earth. 

"I thought the problem with hippies was that if you weren't with them, you were the enemy," he said. "This can't be an us versus them thing, it won't work that way.  Maybe with Obama, we can overcome that ... what I like about him is that whenever he could have just said, 'You're an idiot,' he didn't. He led by example."

Bombarded with questions about how to live green and bring environmental issues to the fore, Wayne said, with disarming sincerity, "Listen, all I ask is that everybody be nice to each other first, and we'll all go from there."

I think Obama would have liked that.

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