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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about They Might Be Giants

Archive-name: music/tmbg-faq
Last-modified: 20 October 2000
Posting-Frequency: monthly
URL: http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/faq/
Subject: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
From: Mike Levy <tdk@tmbg.org>
This page contains the answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) often seen in postings to the They Might Be Giants mailing list and the "alt.music.tmbg" newsgroup. It is posted to help reduce volume in the mailing list and newsgroup and to provide hard-to-find information of general interest.


  1. How can I find out more about They Might Be Giants? How do I join the TMBG fan club? (updated)
  2. How do I get off the mailing list?
  3. What are TMBG doing now and when will the next record be released? What are the tour dates? (updated)
  4. Is Dial-A-Song for real?
  5. Do the Johns know about the mailing list? Do the Johns know about the alt.music.tmbg newsgroup? Do the Johns read this list? Do the Johns read the newsgroup? Can I talk to John and John via e-mail?
  6. Are there TMBG lyrics and/or archives of the mailing list available? Where can I get the latest TMBG discography?
  7. Where does the name "They Might Be Giants" come from?
  8. What is the "long long trailer"?
  9. What does the morse code spell in "The Pencil Rain"?
  10. What are the missing lyrics to "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"? What are the lyrics to the bridge section in "Letterbox"? Why did they leave out one line of "Road Movie to Berlin"?
  11. What is the dialogue in "Snowball in Hell"? (updated)
  12. Why does "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" sound so familiar?
  13. Who is speaking in the song with no name? (track 13 on Miscellaneous T)
  14. What is the backwards voice saying on "I'll Sink Manhattan"? What is the backwards message in "Which Describes How You're Feeling"? What's the backwards message at the end of "Hide Away, Folk Family"? What's the backwards music at the end of "Subliminal"?
  15. Whose face is in the video for "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head"?
  16. Who are the two guys on the cover of Lincoln?
  17. Who are "They May Be Giants"? How did TMBG get where they are today?
  18. Who originally performed "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"?
  19. Did TMBG write that kid's song about the sun?
  20. What does "Ana Ng" mean?
  21. What are they wearing on their heads in the "Don't Let's Start" video?
  22. What is "Particle Man" about?
  23. I like TMBG, what other bands might I like?
  24. What is the sample at the beginning of "Boat of Car"?
  25. What are the palindromes in "I Palindrome I"?
  26. Who is "dead uncle allotheria"?
  27. What are the lyrics of "James K. Polk"?
  28. What is "The Statue Got Me High" about?
  29. What is "Purple Toupee" all about?
  30. Where did the cover of Flood come from?
  31. What is the Hello Recording Club and how do I join?
  32. Did you know that Nightgown of the Sullen Moon is a book?
  33. What is the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul" all about?
  34. Can someone tell me who Marvin Gaye and Phil Ochs are? Who is Kurtis Blow?
  35. Who originally did the song "Frankenstein" that They play at live shows?
  36. Where did the song "Lady is a Tramp" come from?
  37. Is the song "We're the Replacements" a mockery or a tribute?
  38. What are the strange background vocals in "Dinner Bell"? What are they singing in "See The Constellation"?
  39. Who is James Ensor?
  40. Who is Edith Head, and where does the song She Thinks She's Edith Head come from? (new)
  41. Why aren't the lyrics to "AKA Driver" printed in the liner notes?
  42. Does the song "The End of the Tour" mean that They Might Be Giants will never play live again?
  43. What was the countdown that TMBG used during the They Might Be Giants tour? (updated)
  44. What was the countdown that TMBG used during the John Henry tour? (new)
  45. Which John sings this song?
  46. What is the difference between the Don't Let's Start collection and Miscellaneous T?
  47. Is there really a hidden track on the Factory Showroom CD? How can I find it? (updated)
  48. What is this tribute album I keep hearing about? (updated)
  49. What's the deal with On Earth My Nina? (new)
  50. Who is Brian Dewan, and how does he tie in with TMBG? (new)
  51. Did TMBG record Fish Heads, 88 Lines About 44 Women, The Beer Song, etc.? (new)
This document copyright © 1992-2000 by John Relph, copyright © 2000 by Mike Levy

While some information included herein is not copyright and may be used without permission, the compilation of this information in this document in this format is copyright and may not be published in any form whatsoever without the permission of the author. Just ask.

This document may be distributed electronically and otherwise if and only if the entire copyright notice and attributions are included.

Send corrections, additions, and the like to Mike Levy <tdk@tmbg.org>. Please write 'FAQ' in the subject line.


1. How can I find out more about They Might Be Giants? How do I join the TMBG fan club?

First, listen to all of their music.

Secondly, you can surf the official They Might Be Giants page ("http://www.tmbg.com/") and check out the Unofficial They Might Be Giants Page ("http://www.tmbg.org/"). The latest official Giants news is always available at "http://www.theymightbegiants.com/".

Thirdly, go see them in concert. For  tour dates, your best bet is "http://www.pollstar.com/tour/searchall.pl?By=Artist&Content=they+might+be+giants"

Fourthly, read the FAQs (this file and others). The latest edition of the They Might Be Giants Answers to Frequently Asked Questions file (this FAQ file) is always available using the World Wide Web at "http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/faq/". A plain text version of this FAQ file is available at "http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/faq/FAQ.txt". The They Might Be Giants Early Years Handbook is (temporarily) available at "http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/early-years/". The best They Might Be Giants concert history can be found at "http://www.tmbg.net/shows.html". The They Might Be Giants Who Sings What list is available at "http://www.tc.umn.edu/~cab/whosings.txt". A Mono Puff FAQ list is available at "http://www.monopuff.org/faq/".

Fifthly, it's free to join They Might Be Giants' Information Club (sent via snail mail). To receive newsletters, tour dates and mail-order catalog, write:

    Dept. PPFNP
    Box 110535
    Williamsburgh Station
    Brooklyn, NY 11211-0003
or call
or send email:
Please give your full name, street address and zip code.

Sixly, you can join the They Might Be Giants mailing list. The mailing list is for the discussion of the music and recordings of They Might Be Giants (the band and the cereal). The mailing list is distributed as both a "bounce" list, in which every message posted to the list gets sent out individually, and a "digest" list, in which a week's worth of messages are compiled into one large "digest" message. For more information on the TMBG mailing list, read "http://www.tmbg.org/discussion/mail/". If you are concerned about the number of messages you receive, you may want to subscribe to the "digest" list rather than the "bounce" list. The TMBG mailing list is administered by Leo Bicknell. Once you have subscribed, you will be sent a welcome letter which includes instructions for submitting articles to the mailing list. Please save this welcome letter for future reference. If you have any other questions or problems, send e-mail to <tmbg-list-approval@ufp.org>.

To join the "bounce" list, send the command

    subscribe tmbg-list
in the body of an e-mail message to <majordomo@tmbg.org>.

To join the "digest" list, send the command

    subscribe tmbg-digest
in the body of an e-mail message to <majordomo@tmbg.org>.

And finally, you can read the Alternative Newsgroup "alt.music.tmbg". If your site carries the Alternative Usenet news groups ("alt" groups) then you can read this newsgroup. Check with your local system administrator or consultant for details. Some information is available at "http://www.tmbg.org/discussion/news/".

back to questions

2. How do I get off the mailing list?

To cancel your subscription to the TMBG "bounce" list, send the command

    unsubscribe tmbg-list e-mail@address
in the body of an e-mail message to <majordomo@tmbg.org>.

To cancel your subscription to the TMBG "digest" list, send the command

    unsubscribe tmbg-digest e-mail@address
in the body of an e-mail message to <majordomo@tmbg.org>.

(Note: your "e-mail@address" is optional if you have subscribed with the address you use to send the command.)

Thank you for your mind.

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3. What are TMBG doing now and when will the next record be released? What are the tour dates?

The Malcolm in the Middle soundtrack, with three TMBG tracks has a current release date of 2/6/01. The best MitM website can be found here. They Might Be Giants are slated to release No!, an album of songs for children in spring of 2001. The disc will be enhanced. You can preview six of the songs from the album here. They also plan to release their next regular album of songs for childish adults, Unreliable Narrator, soon thereafter. A single of Working Undercover for the Man was released by emusic in May 2000; their first MP3 release, Long Tall Weekend was released on 7/19/99. Both can be had on emusic.com.

For the most up to date list of TMBG tour dates, check pollstar.com. Also, theymightbegiants.com is usually pretty up to date and contains the latest TMBG news.

John Linnell's album, State Songs, was released by Zoë Records on October 26, 1999. John Linnell said in an interview that choosing states as a subject gave him 50 guaranteed song titles.

The Hello Recording Club has shut its doors, the last installment having been sent to subscribers in April of 1997.

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4. Is Dial-A-Song for real?

Yes, it is. The correct number for Dial-A-Song is still 718-387-6962. Always just a regular call to Brooklyn. No extra charges.

Dial-A-Song is now available via the web on the official They Might Be Giants page ("http://www.tmbg.com/"). Dial-A-Song now has its own website ("http://www.dialasong.com/").

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5. Do the Johns know about the mailing list? Do the Johns know about the alt.music.tmbg newsgroup? Do the Johns read this list? Do the Johns read the newsgroup? Can I talk to John and John via e-mail?

Do the Johns know about the mailing list?


Do the Johns know about the alt.music.tmbg newsgroup?


Do the Johns read the list?


Do the Johns read the newsgroup?


Can I talk to John and John via e-mail?


Thanks to Chris Bongaarts.

Joshua Hall-Bachner adds:

What if John and John were on the list, e-mailing us under a penname?

They'd leave.

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6. Are there TMBG lyrics and/or archives of the mailing list available? Where can I get the latest TMBG discography?

Check out the Unofficial They Might Be Giants Page ("http://www.tmbg.org/"). Back issues of the digest are available via the Web at "http://www.tmbg.org/discussion/mail/list/", and via FTP from from ftp.tmbg.org [], in the directory "/pub/tmbg-digest.archive/".

The TMBG discography is available at "http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/discography/". The FAQ is available at "http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/faq/".

back to questions

7. Where does the name "They Might Be Giants" come from?

They Might Be Giants is the name of a film starring George C. Scott, as a classic paranoiac who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes, and Joanne Woodward, as his psychiatrist Dr. Watson.

Fred Wolf adds:

[The] film you cite was previously a broadway play. The play's title . . . comes from a section of Don Quixote da la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes, where Don Quixote's trusted servant Sanch Panza asks the Don why is preparing to attack several windmills (common in Spain) with his lance. Don Quixote replies "Why, because they might be giants."
Russ Josephson writes:
For me, the key dialogue of the movie, where the title comes from, follows:

Holmes: Here, what do you make of it?

Watson: God, you're just like Don Quixote, you think everything's always something else.

Holmes: Heh, heh, heh, well he had a point. Of course, he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be ... Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat. But, what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

John Linnell explains: "It's the name of a movie made in the early seventies. We wanted a name that was outward-looking and paranoid."

However, The Rev. Midnight Tree Bandit says:

One evening a couple of years ago, I was hanging out at a radio station on a Sunday Night (I was there every Sunday, but not a dj... long story) and came across one of those "how the bands got their names" books. I was quite surprised to find tmbg were one of them. The story given is a little different. According to the book (which cited both Flans and Linnell), neither of the Johns had seen the movie in question, nor were they quite aware of who they were. They got the name from a ventriloquist act, a friend of theirs, who used that name. After an unsuccessful run at a talent show, the guy told them they could use the name if they wanted. The Johns were wavering between that and "Dumptruck", choosing tmbg immediately before their first club date -- and a good thing too since there was a Boston band of the same name making the rounds of the East Coast.
back to questions

8. What is the "long long trailer"?

The Long Long Trailer is a film starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They take a trip towing their house trailer behind them. The dishes get broken. The car keeps driving. Nobody stops to save her (because Desi can't hear her, she's in the trailer).

