Interpretations:Birdhouse In Your Soul
Would anyone care to explain the relevance of the music video, with the nose towards the "religion" argument.
Or, any argument, for that matter.
Here's a different interpretation that seems to fit: My first impression was that Blue Canary is a demon. Like the proverbial monster under a childs bed, this one dwells in the outlet by the lightswitch and watches over you. Why? To be the only bee in your bonnett - to be in your soul. he wants you to prepare a place in your soul for him. In this light it's a deceptively sinister song. Why "Blue Canary"? Other famous demon names were "Screwtape", "Captain Howdy" - Flounder - WHY NOT? : ) When he preambles saying that he's not actually your friend, he's revealing that although he whispers he is your friend - he actually is not.
"A bee in your bonnett" is an expression that has been used to refer to a bothersome recurring thought in your mind. For example if someone gives you a backhanded compliment - it might be subtle but you might think about for the rest of the day. That person put a bee in your bonnett. The bee is the thought, the bonnett your head (brain or mind). He wants the person he's addressing to allow him access to the mind (and soul). His story is ageless... Longines Symphonette - there were so many versions over time of this technology. Different expressions / manifestations. Think, "Sympathy for the Devil."
If his job was to protect shores, he would be fired because he killed Jason off and countless Argonauts. (Harpies? Sirens? Talos?) Jason was killed by a falling piece of his own ship - so it's an imperfect analogy at best - but bluecanary's primitive ancestry was SUPPOSED to keep the shores shipwreck free. I thought of gargoyles or a totem or statues of primitive pagan gods - like Greek gods. A primitive image of himself that's supposed to ward off evil but he actually does murderous evil.
Like guardian angels - always near.
....But really it's probably just about electric light. ;-) ...from the perspective of an incandecsent nightlight in the form of a blue canary. It would then be a lighthouse that stood on the shores. The video seems to bear this out as it's filled with a variety of light bulbs and glowing filaments... Although there are sinister moments in the video for some reason... JT. 12/07
- They don't like to make music videos that have anything to do with the meanings of their lyrics. Pick up the Direct From Brooklyn DVD and listen to the audio commentary for more info on that subject. ~Rilom, 8/27/06
2006-06-07 - Chris Pittsburgh, PA
Everyone has their own interpretation, and that's awesome.
I look at it as when I was a kid, and also how my 5-year-old son might think of it now.
"I'm your only friend ... not actually your friend but I am"
It's late, the blue canary night light is the only light on as you go into the bathroom to pee. He's not REALLY your friend, because he's inanimate, but he is because we all had toys and stuffed animals like the Velveteen Rabbit that we made "real". C'mon, think anthropomorphize here. This friend keeps the bathroom lit at night. Yay blue canary! You are totally my friend!
"in the outlet by the light switch"
In FEW places but a bathroom will there be a light switch near an electrical outlet. Think about it. (Yes, Maybe a kitchen or the basement somewhere will too, but those are not places where it is also likely to have a pic of a lighthouse.)
"Picture opposite..ancestry..shipwreck free."
Yes, gasp, a lighthouse. Really, nothing tough here. But it also strengthens the idea that we're in a bathroom. And yes, I find it strange that lighthouses are such a recurring bathroom theme.
"Though I respect that a lot, I'd be fired if that were my job, after killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts"
This night light, though providing ample light to keep the bathroom lit, would fail if it were used in place of a Lighthouse, because it doesn't give off THAT much light. Thus if Jason and the Argonauts were mucking about late on a foggy night in the Argos near a rocky shoal and this blue bird nightlight was used in stead of a "proper" lighthouse, they'd run aground killing them all (the humanity!).
"like guardian angels...bluebird of friendliness"
Again, if I'm alone in the bathroom at night and the only thing there is a glowing happy little bird I'm most likely to view it as my friend. I mean, if you're a kid that light is pretty damn important to you.
I just don't think that this song is that deep. Clever, of course. Fun, for sure. Has some creative references, but I think "Occam's Razor" should be applied here. The simplest answer is most likely the one intended. And yes, I do think that this answer is the simplest. You may force (and I do mean force) any interpretation you like on it, but I don't think it's the one that was intended. Re-read the first two lines of my addendum if you think that's arrogant. Cheers!
Regarding the above: That simple interpretation works as long as you're not considering the dial-a-song lyrics (and therefore the original lyrics) for the song.
"I have a secret to tell"
"Out when you're all by yourself"
"It's a time when even you get up and leave your nothing to dwell"
"But I don't want to talk about that"
"And no one listens to that"
"But for the one who does and she's the one you worry about"
A lot more literal and a lot less nightlightish. In the dial-a-song version the nightlight metaphor is a lot less clear, but when you compare the lyrics with the album version, the metaphor itself is a lot more clear but what it means starts to get fuzzy.
Regarding the below: I've put some more thought into it and the final lyrics of the dial-a-song version:
"I don't feel 30, give me something to write on"
"I don't feel 300, give me something to write on"
And it kinda clicked in my mind that the advice that's being given is described as the same sort of advice that a piece of song or poetry gives to a listener or reader. So the song could be seen to be describing the purpose of poetry. To be our night light.
Okay, let's try mixing up the lyrics with this version and the demo version. Yes the song is about a night light, but the question is what the night light represents. Now picture one person trying to give another person advice.
