Nowadays, hipster bands think nothing of promoting their music via TV placements, but when Oklahoma eccentrics the Flaming Lips hit the stage at the Peach Pit After Dark — a.k.a. Valerie Malone’s nightclub on Beverly Hills, 90210 — to rock out in front of Dylan McKay and DJ David Silver nearly a quarter-century ago, it was a TV breakthrough.
We can only hope that when the BH90210 reboot premieres this week, the new season offers a musical moment this cool — and if it does, that Steve Sanders, an avowed non-fan of alternative music, will be even more appreciative this time.
“Popularity is a funny thing,” muses charismatic Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne as he reflects on “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which took more than a year after its 1993 release, on the album Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, to become the band’s only major radio hit. “Once something is kind of popular, it has the potential to grow and grow and grow. When Beverly Hills, 90210 called us, if this would have been a year earlier, or six months earlier, we probably would have thought, ‘No, we’re too cool; we don’t do those sorts of things.’”
But by 1995, “She Don’t Use Jelly” had already received a promotional boost from its rite-of-passage mocking on Beavis & Butt-head — which Coyne had found “endearing and clever” — “and it occurred to us that [going on 90210] would be ridiculous and absurd and funny. It didn’t really matter if it was artistically good or bad or whatever.”
Coyne remembers thinking the 90210 shoot was such a debacle that he assumed the 1995 episode, titled “Love Hurts,” would be shelved.
“We did kind of talk amongst ourselves [on the set that day], like, ‘It seems weird that the one episode that we’re on is such a disaster that there’s no way it will air.’ It just didn’t seem possible it could work! We saw them saying lines, and they would do them five or six times, and everybody at the end of the badly done — from our perception, anyway — takes, everybody’d kinda be like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ Yay. No big celebration. It just kind of felt like yet another grueling day on the set. And we thought, ‘That probably won’t air, and nobody will see us.’ And three weeks later, it’s on TV and it looks wonderful! All the things we thought seemed like a disaster were just business as usual.”
Remembering the band’s time on the set, Coyne says one unnamed female cast member made it obvious that she liked the Flaming Lips even less than Beavis or Butt-head did. (“It was at the end of a long week, and she probably didn’t like the episode anyway,” he says of her bad attitude.) But he recalls that another 90210 actor was a bit friendlier.
“For good reason, they had a lot of restrictions about what could be backstage [at the Peach Pit] — there could be no pot, no drugs, no alcohol, or any of that. But some of the people involved in the Flaming Lips are pretty determined and imaginative in how they want to spend their day, so there was some ruckus about that. Some of the cast members were really fans, and really fun, and some couldn’t kind of care less and just wanted the day to be over with. … There was a blond dude who talked to us all day. But I think mostly he wanted to get wasted with [band member] Steven [Drozd]. I think he was like, ‘Where’d you get the booze?’ I think that bonded their friendship even more.”
That “blond guy” just may have been Ian Ziering, whose Steve Sanders character uttered arguably the most infamous and immortal line in the “Love Hurts” episode: “You know, I’ve never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!” Coyne laughs, still incredulous that the episode actually made it onto Fox. “These were really lines! Even when you say it now, it feels like this is not a finished phrase for a real actor in a real show to put into the world,” Coyne exclaims. “And yet, when he says it, I kind of believe him.”
Even before 90210 came along, the Lips had a hunch that “She Don’t Use Jelly” might be their breakthrough single — after playing it night after night to uninitiated audiences on an unlikely tour with grunge band Candlebox, who were extremely popular at the time.
“We’re out there playing our noisy little songs, and we would, most nights, start to play … and the audience there would absolutely hate us,” Coyne recalls. “There’s a certain energy you get from that kind of hatred, and it can be quite fun to play to people who want to kill you; it gives you a kind of a power. But we would play ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ even to that audience, and they would, even in the flow of their hatred, say, ‘Oh, we like that one!’”
Coyne adds with a chuckle: “And then we’d play the next song, and they’d go back to being outwardly hateful.”
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