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9. What does the Morse code spell in "The Pencil Rain"?

Ben Nicholson writes:

Anyway, my girlfriend got all the letters, but she couldn't make out what it said. She then read me the sequence and I recognized it from my high school Spanish class. The message:

Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, canta y no llores

It is a Spanish folk song translated the first line means "Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, sing and don't cry."

Dave Zobel adds that the song is "'Cielito Lindo,' which some folks may recognize as the song once sung by the Frito Bandito."

Sadiye Guler adds:

"Cielito Lindo" translates to "Pretty Little Sky"

and i say, there we go!

. the spanish song is saying "don't cry pretty little sky"
. our song is "pencil rain", and the rain is how skies cry, right? i mean as a commonly used metaphor
. so, the bullet/pencil rain is the sky's tears, and the morse code says "sing and don't cry" to the sky.

i take it as an antiwar message, ironically morse-coded by gun shot noises.

HEY!!! responds:
Gunshots? sorry to bring it up again but it sounds NOTHING like gunshots...
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10. What are the missing lyrics to "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"? What are the lyrics to the bridge section in "Letterbox"? Why did they leave out one line of "Road Movie to Berlin"?

The missing lyrics to "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair" are as follows:

Mr. Horrible / Mr. Horrible / We're not done with you yet Mr. Horrible / You have to try on these pants so the Ugliness Men / can decide if they're just as embarrassing as we think. / We have to be sure about this.
Jimmymeister writes:

I posted a question about the Letterbox bridge several months ago. Here's the compiled response I got:

    Too late or soon to make [noise about] love and
        there's no time for sorrow.
    Run around in the rain with a hole in the brain till tomo-rrooooow.
Kirsten Brodbeck says:
They cut [the line in "Road Movie to Berlin"] out because They thought it made the song too long.
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11. What is the dialogue in "Snowball in Hell"?

Ted Rathkopf writes:

    Paul: I didn't expect to find a salesman drinking coffee this
          late in the morning.  How long you been here, Joe?

    Joe:  I don't know.  I guess 30, 45 minutes maybe.  Why do you

    Paul: You must be making a lot of sales.  Piling up a good

    Joe:  Ohhhhaaaa I'm doing alright.  I could do better, but....
          Ohhhahaha I get it Paul.  Back on that old Time Is Money
          kick, right?

    Paul: Not back on it Joe, still on it.
Mike Levy adds:
John Flansburgh has mentioned that the source of this recording is a motivational record that John Linnell gave him. From a recording of a live show where they performed this song, I have evidence that there is an edit. The actual line is, "I get it, Paul. You've got the needle out and back on that old time is money kick, right?"
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12. Why does "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" sound so familiar?

The bridge part is the melody to "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah", and the final section seems to be a twisted mixture of the theme to "Perry Mason" and the theme to "Mayberry R.F.D."

Miles Taber adds:

I've always heard something strikingly similar to the theme of The Patty Duke Show, which actually seems (just barely) consistent with the lyrics of the song.
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13. Who is speaking in the song with no name? (track 13 on Miscellaneous T)

This song was originally released as one of the B-sides to "(She Was a) Hotel Detective".

Tess writes:

Dial-a-Song was . . . Flans' answering machine. In the old days, before they might have been giants, people would leave messages after listening to a song. That is where the woman from Misc T comes from. I guess she is just some random message that was left on John's answering machine. Once, the 94th precinct of the police called in to say how great they thought the guys were. and left a message.
[And that's where the message in "I'll Sink Manhattan" comes from as well.]

John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants) says:

This is a very frequently asked question. Back when very few people called Dial-A-Song the phone machine that played the songs took messages. I came home one day and found the message tape full, instead of the ten or twenty messages it usually had. I rewound the tape and found that most of it was taken up by a woman who had called on a conference call with her friend, listened to the song and then proceeded to have a private conversation unaware that the Dial-A-Song machine was recording them. The recording on track thirteen is just an excerpt of the first couple of minutes of their conversation. It actually got much stranger, but it was unrelated to the band, and too freaky to put on a record.
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14. What is the backwards voice saying Manhattan"? What is the backwards message in "Which Describes How You're Feeling"? What's the backwards message at the end of "Hide Away, Folk Family"? What's the backwards music at the end of "Subliminal"?

Cat "had the enormous good fortune to interview John F. for The Cornell Daily", and John says, concerning the backwards voice in "I'll Sink Manhattan":

It's actually a New York Cop who left a message on Dial-A-Song, saying [thick New Yawk accent] "John and John... the NYPD love you!" It was so strange because... it's really weird having, like, POLICEMEN telling you things like this...
Eric Peterson writes:
The message is: "Thanks a lot guys." "From the N.Y.P.D." "We love ya." It's actually three separate messages; the first is at normal speed and the other two are slowed down a bit.
Andrew Weiskopf writes:
In the song "Which Describes How You're Feeling," there is a passage which has been cleverly recorded backwards. Our research staff has decoded the secret message in the song: and now, you will be the first to know these all-too-powerful words of wisdom....

It is as follows:


Note: This message only appears on the DEMO version of "Which Describes How You're Feeling", which is available on Then: The Earlier Years and on some of the singles for The Statue Got Me High.

About "Hide Away, Folk Family", thanks to Joshua John Buergel for this answer:

The secret message is total gibberish. John and John just babbled into the mic while recording it backwards.
However, Steve points out:
. . . the message in Hide Away Folk Family wasn't even recorded backwards, John & John just used their "fake backwards singing". I read this in an info club issue.
And finally, about "Subliminal", the backwards section is just the drums and vocals from the ending of the song reversed.

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15. Whose face is in the video for "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head"?

William Allen White. His face was also used for props at TMBG concerts, appears on the CD single of "Don't Let's Start", appears in the "Don't Let's Start" video, and otherwise can be found associated with TMBG.

WHITE, William Allen, American writer and journalist: b. Emporia, Kans., Feb. 10, 1868; d. there, Jan. 29, 1944. He grew up in El Dorado, Kans., 60 miles south of Emporia, studied at the University of Kansas (1886-1890) but did not graduate, quitting instead to become business manager of the El Dorado Republican; he was editorial manager on the Kansas City Star from 1892 to 1895. In 1895 he bought the Emporia Gazette, which he edited and published during the rest of his life; through its columns he became famous throughout the United States as "the sage of Emporia," a genial and warmly human person who epitomized the middle-class Midwest; a Republican and a liberal who endeared himself to all, including those who differed with him, because of his integrity, tolerance, and understanding; a writer of great versatility and appeal. His editorial, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" (Aug. 15, 1896), attacking the People's Party (Populists), attracted nationwide attention and helped the Republicans elect William McKinley to the presidency. His essay, "Mary White," on the death of his daughter, aged 17, in 1921, in a riding accident is considered a classic. For his editorial, "To an Anxious Friend" (July 27, 1922) he received a 1923 Pulitzer Prize. His books include collected short stories and sketches, such as The Real Issue and Other Stories (1896), The Court of Boyville (1899), and In Our Town (1906); novels -- A Certain Rich Man (1909), The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me (1918), and In the Heart of a Fool (1918); a biography of Woodrow Wilson (1924) and two of Calvin Coolidge (1925, 1938); collected newspaper writings -- The Editor and His People, selected by Helen O. Mahin (1924) and Forty Years on Main Street, compiled by Russell H. Fitzgibbon (1937); and other works such as Masks in a Pageant, political sketches (1928), and The Changing Midwest (1939). His autobiography was published in 1946 and reissued in 1951.

[Consult Hinshaw, David, The Man from Kansas (New York 1945); Johnson, Walter, ed., Selected Letters, 1899-1943 (New York 1947); id., William Allen White's America (New York 1947).]

Thanks to John Iacoletti.

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16. Who are the two guys on the cover of Lincoln?

John and John's grandfathers: Louis T. Linnell and Brigadier General Ralph Hospital.

According to the Fall, 1991 issue of They.

Thanks to John Iacoletti.

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17. Who are "They May Be Giants"? How did TMBG get where they are today?

The two founding members of They Might Be Giants are John Flansburgh and John Linnell. John Conant Flansburgh (AKA Rolf Conant) was born on May 6, 1960, and is married. John Sidney Linnell (pronounced lin-NELL) is married and has a child.

Find out more about the early years of They Might Be Giants in the Early Years Handbook, (temporarily) available at "http://www.tmbg.org/band-info/early-years/".

Currently the band also features the drumming of Dan Hickey, the excellent bass playing of Danny Weinkauf, and Dan Miller on lead guitar.

The following information appears courtesy of Smokin' Bo Orloff and the TMBG Information Club.

Following is the text of the APOLLO 18 TMBG band bio:


John Linnell and John Flansburgh have known each other since grammar school. They became friends in high school in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where they worked on the school paper and recorded some songs together. After high school they moved to different states. Linnell played in the Rhode Island band, the Mundanes. While in college in Ohio, Flansburgh played in a couple of hobby bands. Both moved to Brooklyn in 1981, converging on an apartment building in Park Slope.

Flansburgh: "We arrived as most of the New York bands we were interested in were going national or breaking up. We kind of missed the scene." They started working together on home recordings pooling instruments and equipment and playing on each other's songs. By the mid-eighties the Lower East Side club scene was heating up again, but the focus was on acts very different to punk rock. "We were on bills with a lot of avant-garde musicians and performance artists, which was challenging and exciting - and it definitely influenced us. But we always seemed very much like a rock band by comparison, and that's why it seems so inaccurate tag us with the same kinds of labels."

As for the band's name, John Linnell explains: "It's the name of a movie made in the early seventies. We wanted a name that was outward-looking and paranoid."

While the band was getting noticed on the downtown scene for their live performances, many people in and outside the New York area discovered They Might Be Giants through their Dial-A-Song service. Years before any other fan line, They Might Be Giants' service offered songs recorded especially for their phone line, and the only charge is that of a regular call to Brooklyn. Linnell says, "It's a difficult medium of expression. A lot of sounds just can't be heard over the phone, and of course if you hit that sustained note which sounds like a beep, the machine ends the song right there."

After their 1985 demo tape was reviewed in People magazine, Hoboken's Bar/None label approached the band about releasing an album, and a quick succession of events vaulted the band into the national spotlight. Their self-titled first album was widely praised and a solid commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies in its first year of release. Through a series of striking and creative videos the Giants became MTV regulars - a rare feat for a band on an independent label.

They Might Be Giants began touring nationally with their two-man show, and started to gain an enthusiastic national following. Flansburgh: "Most rock shows are very schematic -- they're about bigness. By comparison, our show probably seems very stripped down. We wear our street clothes on stage, and we talk to the audience. We play a few different instruments to keep things moving along, but we try to keep it simple. We'd rather people notice the words than a laser show." After the release of their second album, LINCOLN, the band signed with Elektra records and in 1990 put out their enormously successful FLOOD lp.

1990 saw They Might Be Giants' first major label single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul," become a top ten hit in the UK. They toured around the world and performed over 160 shows in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. The band made numerous television and radio appearances, including The Tonight Show, where they played with Doc Severinsen, Today, and Late Night With David Letterman.

back to questions

18. Who originally performed "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"?

The expert at Sounds Enjoyable, a record store in Sacramento, California, informs us that The Four Lads were the first group to record this song, the record having been released in 1951.