"I'm your only friend I'm no your only friend but I'm a little glowing friend but really I'm not actually your friend but I am." Of course this has meaning. I've used it as a disclaimer when giving advice to people I barely know. It means that while I'm not your best friend, and I don't know you as well as I'm sure some do, I am looking out for your best interests and since I'm your only source of unbiased advice I'm going to do my best to give it to you. That's basically a synopsis of the song.
The song is about giving advice. The night light represents how the advice is meant to illuminate your path, but not necessarily show you which way to go, like a lighthouse would (the night light's primitive ancestor which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free). The narrator cannot tell you what to do but can tell you what some of your options are. Now compare with the demo lyrics counterpart "I'd like to cover the earth with a fresh baked yummy desert / people couldn't live in it but I think it's worth the money and hurt." It's talking about how his intentions (which can never be realized) are to try to find the best thing for everyone. He realizes that this won't actually work, but one can at least try.
Another lyric in the demo version, "don't you say anything / if you have anything to do with it" explains why he's the only one who can offer unbiased advice. Anyone who had anything to do with it would automatically be speaking from a biased perspective.
Taylor - Cowtown Ab, May 19, 2006
I believe that the song is a love song from a guy to someone who he really cares for more than anyone else ("I'm your only friend") but doesn't really know ("I'm not actually your friend"), but he promises that he'd care for her more than anything ("Blue canary in the outlet... who watches over you") and he's asking her to accept him, the "Blue Canary," into her heart ("Make a little birdhouse").
Now, see, I think the song is a mix between a love song and a longing to be better at being oneself. While chorus lends to the love part of the song, the verse about Jason and thr argonauts leans more toward the being better at being yourself.
To say nay to most other theories here, the thumbs guy, sorry.No. The "primitive ancestry" is talking about Jason. Those silly Greeks and Romans.
To the person with the love concept, you're on the right track, but the two objects of love aren't the same.
Meh, I COULD be wrong. But I think there's more to it than just a night light. The little bird is addressing the world about something, but what?
The song is structured very similarly to The Lovin' Spoonful's Summer In The City... something confirmed as deliberate by the live versions, in which they play the middle section with honking car horn sounds and the exact same riff. Summer In The City was inspired by The Beatles' Good Day Sunshine, which is musically referenced in Maine.
Lyrically, the opening line of Birdhouse is a probably reference to I Am The Walrus. "I am he as you are me as we are all together".
It is my firm belief that this song is about accepting God in your life. POWER TO THE PIGEONS! -GiantMidget
Well, I would like to think of myself as a tmbg expert, and I believe it has a completly different meaning. You see, the line, "blue canary" is talking about a real bird. It's thinking of its "primitive ancestry" which is obviously dinosaurs. As everyone knows, dinosaurs didn't have opposable thumbs, and thus could not build birdhouses to live in. So the real meaning behind this song is thumbs; specifically, opposable ones. TMBG has written stuff about body parts before, I mean, does "prosthetic foreheads on our real heads" sound familiar to anyone?
I have another theory: this song is a love song between a nightlight and electricity.
They love each other a lot.... but I think it is mainly the electricity wooing the night light.
I do know one thing, I'm home sick with a sore throat and when the clock radio plays this song, i'm in pain because I can't sing along with it! (I commited it to memory some time ago) I think this bird thinks that it's not as good as a lighthouse, and thinks that if put to the test, would fail causing the death of Jason and the Argonauts.
And now that I think about it...there's a picture in our bathroom right next the the light switch, of a lighthouse. My mother collects them, and there's at least 20 in each room. o.o
Um... yes. For some reason, I always thought the line "Like the Longines Symphonette" was "Like the laundry is infinite."
This song is about a night-light shaped like a blue canary.
Considering the religious connotations of this song- remember the line "Like guardian angels- it's always here".
Once again, I'm going to try to make an interp clearer. Yes, it is about a blue, canary night light, but it specifically want to be loved. (Make a little bird house in your soul.) For those of you who still see the rest of this song as unclear, the Argonauts and Jason were famous sailers. The line that states "There's a picture opposite me Of my primitive ancestry" is talking (of course) about a lighthouse. The "say I'm the only bee in your bonnet" is referring to the saying "they've got bees in their bonnet." - Mr. Nuclear
During the instrumental break in the middle, Flansburgh's guitar solo, just before the reprise of the "I'm your only friend" part, seems to ape the melody from "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," another song about a "little glowing friend." Woo.
methinks this song is just saying, "don't be sad or scared, be happy."-thegooddoctor
Following up the first entry above, I would hazard the suggestion that the night-light is more than a night-light. I've always understood the song as a reflection on our dependence on electricity, especially its unreliability. It makes me think about contemporary music, the infrastructure necessary for listening: replay device, designers, manufacturers, and marketers of the replay device, music industry, voltage, amps, and ohms, the power house connected to the dam, dam workers and engineers, rivers, the army corps of engineers. All for They Might Be Giants and me.
