WARNING: LONG-WINDED (BUT HOPEFULLY UNDERSTANDABLE) INTERP AHEAD
You know, I've been reading a few reviews for Indestructible Object, and the thing that keeps making me scratch my head is how different my own understanding of the song Ant is from the critics. One critic even commented on Ant's political overtones. I wouldn't normally feel the need to offer an interp, as I always felt the song was pretty obvious, but the things that I've read have me wanting to say a few words about it.
From my first encounter with the song from the Istanbul EP, I've always taken this to represent that state of "almost-sleep". We all go through this, some of us more than others. It's that minute or so as we are lapsing into sleep, where you're still awake enough to notice certain senses like sound or touch, but your brain is starting to shut down, and that sensory input is intermingled with the fancies of dreamland. For example, while dozing off one night, I heard voices from the TV (I think it was the news) say that a bridge is going to be closed off for tomorrow afternoon. I remember thinking to myself, "Well, that's no good for the parade, that's for damn sure." There was no parade, of course - simply the construct of my mind in its closing phases, taking little specks of stimuli from the real world and weaving them into an upcoming session of rapid eye movement. It's just how our brains work as our senses slowly step back from the forefront of our attention span.
The song, I feel, encapsulates this idea perfectly. An ant crawling up your back - which could be literal or maybe just a tickle on the back felt by the song's first-person "dreamer" - launches this stream-of-consciousness linear progression of concepts (very like a dream). Each verse adds another layer of absurdist "dream logic" to the point where the ant is president, the president calls your name, men ransack your house, etc. The transition from the verse "ant as president" to "president calls your name" is particularly dream-like to me. It often happens in dreams - how one thing in a dream has something added to it (i.e., a person gaining a new coat, or a house gaining a new room), and then as the dream progresses, the original element of the thing just isn't there anymore, and the new feature is all that remains. In the lyrics, we find the ant becoming president, and in the following verse, there's no mention of the ant anymore, just the president. You might think that the president being an ant is taken as read, but I don't think it's about an ant at that point anymore. The concept of "president" is a very potent and specific subconscious idea (at least for Americans), and it's easy to see how, once that idea is introduced into a dream, the idea itself takes over.
The thing that seals the deal for me with the song is the repeated line "And you think that's okay while you're sleeping." As the action spirals out of reality, the dreamer doesn't bat an eye. This is the "dream-logic" I was referring to before. It's that wonderful quality of dreams - where things that would completely warp our brains in reality are not bizarre at all in our dream state, and in fact, seem a part of a natural order. With the new "Other Thing" version on Indestrucible Object, I feel like it only reinforces this interp. Both the lyrical variation towards the end, plus the watery re-arrangement of the beginning seem to be an effort by Flans to remove any misconception about the song's intentions.
So there you go. Sorry I'm so long-winded. It's just difficult to talk about something that, as Flansy proved, is much more easily captured in song. --Charlie Coniglio
- I agree totally, particularly that the Other Thing arrangement suits this free-associative song very well. The key changes, the tempo increase, the keyboard freakout at the end -- they all suggest randomly firing neurons with only a tenuous thread of continuity, if any at all. The critical readings of this song really have been weirdly disparate. I've read critics who compare Ant to the Patriot Act (even though this song's ten years old), see in it fears of human contact, and refer to that childhood myth of earwigs crawling in your ear and living there. The review I read that most closely matched what is probably the true spirit of the song said it was about "how a little problem can snowball out of control" (this is a paraphrase). Somebody should get ahold of Flans after a show and ask him. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 18.104.22.168 (talk • contribs) 15:56, April 26, 2004
I think the real meaning of the song is rather similar to the quote in the above interp, about how sleeping on small problems turns them into large, out-of-control ones. Let's, say, use forgetting to pay a bill as a point of reference. It's a rather small oversight, very easily remedied. Yet you keep putting it off. The bill isn't for anything really important, you can do it tomorrow. But the next day, you forget once again. After a while, this big problem starts to become a rather large one. It's spoiling your sleep. You can't stop worrying about it, but you continually put it off until "the next day," hoping deep down that if you keep to ignore it, it'll go away. Finally, the problem becomes too vast. Collection agents are dispatched to your house to repossess your belongings (This is why I used paying a bill, of course. Makes "ransacked your house" easier to reconcile! I'm such a lazy bastard.) to pay for that small bill that you kept conveniently forgetting about. And, true to form for many TMBG songs, the cycle starts over again as another ant (or small problem) starts to crawl up your back. --TheNintenGenius 19:31, August 6, 2004
This song resonates more for me as a prophesy now (2006) that the Bush administration is spying on us. "The president calls your name in the nighttime" indeed! Nehushtan 13:02, 27 Jan 2006 (EST)
- To add a layer to this, Bush Sr. was actually CIA director in the 70s and then "grew up" to be president. He probably was president when this song was being written in the late 80s/early 90s. I haven't seen anything about him "bugging" (anting?) people's houses during his tenure there, though.--22.214.171.124 11:51, 25 June 2020 (EDT)
- Good take on Bush Sr. I haven't heard of any specific incident during his administration that might have inspired Flansburgh, though it would not surprise me to learn that Sr.'s CIA connection was enough. I was thinking more of his son's "domestic surveillance" program. --Nehushtan (talk) 14:53, 25 June 2020 (EDT)
I always thought it was about an ant crawling in someone's head while they're sleeping, gaining control of their brain (a la "Being John Malkovich") and then getting elected president --126.96.36.199 20:45, 7 July 2008 (UTC)