Wayne Coyne, unabashed leader and lead singer of alt rock legends “The Flaming Lips”, and Bono, outspoken lead singer of rock legends “U2”.. Two singers who, for the better part of the last two years, (We’ll give Bono a little bit of slack since people have more-or-less grown tired of the guy since 1987) have come under fire for various reasons. Both share common traits, most notably “lead singer syndrome”. There’s nothing really wrong with that. No matter the scale and size of your band it always helps to have some charisma and bravado and megalomania. I can’t imagine both bands being able to operate for as long as they have been if their singers were just two normal passive dudes. Both singers are in their 50’s (Coyne, 53 – Bono, 54). Both singers have passionate personal and political beliefs. Bono’s being more widely known, as for the past 15 years people more associate him with political activism than his work with his own band… Wayne’s political and personable charity work is done on a much smaller scale.. He really cares about animals and other local Oklahoma charites.
Bono strives for the sake of his own band’s relevance in an era of fading spotlights and dwindling music sales for other longtime artists. Some would say U2 are well past their prime. That is debatable. The band managed to survive the ’90s purge. Put out their most challenging and very European influenced music to an American audience during the height of “Grunge” and maybe it is the fighting Irish in him. He just wont back down. They found renewed success in the early part of the 2000’s as well. Where as most bands of U2’s age and legend would simply not put out albums, or put out an album of forgettable songs and just tour the world on the strength of their own legend and past glories U2 under the leadership and salesmanship of Bono continue to release albums as if their lives depended on said albums. I give him credit for that. Even if it means getting an album delivered to my iTunes whether I want it.. or not* (and I will write about that later.) *I actually had to download the album to my iTunes.
Wayne continues to push musical boundaries as well as “other” boundaries. For the past two years Wayne has taken to “social media” and let people into the little details of his everyday life that he chooses to display for us. And he has shared A LOT. I believe in the early days of Twitter his account was the most fascinating. He had no problem sharing a picture of his then wife’s breasts for all to see (and deleted) I think however that the blurring of the lines of separation on how much we want to, or not know, about a musician we admire in a way has soured many of the longtime fans (mostly online community of Flaming Lips fans) opinions of the once weird and fearless freak. In a few years, and you can read about it online through some google searches, Wayne went from lovable quirky singer to – Wayne, the guy who left his wife for a 25 year old, who disrespected Native American culture, and fired long time drummer over questionable reasons (which have been addressed again, just seek out through google searches). Despite this, he along with creative genius Steven Drozd continued to put out really great music, and I think this was lost on some people who couldn’t separate man from musician.
It’s not easy to do I suppose.. Separating artists from their art. Isn’t being personally invested in a musician the reason we’re attracted to their output? Is it because we find them easy to relate to on some scale? The Flaming Lip’s last full studio album, 2013’s “The Terror” was an incredibly cohesive, if not depressing look at the side of humanity that we fear and possibly fear in ourselves: personal loss, life’s pain, love’s crushing nature, and the idea of “god” and god’s relation to all of our pain. One could not help but think, or feel, that a lot of the content of “The Terror” was the result of what Wayne was going through publicly and personally, especially when he delivers lyrics like “Is love a God that we control to try to trust the pain”. Whereas a majority of late era lyrics written by Wayne were optimistic despite pain and loss, one couldn’t help but sense the hopelessness in The Terror.
Bono isn’t terribly transparent in his lyrics. For a guy who strived to break down the wall between audience and musicians live he seems to have retreated some in the last 15 years, only occasionally breaking out of the shell of an intellectual tortoise to share through his own songs some of the things he struggles with.. His children growing up in “Kite”, the loss of his father whom he had a rocky relationship “Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own” and more recently, revisiting the death of his mother in the song “Iris” a subject he sang about only two times before in the songs Tomorrow and Lemon. However for a majority of U2’s late era songs he wrote from a different person’s perspective. The idea of being able to start new when you have lost everything was the meaning of “Beautiful Day”. More recently he has tackled the subject of his own pain. With the new U2 release, which I will do a full write up later, he had to go back to where it all began, more or less, to find out why he even wanted to be in a band. Unlike Wayne, most now know Bono as a public political figure. In a way maybe it is a good thing that Bono hasn’t taken to social media. Maybe it is a good thing we don’t know too much about how this man thinks and what lies behind the sunglasses he is always wearing (due in part to glaucoma).
Both artists are still producing music in my opinion which still aims to challenge both commercial and critical appeal. Both are now, more or less, punching bags for their respective bands. And as Bono once sang, “let me take some of the punches for you tonight.” Maybe Wayne can lend Bono his bubble for a while. And maybe Bono can lend Wayne a few tips on avoiding social media.
In summary I feel maybe we as fans shouldn’t hold artists up on pedestals. We’re all flawed in our own way. Or at least don’t hold them up to standards we wouldn’t hold ourselves up to. If I could I’d find a way to offset my taxes. (U2’s offsetting their business taxes drew criticism from people) if I produced what I felt was an incredible piece of music I’d love for the world to hear it (U2’s forced released of Songs of Innocence) and if I could let my freak flag fly and commute to work via a bubble I probably would (Wayne just being Wayne).