Night Lights being used by children, this song I view as being told to a child. Because of that I view the whole "I'm your only friend I'm not your only friend But I'm a little glowing friend But really I'm not actually your friend But I am" part of the song to be from the child's view that while the night light is providing comfort to the child it is also making the room sort of spooky with certain shadows that can frighten a child. So the child goes from liking the night light to being spooked by it, and back and forth. It is a great verse. -Pugly
One lunatic theory: The song is not just about a night-light; it is about electricity (or AC electricity?) itself. "After killing Jason off" refers to the _Friday the Thirteenth_ film where Jason was killed in an electric chair. (Yes, Jason and the Argonauts is Greek legend---but when were they _killed_ by a lighthouse?) Under this theory, the repeated "I'm your only friend..." section refers to the phases of alternating current, as modeled through complex numbers (real plus imaginary components, moving in quasi-circular patterns): I'm your only friend (real, positive) is positive one (+1). I'm not your only friend (real, negative) is negative one (-1). But I'm a little glowing friend (imaginary, positive): (+i). But really, I'm not-actually your friend but I am(imaginary, negative): (-i). (Yes, AC really goes through 1,i,-1,-i phases, but I attribute the reversal to the Johns' poetic license.) Under this theory, "I'm the only bee in your bonnet" alludes to neuroscientific theories about the role of electricity in consciousness: electricity is asking us to concede that electricity is the soul, and "Make a little birdhouse in your soul" asks us, at least, to concede a small role for electricity in our consciousness. The "Longines Symphonette" line is about an early electric radio. -- Victory Lighthill
- Jason ("and countless screaming Argonauts") are not killed by a lighthouse but by the night light's poor job at being one. (A night light would provide so little light that the ships would crash into the shore and it would quickly get fired.)
I think most people who have complicated ideas about Giant song meanings eventually come around to get that the lyrics are more literal than symbolic. To be sure, they are clever -- but they usually don't have any deep hidden meaning. Linnell keeps telling people that, but they just don't want to accept it!
Getting the Longine Symphonette reference is purely a generational thing. You have to be at least John+John age to remember the TV commercials about the abridged classical and easy-listening music recordings, many selections jammed on to an LP. (Use eBay as your personal wayback machine and see what they were: http://search.ebay.com/longines-symphonette_W0QQfromZR8QQsospellrecommendationZ1 ) The commercial's voiceover copy stressed how very extra, super long it was... how many different pieces you got for the low price, thus the characterization of its being "infinite." [amyloo]
dude, the "After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts" is a reference to the Greek myth, in which they are killed by the Cisyphean BIrds. -Walrus
I'm not buying the "Jason of Friday the 13th" thing - the lyrics are "There's a picture opposite me / Of my primitive ancestry / Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free / Though I respect that a lot / I'd be fired if that were my job / After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts" - Point being it's not the lighthouse's fault, it's the night light - doing a poor job of being a lighthouse.
I'm also not buying the music-recording interp for "Longine Symphonette" - not to dispute that they existed, but simply that that's not what's being referred to. This one is tricky, because they're talking about a Longine's watch - but the Longines company didn't make a watch called a "symphonette", they made a portable radio. I do see evidence that the whole company was referred to as "Longines Symponette", not just a specific watch or radio - http://www.datamath.org/Others/Longines/EC.htm - so I suspect the simple interpretation - it's a watch, from the Longines company, that keeps on ticking and "doesn't rest". For kicks, here's the radio - http://www.transistor.org/collection/longines/longines1.html
Having said that, I still havn't convinced myself - so anyone with more concrete info, step forward! I'll feel better if I can find advertising that quotes "doesn't rest" or something similar. (This always reminded me of Timex that "keeps on ticking") The internet is polluted - any searches for "doesn't rest longines" come up with lyrics, and Longines' ads. [Sharkey]
- Longines-Symphonette also made LP 8-track players - which may be the source of the reference in 'Birdhouse.' - Jake C.
After a little research, it seems that Longines Symphonette electronics came from the record label, not the watch maker, although they made none of it themselves, but rebranded other people's stuff (i.e. TI calculators: ) — User:ACupOfCoffee@ 20:14, 16 November 2006 (UTC)
I agree with the fundamental night-light/child's room idea, but i have to share this story.
I'd just introduced my cousin to TMBG, and she really likes birdhouse. obviously. but she couldn't figure out what it was about. so she was telling me about it and the conversation went something like this.
me: so what do you think it's about?
her: well, it could easily be a religion deal. birdhouse in your SOUL, watching over you, stuff like that.
she eventually figured it out.
now i realize this is completely wrong, but it's kind of interesting too. the references to light; being a friend but a different kind of friend than normal; an infinite story; etc. etc.
i'm going to regret posting this; i fully expect 4 cults to burst up claiming the song as holy writ, then to burst into several offshoots over the issue of the characteristics the sacred nightlight has to have to actually constitute a canary, and to eventually die in obscurity. or take over the world.
- ) The "After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts" is a reference to the Greek myth, in which they are killed by the Stymphalian Birds, not the Cisyphean Birds. -Walrus
Yes, the Jason part is a reference to mythology, but the whole passage is just a funny way for the night light to say, "Gee, I'd make a lousy lighthouse." Jason is just one particular sailor who would smash against the shore if he depended on such a feeble light to warn him on his way.
- This is the most accurate description of the line's function in the song. The mythological situation described by the narrator is purely hypothetical: Jason and the Argonauts, of course, did not perish on their journey, although they encountered several hazards, including Clashing Rocks at sea and, yes, the Stymphalian Birds. Jason himself died in old age when, while resting beside it at a dock, the broken bow of his old ship fell upon him. Nothing a night light could've prevented, at any rate.
Jason and his Argonauts were not killed by the Stymphalian birds. In fact, I'm not even sure if they ever met them. Hercules, however, was one of the Argonauts and he killed the Stymphalian birds as one of his labours. The line about killing Jason off simply means that a night light would make a godawful lighthouse. (Anatole the Vampire)
Actually, this song is a hymn in disguise. I can go on a line by line breakdown for you:
I'm your only friend: Jesus is your only way into Heaven
I'm not your only friend: Others help keep you on the straight and narrow with Jesus
But I'm a little glowing friend: That one's all night light, nothing religious.