Bart adds that the jacket to the album The Most Requested Songs of the Fifties has this to say:

If solo performers were particularly in demand in the 1950s, so were male quartets which proliferated like never before. With names like The Four Aces, The Four Freshman, The Four Coins, The Four Grads and The Four Most, they all vied for public attention. One of the most admired groups was The Four Lads, who backed Johnny Ray on his #1 hit, "Cry," and went on to make a name for themselves as recording stars. The group consisted of Frank Busseri, Bernard Toorish, James Arnold, and Connie Coderini, all from Toronto, Canada, who were discovered by Orlando Wilson, of the Golden Gate Quartet. Brought to New York on a two-week engagement, they lasted 30 weeks and were signed to the OKeh label, where they recorded their first hit, "The Mocking Bird." Subsequently they toured with Ray for months, and eventually followed him to Columbia. One of their early hits for the label and a song with which they became closely identified was "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," recorded in 1953, which charted at #10. Two years later, following a series of minor hits, The Four Lads had another best seller with the #2 "Moments to Remember," which stayed on the charts for 25 weeks.
Joe Koenen writes:
'Istanbul' [Not Constantinople] Was ... performed, and recorded by the Ames Brothers, circa 1953.
However, Jon Mann writes:
I was listening to an interview with a German singer, Katarina Valente, who's apparently been around for 60 or so years now (since she was 5). Anyway, she mentioned her first jazz album, which was a complete flop, but she still liked it.

Among the songs on this album was one called 'Istanbul'.

I thought, "No, it couldn't be." It was.

A very serious rendition of a very silly song, with what she said was the best jazz band (in Germany) at the time. This is really one for the collectors...

back to questions

19. Did TMBG write that kid's song about the sun?

No, it's originally from a 1959 educational record. They Might Be Giants' studio recording of the song is now available on a single entitled Why Does the Sun Shine?.

Chip Olson writes:

"The sun is a mass of incandescent gas,
A gigantic nuclear furnace,
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees."
This is verbatim from a record I had when I was a kid called Space Songs.. essentially a bunch of cutesy kiddie songs teaching basic stuff about space. Other titles on that record included "Beep-beep...beep-beep... here comes a satellite..." and "Zoom-away zoom in our rocket ship..."

Samantha Lee Miller writes:

I found a copy of the original Space Songs LP, famed for the song "Why does the sun shine" covered by TMBG. The album is amazingly TMBG-ish, and not only for WDTSS, which TMBG covered almost verbatim. No date on the album, but I assume it's post-Sputnik 1950s. It is truly a fascinating piece of our musical heritage.

Interesting facts:
Singers: Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans
Lyricists: Hy Zaret and Lou Singer
Label: Motivation Records
Series: Singing Science Records (proud publishers of Energy and Motion Songs, Experiment Songs, Nature Songs, and Weather Songs)
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20. What does "Ana Ng" mean?

Derek Thomas interviews John Flansburgh in the 8/90 THROTTLE magazine:

JF: Ng is a Vietnamese name. The song is about someone who's thinking about a person on the exact opposite side of the world. John looked at a globe and figured out that if Ana Ng is in Vietnam and the person is on the other side of the world, then it must be written by someone in Peru.
Jon McIntyre says:
John F is wrong; it's a Chinese name. `Nguyen' and `Ngoc' are examples of similar Vietnamese names.
Graham and Grendel write:
My friend Grendel says that Anna Ng is the world's smallest woman. She was at the 1964 world's fair. Somebody should look this up and see if it's true. That stuff about Vietnam and Peru is nothing but a clever ruse.
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21. What are they wearing on their heads in the "Don't Let's Start" video?

Dylan Wilbanks writes:

Rolled up carpets. The place they're at is the site of the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, which would later be immortalized in "Ana Ng".
back to questions

22. What is "Particle Man" about?

"Particle Man" concerns the nature of the life, the universe and everything. Triangle man has been construed to represent the Holy Trinity. Triangle Man has also been interpreted to represent change, religion, the homosexual community, and is a reference to a quantum physics phenomenon as well.

Peter Reitan writes:

To truly understand Particle Man, you must read the book "Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions" ( I do not know the name of the author, but the book is available from any good bookstore or ordering service).

The book was written from the perspective of a triangular shaped being who lived in a universe in which triangular-shaped people were confined to a two dimensional plane.

During the course of the book, this Triangle Man meets a Sphere Man who lives in a three dimensional world. Sphere Man introduces Triangle Man to a Particle Man, who lives in a no-dimensional world. Since Particle Man is confined to a point in space, everything he experiences and hears he believes emanates from his own world. He believes that he is the entire universe - from his no-dimensional perspective and understanding he is the Entire-Universe-Man.

Triangle Man also meets the Line-Men (no analogy in the song) who are confined to a linear universe. Of necessity, all line men are hermaphroditic, so that they can reproduce with the other line person on either end of their linear bodies. Three Dimensional Sphere Man (person man) takes Triangle Man outside of his plane of existence and shows him around the three dimensional world. Later, when he returns to and is again confined in his own two-dimensional world, Triangle man is imprisoned for heresy, for preaching that there is something greater than just the two dimensions that the triangle people know. In the end, person man wins - he returns to the three dimensional world and triangle man rots in prison.


Andrew Gill makes some observations about Particle Man:
        |We pretty much write these songs and let other people
        |figure them out.  I remember one thing that went into it
        |was that we were watching Night of the Hunter or something
        |on TV and somebody commented that Robert Mitchum reminded
        |them of a triangle. Something about his body type. He
        |seemed like this kind of evil triangle.
I happened to see this movie recently (gleaning purported Simpsons references), and I can see a few more possible references in the song:


Particle man could be a reference to a few characters in the movie--specifically simplistic ones (and there are a few). It could be:

the father:

        Particle man, particle man
        Doing the things a particle can
        What's he like? It's not important
        Particle man
It's not really important who he is, since he dies early on. He steals a nominal amount of cash for his family (``Doing the things a [man] can do'').
        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
Mitchum (the father's cellmate) tells everyone that the money is at the bottom of the river. He didn't bury the money there, thus he didn't get wet. The only other option is that the water got him.
        Triangle man, Triangle man
        Triangle man hates particle man
        They have a fight, Triangle wins
        Triangle man
Triangle man (who we know as Mitchum) eventually wins, in that he finds out where the money is.

the mother:

        Particle man, particle man
        Doing the things a particle can
        What's he like? It's not important
        Particle man
Once again, the mother's character is unimportant. The plot requires her to be deceived by Mitchum.
        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
The mother is killed, and she is thrown into the river.
        Triangle man, Triangle man
        Triangle man hates particle man
        They have a fight, Triangle wins
        Triangle man
Once again, Mitchum hates their mother, and he wins.

However, the most likely is that the children are Particle Man.

        Particle man, particle man
        Doing the things a particle can
        What's he like? It's not important
        Particle man
The kids aren't able to do much, and they are basically stereotypical child heroes.
        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
The children are tiny (dots), and at one point, they go down the river (the water gets them).
        Triangle man, Triangle man
        Triangle man hates particle man
        They have a fight, Triangle wins
        Triangle man
Fairly self-explanatory. Mitchum hates the kids, they get in a fight, and Mitchum wins.

Universe man: an owner of a hostel.

This woman is the only good, self-posessed character in the story.

        Universe man, Universe man
        Size of the entire universe man
        Usually kind to smaller man
        Universe man
She owns a hostel/orphanage and is kind to the kids.
        He's got a watch with a minute hand,
        Millennium hand and an eon hand
        When they meet it's a happy land
        Powerful man, universe man
At one point, she gives the boy in the story a pocket watch. It's a happy land when the boy and the woman meet--until then, he was in constant danger.

The woman is the only one who is more powerful than Mitchum, and she has him arrested.

Finally, person man: an old sea salt who lives in a shack on the river.

        Person man, person man
        Hit on the head with a frying pan
        Lives his life in a garbage can
        Person man
The frying pan may be a reference to the fact that the fisherman was always somewhat drunk.
        Is he depressed or is he a mess?
        Does he feel totally worthless?
        Who came up with person man?
        Degraded man, person man
The fisherman is depressed about the death of his wife years ago, his life is a mess, and he feels so worthless that when he sees the dead mother in the river, he's afraid that they'll think that he did it.

Now, this is probably not right, but it's at least interesting. I think.

Jim Naureckas writes:
I think the progression in the song has something to do with size--Particle Man being infinitely small, Universe Man infinitely big, and Triangle Man an arbitrarily defined two-dimensional figure. Person Man is also somewhere in that big middle, which is why he's (we're) so miserable.
Paul Bartolomeo writes:
Probably one of the most astute songs ever written, Particle Man asks and answers man's most pressing questions.

Before giving my interpretation, we should all remember that " a man buildeth a house, but God created all things." So even though this is a They Might Be Giants song, it was in fact written by God. "Let those with eyes see, and those with ears hear." (if you see what I mean...)

With that in mind, we can ask ourselves, "What is he saying to us in Particle Man?" I'll be the first to admit I know of no other song where he so eloquently presents the realities of life, and man's historical curiosity (or woman's!!!)

The way I see the song, and this is likely to grow with time or even change, is as follows. PARTICLE MAN comes first. He's just doin' the stuff he's doin. So simple, but so much is shown here. The song is written from a man's perspective. The first thing a man sees in the world is basic matter. Also, the first thing that God created was basic matter. Either way, particles, from our eyes, is what we notice first. "What's he like? It's not important." This is another huge statement. It asserts that man, and his scientific endeavors, are not really important. This one you can rattle around in your head for infinity, which is exactly what happens when you pursue science. It does nobody any good to pursue and endless venture. Science expands to infinity at the subatomic level as well as the grand scale. Even though trying to figure out particle man is an infinite journey, that ultimately is really unimportant, WE DO IT ANYWAY! Why? BECAUSE HE'S THERE! And he's so damned interesting! "Does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead???" The paradox of particle man. He comes first, and the song is even named after him! Hence man's life is named- PARADOX- but only from our original perspective- one of science.

Triangle man comes next. This one should be easy, but I see many of you guessing erratically. It's not about a stupid geometrical shape!!! It's the FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST. It's only by the Holy Ghost that one can say this, so it comes down to your personal relationship with GOD Himself on how you react to this. Don't worry though, Particle Man comes first! Eventually you will realize, TRIANGLE MAN!!!!

"Triangle man hates particle man, they have a fight, triangle wins." Duuh. God is probably so sick of people clinging to their puny little theorems and hypothesis, that every once in a while he whacks particle man in a "fight". Some see it happen, and some don't. Hence your person's of devout faith. What do think, everybody who believes in God is an idiot? Believe me, they are not all idiots!!!!

Next comes Universe Man. For many people, they hear about God when they are very young, but don't see him whack Particle Man, so they move on to Universe Man, giving a personification to that in which we live, but cannot explain. "Powerful man, Universe man." This is the most sarcastic statement ever. remember, God made man in His image. You don't think he's sarcastic? Remember, He wrote this!!!

"He's got a watch with a minute hand, millennium hand, and eon hand." Funny how that number three is up again. This is a beautiful thing. We live in three dimensions. After the fall of man, there were certain penalties man had to face, the presence of evil to be precise. In Revelation 20 we read about the say when the angel with the key to the bottomless pit throws Satan in jail for a thousand years. This event starts 1000 years of peace. Anybody who knows anything about Astrology (which by the way is not sorcery as some people claim, Genesis 1 says the stars are for signs, and the three MAfi that found Jesus did so by the coming of the North Star, and they were WISE men) knows that when there is an alignment, a new AGE is born. When Universe Man's hands line up, there will be a Golden Age, 1000 years of peace. A word to the wise: don't ever underestimate the millennium. Do you SEE yet???

