On Monday, the Boston Marathon was bombed on the eve of 'The Terror's' release date. As I digested the news, the Lips' discography fresh in mind, I kept hearing "You Have to Be Joking"'s baffled head shakes.
Sneakily placed near the end of the Flaming Lips’ gleefully noisy if overshadowed Warner Bros. debut, Hit to Death in the Future Head, is “You Have to Be Joking (Autopsy of the Devil’s Brain)”, a damaged acoustic tribute to human incomprehensibility that usually tops the list of my favorite Lips songs of all time. There’s little more than a single-tracked acoustic guitar, some bongos, light piano, an inexplicably placed sample from the Brazil score, and Wayne Coyne’s shakily earnest Oklahoma whine—a far cry from the gruff, aged voice he’s adopted on more recent efforts, but perfectly suited to the song’s “Moonlight Mile” weariness. Lyrically, the track may not be so far from The Terror, the Lips’ uncharacteristically grim latest LP. Drained of the band’s trademark optimism, Coyne confronts evil with confusion and disbelief: “You have to be joking / They wouldn’t do what you said”, he pleads. The conclusion is more resigned, but not quite hopeful: “Seems to me that God and the devil are both the same”. Decades later Wayne told me that the song was inspired by a story of a diplomat who hired the mafia to kidnap American babies and sledgehammer them.