But really I'm not actually your friend: night light are inanimate objects and can't be your friend. And besides, does anyone reading this know Jesus PERSONALLY?
But I am: God is the Great I AM.
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch: All night light.
Who watches over you: That's what night lights do, they scare away the Boogeyman. And God watches over his children, as well.
Make a little birdhouse in your soul: Making a birdhouse is inviting birds, and thus inviting Jesus into your heart.
Not to put too fine a point on it: Modesty and humility are encouraged in the Bible.
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet: Not sure what "bees in your bonnet" is, but Jesus is the only one who loves us the way He does, and is, as stated earlier, our only way into heaven.
I have a secret to tell: The Gospel.
From my electrical well: A standard AC outlet and the nightlight's power source, in Jesus' case, his father God, who allowed him to work miracles and led Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to write the Gospels.
It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells: The Gospel really is simple. He came, He died, He rose.
So the room must listen to me: See below.
Filibuster Vigilantly: Read your bible carefully.
My name is blue canary, one note: spell L-I-T-E: Just night light, really.
My story's infinite: Even night light are created and eventually destroyed. Only God is, was, and will be forever.
Like the Longines Symphonette, it doesn't rest: Rhymage, and that's it.
There's a picture opposite me: See below
Of my primitive ancestry: See below
That stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free: God is a guiding light, and a lighthouse is often used as a symbol of Christianity and evangelism.
Though I respect that a lot: No meaning
I'd be fired if that were my job: Jason and the argonauts were sailors. Lighthouses are meant to PREVENT maritime fatalities, not cause them!
After killing Jason off and countless screaming argonauts: Long story. Ready to listen? According to the version of the myth I've been told all my life, Jason was depressed and went out to contemplate on the deck of the Argo. He was pretty friggin' depressed. I mean, most of his crew and both his parents were all dead. The Argo was pretty old and rotted, and the mast of the ship broke and fell on him, crushing him. Now, I don't care how depressed or in how much of a contemplative stupor you're in, A MAST BREAKING IS GONNA SNAP YOU OUT OF IT!! Unless the mast was silenced by some divine source, acting as a blow of mercy to take Jason out of his horrible life. Also, on one particular island, they were instructed not to touch anything. But what's Heracles do? He goes and grabs a big golden lance. As a result, more than half the Argonauts were killed by retribution for greed, and thus God making an example and giving us the "countless screaming argonauts".
Bluebird of friendliness: See below
Like Guardian Angels it's always near: God is everywhere and nowhere, thus never actually there, but always nearby and ready to spring into action if that safe just decides to appear out of somewhere in the stratosphere.
And while you're at it, keep the night light on inside the birdhouse in your soul: Just a little joke, as in "Oh, and that birdhouse is for me, right?"
So next time your pastor tells you to "stop listening to that drug-culture satanist crap," just rattle off what you just read.
It is almost indisputable that "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is about a night light. Not only does the song support this, the Johns themselves have confirmed this in interviews. The details of the song are a little more complicated, but that is the song in a nutshell.
The night light in question is shaped like a blue canary. The song is most likely sung from the perspective of the light to its owner, with the intent of making the owner love his/her light more. To make a little birdhouse in his/her soul, if you will.
The opening lines of the song are pretty much gibberish. They are contradictory, and the only meaning we can glean from them are the "glowing friend" part, which is a prelude for the story of the nightlight.
We begin right off with the chorus. It is a simple entreaty by the night light to be loved by its owner. It does contain a little pun, in using the phrase "bees in your bonnet" in a nonstandard way.
On to the first verse. There is no actual information given here; rather, it is just another introduction to the chorus, which contains the real meaning of the song. One point that is not clearly understood is the reference to the Longines Symphonette. Apparently, Longines was a company that made watches. Conflicting views have been posted that state that the Longines Symphonette was either a piece of music without rests, a series of concerts sponsored by Longines, or the name of a company or division of Longines that produces records and put out TV commercials. And I'm pretty sure that Symphonettes are pieces of music without "rests". Breaks in the music where there are no notes. But there aren't any rests. Doesn't rest like how his story's infinite.
The next verse is an amusing piece of poetry. The night light is observing a picture on the opposite wall of the room. The picture is that of a lighthouse. A lighthouse can be considered to be the "ancestor" of the night light. The night light hypothesizes that if he were in that position, he would fail at his job. Jason and the Argonauts, of course, were sailors. If the lighthouse failed, Jason could not see the rocks, and so would crash and be killed. It is also possible that the song is more specifically referring to the story in which Jason sent a dove ahead of his ship to guide him safely through a sea passageway. This makes some sense because a bird-shaped object is speaking.
There is an Emily Dickinson poem that is strikingly similar to the object of this poem, and may have been a partial inspiration:
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.
If read at a slightly different level, this song may be a love ballad. The singer could be asking for a little place in his beloved's heart. Or, equivalently, it could be a simple friendship song.
Other (very unlikely) interpretations would have it that the song is about nuclear power or electricity.
One interpretation might be that the night light is lamenting over its waning usefulness as the child gets older, or is perhaps even an adult at this point. The night light makes a plea to the listener to not be forgotten.
The opening words ("I'm your only friend...") could be how, as a very young child, it is easy to think of inanimate objects as friends. As the child grows, this emotional attachment slowly fades... (I'm not your only friend... I'm not actually your friend...)