The rest of the song is pretty obvious. Man has fallen, degraded himself, and is currently living in a garbage can. Gee, there's a real stretch. God asks us twice, who "Who came up with person man?" There is only one answer. God. When He asks you the second time, don't let Him bust your balls, say "What, you didn't hear ,me the first time! GOD!" Be sure to answer though. Ultimately, TRIANGLE Man will fight person man because he hates what he has done. This is not really some great big statement. It is happening everyday. When we get beat, guess who did it. I think somewhere in Isiah it says, "And who created evil? I, the LoRD (hint) do all these things." Don't worry though, he doesn't throw the hay maker unless... you know...

Russell Pennepacker writes:
i think the song is a political satire, particle man being a basic government taken over [by] communists, triangle man. universe man represents either democracy or a higher form of government, incomprehensible to humans, which is a perfect blend of all types, everyone gets a hand in, or the force which controls the universe, a deity perhaps. universe man is the only man that triangle man will not mess with. maybe he just can't hang or he knows that either democracy or god will prevail. person man represents socialism which is not a bad government but in surveys it comes in right after democracy and right before "whoever is holding the conch". triangle man feels threatened by any other form of government and plans to rid the world of them.

by sending this mail i evolve from a listener to a philosophizer. i am not sure if that is a step up or down but i feel better after getting my point across even if this a captive audience.

Tom Bobzin says:
I always thought that 'Triangle man' represented radiation, and that the Song was primarily a no nukes ditty. The triple-triangle radiation warning symbol, and the greek 'delta' both have connections to the concept of radioactivity. Radioactivity also tends to 'beat' both particles and our good friend person man.
In an interview with Peter Koechley, John Linnell had this to say:
We pretty much write these songs and let other people figure them out. I remember one thing that went into it was that we were watching Night of the Hunter or something on TV and somebody commented that Robert Mitchum reminded them of a triangle. Something about his body type. He seemed like this kind of evil triangle. That was one of the things that went into the song.

[People said that the triangle represented] the three branches of government or the holy trinity but that's not what it is at all.

Actually, "Particle Man" is a song. Any meaning gleaned from its lyrics exist only in the mind of the listener. All meanings are correct. All meanings are bunk.

Jens Alfke writes:

More quantum-mechanical theorizing on "Particle Man". The song says "What's he like? It's not important" which makes sense for a particle; QM asserts that subatomic particles have only a few constant properties (mass, charge, spin...) and beyond that are completely featureless and indistinguishable. I.e. any two electrons are identical.
Ram Samudrala writes:
Particle Man is about the environment, of course! (:
But "tmbrich" has the last word:
In response to this debate,

"Nobody knows, particle man.", answers the question!

So, you see, nobody knows!

back to questions

23. I like TMBG, what other bands might I like?

Lauren N. Banis writes:

Hotel Faux Pas is starting to make the rounds of the nation and they were heavily influenced by TMBG. In fact, they opened for TMBG in St. Louis as well as opening for Moxy Fruvous. You can check them out at www.hotelfauxpas.com
Michael G. Breece writes:
    Kaka Pussy
    The Residents
    Pere Ubu
    Frank Zappa
    Captain Beefheart
    Michael G. Breece
    Laurie Anderson
    The Flaming Lips
    The Dead Milkmen
    De La Soul
    Violent Femmes
    Frank Black
    Tom Waits
    Beastie Boys
    Jane Siberry
    Bruce McCulloch
    The Pharcyde
    The Beatles
B. D. Neufeld writes:
Canadian satirical folkies Moxy Fruvous have stated in numerous interviews that they were inspired by TMBG, and perform a (very short) segment of "The Statue Got Me High" on their 1998 live album, "Live Noise".

Fellow Canucks the Barenaked Ladies claim they were inspired by TMBG and "Ana Ng" in an early interview with Muchmusic, on which they perform "Be My Yoko Ono".

Brad Roberts, frontman for the Canadian band Crash Test Dummies (what is with Canadians and TMBG?) stated in an intimate interview a few years back with Muchmusic VJ Steve Anthony that TMBG were a source of inspiration for him.

The now-defunct Presidents of the United States have always been upfront about following in the footsteps of TMBG, as a number of interviews will attest to.

The Gosh Guys, the Creams, the B.Lee Band, and the Bobs all perform covers of TMBG songs, and Connie Champagne performs a cover of a Mono Puff song.

Former Pixie frontman Frank Black has told the tale, most recently in an interview with Muchmusic in 1998, that around 1990 he was given a tape of "Flood" and tossed it in the backseat of his car where it sat for years, intruding on his conscience. When he finally got around to listening to it, he realized it was "one of the best albums I've ever owned."

While not exactly musicians (not professionally, anyway) the Kids In The Hall members Bruce McCullough and Dave Foley are big fans of TMBG, and personally included the song "Spiraling Shape" on the soundtrack to "KITH: Brain Candy". It might be inferred from this that members of the quirky surf-rock (and Canadian) band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, who perform all the music for the KITH episodes, have a healthy respect for TMBG.

Soul Coughing has thanked TMBG in the liner notes of "Irresistible Bliss" and have said they owe much to both TMBG and Mitchell Froom.

Eric Furman writes:
though TMBG is my all time fav. some others of interest are Weezer (of course), the Rentals, Neutral Milk Hotel, Weston, Wolfie, Mono Puff, Atom and His Package, Sicko, MTX, and Ben Folds Five....just to name a few (not all of these bands have the same sound as TMBG but i can guarantee that any Giants fan will appreciate most if not all of these other bands.
Jason C Petters says:
I was kind of amazed that nobody had suggested XTC, the "Beatle-based pop" band from Britain to whom the Giants refer on one of Factory Showroom's best tracks. The idea for the song XTC vs. Adam Ant came about when the Giants were recording a track for the XTC tribute album. Urged by the Giants' impeccable taste, I picked up a copy of XTC's "Upsy Daisy Assortment," (their newest release) a somewhat random but nevertheless great selection of pop songs covering almost all of XTC's albums to date. I can definitely see what John & John see in them.
I thought I'd take this moment to mention Fountains Of Wayne, writers of clever songs with a sense of the ridiculous.

Fred H. Banta writes, "I was kind of surprised to not see Shonen Knife listed. Captain Beefheart and Yoko Ono should be there too IMHO." To which I say: Shonen Knife are a Japanese punk-pop group whose sense of the ridiculous might just appeal to the TMBG fan. Captain Beefheart is an acquired taste, and those listeners who like the bubblegum qualities of They Might Be Giants are advised that Captain Beefheart can be difficult listening, but he can also be extremely rewarding after repeated listenings. Yoko Ono? No comment.

Abe Scott writes, "Anyone who likes TMBG may like DEVO . . ."

Vikash R. Goel writes:

I and some of my friends who are TMBG fans also enjoy the music of The Presidents of the United States of America. Some see similarities in the two bands' music; some don't.
John Kage writes:
If you like They Might Be Giants and would like more artists with unusual/funny lyrics, I can recommend....

1. Weird Al Yankovic.
2. Monty Python, who did music as well as movies (remember the lumberjack song?)
3. Adam Sandler (but only if you don't mind a lot of cursing)
4. Geggy Tah (I quote: "There's a lot of stuff in my gut that I can't seem to get rid of")

Francophile Jodie writes:
one of the 80's best bands was talking heads. when i started listening to tmbg i thought that it was incredible that someone could have the same style as TH but be quite a bit less pessimistic.

another great and cooky band is camper van beethoven. they weren't afraid to go out on a limb and they sound a lot like tmbg on absolutely bill's mood. in fact, the guy who did the guitar on that song, eugene chadbourne did an album with camper called camper van chadbourne.

Lisa from London writes:
It struck me that another band that you folks in The States and Canada would like if you're TMBG fans is a band from Brighton (not far from London) called Tragic. They play a lot at free festivals and squat parties around Europe. Their music is a cross between fast East European Polka with a bit of a Jewish wedding feel to it, music hall punk and English folk with funny / political lyrics. They use a clarinet, an accordion, a mandolin and a small set of drums; a great set up and play any time anyplace anywhere feel. I've only got one tape of theirs called Here comes the lino man and it's great. If they've still got some you can get this tape from: Tragic, 70 Trafalgar street, Brighton, E. Sussex, UK
Matt Shapiro sent in these suggestions:
Gary Young. The former Pavement drummer cut a solo album named Hospital which sounds so much like They Might Be Giants it's scary.

Wesley Willis. A man and his Casio. he sings the same song 21 times on a CD, but changes the words around. Start out with Fabian Road Warrior. He's like "Weird Al" Yankovic, only he writes his own song(s) and he's a little more abrasive.

Ween. These guys are freakier than TMBG. Expect a lot of different styles from them, the singer often sounds like he's sucking in helium. Suggested CD's are Pure Guava, God Ween Satan, Chocolate And Cheese, and 12 Golden Country Greats.

Let's Go Bowling. A happy, snappy ska band.

Madness. One of the best British bands of the 80's.

Raymond Thomson offers the following:
The Flaming Lips - Are actually very similar lyrics-wise to Tmbg. They use really bizarre, screeching guitar, but it is a very charming effect. The lyrics are a showcase of the wonderfully sarcastic, sweet, and unique viewpoint on life of the lyricist, Wayne Coyne. start with Clouds Taste Metallic.

The Violent Femmes - How can one describe the Violent Femmes? The lyricist, Gordan Gano is pretty messed up, and that can lead to some charming songs. They play fast paced, acoustic guitar music. It's kind of like punk, without the unnecessary noise. Of course, the Violent Femmes are also a lot more intelligent than your average punkster, and it shows. start with Add it Up.

May we suggest The Sugarplastic? Their two albums, Radio Jejune and Bang, The Earth is Round, offer hummable melodies and obscure, seemingly meaningless lyrics.

The band Mailbox has been compared to They Might Be Giants. Quirky pop indeed. Contact Irving (mailbox@superpickle.com) for more information.

Mike Palmer offers the band Soul Coughing:

an interesting band that is something like pop, jazz, hip-hop, and coffee house beatnik poetry rolled up. I think the lyrics would appeal to a TMBG audience (EX: a song about a girl having an out of body experience about a chair below her apartment), also might I suggest TDA (Those Darn Accordions) one killer San Fran band with a 70 year old tattoo covered guy named Clyde who sings his own version of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire", also another member Big Lou has her own theme altered from the song "Devil Went Down To Georgia".
Sam Meyer reminds us:
Of course, there's the incomparable Frank Zappa...
The lyrics of "Twisting" suggest The dBs and the Young Fresh Fellows, and the latter band opened for some TMBG live shows.

Ori S. Abrams writes:

I have loved Pere Ubu for years now, and TMBG had the wonderful idea of recruiting master bassist Tony Maimone. I suggest the Dub Housing album (available on CD) for any They Might Be Giants fan.
Marshal Happ writes:
I'd like to point out that the group 2nu might also be enjoyed by the rest of us TMBG fans. Well, one of the best things about TMBG (to me... aside from the incredible music) is the diversity of the lyrics and the many meanings that they could take on... Same attraction to George Carlin -- the language. With certain people, you can tell they're highly intelligent. That's the same feeling I get from 2nu. Plus, some of their lyrics are goofy, too.
An unknown contributor writes:
Well, as for more groups like TMBG, I would suggest the Meat Puppets if you haven't already. They are louder and probably more stoned than John and John, but their lyrics are interesting, and some of the songs are very similar.

