Flaming Lips and the Search for Manhood

Saying this is “just” a pop song is like saying a classic Roman arch is a pile of stone with a slit up the middle.
— Pitchfork Media review

As the webzine Pitchfork {1} analogizes, if flying saucers had pop music, The Flaming Lips would be what they’d listen to.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Flaming Lips

The music of Flaming Lips {2} has been described as trippy and psychedelic. Whatever you call them, they are a great band. Quirky, eccentric, bizarre, all true. And undoubtedly adept at consistently putting a smile on my face when I listen to their music. They have a simplicity in their tunes, yet a warm, childlike sincerity. By far their best album was Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Even that title makes me laugh.

After much listening, I’ve come to realize that this album is one continuous thought, like a grand opera centering on the theme of intergalactic evil robots sent to destroy the human race. And the destined savior of our planet is the heroine named Yoshimi.

Yeah, I know; I’m not sure I get it either.

The following song from the album, “Fight Test” {3}, amazes me. It’s a beautiful little ditty that has particular resonance to men. Especially men with wild hearts.

I thought I was smart, I thought I was right
I thought it better not to fight
I thought there was a virtue in always being cool
So when it came time to fight, I thought I’ll just step aside
And that the time would prove you wrong
And that you would be the fool

(Chorus)
I don’t know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins
It’s all a mystery
And I don’t know how a man decides what’s right for his own life
It’s all a mystery

Oh, to fight is to defend
If it’s not now then tell me when would be the time
That you would stand up and be a man
For to lose I could accept
But to surrender I just wept
And regretted this moment, oh that I, I was the fool

(Chorus)

‘Cause I’m a man, not a boy
And there are things you can’t avoid
You have to face them when you’re not prepared to face them
If I could I would, but you’re with him it’d do no good
I should have fought him but instead I let him, I let him take you

(Chorus)
“Fight Test” lyrics

So much of this song is relevant to a generation of feminized men. The notions are all there: manhood and bravery, fighting for a beauty and defending her honor, fearing a bigger adversary.

Again, Pitchfork notes:

“Fight Test” is majestically architected. It speaks so purely about an idea — steeling yourself up for something you don’t want to face — that it can resonate with anyone.

The song begins with a voice on a megaphone: “The test begins… now!” Absolutely. The test of manhood begins today. The decisions, and the crossroads that breed them, lay before us at this moment.

I especially love the chorus for its poetic imagery. It reminds me of the Four Mysteries of the 30th Proverb:

Three things are beyond me, four I cannot understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship at sea,
and the way of a man with a young woman.
— Holman Standard Bible

Notice in the chorus that the Lips are comparing the great mysteries of the cosmos (starlight and sunbeams) to a man’s internal moral compass (how he decides what’s right for his life). This is very significant. That barometer for right and wrong, defending your beliefs, and fighting for justice — those are grand mysteries indeed. Especially when so few men rise to that eternal challenge. It’s absolutely mysterious how so few are able to pull that off.

The song ends with that same megaphone voice: “The test is now… over.” One day our test will be over. Our lives were the test, an ongoing process to mold us into the men were were intended to be.

Footnotes:

  1. Pitchfork Media review []
  2. The Official Flaming Lips Website []
  3. “Fight Test” video: large []

5 Replies to “Flaming Lips and the Search for Manhood”

  1. Rob,

    Once again, its late at night, on a weekend (potentially a date night) and I am reading your site during a short break at work…I think Webster’s just updated their entries for “pathetic” and “corporate lackey” — wait, that would add validity for what I am doing, so maybe they won’t…

    Anyway, I have to agree with your assertion that these are great lyrics, but we will have to agree to disagree that these guys have a good sound (at least on this song). I listened to it three times and liked it a little better each time. I would still call it “pop”, but I wouldn’t call it trite. But, then again, we have seldom agreed on music. Let me drop a dime and talk with my good buddy Bono and see if he and The Edge can’t trick this up a bit ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I saw the “starlight and sunbeams” as a reference to the relentless and seemingly accelerating passage of time — but I am mulling your assessment…

    I like the tie-in with the Proverbs…the song reminded me a great deal of Eccesiastes (my favorite book of the Bible — I find it extremely encouraging, oddly enough) — and as far as the “test” mentioned in the song I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

  2. I’ve never heard of them. I get strange looks when I say I like the group Delirious?. “they’re a Christian group?” – – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that!!!

    I liked the lyrics of the song above though, even though I’m not a guy – – – hope that’s ok!!! {{smiles goofily}}

  3. Looks interesting, I’ll have to check it out later when I have more time.

    I’m not sure your meaning was all that sly, Rob! I look forward to it as I’ve heard of them but don’t think I’ve heard any of their music. Thankfully the entire album you’ve referenced is available for listening on my Real Rhapsody account. Yay!

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