"Make a little birdhouse in your soul" is a plea not to be forgotten. "Make a place in your heart for me and the memories I represent."
To have a "bee in your bonnet" is an idiom meaning to be preoccupied with an idea. The nightlight wants to be "the only bee in your bonnet" - to be the center of your thoughts.
I'm not sure what the "secret" is, but "electrical well" is clearly a reference to the outlet where the nightlight lives.
"So the room must listen to me, filibuster diligently" - A filibuster is a delay tactic where you try to wear out the opposition by constantly talking. The night light is trying to make itself more important than the other objects in the room by sheer persistence, and declares its name to affirm its identity among the other objects.
"Longines Symphonette" could very well fit into the interpretation of a watch (see above), which may be an attempt to make itself seem timeless. It is also interesting here that a nightlight "doesn't rest" but stays up all night working.
I also agree with the above interpretations of the lighthouse (which has also become less useful over time as navigation methods improved.) However the night light laments that it could never be as important as a lighthouse, and never be able to save Jason and the other sailors.
"Blue bird of friendliness. Like guardian angels, it's always near.", because its only job was to provide comfort for a child and always be there to protect them from the darkness.
"While you're at it, leave the night light on..." is a plea to invite other childhood memories into the listener's heart as well. A warm, inviting light in a little house where all the fond memories can live.
The nightlight could also serve as a stand-in for any object which carries a special childhood memory that does not want to be forgotten. =Smidge=
I imagine Blue Canary's blue "note" may be a little flickery, which could account for the contradictions in her self-interpretation. Besides the fact that a night light would make a very poor lighthouse (which I hadn't even considered) I think that Blue Canary considers herself a potential Siren (I don't remember if they tempted the Argonauts): she is just so friendly no sailor could resist her! - M. Fudd
Who ever said that birdhouse in your soul is about religion is just... well stupid! Seriously... Sometimes people take this whole interpretation thing way too far. I know that They Might Be Giants' songs generally have meanings beyond the text. But come on!
"My story's infinite: Even night lights are created and eventually destroyed. Only God is, was, and will be forever.
Like the Longines Symphonette, it doesn't rest: Rhymage, and that's it."
phhh seriously... and no. It isn't JUST rhymage... The Longine Symphonette is the band that played for Lawrence Welk on his show back when big bands were popular. And my band, (not saying that tmbg does this)when we are making songs, a lot of times we just kind of right down lyrics, and let it get it's own meaning, rather then planning out what it means.
NIGHT LIGHT: I'm the only thing you can see, but I'm not the only thing here. I'll be here watching over you. I don't mean to bug you, but think about me. Make some room for me in your soul. -Alice
Okay, I'm gonna have to fix what all of you have been saying. There is no specific meaning to the 'i'm your only friend' part! look at it this way : he says that he's your only friend, but not your only friend, so that means he's your friend. okay, got that much? the next part just kind throws it off, telling u that he's a little glowing friend, but not actually your friend. the only thing you get out of it is that he glows.
Note to whoever wrote the above. Every single word in every single piece of poetry or work of music done by anyone remotely professional is put in there for a reason. If it seems meaningless then that simply means that you haven't figured it out yet.
Ok, the way I see it is that the entire "blue canary" bit is a reference to your conscience, seeing that it watches over you. The entire light switch thing is a reference to the human head. And making a birdhouse in your soul means to make a little space in yourself for your conscience. Now I could be wrong but it is worth thinking about.
Written by TMBG's entire Florida fan base...one guy, Squeak
ok, i am extremely angered that this song has been interpreted literally. this song has one of the deepest, yet most simple meanings. instead of trying to explain the entire thing, I think it'd be wise to explain it line by line
Birdhouse in your Soul, by they might be giants
I'm your only friend I'm not your only friend But I'm a little glowing friend But really I'm not actually your friend But I am
~The song begins by briefly describe Gods role in ones life. Although God is the only true friend anyone can have, this fact is often forgotten, along with Gods exsistence. By considering God as a "glowing friend", God can be more amply described as a being inside everyone rather than having the physical presence of a man. By actually not considering him as your friend, the role of God is sadly described. His presence is called upon in times of need, and shortly forgotten.~
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch Who watches over you
~For the rest of the song, God is considered a "blue canary" in an arbitrary place~
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
~It is then asked for that place to retain inside one. His presence can be very simple. Just the recognization of him is required~
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
~to quote one of the commandments "I am the Lord, your God. Thou shall not have other gods before me", it is required for one to worship God souly~ Make a little birdhouse in your soul
I have a secret to tell From my electrical well It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells
~God requires very little, and in return he shall provide eternal life in heaven. This simple concept is sited here. Obey the ten commandments, and one shall go to heaven. This fact is often misunderstood or forgotten, so considering it a secrete is approprate in this situation.~ So the room must listen to me Filibuster vigilantly
~Although its simplicity is clearly evident, without obeying this simple concept, one can never truly reach Heaven. The simple concept must be practiced in long, tedious manner.~ My name is blue canary one note* spelled l-i-t-e
~I am the one God. the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.~ My story's infinite
Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn't rest
~My presence is unfaultered and will never vanise, regardless of the will of man.~
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch Who watches over you Make a little birdhouse in your soul Not to put too fine a point on it Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet Make a little birdhouse in your soul
I'm your only friend I'm not your only friend But I'm a little glowing friend But really I'm not actually your friend But I am
There's a picture opposite me Of my primitive ancestry
~The picture represents an ancient time period, when the idea of God and Jesus was a new concept.~ Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free
~This concept often resulted in persecution and death. Gods presence was supose to save the people suffering and rid them of tyrants.~ Though I respect that a lot I'd be fired if that were my job After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts
~As in the example of Jason and the Argonauts, God failed in saving the people. God cannot alter the will of men, and the result of human nature is often dead. If it was Gods job to save the people, he would be fired. Rather, by following Gods teaching, eternal peace is found in death.~ Bluebird of friendliness Like guardian angels its always near
~God is all good, and his presence is eternal.~
I think the "bluebird of friendliness" line is probably a reference to the popular song "Bluebird of Happiness" in the 20's or 30's or something and then popularized by Jan Peerce and Art Mooney later on. ~ magbatz
This is not a God song. This is a night light song. There are plenty of perfect explanations on this page that show why it's simply a night light singing and not something deeper. TMBG just candy-coats their meanings with lyrics that you have to actually study to understand.