I'd also like to confirm the messages of other readers. Barenaked Ladies who were mentioned write music which is more like mainstream pop, but it's pretty cool, and the lyrics are funny. Too Much Joy are kinda cool, kinda weird, but kinda cool. Daniel Johnston is very cool, I would recommend his Fun album. Brave Combo was also mentioned, and though I haven't been able to get ahold of anything prior to 1990 from them, I enjoy their music more than any of the above groups. Also, I ran into a copy of Pure Guava by Ween a couple of days ago at my local music store, and they're not much like TMBG at all, but I think that most of the readers would enjoy it.

A number of people have recently written to declare their love for Moxy Früvous (the so-called Canadian TMBG), including Andrew W. Griffin who says:
By the way, the chap who wrote about Moxy Früvous is dead on! Those boys are tops! Best thing to come out of the Great White North since Barenaked Ladies. Accordions galore! "Spiderman," "B.J. Don't Cry" and the swellest song since "Kung Fu Fighting," "King of Spain"
Steve Nicholson writes:
Brian Dewan. He was the featured artist on the first Hello Recording Club selection (Mar 1993) and he opened for TMBG during their summer '94 tour. He plays an electric zither that he himself constructed. The sounds he gets from it range from haunting and beautiful to a 30-string Les Paul through a stack of Marshalls. His debut album Brian Dewan Tells the Story (on Bar/None) is excellent.
Darwin Grosse writes:
Brave Combo started out as a party band in the North Texas State University area. Rockin' polka versions pop and classic rock tunes, as well as incredible original tunes. For those who are into the "hot polka" genre, the early albums/tapes are the best bet.

While I'd agree that Brave Combo would be interesting to the general TMBG fan, I'd tend to push their earliest albums and tapes as the most appropriate.

WretchAwry writes:
Oh oh! Another group that belongs there is Boston's Hypnotic Clambake, which is somewhat of a cross between TMBG, Camper Van Beethoven, Boiled in Lead, and 3 Mustaphas 3. The CD I bought at the BiL show is called Square Dance Messiah and is very aptly described as "It's like a bar mitzvah on acid" and "...take their tradition with a grain of salt -- quite likely some lemon and tequila, too." An address for info is:

Hypnotic Clambake
P.O Box 121
Roslindale, MA 02131

Deanna Rubin writes:
I did buy the Drink Me tape, and thought it was pretty cool. They're not as wacky or zany as TMBG, but I still think they have a nice folksy-gone-nuts sound to them.
Steven Collins writes:
Speaking of other cool groups TMBG fans might like, I recommend King Missile. They can be a little harder-rockin, but I muchly enjoy their strange and wonderful lyrics.
Thomas Wallace Colthurst writes:
TMBG fans might also enjoy Color Blind James Experience, a band loosely affiliated with the Church of the SubGenius. Their newest album is entitled Noises in the Basement.
Richard C Miske writes:
The TWO members [of Ween] have similar names (Dean and Gene Ween), and they have lots of short songs on the album and bizarre lyrics (Flies on my Dick?!?), so in that way they're pretty similar. If They [Might Be Giants] had an Evil Twin, my vote would be for Ween.
Jason Proctor writes:
another group i like and recommend is Too Much Joy. they have 3 albums that i've found: Son of Sam I Am, Cereal Killers, and a new one, Mutiny.
Jeffrey P. Adams adds:
So, along the lines of related groups, may I recommend Eggplant. I particularly like their album Sad Astrology. They certainly have the same sort of fresh & humorous approach as the Johns, but as has been mentioned, everyone is unique.
Andrew Raphael adds:
Tlot Tlot, from Melbourne Australia. John & John stole their album from a radio station in the USA last month, I hear. Their album? pistolbuttsa'twinkle.
but Carlos Ramirez disagrees:
Their style is nothing like TMBG's. They are two guys who get up and play thrashy loud guitar based punk rap stuff with a whole mess of sequenced drums, strings, keyboards, and that sort of stuff. Some of their lyrics are pretty cool, but that's only going to appeal to those who can make them out.
Miles Goosens writes:

For those who don't know, R. Stevie Moore is a multi-talented composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist/pop eccentric who has spent the better part of these last twenty years recording sublime music and releasing most of it through his own cassette club, which he runs out of his home. Much like TMBG, it's difficult to describe his music to the non-initiate -- it's kind of like what you'd get if you threw the Beatles, Zappa, Talking Heads, Thelonius Monk, and Kraftwerk in a blender, and even that doesn't begin to describe the enormous range and stylistic diversity of his music. And if you thought TMBG were prolific, Stevie has nearly 200 cassette currently available (the equivalent of, say, 320 albums)!!! I have thirty of them, and can vouch that every one is a winner. There are currently two ways to check out his music. First, there are two compilation CDs out that I know of (GreatestTits on New Rose, and last year's Compact Risk), both of which you might find at larger record stores like Tower. Second, you can send a SASE to Steve himself, and he'll send you a catalog of his work, which even rates each cassette for "listenability"! His address is:

R. Stevie Moore's Cassette Club
429 Valley Road
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

(Miles has also created a web site for R. Stevie Moore, at http://www.rsteviemoore.com/)

However, Alan Jenkins points out:
I'd like to endorse the comments about R. Stevie Moore, undoubtedly one of the finest artists in pop music who not many people have ever heard of. I would advise caution with his cassette club however because the quality ranges from absolute brilliance to stuff which isn't terribly interesting to listen to - I think he tapes his entire life, not just his music.

I would also like to mention a band from England called The Creams who describe themselves as a cross between They Might Be Giants and The Who. Their most recent album, Pluto includes a cover version of "Nothings Gonna Change My Clothes".

And John Relph opines:
The Pooh Sticks are wonderfully cheesy and inane, you gotta love the way they take bubblegum pop and twist it into an erotic ear feast. Check out their latest albums Million Seller and The Great White Wonder. The former has some wonderful music on it. One of the best pop albums of the last few years. Very silly, and very very good.
Soulwaltz says:
. . . i've heard that various members of tmbg, especially Flansburgh are fans of NRBQ. . .
Keep your ears and mind open.

back to questions

24. What is the sample at the beginning of "Boat of Car"?

Johnny Cash, sampled from the chorus of the song "Daddy Sang Bass" (not the fish). We think he was sampled from the first line of the chorus, but others are not so sure. Those people believe it's the line "Daddy'll sing bass".

Andrew Russell Mutchler writes:

The name of the song is "Daddy Sang Bass" (words & music by Carl Perkins), which is also the first line of the chorus. Yes, I know that's not "Daddy'll sing bass," but the entire chorus is as follows:

    Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor,
    Me and little brother would join right in there.
    Singin' seems to help a troubled soul.
    One of these days and it won't be long,
    I'll rejoin them in a song.
    I'm gonna join the fam'ly circle at the throne.
    No, the circle won't be broken
    Bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye.
    Daddy'll sing bass, Mama'll sing tenor,
    Me and little brother will join right in there
    In the sky, Lord, in the sky.
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25. What are the palindromes in "I Palindrome I"?

In the bridge section of the song, the lyrics are a WORD palindrome (rather than the usual LETTER palindromes):

    "Son I am able", she said "though you scare me."
    "Watch", said I
    "beloved," I said "watch me scare you though", said she,
    "able am I, Son".
(A word palindrome is also a type of "chiasmus".)

After "see the spring on the grandfather clock unwinding" the background lyrics are a well-known palindrome: "Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age!"

john writes:

    one you all missed is the background chorus of
    "man o nam"
    "man oh man"
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26. Who is "dead uncle allotheria"?

Jennie Larkin writes:

OK, I now know who dead uncle allotheria is.

Class Mammalia is broken up into 2 subclasses: Prototheria and Theria.

Subclass Prototheria is broken up into 2 Infraclasses: ALLOTHERIA and Eotheria. Infraclass ALLOTHERIA has 2 orders:

  1. Order Monotremata- The duckbill and spiny anteaters of Australia & New Zealand.
  2. Order Multitubercalata (extinct)- Jurassic to Eocene forms (think dinosaurs) perhaps comparable in habits to the later rodents.
The definition for Infraclass ALLOTHERIA is "Forms with widened braincases and no Jugals".

The definition for subclass Prototheria is "Primitive mammals defined by certain technical characters, such as the small alisphenoid bone and no tritubercular teeth."

Subclass Theria ("Normal mammals with well-developed alisphenoids") is subdivided into 3 Infraclasses:

  1. Patriotheria- small, primitive ancestral forms
  2. Infraclass Metatheria, which is inclusive of Order MARSUPIALIA
  3. Infraclass Eutheria- the higher mammals, with an efficient placenta.
Any more questions?

To which Andrew Raphael adds:

    > 1. Order Monotremata- The duckbill and spiny anteaters of
    >    Australia & New Zealand.
That should be the platypus and echidnas of Australia & Papua New Guinea. No monotremes in New Zealand. Their only native mammals are bats, which are placental mammals.
    > 2. Order Multitubercalata (extinct)- Jurassic to Eocene forms
    >    (think dinosaurs) perhaps comparable in habits to the later
    >    rodents.
Nothing to do with dinosaurs. Multitubercalata were mammals living at the same time as dinosaurs. Theria means beast, but sauria means lizard. The mammals & dinosaurs evolved at about the same time.

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27. What are the lyrics of "James K. Polk"?

Richard (Rick) Yanco writes authoritatively:

    In 1844, the Democrats were split
    The three nominees for the presidential candidate
    Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
    James Buchanan, a moderate
    Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
    From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
    He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

    Austere, severe, he held few people dear
    His oratory filled his foes with fear
    The factions soon agreed
    He's just the man we need
    To bring about victory
    Fulfill our manifest destiny
    And annex the land the Mexicans command
    And when the votes were cast the winner was
    Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

    In four short years he met his every goal
    He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
    Made sure the tariffs fell
    And made the English sell the Oregon territory
    He built an independent treasury
    Having done all this he sought no second term
    But precious few have mourned the passing of
    Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
    Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump
"Napoleon of the Stump" was one of his nicknames, according to Joseph Nathan Kane's Facts About the Presidents.

I validated most of the song, and there's very little poetic license employed. The only major "error," as it were, was that the top nominees on the first ballot were Martin VAN BUREN (146 votes), Lewis CASS (83), Cave Johnson (24), John Caldwell Calhoun (6), James BUCHANAN (4), Levi Woodbury (2), John Stewart (1), John Knox POLK (0). That is, there were seven nominees, not three, and Buchanan was fifth.

On the eighth ballot it went CASS (114), VAN BUREN (104), POLK (4), Calhoun and BUCHANAN (2 each).

On the ninth, Polk was nominated unanimously.

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28. What is "The Statue Got Me High" about?

John Linnell said in an interview:

"The Statue Got Me High" is not about drugs or anything like that. It's literally about a guy who looks at a statue, and his head blows up.
However, alternate interpretations continue to proliferate...

Andrew Weiskopf writes:

Our French Literature specialist has brought to our attention the Moliere work called Don Juan. The relationships between this work and the TMBG song are too numerous to ignore: "And though I once preferred a human being's company, They pale before the monolith that towers over me..." Don Juan, the king of all lovers, sees a statue one day, when suddenly, the statue strikes up a conversation with him. The two have a good rapport, and so Don INVITES THE STATUE OVER FOR DINNER, as opposed to one of his many LADY FRIENDS.

"The statue got me high..."
During dinner, our hero suddenly realizes that his dinner guest is not the kind person he originally met. But before Don can run away, the statue HYPNOTIZES him, and makes him sit back down at the dinner table.

"...it killed me..."
The statue KILLED Don Juan. 'Nuff said.

