Since 1983, Wayne Coyne has not only been bringing joyous music to the masses via the Flaming Lips but also the documentary The Fearless Freaks and his own sci-fi film Christmas on Mars. His cross-over from sound to screen and self-professed nerdery of all things pop culture, places him in a unique place to pick out five of the best movies about music.
Speaking to the Guardian, the first choice for the sui generis frontman was Pink Floyd’s classic 1972 concert film, Live At Pompeii. “This film changed my life,” he remarks. “I wouldn’t have known it existed if I hadn’t gone to see a terrible Don Johnson movie, A Boy and His Dog, in a double bill with my brother. We’d see anything in Oklahoma City to pass the time, and we were the only kids in the theatre, smoking a joint. Then the second film came on.”
Concert films might not be quite the real thing, but when they’re done well, they can be a visceral pastiche and what’s more, they can certainly inspire you to search out tickets for a show coming to you soon. That’s the impact it had on Coyne, “I hadn’t known this period of Pink Floyd. It opened up a new world of music to me.”
The next flick on his list is the controversial Cocksucker Blues documentary directed by Robert Frank and also released in 1972. “This unreleased Rolling Stones documentary was a film you’d always hear about but know you’d never, ever see,” Coyne says.
Adding, “It’s better than you think. It shows just how insane their lives were while they were making some of their best music, in hotel rooms doing drugs, with all this weird shit going on.” While for many, it’s far from the best Rolling Stones documentary outing, it does embody the curtain lifting potential of the art form to wonderful effect.
The next stop is the utterly iconic Woodstock. The film not only features Jimi Hendrix at his spellbinding best and an ensemble of other performers from Crosby, Stills and Nash to Joan Baez and The Who, but it is also a wonderful kaleidoscopic encapsulation of a moment in time, that transfigures the film a piece of art to the heights of an important historical document – “with a cast of half a million outrageously friendly people.”
As Coyne puts it, “The editing was so ahead of its time, so dynamic. Woodstock really made people realise that music isn’t just about hearing it: it’s about seeing it and getting more of the personalities behind it. About getting more of everything.”
He also adds that Woodstock happened to turn him onto The Who, and they, in turn, form his fourth choice, The Kids Are Alright. “More than any other band, the Who put that thing in me that made me who I am now, and this documentary told their story in a way that really zapped me. That connection you see between Pete Townshend and Keith Moon: you rarely see people get so possessed by their music, their energy and connection to each other. Then there’s Roger Daltrey being this flawless singer, an angel, in the chaos of it all.”
His final choice is perhaps less well known. Urgh! A Music War is a live music compilation pieced together by Derek Burbidge in 1982. Coyne reveals further details about the little-known film, “Oklahoma City was a test city for MTV, and this compilation of US and UK punk rock bands – XTC, the Cramps, the Dead Kennedys – came out around the time, and had that same spirit. One song each, blam-blam-blam. You didn’t know who was American and who was English and it didn’t matter – what did was every band was doing it themselves and looking bizarre.”
Wayne Coyne’s five favourite music films:
- Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii
- Cocksucker Blues
- The Kids Are Alright
- Urgh! A Music War