Fight Test: Enduring the Flaming Lips’ Six-Hour Song

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips in Las Vegas, Nev., June 2011. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What have you ever done for six hours straight?

In 2001, a group of my friends and I decided to take the Flaming Lips’ bait and play their 1997 album Zaireeka as it was meant to be heard: four discs, all playing simultaneously in four different stereos. The band’s idea was to foster — perhaps “require” is a better word — communal listening; eschewing solitary headphones for the experience of a group setting more suited to live shows than recorded material. Now the Lips have released “Found a Star on the Ground,” a six-hour long track that I struggled to listen to, straight through, alone.

The band wants you to listen to “Found a Star” with their own Strobo Trip, which the band calls “A Light & Audio Phase Illusions Toy.” Everyone else would call it an acid trip enabler. But “Found a Star on the Ground” also enables genuine, as well as chemical, fuzzy feelings: for $100, fans could donate to two Oklahoma charities in exchange for a mention on the track. On October 3, the Flaming Lips also announced that donors will get first crack at the Strobo Trip before they sell the remainder of the stock on their website. For now, fans and other curious listeners can hear to the complete, six-hour track online.

Now, I don’t remember ever doing anything for six hours straight. Baseball games with extra innings: four. Longest movie: five. This would be my anti-Zaireeka, testing the limits of mental acuity and stamina with no help from like-minded friends or mind-altering substances. Spoiler alert: I failed. After two hours — aka “Really? Four more hours?” — I gave up, but not before documenting the experience.

0:01: Okay! The band opens with a chugging, Neu!-styled Motorik rhythm fused with the freeform psychedelic freakout of United States of America. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

0:03: Wayne Coyne’s vocals first appear before quickly fading out. They are cryptic and unintelligible. These are words you will hear a lot.

0:06: The experimental (read: noisy) horns appear, and the band is now in full jam mode. There is a scene in many late ’60s films where a square somehow ends up at the local hippie counterculture club. This is what would soundtrack that moment.

0:09: You like distorted guitars layered on top of each other for minutes on end? This is your song. Somewhere in Texas, a teenage psychedelic jam band has formed.

0:17: The band adds another layer of guitars to create even more dissonant tones. I am starting to think accepting this assignment was not the best use of my time.

0:20: A wall of feedback approximating the most annoying insect you’ve ever heard appears for an interminable length of time. My neighbors hate me.

0:24: More cryptic and unintelligible vocals! The feedback squall is making me consider throwing my speakers out of my window, partially to end the noise, partially because the crashing sound would be more aurally pleasing.

0:27: Okay, seriously? You’re still doing that feedback thing? I start to think of ways to make my editor’s death look like a suicide.

0:30: The band settles into a slinky funk groove. I begin to wonder how much of the song they recorded in one take. Were there 5-hour long false starts? Did they get to the 5:45 mark and mess up, only to have Wayne exit his spaceship and demand the band start from the beginning?

0:36: You can hear Wayne telling the band, “Maybe this just runs out of notes and you add something to it.” So wait, are they making this up as they go along? Did they not conceive and meticulously structure a droning, six-hour psychedelic track to the last note? I feel duped.

0:40: I’m starting to get more into the book I’m reading. Not a good sign.

0:48: Is this song still on?

0:55: More vocals about something. Maybe it’s about prehistoric fish. Maybe it’s about Wayne’s dinner last night. I don’t care.

1:03: Wayne’s processing his vocals while a funky snare beat and sound effects seemingly pulled from the original Doctor Who provide accompaniment. As a professional journalist, I should be saying “Coyne” instead of “Wayne,” but after 63-straight minutes of listening, I feel we’re tight like that.

1:10: An ominous bass line appears over a wash of cymbal crashes. Hopefully you like it, because you’ll hear it played repeatedly for the next 15 minutes. I picture my editor’s face on Jigsaw’s body in Saw, laughing maniacally like some dictatorial, evil genius.

1:17: More feedback squalls. I start to think about what I should make for dinner.

1:21: Asian glazed drumsticks with brown rice and corn.

1:25: In The Men Who Stare at Goats, author Jon Ronson details various methods of psychological warfare employed to break down an enemy’s mental state, including repeated, loud playing of everyone from Metallica to Barney. Could this song have been commissioned by the Department of Defense for use against “enemy combatants”? I make a note to pitch The New Yorker later this week.

1:29: The sounds of lasers can be heard. The sound of my brain deteriorating can also be heard. Where are the lasers coming from? The track? My own head? The Russians?! I think back to Ren and Stimpy’s “Space Madness” and start to sympathize with Ren, wondering at what point my brain will go from general mental illness to “Dude in Quills throwing his shit around” level. There are 4 ½ more hours to go.

1:33: There’s a piano. Or something. Make it stop. Mommy?

1:36: The groove has disappeared, replaced by a slow, repeating guitar note and Wayne announcing the list of people who have donated money to the charities. I listen for my name, not specifically remembering giving a donation, but knowing I’ve drunkenly given money to people for far less noble reasons. It does not happen.

1:39: Katie Schwartz. Andrew Knight. Elliott Masters. Benjamin Bracco.

1:40: The stopwatch on my phone just crossed the 99-minute display, unsure of what to do next. He has never been in the position before. Neither have I, man.

1:43: Jeremy Little. Thurston Lee. Adam Wallace. Jon Spoden.

1:48: The band goes into Popol Vuh-worthy calming atmospherics, with swirling synths bringing the listener back down after a two-hour mental mindf*ck. I am sedated.

2:00: Part 1 is finished. And so am I. For the first time ever, I sort my iTunes library by “shortest length,” relishing in Kyuss’ “Yeah” and Dilla’s “Donuts (Outro).” I check the Flaming Lips press release: a 24-hour song is already in the works.

“Found a Star on the Ground” is out now online.

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