BEING THERE: How I Went To Mumford & Sons To Meet Wayne Coyne & All I Got Was A Free Banana And This Acid Flashback You Are About To Read


alice04aBY PENNY LANE Sitting passenger side headed towards the Jersey Shore for 60-plus miles gave me hours to contemplate the following pressing issues A) I am supposed to interview Wayne Coyne, frontman of the Flaming Lips, but I have no idea where or when. B) I have never actually interviewed someone before. C) Roughly thirty minutes ago I swallowed 300 mics of Purple Sunshine, and it’s coming on strong. You see, a few days prior, the boss asked me if I wanted to cover the Seaside Heights stopover of Gentlemen of The Road, the Mumford & Sons-curated mini-Lollapalooza-on-the-beach featuring the Flaming Lips, Alabama Shakes, Dawes, Jenny Lewis and Jeff The Brotherhood. Given that I was currently staring a dreadfully boring endless summer in the face, I said ‘hells yeah.’ Then he asked me if I wanted to interview Wayne Coyne while I was there. Having been a Lips fan since the ripe old age of 15, I again said ‘hells yeah.’ That was my first mistake.

Accompanying me on what I hoped would be my own Fear and Loathing In Seaside Heights was my partner in crime Trevor, who lives, no lie, somewhere between Pottstown and Stonersville, PA. It must be farther than you’d think, because he was an hour late picking me up. I could already see where this was heading: nowhere fast. So we did the only sensible thing: popped a blotter and pointed the car towards the misty horizon of the Jersey shore, incapable of predicting what lysergic misadventures were to come.

Two hours later we were in Seaside Heights, the land of Snooki and The Situation. Pre-MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” Seaside Heights was a charming vacation getaway for my siblings and I growing up. I remember spending entire days of my childhood stacking piles of wet sand for castles and walking around with sticky red candy apple hands. Today, it just seems to be a Mecca for drunken fake-tanned guidos and guidettes, always just a few tequila shots away from kicking out the back window of a police car. In other words, it seemed a perfect place to discover the ugly, drunken heart of the American Dream.

We made our way through a crowd of beached chain-smoking blobs of humans and towards the ocean, which was heavily guarded by a row of policemen on ATVs. Preventing accidental drowning deaths was probably a good idea with a crowd so heavily under the influence. I plopped down at an open spot and as I felt the sun warming my shoulders as it crept out from beneath the clouds, I was awash in good vibrations. Wisely, I’d brought two bottles of bubble-blowing juice, and we immediately commenced converting the surrounding airspace into a bubble bath. Digging in the sand I felt a deep appreciation for the way the shiny dark bits of sand became caught in my cuticles, and — gah — then I remembered the interview with Wayne Fucking Coyne. So I wiped my sandy hands on my black jeans, and anxiously checked my phone for any updates about where and when the interview with Wayngo Tango would happen. As far as I knew, the interview was still on. But I still didn’t know where or when.

I quickly became distracted by the music of the Vaccines and the Maccabees — that other band that sounds exactly like the Vaccines. I dug a hole in the sand, then laughed nervously while covering up the hole I started to dig because Trevor told me I was “halfway to China” and realizing I didn’t speak a lick of Cantonese, figured I better put that sand back. Then I did a double-take on what I thought was a rowdy German Shepard, but it turned out to be some lady dancing in the crowd. Clearly the acid was holding up its end of the bargain. At that point, I figured it would be a good idea to rekindle my relationship with the human race. We walked away from the concert and towards the boardwalk, watching the seagulls circle around each other. It was like watching a beautiful movie of synchronized flight scored with the dulcet tones of Jenny Lewis’ voice. But from up on the boardwalk, absent her voice, this airborne dance of birds revealed itself for what it really was: A desperate fight for the last discarded French fry.

Passing a smoothie stand made me remember that I should probably eat something if I wanted to feel like a part of the human race again, but the idea of joining the booze-and-junk-food-consumption-chain seemed cancerous. I momentarily considered stealing a pineapple from the smoothie stand, until I remembered that nice normal girls who are not high on psychedelic drugs don’t steal other people’s pineapples. So in a moment of desperation, I asked Mr. Smoothie Man how much it would be to purchase a piece of fruit and steeled myself for the inevitable rejection. But then a beautiful thing happened. He looked at me from behind a pair of sunglasses, and with a laugh, told me to take my pick, so I picked a banana and pulled out my wallet. “It’s free,” he said. Honestly, my day could have just happily ended here. What a great time to be alive! Clearly this was the dawning of the age of free bananas. But then the fear returned. There were still photos to be taken and Wayne Coynes to be interviewed. I checked my phone, still no word from Wayne. Whatever. I tried to get back that happy place, to that elation I felt over a banana about a week ago.