i think the song is about a lamp, possibly containing UV light. however, the true meaning of the song lies in the words 'its infinite', which could be a metaphor for... life itself?\
i think it was is a pirate, possibly on drugs. i had the strong visual image of the priates ancestors on beach raiding Jason and the Argonaughts. i imagine them cursing the sky.
i also think it could also possibly be about a pirates opposite thumbs, bickering their way to eternity on some voyage to a lost island. the whole 'I'm not your only friend' refers to the fact that our thumbs are not the only things on our hands, but they are the only thumbs we have. and, well, my thumbs are glowing which explains the whole glowing friend thing.
the only bee in your bonnet or bonnay (for the French)is most likely a reference to Jacques Chiraques and his attempts to ban the French from smoking
this song is definitely about a night light. Its primitive ancestry is a lighthouse keeping the the shores "shipwreck free". But now, the night light keeps monsters away. Maybe the night light is in the shape of a blue canary, and when they're saying to "make a little birdhouse in your soul", they're just telling you to keep it close to you, because it keeps you safe.
I agree 100% that this is not a song about God. Some people just look for hidden meanings in everything, and sometimes you stretch it too far. It's good to do that sometimes though, just not this time. --Holdhurst 17:30, 13 Mar 2006 (CST)
Is it just me, or was Flansburgh building something to use mind control on those kids in the video? o_O;; I started cracking up, I was thinking, "OMG FLANSBOTS!"
In other words, great song. I think it might be saying that you needn't worry about stuff, 'cause you're always gonna have somebody to support you. Awwwww... =) --Lemita 12:06, 12 Apr 2006 (CDT)
Look, anyone who claims this is about Christianity is just ignorant. It's stupid to think that TMBG would ever write music that is only meant to be enjoyed by one group of people. This is just a song about a nightlight that doesn't want a kid to forget about him as he grows older.
I think this song is about a friendship. The blue canary doesn't want his "only friend" to forget him if they are parted in their lives. - CuppaCoffee 22:13, 11 Jun 2006 (EDT)
The song itself is easy enough, the night light wanting to not be forgotten, childhood innocence and all that, but what I don't understand is the music video. I have watched it a couple of times and am completely baffled.
Well first of all, the main point to the music video, like most tmbg music videos, is to have absolutely nothing to do with the song. I haven't watched the birdhouse video in a little while, but I think that the main overall theme of it is an attempt (probably a futile one at that) to stop the repetiveness of music videos in general.
The literal interpretation offered at the top is very valid. The religious interpretation where passages are conveniently disregarded as "just rhymnage" is bunk. The deeper meaning behind the night light (which is what the song is about) is that we all need to build a "birdhouse in our soul" for whatever that makes us feel safe and secure ("Blue Canary"), so that it can live within us. This way when we leave home and face the cruel, hard world we always have a psuedo-friend to turn to who helps us feel safe and secure. For some people this may be God, but not in the case of the John's. The antecedent for "I" is Blue Canary, the night light.
Clock radios were sold under the "Longines Symphonette" brand (there's one for sale on eBay as I write this). A clock tells time, which is "infinite." It also has hands that move (before digital displays), so it "doesn't rest." Also, a radio in a boy's bedroom would certainly get a lot of use, particularly at night ("doesn't rest"). Imagine a boy's fascination with picking up distant AM radio stations on a crappy clock radio at night. But a Longines Symphonette clock radio and a blue canary night light don't sound like things a boy would choose for his own bedroom (assuming he had a choice). I think he's away from home, in a strange bedroom where it's especially hard to find your way around in the dark. That blue canary guiding your way to the bathroom would be an extra special friend when you're sleeping in Grandma and Grandpa's guest room. But it's only a friend of convenience, not because you like the look of the thing. In your own bedroom you'd prefer to have Superman guiding your way to the pissoir.
This song is more sinister than most people make it out to be. Think about the first few lines: "I'm your only friend, I'm not your only friend, but I'm a little glowing friend, but really I'm not actually your friend." Basically, while I do agree with the "night light" interpretation, the nightlight isn't the protagonist, but the antagonist. The night light, while it gives light, gives false, weak light. The light is a sort of birdhouse, which doesn't give shelter, but instead encloses and entraps. The child in this story must learn to sleep without his nighlight, and in so doing learn to think for himself. The demo version further supports this.
