ON SEPTEMBER 23 I hiked to the top of Mt. Tabor in search of the Flaming Lips and a herd of naked cyclists. Rumor had it that the Oklahoma band had put out a casting call through BikePortland.com, and they were searching for locals who didn't mind riding through the woods in the buff in exchange for a role in the Lips' new music video for "Watching the Planets," which will appear on the upcoming Embryonic (due out October 13).
I arrived expecting bacchanal, but was greeted instead by a scene of surreal calm. Phil—a dead ringer for David Cross, except his dick dangled out of his open bike shorts—attributed the atmosphere to Lips frontman, Wayne Coyne. "He's been great to listen to. He's the driving focus here, trying to create art on the fly."
Though many of the cyclists held themselves with a demeanor that would suggest nude bubble-bearing was nothing out of the ordinary, a few began to grow more exuberant with each pass of the camera. "They want to take off their pants," the co-director fretted to a crewmember. Earlier that morning, park rangers had stopped the shoot due to exposed genitals, stalling production and scaring everyone into sliding back into their underwear (or at least into making a wall of clothed bodies that blocked visibility from the road).
Drummer Kliph Scurlock, acting like all this was totally normal, expressed excitement over the album's upcoming release. Although Embryonic's songs are identifiably theirs, Scurlock says the band made a concerted effort to ditch material that could've fit on their last album, the disappointing At War with the Mystics, in pursuit of a new sound. "You can sit and not do anything, or you can jump in [to something new]. It may not work, but you have something," he explained, adding that he was unsure of how the video would be distributed. "We might have to blur out the female boobs," he noted. Fans of male boobs, rejoice!
With the bike-riding portion of the shoot finished, many cyclists departed, making room for curiosity-seekers fresh from the office. In the autumnal light, those present laid down on blankets and watched a giant hairball vagina inflate and deflate. This second bubble, equal in size to Coyne's clear plastic bubble, was covered in animal hides and featured pouting labia from which a nude woman was to emerge.
To draft a naked newborn, the crew turned to the crowd. "Lift up your shirts and let Wayne look at your boobs," a crewmember laughed as women stepped forward to volunteer. Coyne proceeded to play boob inspector, picking the right pair of breasts to emerge from the hairball first. One girl was turned away because her areolas were too light and Coyne feared they would wash out when filmed.
"I've seen your boobs before and they're pale-ish. I don't want people to think we're trying to cover them up," Coyne said before hugging her reassuringly. "I want you to know that your boobs are beautiful."
The girl with the winning breasts, Sophia, bubbled with nervous excitement. "He was like, 'We need boobs,' and I was like, 'I have those!'" Though being examined by a rock star was "kind of weird, kind of nice" and "kind of a fantasy come true," the two-hour shoot that involved her crawling in and out of a pulsating vagina-ball with a bloody arm was a lot to take in. "If anything, it was kind of awkward," she told me, sheepishly.
"The atmosphere's been really mellow; very communal," Scurlock said, as those around him nodded. The only real issue arose when a drunken man began verbally berating the furball. "It looks like a big pile of shit moving around! Hey, ball... fuck you!" he yelled past the stunned hippies on the grass around him, before enigmatically adding "Go fish!" and trying to push the ball down the hill. Meanwhile Coyne wondered out loud where the park rangers were when they needed them.
Walking with me back to his van, Coyne and the crew hurriedly packed, preparing for the next day's shoot on Sauvie Island's nude beach. "In Portland this is a way of life," he told me. "Nudity's not radical; I'm not trying to be exploitative. People are naked and they forget that they're naked." As he climbed into the back of the idling van I asked what the concept for the video was. Coyne's eyes lit up: "It's about getting back to some primal reptilian self. It's about ego death and all that shit. Back to the depths where you find a lot more kindness, but also a lot more wickedness... but really a lot of it's just crazy shit."