Author Joshua Boydston Illustration Graham Roumieu
Wave upon wave of torch-wielding skeletons are marching through the darkened streets of Oklahoma City, their glow visible from a mile away. Sinister music blares from speakers mounted on small wagons pulled along by members of the playfully macabre procession. Following close behind is their leader, a lanky, suited figure with a wild shock of gray hair, rolling along inside a giant clear plastic ball, waving and grinning wickedly at the awestruck bystanders.
That man is 49-year-old Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the world-renowned rock band The Flaming Lips, and his highly regimented Armageddon procession is just one of dozens of entries in The Oklahoma Gazette’s annual “Ghouls Gone Wild Halloween Parade” in downtown Oklahoma City.
Coyne has been leading his “March of 1,000 Flaming Skeletons” since the inaugural parade in 2007, and in that time it’s become both a pilgrimage site for Flaming Lips fanatics from across the country and a glorious display of local pride by a band that got its start in the Sooner State. Since they formed in O.K.C. in 1983, the Lips, in all their exuberant weirdness, have helped soften their state’s no-nonsense cowboy reputation. The state, for its part, has responded with affection.
“The Lips have been one of Oklahoma’s greatest artistic ambassadors,” says Nathan Poppe, clutching his torch; it’s his third parade. “They’ve traveled the world, collected all these pieces of weirdness from everywhere they’ve been, and decided to plant it all here.”