(If anyone wants to connect this to religion...)--188.8.131.52 20:52, 18 November 2006 (UTC)
- That's interesting, and although I know they don't connect the videos with the song at all, I do believe that John and John are against each other (I've always thought Flansburgh was the antagonist, and Linnell "joined" him at the end) in the video. Hmm. Interesting. --Lemita 22:32, 8 September 2006 (UTC)
Song got me obsessed when it first came out. Never could figure out the lyrics. Still, reading all this, the most "parsimonious" (so to speak) explanation is indeed a night light in the shape of a blue canary talking to a rather young child who has to take a leak in the middle of the night... "birdhouse in your soul"..."bee in your bonnet"..."filibuster vigilantly": focusing your mind on the little blue canary to keep the monsters which every child knows to hide in the dark out. "Longines Symphonette" - as a side note, Longines seems to have made a "World Fair" series of (gold?) watches in 1964. World Fair, 1964 - "Ana Ng", anyone? (Still, the reference seems to point to the radio or the LPs. But the watch, it it indeed existed, could be what hooked Lintell on that name). This does not apply to the d-a-s version. --Dys
In keeping with the metaphorical night light theme, I would consider the "blue canary in the outlet by the light switch" a metaphor for electricity. Maybe I'm wrong, but it kind of makes sense...
prototype 03:29, 15 October 2006 (UTC)
Metaphor - a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in "A mighty fortress is our God."
I'm sorry but talking about something that's plugged into an outlet by a light switch is not a metaphor for electricity. It's literally talking about electricity. The metaphor would have to be what the nightlight represents. Not just the night lite itself.
My dad always said night lights were too expensive.
This is an issue about layers of meaning. The first layer of meaning of this song is completely nonsensical -- the people who stop here are the ones who say, "This song makes no sense." The second layer of meaning is the night light. The danger with layers of meaning is finding the second layer and thinking, "I get it!" and stopping. Just like much poetry is about sex, the goal is not to say "Oh, the tree represents a penis," and stop there, but rather to figure out what is accomplished by having the tree represent a penis or by extending the meaning of what is said about the tree. Likewise, we get it -- the blue canary is a night light. So what? On to layer three! This is a religious song that uses the night light as a metaphor for G-d. So people who say it's about a night light are right, but there's more to it than that. So let's break it down line by line then.
"I'm your only friend, I'm not your only friend, but I'm a little glowing friend, but really I'm not actually your friend, but I am"= Layer 2 -- friend like a stuffed animal, offers comfort. Layer 3=Man's confusing relationship with G-d. Sometimes G-d seems benevolent, sometimes He seems cruel; sometimes He seems near, sometimes He seems far. "Blue canary" -- Layer 2=form of the night light. Layer 3="n. an emergency worker (especially a police officer or first responder) whose death alerts other personnel to a hazardous situation." (http://www.doubletongued.org/index.php/dictionary/blue_canary/) Remember, this is the first song on the CD after "theme from Flood." The great flood alerts us that our actions have consequences. "Outlet by the light switch who watches over you" --Layer 2=literally, the night light is an outlet by the light switch. Layer 3= G-d. Outlet=origin of energy, light switch recalls "let there be light," "watches over you"=what G-d does. "Make a little birdhouse in your soul"=Layer 2=meaning unclear; Layer 3=make room for G-d in your life/soul. "Not to put to fine a point on it"=Layer 2=meaning unclear. Layer 3=We cannot and should not attempt to define G-d. "Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet"=Layer 2=the night light wants to be your "only friend." Layer 3=The Lord is one and His name one. ONLY -- "no other gods before Me;" He is a jealous G-d.
I'll leave you to figure out the rest, but if it really just referred to a lighthouse, why would it have an "infinite" story -- only G-d has that, but light is G-d's first creation.
Regarding the above:
I'm not gonna argue the whole religious thing even if I don't agree with it. I do thank you for reminding me about the purpose of canaries in mining and will probably have to work that into my own interpretation somehow. What I do want to point out though is that having a bee in your bonnet is a bad thing. What you're saying is that the verse says "Let God be the only thing that annoys you." :P Not saying you're wrong, but you might wanna rethink that line. ~ Rilom 12/07/2006
It is my understanding that songs do have multiple layers of meaning, usually, i imagine artists will only go to about the second level, which hosts the song's intended meaning, while the subsequent layers hold a meaning that is "synthetic" as in, completely made up based on the listener's interpretation, so, while TMBG says it is about a night light shaped like a canary, it could have a whole nother menaing behind that was never intended (no offense, but as profolic as TMBG is, i doubt they would have the time to go into so many levels) (especially the one about the AC, it makes sense, but again probaly not intended meaning) One personal interpretaton of mine is (this is way out there)that TMBG created this song with its intoxicating melody and lyrics, but multple layers of meaning, so that this song could be debated in sites like this, thus making us wonder outwards, what is the real blue canary, and what is it shedding light on, perhaps this song is the blue canary, and the light it gives off is merely something within us that causes us to think, perhaps the light is merely human intellegnce, which causes us to strive to find some sort of deeper meaning in this song with such a simple intended meaning. Reading between the lines is fine, but dont ignore the lines themselves.
Wow, there are a lot of interpretations here. Mine is much more simple than most.
Obviously the item in discussion is a nightlight, and nightlights are generally meant to ease a child's fear of the dark. We also learn of another thing to be very afraid of when we're young, and that is the dangers of electricity. This has the possibility of putting the fear of nightlights into a child's mind.