The Lips were about to go on, so we headed back to the concert grounds. I got to the giant photo pit just as the Flaming Lips took their places onstage, dressed in their usual outrageous, eye-dazzling garb. Coyne wore a bright orange sergeant’s jacket, with yellow rubber ducks ornamenting his shoulders like epaulettes, and clusters of pom poms and streamers hanging from his belt. Oh, and a massive cape made of enormous silver balloons. When the drums kicked in at the beginning of “Fight Test,” Coyne tore off his balloon cape and clumsily hurled it towards the crowd. But the stiff ocean breeze blew it back towards the stage and it flopped over my head, leaving me trapped in a kaleidoscopic portal of silvery Wayne Coyne reflections and confetti, which induced a stupidly euphoric fit of laughter in me. I didn’t know what to do besides click away on my camera. I was not entirely sure if I was actually getting anything. At this point it didn’t matter— I was wiping away tears of joy as a massive wall of sound infiltrated my entire existence and plastered a huge grin on my face. It was then that I knew I was going to be disappointed if I didn’t get to interview Wayne and personally thank him for what had just happened.

However, the rest of the crowd, having been drinking in the sun for hours, did not join me in shedding tears of joy. They responded to the Flaming Lips set like a dog shown a card trick, unsure of what the fuck to do with some old crazy guy crowd surfing across their heads in a giant transparent beach ball. Most were too busy taking drunken duck-faced selfies to appreciate what the Lips were laying down. Most just wanted to rage to the black metal banjo sounds of Mumford & Sons — nevermind the hour of blissfully larger-than-life caterpillars, mushrooms, and rainbows and the Wonka-esque music that came with it.

Up until now, I had followed Wayne’s dictum: don’t call us, we’ll call you. The boss had given me Wayne’s cell number, but told me only to use in in an emergency. And no matter what, DO NOT call Wayne Coyne while he was surfing across the crowd in the giant bubble because he never answers when you do that. Well, as the sun started going down and Mumford and fucking Sons started up, I decided this was an emergency. And so I dialed the Coyne Emergency Interview Hotline and sent a text with one final plea for an interview after the set.

After seeing the “Delivered” status on my iPhone, all there was left to do was wait for a response from Wayne. We passed the time playing arcade games. I bought a giant slice of pizza for the novelty, apparently, because I wasn’t hungry at all, and was only two bites in when I received the text message of a lifetime:

Well.. Lemmmeeee see if we can find ya… Come over to the giant windmill ride

Woooooooahhhhhh! It was totally going to happen! I threw my pizza slice to the gulls, and, with nothing but sunglasses-after-dark to disguise the fact that I was tripping my brains out, I asked a cop if he could please, sir, tell us where the giant windmill ride was. Unfamiliar with the precise location of said giant windmill ride, he pointed us in the general direction of where it might be and told us how we could get there. Awesome. This is happening and I’m not going to screw it up. Or so I thought. We waited, like two humidity-soaked misfits on the boardwalk, dancing in front of the giant windmill ride and awaiting our impending audience with the wonderful wizard of OK.

“I’ll try to find ya,” he said in his follow-up text.

OK, great. Just a few more minutes tops, we figured. Then we waited another few minutes, which soon turned into an hour. We passed the time speculating as to what was the hold up, imagining that Coyne had scooped my giant pizza slice from the garbage and was choking it down while he secretly watched us from afar. As one hour turned into two, my hope was draining as fast as the battery level on my phone, but I still thought there was a slim chance it could still happen. Suddenly my phoned buzzed and vibrated with the sound of an incoming text from Wayne:

“Hey… It’s gonna be Tooo much of a hassle to get you into the show .. They got like intense security.. You wanna meet at the hotel in a bit ..??”

Surreal! Hanging out with Wayne fucking Coyne at his hotel room! That was enough to make me hold on for yet another 60 minutes. But deep down I sort of knew this was all too good to be true, and I was probably already granted enough great wishes by the rock concert gods for one day. I remember thinking I would rather have an interview with Wayne Coyne than that free banana, but what’s done is done. I briefly considered interviewing any old guy on the street who would agree to sign off as “definitely being Wayne Coyne,” but I figured that wouldn’t fly with my boss. So we headed home, a little defeated, a little wired, a little broker but grateful to be back on planet Earth, where the bananas are not free and Wayne Coyne never calls, but at least you don’t mistake the rowdy drunk chicks at Mumford & Sons concerts for German Shepherds. And everyone likes it that way.