"The statue made me fry..."
Then, the statue sent him down to HELL, to FRY for all eternity.

"And what they'll find is just a statue standing where..."
Had angry villagers busted down the door, I suppose all they would have seen was A STATUE STANDING WHERE the statue got Don Juan hypnotized...

Pretty incredible, huh? All you TMBG/Moliere fans- is there any truth to this?!?! Did all of this really happen in the same book? If so, one cannot deny that there must be some credence to this theory.

During the 1994 They Might Be Giants tour, John Linnell introduced the song as having been written about Don Giovanni, although ``I didn't know it when I wrote it.''

By the way, Don Juan and Don Giovanni are the same person, just different works, the former a play by Moliere, the latter an opera by Mozart.

J.D. Baldwin says:

If L. introduced the song this way, my guess is that he was referring to the Mozart opera of that name, based on the same story. Since it is much more widely performed and much more familiar than the Moliere play, it seems reasonable that his references were based on the opera. More musical that way, anyway.
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29. What is "Purple Toupee" all about?

David Broyles writes:

the first time i heard the song (and, coincidentally, the first time i heard TMBG) was when i saw the video in late 1989 on a small PBS rock video show in Maryland called VIDEOSPIN. one of the guys showed the purple toupee video, said that TMBG were one of his favorite bands, and said that he had heard TMBG say that the song was "about when you get old and all your memories start getting mixed up in your head". this explains the reference to a toupee, and the loss of hair; it all has to do with the aging process. also, all the confused references to historical events make more sense as well.
However, the song deserves a deeper interpretation. So here is "Purple Toupee", as interpreted by: I remember, the year I went to camp,
I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks
Civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, and the fact that Rosa Parks, who would not move to the back of the bus, is a black woman. Selma is a city where Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested on Feb 1, 1965, while protesting voter registration regulations.
somebody put their finger in the president's ears
it wasn't too much later they came out with Johnson's Wax
During the Johnson administration, and perhaps before, the following were a popular type of stupid riddle:
        Q: How do you make a Venetian blind?
        A: Poke his eyes out!

        Q: How do you make Johnson's wax?
        A: Put your finger in the president's ear!
Johnson's Wax is a polishing product made by S.C. Johnson Wax. There was specifically a famous photograph that was published at the time, showing Johnson holding this hound dog by the ears. I think it made a stir because it made the president look like a buffoon (the strange pose plus LBJ's own sizable ears).

Also if you care about corrections to the TMBG FAQ, Johnson is not holding up "some hound dog" in that very famous photo, it's his beagle. He owned two beagles, Him and Her. He shocked the nation with this habit, but he insisted they liked it.

Could be a reference to "finger on the trigger" and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Also could refer to Johnson's implacable attitude towards continuing the Vietnam War, despite the mood of the country, advice of aides, etc.

I remember the book depository where they crowned the King of Cuba
The book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK's assassin, hid, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of course the Cuban missile crisis (with JFK in office). Also since Oswald was supposedly involved in a CIA plan to overthrow Castro (the King of Cuba). Oswald was a supporter of Castro, dictator of Cuba, and of communism in general. Warren Commission report issued Sept 27, 1964.
That's all I can think of, but I'm sure there's something else,
way down inside me I can hear it coming back

Purple toupee will show the way when summer brings you down
Purple toupee and gold lamé will turn your brain around

"Purple Toupee" could be a play on both the title and the music of Prince's song "Raspberry Beret".

Purple is widely regarded as the color of psychadelia. Jimi Hendrix' biggest smash hit was, of course, Purple Haze. Jimi didn't wear a toupee, but had a wild hairstyle, and wore gold lamé (at the same time as every color of the rainbow; He certainly had a unique sense of fashion). Purple Haze and some of the rest of Jimi's debut album are definitely about drugs. There was a variety of LSD known as Purple Haze, though I don't know whether it was named after the song or vice versa. Another possible (drug-free) interpretation of "turn your brain around": Jimi was and still is considered one of the most (if not the most) influential rock musicians in history. He turned the music world upside-down.

Chinese people were fighting in the park
we tried to help them fight, no one appreciated that
But it seems to me that one of the leading Asian generals on one side of either the Vietnam or Korean War was named General Park. I've always thought that's what the "park" here was referring to. This may also be a reference to the fact that the USA "interfered" in the Vietnam War.

It's General Park Chung Hee! He plotted a coup d'etat in (I believe) 1961 and became president in 1963! He was assassinated in 1979 or so. He's really quite well known. (Vietnam. Honestly.)

Makes me think of the Chinese Civil War, where we gave aid to the repressive nationalist side, because the other side was Communist. In the end, the communists won.

You're partially right, in the sense that it was vietnam, here's my rationale. It's well known that the song is about Sixties events mangled up in the Johns' minds (which rules out Korea) anyways, one of the Johns saw asian people fighting and assumed they were Chinese, also the "park" part comes from the fact that Vietnam kind of looks like a park. Another thing that supports my idea is the fact that no one appreciated the fighting, i.e., all the protests they would have seen on the news.

From 1987-88 I lived in Xiamen, China (my father's job at Kodak was temporary moved there). True story. Every morning, quite early circa 6 AM, the Chinese People of all ages, especially older would gather in the Park right by our apartment complex. There they would perform Ti Chi as a mass group. I saw this every morning for a year. It was incredible. In Ti Chi, they appeared to be fighting an invisible enemy through a series of strict movements. I think this holds up as a really good explanation of the lyrics. It's exactly what I remember when I was there. additionally, i watch a lot of documentaries on China and you'll see this demonstrated over and over again.

Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms
ten years later they were sharing the same cell
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. again, and Malcolm X (ten years later they were both dead).
I shouted out "Free the expo '67" 'till they stomped on my hair,
Abby Hoffman and the Chicago 7 were widely regarded as political prisoners following their arrest for disrupting the Democratic National Convention in 1968. This probably is a confused reference to "Free the Chicago 7". Also a possible reference to the De Gaulle's "Libre Quebec" speech at Expo '67, in Montreal, Quebec.
and they told me I was fat
When the Beatles first arrived in the US during the British Invasion, John was just a trifle porky. The newspapers immediately dubbed him "the fat Beatle".
Now I'm very big, I'm a big important man
and the only thing that's different is underneath my hat.

Purple toupee is here to stay
after the hair has gone away
the purple brigade is marching from the grave

Hair was a popular and influential Broadway musical, from which came the songs "Aquarius" (the dawning of the age of aquarius / the spawning of the cage and aquarium), "Let the Sun Shine In", and of course, "Hair" (give me a head with hair / long beautiful hair).

In Italy, a group called "Red Brigade" committed terrorist acts in 1978.

Louise Mowder writes:
People who saw John&John in the new york area prior to 1988 may remember that Purple Toupee was ALWAYS dedicated to Joe Franklin, a local TV personality whose very-late-night show was a celebration of local, rather Times-Square of the '50s talent... comics, singers, minor celebs etc.

Joe, who just retired last year, would be very generous with his air time, and it was on The Joe Franklin Show that John & John first met the etherealized waves -- back in '83-84, I believe.

Anyway, if you ever saw Joe, you'd know that "Purple Toupee" and "gold lamé" are both appropriate to the show's dress code.

The show had been on in the NYC area since forever, and by the '80s was the site of a lot of cultural nostalgia for those of us who were little kids in the real early 60s, as the Johns were. "Lady named Selma and some blacks" and the President's ear joke are about the way that Big Current Events sound to a first grader in 1964. And The Joe Franklin Show always seemed stuck right about there.

For those of you who caught the 7-night extravaganza in NYC last year, you may remember that Joe Franklin introduced TMBG on the final night, and briefly reminisced about their early days. This was the night when the show that consisted of the exact replication of the first album (the Bar-None/Rodney Alan album). The show brought back extremely fond memories of crowded nights at Darinka. (Anyone else remember Darinka?)

Ori S. Abrams writes:
I think it is simply about the rewards one receives for being ignorant. The narrator clearly never paid any attention to the important events happening around him during the 60's. Yet today he's important (albeit bald) and living high on the hog.
back to questions

30. Where did the cover of Flood come from?

Annie Sattler contributed this:

The Holiday 1995 TMBG Info Bulletin contains this answer:

That photograph was found by Flansburgh in the basement archives of Life magazine. It existed as only a contact print on a roll of film shot by famous photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. It was in a series of photographs of Kentucky flood victims from around 1930. Another photograph from that very same shoot has become quite well known. It is of people standing in a bread line in front of a billboard poster of a happy family in a car with the words "America: Highest Standard of Living." It is featured in the Best of Life and has become synonymous with the Great Depression, even though the events surrounding the photograph are unrelated to it.
LIFE Photographers: Their Careers and Favorite Pictures by Stanley Rayfield (Doubleday, 1957), contains this short biography of Margaret Bourke-White:
``An original Life staff photographer, Margaret Bourke-White made the cover picture for Life's first issue. She was the first woman photographer in World War II to be accredited to the U.S. Armed Forces, the first authorized to fly on a combat mission. She was torpedoed in the Mediterranean and was the only non-Russian photographer on the Russian front. Margaret Bourke-White was the last person to interview Gandhi, six hours before he was assassinated. Because she was a dangerous woman to have in Korea with a camera, the Communists put a price on her head. Margaret Bourke-White's quarter of a million pictures are a major contribution to the revolution in photography which has taken place in Life's first 20 years. Margaret Bourke-White has written several books and received many major photographic and civic awards.''
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31. What is the Hello Recording Club and how do I join?

The Hello Recording Club (also known as The Hello CD of the Month Club) was a subscription-only record company run by John Flansburgh between 1993 and 1997. The Hello Recording Club released ten CD singles by different bands per year. The singles were recorded exclusively for the Hello Recording Club. As of April 1997 the Hello Recording Club has officially gone out of business. Shut its doors. Kaput. Some copies of each year's selections are still available. Call +1-800-HELLO-41 (+1-800-435-5641) for ordering information or write PO Box 551, Palisades, NY 10964. Going out of business. Last chance to buy. Limited stock.

You can also contact The Hello Recording Club by sending e-mail to <helloclub@tmbg.com>.

A discography of the Hello Recording Club can be found at "http://reality.sgi.com/relph/music/hello/".

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32. Did you know that Nightgown of the Sullen Moon is a book?

Martin Holger Peters writes:

Thanks to my handy-dandy Books in Print computer at work (the general bookstore on campus, if you must know), I found this out:

Nightgown of the Sullen Moon; author Nancy Willard, illus. David McPhail

32 pages Paperback copyright 9/87 $4.95 Hardcover copyright 9/83 $14.95

Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company phone orders: 1-800-346-8648

paper ISBN 0152574301 hard ISBN 0152574298

back to questions

33. What is the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul" all about?

Jens Alfke writes:

The narrator of "Birdhouse" is of course a blue canary-shaped nightlight.

I'll quote:

"...but I'm a little glowing friend..."
"...bluecanary in the outlet by the light switch..."
"...my name is bluecanary, one word, spelled L-I-T-E..."
"...there's a picture opposite me, of my primitive ancestry..."
"...so keep the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul..."

All this describes a blue canary-shaped nightlight plugged into an electrical outlet, on the wall of a (bed)room, opposite which is a picture of a lighthouse. [The lighthouse is a type of nightlight.]

The whole metaphor makes sense: a glowing nightlight [in the shape of a] bird in the birdhouse in your soul, making you feel safe from danger.

David Levine adds:
There's a picture opposite me of my primitive ancestry Which stood on rocky shores and kept our 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.

