Andi Harman: A Chance Encounter With Wayne Coyne at Austin Toy Store Brings SXSW to Joyful End

Out-of-towners tend to think of Saturday as the last day of South by Southwest, or at least that’s what I was told during my inaugural journey to the fest. Sunday is for the excursion back to sanitized normalcy. However, I was on my twentieth wind on Saturday evening, completely ready to exist in the hash-tagged snack food wonderland for another week or five.

Some point before Saturday’s sunset, I left an approachably phenomenal showcase at the House of Commons, featuring acts from Dallas label Pour le Corps, to take a walk to Toy Joy in central Austin. I trudged across Guadalupe, my makeshift camera bag weighing down a newly discovered and overworked shoulder muscle. The storefront’s candy-coated neon jewelry had yet to blink on; the sun was dripping onto the intersection, casting the day’s longest shadows. I was looking forward to digging wrist-deep through cases of itty-bitty treasures on my last day, my lone established tradition as a fledgling Austin escapist.

Pushing through the door, my eyes dilated and refocused on a man in a too-familiar gray suit surrounded by swirls of colors and glittering plastics. Not exactly the most bizarre place to meet Wayne Coyne, the ageless ringleader of festival staple The Flaming Lips. The adored and idolized figure wandered through the store with a basket on his arm, comfortably exchanging words with us fest plebeians. He was accompanied by two attractive females dressed in basic summer clothes.

This is the point where FrontRow’s own Christopher Mosley, my SXSW spirit guide, elbowed me, handed me a recording device and said, “You’re up.” Before I could combat this assignment, he swished his cape and vanished in a cloud of smoke or turned into an animatronic bat or something.

I checked my bag at the counter, strategically pulling out my camera which was luckily equipped appropriately for my new surroundings. I turned a corner past a line of technicolor peanut-shaped rocking horses. Adjusted my settings, took a test shot, and turned to approach Coyne. I asked him if it would be alright to take his photo. He agreed, and since I wasn’t nervously fumbling with a camera phone, he continued shopping with his lady crew. One lady asks, “Do you think Justin would like this?” while holding up a bendable clip-on mustache. I hesitate; she’s got to be referring to Justin Timberlake, who was slated to perform at a “secret” Myspace showcase later that evening. The opening scene of the Gone video by NSYNC played for a second or two behind my closed eyelids. My memories of JT’s wiggling Chaplin came flooding back. “Timberlake?” I ask after I snap out of my preteen reverie. She nods. “If you want my pedestrian opinion, I think he’d love it,” I tell her. She smiles, maybe even laughs at me a little, and drops it in Coyne’s basket.

After some sweaty-palmed hovering, Coyne looks at me and asks if I’m ready to take the photo. I tug at my camera strap. He thought I wanted a picture taken with him (I did, but…). I asked that he sit in one of the store’s hand-shaped chairs for one photo. Just one, I assured. He complied as long as it was low-key. I pulled the shutter:

As he leaned forward to offer another pose, I thanked him and told him I had what I needed.

And I did have what I needed. SXSW gave me an unrivaled experience. I asked Coyne how his festival had been.

“Well for us it’s amazing, because everywhere you go, you know, you get to hang out and get drunk and play music and sleep.” At this point, a sales associate in battery-operated wiggling anime ears launches a large, wheezing balloon in our general direction. Coyne pauses and concludes with, “Hell yeah, it’s great fun.”

The author, Andi Harman, with Wayne Coyne
Illustration by i2i Art

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