Wayne Coyne: "I thought I was going to die"
I was 16 in 1977 and, with a bunch of friends and all my brothers and sisters, we got motorcycles and drove from Oklahoma out to Los Angeles. That’s about a three-day journey. We had no place to stay. Theoretically, we were going to live on the beach. We were going to take drugs, party, have sex with lots of people and then we’d drive back. It turned out it was a very cold beach that we couldn’t stay on. I wasn’t that interested in the drugs ever, but my brothers were and they bought a bunch of LSD that was actually fake. All the motorcycles broke down and we had no money to get home. At some point, I helped organise a plan to get us back. I think it was the first time I noticed that [my leadership] was effective. There are times now when I show up – and I know it’s sort of preordained that Wayne’s in charge – but you still sometimes don’t really know how it works.
I think everybody already viewed me as an artist and a musician. While they were all out partying on a Saturday night, I would be sitting at home painting and drawing pictures. There were a lot of drugs – I can’t emphasise enough how connected we were to drug dealers and motorcycle gangs, just an underworld that can suck you in and get you in trouble pretty quick. I sold marijuana from when I was 16 to make extra money. I wasn’t a recluse, but I didn’t want to get shot, I didn’t want to go to jail, I didn’t want to be in a car accident. A lot of our friends died. There were definitely times I was glad I was safe and sound and practising guitar. I still say I was lucky that I was addicted to being creative.
When I was 16 I had just got a job working at this restaurant called Long John Silver’s. There had been a lot of robberies in the area at fast food places – four people had been killed earlier in the year. One night I was working and we got robbed. I had to lay on the floor and I literally, with every ounce of truth, thought I was going to die. Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. I knew that my mother was going to find out in the next couple of hours that I was dead. I thought it would probably kill her, too. Obviously I didn’t die, because I’m here now, but I really became brave after that. I think that was probably the moment I thought, I don’t give a shit what people say – I’m going to be in a band. That episode of me almost dying gave me the confidence, for just a little while, to make it happen.
The advice I would give my younger self would be – don’t worry so much. I worried that I would go insane. I worried that I wouldn’t be good enough. Nobody knows what ‘good enough’ is, especially in art. I don’t think I was probably very much fun to be around. I suppose there’s some regret there that I didn’t have enough confidence to say, ‘On this Saturday night, let’s go out and get f**ked up. I’ll get back to work on Monday.’ I would just never do that. I do now.
I don’t have kids of my own and I think that’s probably the greatest accident that has happened to me. I think I would’ve easily been able to switch this dedication and this complete addiction to art and music to being a father. That’s what most people do. I think I would’ve gone to the extreme and not ended up being an artist or a musician. That’s a terrible thing to say but I think it’s true because I’m not very good. I’m just lucky that the things that I do, when they work, they tend to work well.
In 1977, the year Wayne Coyne turned 16... Rings of the planet Uranus were discovered... Smallpox was eradicated after claiming an estimated 500 million lives in the 20th century alone... Elizabeth II celebrated her silver jubilee... The sci-fi epic Star Wars opened in cinemas...
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