That is, the canary-shaped nightlight would be fired if he were a lighthouse. In the lyric, he imagines that if he'd been on the job when Jason and the Argonauts came by, they would surely have all been smashed on the rocks below, and he would have been fired for it.

Brian Rees Haag writes:
someone asked why the blue canary nitelite was fillibustering. (yes, i prefer the nitelite interp to the electricity interp)

the nitelite is there to make the kid forget that it's a dark night and there could be monsters under the bed, in the closet, etc. in effect, the nitelite is "fillibustering vigilantly" against the kid's fears.

David Rysdam adds this dissenting viewpoint:
The Jason and the Argonauts reference is a little play on words. Jason and the Argonauts were ancient Greek dudes who sailed around looking for adventure, treasure, and babes. (See: Fleece, Golden) Anyway, at one point J and the As were trying to sail through this strait that kept opening and closing and thus was extremely difficult to pass (they had to time it just right). In order to get through they sent out a dove and followed close behind. The dove, by instinct, presumably, timed the journey correctly and thus saved the lives of J and the As. Since electricity is being compared to a "blue canary", the play on words comes in by comparing electricity's primitive ancestry (fire) to a dove.

I think this verse points out the irony of the song. It's about electricity, but it's saying, "Don't rely too heavily on technology."

Actually Holly, Brent Lewis' sister, says:
Has anyone ever mentioned the similarity to Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers?"
    Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I've heard it in the chillest land,
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.
But really, John Linnell (They Might Be Giants) says:
I mean, for example, "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is a song about a nightlight. That's it. It's written from the perspective of a nightlight serenading the occupant of its room. The thing is, there are so many syllables in the songs that we have to come up with something to fill the spaces. So it ends up being kind of Gilbert and Sullivany.
back to questions

34. Can someone tell me who Marvin Gaye and Phil Ochs are? Who is Kurtis Blow?

Don Marks writes:

Phil Ochs is only one of the best folk singers ever. His songs are caustic, sarcastic, touching, hard-hitting, funny, and usually right on the mark. If you have an aversion to 60's left-wing politics, you may want to avoid him, but I'd recommend picking up the CD compilation There But For Fortune which contains some great music. TMBG covered Phil's "One More Parade" on the Rubaiyat compilation.

Marvin Gaye is a soul singer from years gone by, but I'll let someone who knows his stuff better fill in the details.

Both are dead now, sadly.

Bo Orloff writes:
Marvin Gaye was a quite famous & successful soul music (Motown) singer/musician/songwriter. He was shot (and killed) by his father.

Representative works:

I Heard It Through The Grapevine,
What's Going On?,
Sexual Healing

Phil Ochs was a somewhat less famous & successful folk/protest music singer/musician/songwriter. He hung himself in his sister's bathroom.

Representative works:

I Ain't Marchin' Anymore,
Outside of A Small Circle of Friends,
Tape From California

Alec Scharff writes:
Kurtis Blow was a funk singer/rapper of the late 70s/early 80s. His best known songs are "The Breaks" and "Christmas Rappin." "Christmas Rapppin" is recognized along with the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and the Fatback Band's "King Time III (Personality Jock)" as being one of the first one of the first seminal rap singles.
You're free to come and go
Or talk like Kurtis Blow
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35. Who originally did the song "Frankenstein" that They play at live shows?

The song "Frankenstein", lately a staple of They Might Be Giants concert performances, was originally performed by The Edgar Winter Group, from their album They Only Come Out At Night. Good title. Positively prescient.

The song "Frankenstein" has never been officially released by They Might Be Giants. However, the song was released on a bootleg album entitled Dr. Spock's Back-Up Band as "Instrumental No. 2".

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36. Where did the song "Lady is a Tramp" from?

The Man writes:

"Lady Is a Tramp" is from a musical called Babes In Arms (not Babes in Toyland). I don't recommend seeing it. It was a mild success when it first hit Broadway in the first half of this century, but that was mostly due to the fame of it's creators. The libretto [read: book, script, the non-musical portion of a musical stage show] was SO bad that when one of the pair of creators died, the other immediately rewrote the libretto and put in his will that the original must NEVER be performed. At the time, librettos were only to give some kind of reason to sing on stage, and this was a bad one. The rewrite isn't much better though, because it kept the same songs, just even more out of context, a sacrifice to get a plot. You might want to get a CD of the music, if you like cheezy musicals, or, just go to a good library and get the lyrics.
Sam Meyer notes:
I've figured out what the sample in the middle, saying "Tramp" is. It's from an Otis Redding and Carla Thomas song called, surprisingly enough, "Tramp." It's Carla (most often paired with her husband, Rufus Thomas) that says it, and it sounds to me that the sample TMBG used is the second time that Carla says it in the song.
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37. Is the song "We're the Replacements" a mockery or a tribute?

A tribute to a band that mocked themselves.

Jeffrey Chen writes:

They Might Be Giants' song "We're the Replacements" is a parody of the lifestyle of The Replacements based on their public reputation, and that it was unknown whether the Johns revered them or is just making fun of them. I could be wrong.

Koenig Feurio writes:

Personally, I believe that the song is both a tribute and a parody. I have no quotes from John or John to back this up, but I have quotes from Slim and Tommy of the 'Mats:

    Me: "Have you guys heard the They Might Be--"
    Tommy: "Yeah, I heard that, it was pretty funny."
    Slim: "What? What are you talking about?"
    Tommy: "They Might Be Giants, their song about us."
    Me: "'Hey where's Tommy, someone find Tommy.'"
    Tommy: "Yeah, it's pretty funny."
    Slim: "Is it supposed to be an insult?"
    Tommy: "I think it's more like 'Alex Chilton.'  Kinda both."
back to questions

38. What are the strange background vocals in "Dinner Bell"? What are they singing in "See The Constellation"?

Bernd Jochintke a German fan studying English at Kiel, writes . . .

. . . concerning the inaudible background vocals on "Dinner Bell". Well, I gave that one a good listen as well and came up with the following:
I swear I heard a /t/ before the /i:/ sound in the first line, and the idea of somebody serving his master with some nicely decorated (?) tea and then leaving him alone to enjoy his beverage would fit the overall atmosphere of the song pretty well.
David Blodgett writes:
I think Bernd Jochintke is on the right track. The right channel definitely sounds close to that. But personally, after listening to it over and over, this is what I hear: (don't laugh)

I bring tea, my sir. Give it to Gertrude, and walk a(way).

The left channel is way too ambiguous to tell. The Johns probably made it so on purpose just to mess with our heads. Could be "reheat", but "gumbo" sounds dubious. The eighth syllable sounds like "to", but the second and tenth are really ambiguous.

J.L. Hutchens writes:

Also, in reference to Dinner Bell, I mailed my interpretation of the mysterious message at the start of the song:

    It...is...a...bee...ell (I can only make out this bit from
                             the left channel)
At the end of this I said the words could be in Russian, which was just a of a joke (because Pavlov was, of course, Russian).

But Matthew S Coon writes:

Well, I put in an intensive listen last night and I deciphered the background bit. First, I am absolutely positive that each syllable is repeated as the sound bounces back and forth. Those of you who disagree should follow my original advice and use the fader on your stereo to isolate the left and right channels and you will hear (basically) the same thing on each side. Secondly, I am POSITIVE that the dripping master thing is WRONG. I am very confident that what is actually said is
    I reheat my soup
    Give it a good look
    And walk a(way)
This is most clearly heard on the right channel (the lower pitch) because the high one is very unclear period. Listen to the right a few times, then try the left and you will hear the same thing. Then listen normally and you will hear how they fit together. I think it is really clever how the isolated right channel says
    and walk a waiting for the...
with the word waiting completing the phrase "and walk a(way)".
Shane Markle adds:
I just read your TMBG FAQ, and came across the discussion about the words in "Dinner Bell", and did a little investigation myself. I was amazed at what I came up with, and that is, there are actually two correct answers. It does depend on which side you're listing to, as was mentioned in the FAQ. But the highs and the lows don't sync up with each other. In the space between the highs,the lows come through, that's why it's so choppy, so that one side can come in where the other rests, and make the second message.
    Right                     Left

    I repeat, my sir*         I reheat my soup,
    fit it together           (It is a gumbo)
    and walk a(way)           and walk away

    *my sir, master, something like that.
On the right side only, the (way) in "away" comes from the "waiting" in "waiting for the dinner bell", but on the left side only, the way comes and then the "waiting" from "waiting for the dinner bell" comes afterwards separately, as Matthew S Coon said, clearly showing that there are two messages. Check it out for yourself.

So you see, everyone has so far has been only partly right.

To which Matthew Coon replies:
Well, I finally got around to giving this section another critical listen, and I have to stand by my original interpretation. Both the L and R channels contain the same message,

"I reheat my soup, give it a good look, and walk away."

The confusion may stem from the fact that the words are not broken into syllables in quite the obvious way. Rather, it is something like (in either channel, with each syllable separated here by a pipe):

     I  |  re  | hea | t my | soup
     gi | ve i | t a | good | look
    and | walk |  a  | (way)
Since an orthographic representation is (obviously) rather awkward, here (as best I can manage in ASCII) is a phonetic representation of what I hear in BOTH channels:
        [a ri hi ?m^ sup]

        /gI vI t^ gUd lUk/*

        [a_end w)k ^ we]

           /)/ = [-high, +low, +back, +round, +tense]
         /a_e/ = [-high, +low, -back, -round, -tense]
           /^/ = schwa, stressed or unstressed
           /?/ = glottal stop
*note: the second line, as you may have noticed, is actually a phonemic representation, since I happened to notice at least one phonetic difference between the L and R channels (an aspirated /t/ in one channel and a glottal stop in the other) in that phrase. There might be others which I missed, of course. (I don't have that much free time:-)
Grant Melocik writes:

As far as the lyrics concerning serving someone's master are concerned, I always assumed this was a song about conditioned response (since TMBG is awfully into that mindless follow-along sort of thing, not to mention all of the references to Pavlov's dog), so I don't really see how SERVICE comes in so far as the song details anatomical responses... Just my opinion.

Willie Williams writes, authoritatively:
The repeated message in "See the Constellation" is indeed Dee Dee Ramone shouting "Four!" It's taken from the opening to the Ramones' song "Commando," off the album Ramones Leave Home, and Dee Dee's entire four-count is present at the beginning of "Constellation," only it's slowed down a bit to match the song's tempo.
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39. Who is James Ensor?

In an interview with Peter Koechley, John Linnell says:

Well, he's a painter. The song just tells you everything you need to know; he's a Belgian painter. . . He's a real guy.
In another interview, a John said:
In my art history class, while in college, we were bored and all of a sudden his works came up and we were surprised at how exciting it was. He was an expressionist, like other 20th century expressionist painters, who was ahead of his time and was very eccentric. The line, ``Dig him up and shake his hand,'' is actually very specific -- a parallel idea to a lot of his paintings which involve resurrections, skeletons and puppets being animated.

It's not an accident that the language of the song reflects his work. He did a painting -- titled something like Self Portrait in 1970. It's a skeleton, wearing his clothes. He became a phenomenon right before the turn of the century. With the song, I'm trying to encapsulate the issues of his life -- an eccentric guy who became celebrated and was soon left behind as his ideas were taken into the culture and other people became expressionists.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, has this entry:
Ensor, James. 1860 - 1949. Belgian painter whose works, such as Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888), influenced surrealism and often feature nightmarish, masked faces.
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40. Who is Edith Head, and where does the song She Thinks She's Edith Head come from?

Edith Head was the costume designer for nearly four hundred films between 1932 and 1982. She created the costumes for such classics as Saigon (1948), The War of the Worlds (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) as well as most of Alfred Hitchcock's & Jerry Lewis's films. For a complete list of Head's work, check the Internet Movie Database.

