Tag Archives: They Might Be Giants

The Poetry of They Might Be Giants, An Analysis of “Flood” Part 1

They Might Be Giants, an odd pop duo, my favorite band, direct from Brooklyn.  Love them or hate them, you cannot deny the genius of their art.  The music is catchy as hell, and the lyrics are quite cryptic.

John & John

The first thing you notice when you start listening to TMBG, is that the lyrics are bizarre, they don’t write songs that go along with the so called norm in today’s pop/rock music.  In my close decade long study of this band I have noticed some main themes that have become apparent as I have aged and become awake to the reality of the world.  They write thickly(sometimes thinly) veiled songs about politics, the occult, mind control, and the ironies of life.  I feel that they are trying to wake people up through this, to say that they are genius is a great understatement.  The imagery and metaphors used are sometimes so deep that it is hard to put into simple terms, like a word in a different language that has no translation into English, you just cannot fully explain without having an epiphany, a new thought.   I have heard John Linnell talk about how the songs are about nothing but I think that is a distraction.  I read lyric interpretations that see things on a surface level but a lot of people don’t see the obvious metaphor.  Almost every song has several layers to peel back and reveal another deeper meaning.  I think you can gauge how many dimensions a person can think based on their interpretations of TMBG lyrics.  I could easily write a book on each album and the main theme of each album broken down song by song and as a whole.   I will do a very shoddy analysis of possibly my favorite album of theirs “Flood.”

“Flood” to me overall is an album describing the looming darkness and decline of society, packaged in an array of quirky pop songs.

1. “Theme From Flood”
Why is the world in love again?
   Why are we marching hand in hand?
   Why are the ocean levels rising up?
   Its a brand new record for 1990
   They Might Be Giants’ brand new album Flood.

This song just asks questions. The imagery they portray, the world in love again, everyone marching hand in hand.  The world as a whole at peace, everyone marching hand in hand, a sign of solidarity, something done in protests and in demonstrations.  Protests against who?  Maybe we’ll find out. The ocean levels rising up?  A sign of earth changes?  People waking up before the end times.

2. “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”

I’m your only friend

I’m not your only friend
But I’m a little glowing friend
But really I’m not actually your friend
But I am

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I have a secret to tell
From my electrical well
It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells
So the room must listen to me
Filibuster vigilantly
My name is blue canary one note spelled l-i-t-e
My story’s infinite
Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest

There’s a picture opposite me
Of my primitive ancestry
Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free
Though I respect that a lot
I’d be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts
Bluebird of friendliness
Like guardian angels its always near

On the surface the song seems like it is about a canary night light(the ancestor on the shore being a lighthouse), but looking deeper into the song it can be interpreted as a song about hope.   There is an Emily Dickinson poem that goes something like “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul”, if I recall correctly John Linnell is a fan of Dickinson.  Taking that into consideration the song takes a whole different outlook.  Saying “make a little birdhouse in your soul” is like saying keep hope in your heart.  Because hope, like a little bird, can be dashed against the rocks very quickly, so make a safe place for hope.  The Jason and the Argonauts reference is actually a reference to the Clashing Rocks story where Jason flies a dove through rocks that are crashing together at random smashing ships that try to pass through them, the dove makes it through and so does Jason and his ship.  So that ancestor referenced is the dove, the dove is a symbol of peace.  The concept of Peace is the ancestor/prerequisite of Hope, as in there is no peace now so we have to hope for peace.  This song is basically saying keep hope for peace in your heart/soul because it is the only light in the looming darkness of the world ahead.

3.  Lucky Ball & Chain
I lost my lucky ball & chain
Now she’s four years gone
Just five feet tall and sick of me
And all my rattling on
She threw away her baby-doll
I held on to my pride
But I was young and foolish then
I feel old and foolish now

Confidentially —
she never called me baby-doll
Confidentially —
I never had much pride
But now I rock a bar stool
and I drink for two
just pondering this time bomb in my mind

I lost my lucky ball & chain
Now she’s four years gone
Just five feet tall and sick of me
And all my rattling on
She walked away from a happy man
I thought I was so cool
I just stood there whistling
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door

I could shake my tiny fist
and swear I wasn’t wrong
But what’s the sense in arguing
when you’re all alone?
Sure as you can’t steer a train
you can’t change your fate
And when she told me off that day
I knew I’d lost my home

Confidentially —
I never told you of her charms
Confidentially —
we never had a home
But this railroad apartment
was the perfect place
when she’d sit and hold me in her arms