John Flansburgh has said that the song is based on a woman he knew in college, and that this woman actually thought she was Napoleon Bonaparte. However, since it's very rare for a woman to think that she's Napoleon, he changed it to Edith Head to make it more "universal".

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41. Why aren't the lyrics to "AKA Driver" printed in the liner notes?

In an interview with Peter Koechley, John Linnell was asked that very question, and he says:

We're afraid of getting sued because it mentions a product name. We can't print the word NyQuil on the record, so we had to call the song something else besides "NyQuil Driver". But we can say it in the song all we want, we're just not allowed to [print it on the record]. We didn't want to get sued. . . I don't even know why NyQuil would be upset. Is it that we are suggesting that there is something wrong with their product? Or, is it that we would be stealing their customers away by getting them to buy records instead of cold medicine?
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42. Does the song "The End of the Tour" mean that They Might Be Giants will never play live again?


Colby Cosh writes:

I have long been captivated by Brooks Ann Camper's theory about the song "The End of the Tour"--i.e., that it is about a man tortured by his involvement in a horrible car accident. But I think the FAQ should note that the text of the song contradicts this theory in one very important respect: it is clear that the narrator of the lyrics is the car, not the driver. "He" says "I was bent metal," and refers to "The people inside me driving themselves to distraction." Her interpretation almost makes sense, and it fits the mood of the song well, but when you look close at the song it turns out to be a little bit, well, nutty. Kind of creepily intense.
Brooks Ann Camper writes:
Ask me now I understand the words that John has said....

I have never had an experience quite like last night when i realized what "The End Of The Tour" is about. It is the absolute saddest song I have ever heard in my life. I cried for over an hour listening to it.

It is about a horrible car crash and a man's struggle to forgive himself for killing a car full of teenagers. It actually was not his fault because the girls were drunk driving but ever since the incident he has brutally blamed himself. He is finally finding the first bit of hope toward recovery from the horrible wreck that he was involved in.

Listen to the words....

There was a beautiful teenage girl who was at a party, under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She became bored of the party so she decided she could drive; she thought that she was able to "see herself". She takes her friends and they drive out on I-91. The man is driving also and it's late; he is distracted by many things. When on the overpass, he is hit. His car is merely dented but the other car bursts into flames and the girls are killed. He watched the police take the bodies out. He saw how beautiful the children were and was scarred by this completely.

During the song he refers to the family of the beautiful girl and the horror that they must have felt when the police knocked on the door to tell them they had lost their child. He also breaks into the nursery type lyric about watching the police pull the bodies from the car.

He has blamed himself for the wreck from the beginning, but he has been ruining himself with it and finally decides to turn to God who helps him out. He finally finds a peace within himself saying that at the end of his life, if anyone will forgive him, he will meet the girl in heaven and apologize. Until then he must endure his own life, but one day he will be in heaven to ask for forgiveness.

He is beginning to realize that it is not his fault and he must go on and God has "let them go" for a reason. He will always be haunted by the experience and will never be the same. And he's never going to tour again.

There is actually a lot more I could say about the song but I just wanted to share my experience.

It is incredible. Thank you John.

Sam Meyer offers this interpretation:
I've always been of the opinion that the "girl with the crown and scepter" refers to Courtney Love (The Yoko Ono of the 1990s...) If you look at the cover of Hole's Live Through This, it fits perfectly. I'm not sure if the rest of the verse follows along quite as well, but "WLSD" might refer to all the drugs she's reportedly taken, and the bit about the "scene is over now" might refer to Kurt Cobain's death. Just a thought...
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43. What was the countdown that TMBG used during the They Might Be Giants tour?

This was previously listed as the John Henry countdown; it was actually used to introduce the show during the tour to support TMBG's debut album, They Might Be Giants. You can hear a recording of it from the 6/20/88 show @ Tipitina's in New Orleans, LA here. The text in parentheses is read by John Flansburgh, the rest is John Linnell.

Sarlakk2 writes:

        Here it is, typed for your reading enjoyment. Note: The text in parentheses is not part of the countdown itself, but rather another thing in the same song.
        And now, without further ado, here is the countdown.

Countdown to the program!  Checklist:
10! Your ten fingers reach into the air.
9! You wiggle your nine toes in anticipation.
(Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention.  They Might Be Giants have just crash-landed their glass bottom car into the control tower at Jim Baker International Airport.)
8! Already you've forgotten what you ate for dinner.  A creeping numbness consumes you.
(This just in, the human egg has been sighted plummeting from the sky.  Scientists standing by to assure us that nothing is wrong have already been found murdered in their laboratories.)
7! Seven members of the band They Might Be Giants have quit the group over bitter disagreements about the introduction to tonight's show.
6! You begin to feel six.
(Watch Professor Psycho-Fuckup, arrested and convicted of gate-crashing the show tonight, has hung himself by his watchband in his prison cell.  He is listed in perfect condition!)
5! Your five senses swell as you realize that history is not  being made tonight, rather it is being consumed by a creeping numbness standing next to you.
4! No one seems to know what this is for.
(Overturned tractor trailers rubbernecking bumper to bumper!)
3! Only three seconds remain until They Might Be Giants hits the stage over and over again.
2! It's time 2 sit back and make way for the
1! band that can overcome the
0! in their bank account.  I don't mean to be the
-1! but you'd be
-2! if it weren't for the fabulous show you're about to enjoy.  Ladies and gentlemen, make way for They Might Be Giants!
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44. What was the countdown that TMBG used during the John Henry tour?

Previously, the debut album countdown was here. This is the actual countdown that was used during the John Henry tour, as recited by John Linnell. As you can see, it's a little different.

10! Your ten fingers reach into the air.
9! Your nine toes wriggle in anticipation.
8! Already you've forgotten what you ate for dinner.
7! Seven stagehands reach for the one remaining beer.
6! You feel six.
5! Only five seconds remain until They Might Be Giants hits the stage over and over again.
4! No one seems to know what this is for.
3! Only three things stand between you and this evening's event and
2! of them are huge security guards. Which means the
1! obstacle remaining is the
0! holding up the show with this countdown. I don't mean to be the
-1! but you'd be
-2! if it weren't for the fabulous show you're about to enjoy. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome They Might Be Giants
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45. Which John sings this song?

Another fan has compiled a list of which songs are sung by which John. Check out the Who Sings What list ("http://www.tc.umn.edu/~cab/whosings.txt").

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46. What is the difference between the Don't Let's Start collection and Miscellaneous T?

Joe Keith writes:

The Don't Let's Start collection is the European release of Miscellaneous T, preceding Misc. T by approximately 18 months.

They are essentially the same album, except that Misc. T has an extra track (Hello Radio), and a slightly altered track list. (The single mix of Don't Let's Start is the first track on the DLS collection and the last track on Misc. T.)

Personally, I'd like to think that track 13 (the untitled one) was meant to be at that position in the track list, so with the addition of Hello Radio to Misc. T, something had to move to keep track 13 where it rightfully belongs. I could, of course be barking up a nonexistent tree.

The Don't Let's Start collection also has completely different artwork.

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47. Is there really a hidden track on the Factory Showroom CD? How can I find it?

Yes. On your CD player, start the CD, then hold down the "rewind" («) button. At 1:03, let go; the secret track (track 0, entitled "Token Back To Brooklyn") will play. On some CD players, you may need to press "pause" before rewinding, and many CD players do not recognize this track at all. Sorry, tape owners, this track is only on the CD. And some non-USA CDs do not include the track either.

Richard Healey notes:

Alright, I'm a former regular at alt.music.tmbg, and I wondered for some time how to access "Token Back to Brooklyn," the hidden track everyone has heard about. Well, I have finally found out an easy way to hear the track, and since you put up the discography on tmbg.org, I figured you might be someone of import to mention it to. It turns out that the Playstation (yes, the video game console) can play track 0 on a CD, although it just calls it Track 1 with a negative time signature. By jumping back to around Track 1, Time -1:00 on Factory Showroom, you can hear "Token." Not the best of TMBG perhaps, but still interesting. I don't know of any other such hidden tracks, but if they are technically before the first song, a Playstation can do the trick.
Mike Levy adds:

         You can now also hear Token Back to Brooklyn on Long Tall Weekend, TMBG's first MP3 release. Available from emusic.com.

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48. What is this tribute album I keep hearing about?

The tribute album is a compilation of covers of They Might Be Giants songs performed by subscribers to the tmbg-list and alt.fan.tmbg, and other random musical fans. The TMBG tribute album, entitled We Might Be Giants, Too, has its own web page ("http://www.tmbg.org/~ondrey/"). See the web page for all details on the project including available formats. There is a second tribute album in the works, see the page if you would like to contribute. If you do not have web access, feel free to e-mail Dan Kurtz (skanker-x@juno.com).

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49. What's the deal with On Earth My Nina?.

On Earth My Nina, track number 14 on Long Tall Weekend was created by John Linnell as a kind of joke. One day he was fooling around with a recording of another (unreleased) TMBG song, Thunderbird. He had reversed it and was interested to hear what sounded like the phrase 'On Earth My Nina'. Then he had the idea that he could create a song that sounded kind of like Thunderbird when you play it in reverse, so that's what he did. Married with the idea that anyone who is downloading the MP3 has access to the technology to reverse it, it was the perfect candidate for Long Tall Weekend.

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50. Who is Brian Dewan, and how does he tie in with TMBG?

Brian Dewan is a great solo musician who has known the Johns since the early years. He shared an apartment with John Linnell, which is where the video for The Guitar was shot. Brian plays autoharp, accordion and a homemade electric zither, among other things. He is also a carpenter, and he has his own line of furniture: Dewan Luxury Products. (Linnell's current keyboard stand bears a plaque with this name) He also built the structures found on the covers of Lincoln & Miscellaneous T. Brian performed two of the Fingertips on Apollo 18 (I Found a New Friend Underneath My Pillow & Who's Knocking on the Wall) and he has opened for They Might Be Giants and Mono Puff on numerous occasions throughout the years. He has released two discs on John Flansburgh's Hello Record of the Month club as well as two full-length albums. They are called Tells the Story & The Operating Theater and are available directly from Brian for $15 each plus $2 for shipping. Send your payment to: Brian Dewan  c/o Immemorial Music  18 Havemeyer Street  Brooklyn, NY 11211-2130. Make checks payable to Brian Dewan.

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51. Did TMBG record Fish Heads, 88 Lines About 44 Women, The Beer Song, etc.?

No. There are many songs that are labeled as They Might Be Giants being offered on such services as Napster, Scour Exchange, iMesh, etc. Usually this happens when someone downloads a song that is unlabeled in terms of the artist, and the song sounds like TMBG to said person. Here is a list of some of these songs, followed by the artist(s) that actually recorded them. If you see other songs being offered that you know are not TMBG, or if you're just not sure send email to tdk@tmbg.org with the song title and actual artist (if you know it) and I will add it if it is indeed not TMBG. Please write 'Mislabeled TMBG song' in the subject line.

Fish Heads - Barnes & Barnes
88 Lines About 44 Women - The Nails
The Beer Song - Matt Stone & Trey Parker (of South Park fame)
Spiderman - Moxy Fruvous (sometimes labeled as Superman)
Puttin' on the Ritz - Fred Astaire, Taco (some people think this song sounds like Istanbul)
The Banana Slug Song - Severe Tire Damage (you can see why this one was labeled as TMBG)
Flight of the Barking Death Squirrel - Big Poo Generator
I Be an Retarded - Big Poo Generator

End of They Might Be Giants FAQ

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