This song on the surface is about a break-up.  But to go with the overall theme of the album it is about the ever bending view of relationships and marriage as the generations pass.  The time bomb in his mind, sooner or later his head will explode, but from what?  Suicide?  Today’s culture does not promote monogamy but our heart yearns for someone to share life with.  He talks about how great she was but confidentially saying well maybe she wasn’t all that great but I miss her and would have married her.  The train references possibly alluding to being homeless and wandering, out of luck.  Desperate.  Can’t change fate, this was inevitable.
The other angle that I see is a man is imprisoned and, is let out. His daughter when he went to jail was a baby, or very young, when he gets out she is four years gone, or older,”she threw away her baby doll” outgrew it, “five feet tall and sick of me” sick of him because he keeps rattling on about prison or him trying to be a parent and she hasn’t seen him for years so she doesn’t like him around because she is not used to having both parents, or just upset.  Also drinking for two could mean he is drinking double what he should because he is depressed about his daughter not wanting to see him.   The wedding reference could mean he is thinking about her wedding in the future and is sad because he might not see it.   This is by far my favorite song.  The bridge, “I could shake my tiny fist and swear I wasn’t wrong” seems like it is from a different angle like from the point of view of the little girl, her dad was all she had, “whats the sense in arguing when you’re all alone?”  This is one way they are stealing children and molding them is when they throw people in jail, there are more people in jail now than ever because there are more types of crimes now than ever.  The molding of children by the state and popular culture creates a ticking time bomb of tyranny.

4.  Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks

Obviously a cover song, but why this song?  I think the song answers that question:  Why did Constantinople get the works?  Why is it now Istanbul?  A new culture took over, Islam.  The war of religions.  This could possibly be referencing the rise of Islam as a contender to the western world.  A place was once occupied by one culture and another culture came in and took over, by force.   Things change over time, they aren’t the way they used to be, we can’t go back we have to push on.

5. Dead

I returned a bag of groceries
Accidently taken off the shelf
Before the expiration date
I came back as a bag of groceries
Accidently taken off the shelf
Before the date stamped on myself

Did a large procession wave their
Torches as my head fell in the basket,
And was everybody dancing on the casket?

Now it’s over I’m dead and I haven’t done anything that I want
Or, I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do

I will never say the word
“Procrastinate” again; I’ll never
See myself in the mirror with my eyes closed
I didn’t apologize for
When I was eight and I made my younger brother
Have to be my personal slave

So I won’t
  sit at home
  and you won’t
  see my head in
  the window
and I won’t
  be around
  ever anymore
  and I’ll be up there on the wall at the store

Did a large procession wave their

Torches as my head fell in the basket,
And was everybody dancing on the casket?

Now it’s over I’m dead and I haven’t done anything that I want
Or, I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do

“Dead” seems to be describing three different but related situations.  Returning a bag of groceries, giving them a second chance before they are thrown away, then reincarnating as that same bag as they are taken off the shelf before they expired.  This song features the GOLDEN RULE, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because maybe they ARE you.   There is a scene of an execution of someone who is really really hated obviously because of the people dancing on his casket, someone who did nothing good for anyone, a disgraceful human being that gets disgraced, do unto others.  The grocery reference also applies to a worthless existence, the groceries were returned but they weren’t bad, they were just there, they had potential but were thrown away, much like throwing life away, like having nothing to do or no goals just living and making everyone else do things for you, possibly a reference to a tyrant, saying someone lazy and living off of someone else shamelessly is the same as someone who is an evil tyrant, they just have their eyes closed so they can’t see that is what they are doing.  This song could be referencing the lazy people in society, the leeches.  Burdening those who are striving for a meaningful existence, holding them down much like a tyrant holds down everyone.  This song is describing the setting.  Also those who are non-productive in the eyes of a tyrannical society are a lot of times the first ones to be victims of genocide.

6.  Your Racist Friend

This is where the party ends
I can’t stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend

It was the loveliest party that I’ve ever attended
If anything was broken I’m sure it could be mended
My head can’t tolerate this bobbing and pretending
Listen to some bullet-head and the madness that he’s saying

Out from the kitchen to the bedroom to the hallway
Your friend apologizes, he could see it my way
He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking
Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding

The references to party and politics, this is where the party ends, possibly the formation of a new party or a new set of ideas because the old party is getting some offensive ideas and the person “hosting” the party is obviously rich and is influential.  Racism is a tool of dividing and conquering, a way to split people not to bring them together.  Can’t shake the devil’s hand, an occult reference, the racist friend is promoting an agenda, maybe a genocidal agenda, a bullet head, someone who is speaking madness.  Someone who is adding to the looming darkness and possibly promoting it.  A warmonger.  This could be a prophetic view of how the Tea Party originally formed, anti-war anti-big government anti-elitists.  The new party formed is the resistance.

7. Particle Man

Particle man, particle man
Doing the things a particle can
What’s he like? It’s not important
Particle man

Is he a dot, or is he a speck?
When he’s underwater does he get wet?
Or does the water get him instead?
Nobody knows, Particle man

Triangle man, Triangle man
Triangle man hates particle man
They have a fight, Triangle wins
Triangle man

Universe man, Universe man
Size of the entire universe man
Usually kind to smaller man
Universe man

He’s got a watch with a minute hand,
Millenium hand and an eon hand
When they meet it’s a happy land
Powerful man, universe man

Person man, person man
Hit on the head with a frying pan
Lives his life in a garbage can
Person man

Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Does he feel totally worthless?
Who came up with person man?
Degraded man, person man

Triangle man, triangle man
Triangle man hates person man
They have a fight, triangle wins
Triangle man

This is a song that talks about the occult.  The triangle man, stands for the Illuminati, the pyramid.  Particle man can be a reference to science, or scientists.  The Illuminati hates the truth, the world around them is all particles they are aimed at destroying it and they are succeeding in holding back the truth and the deep thoughts, does water get him instead?  Nobody knows.  They are the destroyers of knowledge.  Universe man is God, he cannot be held down, he is around a long time and everyone is a part of him, maybe even saying that the universe IS him as in the galaxies are just particles that make up this giant Universe man, when the hands all meet its a happy land, the millennium.  Person man is the regular guy who is down on his luck and Triangle Man holds him down, person man fights him but triangle man still wins.  The main point of this is to illustrate the occult in simple almost child-like terms.

8. Twisting

She set your goldfish free
And now she’s sighing
Blew out your pilot light
And made a wish

She doesn’t have to have
Her dB’s record back now
But there’s not a lot of things
That she’ll take back

  She wants to see you again
  She wants to see you again
Slowly twisting
In the wind
Twisting twisting
In the wind

She’s not your satellite
She doesn’t miss you
So turn off your smoke machine
And Marshall stack

She doesn’t have to have
Her Young Fresh Fellows tape back now
But there’s not a lot of things
That she’ll take back

This is about a woman who wants to hurt someone so bad that they kill themselves, she wants to see you twisting in the wind as in hanging by your neck.  This could be a microcosm of the same theme with relationships covered in “Lucky Ball and Chain”, just a view from another perspective, kind of a reply to that song.   She’s not your satellite, as in her life doesn’t revolve around you so stop trying to impress her and make her feel good because she is out of here.  This is a John Flansburgh song and he writes a lot of love/break up songs while using ironic word play:  “She wants to see you again” as in she wants you back, BUT she wants to see you slowly twisting…. in the wind.   Not too deep of a song.  But still dark and disturbing, the music makes this song what it is.

9. We Want A Rock

Where was I? I forgot
The point that I was making
I said if I was smart that I would
Save up for a piece of string
And a rock to wind the string around

Everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around
Everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

If I were a carpenter I’d
Hammer on my piglet, I’d
Collect the seven dollars and I’d
Buy a big prosthetic forehead
And wear it on my real head

Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads
Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
Prosthetic foreheads on their heads
But everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the foreheads down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

“We Want A Rock” is arguably the most political song on the album.  The opening line is reminiscent of the story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut.  Where was I?  Something is distracting me so I can’t process an entire thought.  If I was smart I would save up for a rock to wind a string around.  What does that symbolize?  Well some people have speculated that it means wanting a pet rock, but thinking a little bit deeper it means wanting a weapon of some sort.  Weapons are used for recreation as well as self defense.  Everyone wants a self defense weapon.  Throw the crib door wide, open the prison doors for the people too adolescent to be able to defend themselves.  The “adults” will save you from yourself.  Someone is trying to burn the playhouse down, or an outside threat is coming, and we need to save you by taking what you would use to protect yourself from that outside threat, because it might get into the wrong hands.  The same goes with prosthetic foreheads or helmets.  The people want helmets to protect themselves from the rocks that they cannot get that only the criminals have, so if we cannot have the rock with the string around it we want the prosthetic forehead to protect us from the rock.  But alas, open the jails and throw everyone who wants a prosthetic forehead in jail because they shouldn’t use it.  Someone’s trying to burn your forehead down otherwise stated as trying to kill you or stop your brain which is in your forehead.  This is a very Orwellian song.  Big brother is the unmentioned character in this song.  If you view their songs as riddles, which are just puzzles with a missing piece that makes it a whole.  To get the whole story of a TMBG song you have to figure out what they aren’t mentioning, the piece of the puzzle that is intentionally left out to make a point. 

to be continued……………….

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