The nightlight discusses it's many secrets and histories, and how in it's current mode it has the chance to just as easily kill Jason as light his way. It certainly made me think differently on nightlights when I first heard this song around '90-'91(I was only 6!) -demotion 1/20/07
It's weird how you can get a message out of something and assume it's basically a foregone conclusion that that's at least part of what it means, then talk to people about it and either not hear it mentioned at all or get ripped apart on first mention. I assumed it was blatantly obvious that the song was religious in nature, either seriously or satirically. Yeah, groping for hidden meanings where there are none is idiotic, but if they slap you in the face, it's safe to say they're there. I know there are a lot of crackpots out there, but if it seems THAT absurdly obvious to ANYBODY who hears it, let alone a noticable portion of the audience, then there's probably SOMETHING to the idea.
I am eternally astounded at how people of one mindset are able to interpret just about anything they like in terms of their mindset. I'm an antique glass collector, and I just thought ya'll'd like to hear my interpretation. 'A little glowing friend' who isn't actually your friend - it's about how they used to use uranium to color fairy lights, which radiate warmth and love and look oh-so-gorgeous, but which not only bombard the poor sleeping child with radioactivity, altering their genetics predisposing not only them but the generations of children to follow to lymphomas, but also if that child swings out their hand in the night, they'll knock the fairy light over and set their bed alight, possibly causing them to spontaneously combust. Some friend, indeed.--Anonymouse
Regarding the above. Nice theory, gives me an interesting idea of an interpretation for the whole song being about the death of a child. The song could be seen to be pretty violent if you look at it in the right way.
A little bird told me that GiantMidget is way on to something. --User:HearingAid
Let's see how long this entry lasts! Maybe GiantMidget is right after all. Maybe it is about religion after all. But think about the concept of God as a nightlight, i.e. something that gives comfort to children who are afraid of the dark, and other than that is completely impotent. That would certainly tally with my concept of religion. Now, let me just board up the doors and windows before the lynch mob comes to get me.--Anonymouse.
Just to throw in my little bit, and extend on something said somewhere above, perhaps the first part details the changing relationship over time. At the youngest, your only friend, then slightly older you're just one of many friends (not your only friend), but still a friend (little glowing friend). Then you hit an age when reality and fantasy seperate, and objects aren't friends (not really actually a friend), until finally all traces of anthromorphism are gone (but I am).
It's a nite lite. It's also Jesus.
I'm your only friend
[Jesus is our only 100% truly devoted loyal friend.]
I'm not your only friend
[We have other friends as well.]
But Im a little glowing friend
[Christ is the Light.]
But really Im not actually your friend
[Light in our Conscience can be annoying.]
But I am
[Jesus is the Great I AM.]
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
[This is one of those units that are an outlet and light switch together.]
-The Light Switch = God the Father -The Outlet = Spirit of God proceeds from the Father -Blue Canary = Jesus Christ resides in the Spirit at the Right Hand of the Father.
Who watches over you
[Jesus Christ watches over us.]
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
[Jesus Christ will live in our soul if we make room.]
Not to put too fine a point on it
[Pardon my direct manner of speaking...]
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
[Confess me as Lord.]
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
[Jesus Christ will live in your soul if you make room by faith.]
I have a secret to tell
[The Good News.]
From my electrical well
[The Outlet, the Holy Spirit.]
Its a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells
[The Gospel doesn't need fancy words or hype accompanying it.]
So the room must listen to me filibuster vigilantly
[You must pay attention to my Preaching.]
My name is blue canary one note* spelled l-i-t-e
[My Name is Jesus Christ, the Light of God]
My story's infinite Like the longines symphonette it doesn't rest
[The origin of Jesus is Infinite and never ends.]
Theres a picture opposite me of my primitive ancestry Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free
[A fire-burning lighthouse. This is Judaism, the precursor of Christ.]
Though I respect that a lot I'd be fired if that were my job After killing Jason off and countless screaming argonauts.
[An electrical nite lite cannot take the place of a fire-burning lighthouse. Jesus protects us from within, not from without.]
Bluebird of friendliness
[Jesus is our friend.]
Like guardian angels its always near.
[Jesus is Omnipresent.]
Make a little birdhouse in your soul And while you're at it Keep the nite lite on inside the Birdhouse in your soul
[Persevere in your faith in Jesus Christ.]
- The phrase "bee in one's bonnet" refers to an idea that one is preoccupied with. If Jesus ever spoke that line, he wouldn't be telling his followers to confess that He is Lord, but rather to obsess about Him or at least keep Him in their thoughts all the time. I guess it still works with your interpretation, but I thought I'd clear that up. - Ms F.
I really don't think this song has any sort of religious undertone. It is an interesting suggestion, though. But I have to agree with what Chris from PA said above: It's a fun, clever song, but it's really not meant to be looked into so deeply. If you were ever one of those kids who was convinced that the Boogeyman or some other monstrosity was going to come after you in the nighttime without your trusty night light, I think this song makes a lot of sense. -Ms Fernandez
I thought the blue canary might be an allusion to when they used to bring canaries into mines as a safety precaution. If the canary suddenly died, the minors would know that there was a problem with the air quality and that they should get the hell out of the mine. A blue canary might be a canary that has been asphixiated. Of course, I think it may also be a nightlight at the same time. There seems to be a theme of selfless behavior throughout the song. The blue canary has martyred himself for the coal minors. As a nightlight, he also selflessly performs a function for other's benefit. The same with a lighthouse. However, selfless behavior cuts both ways, hence the whole ambiguity about whether he is your friend. On the one hand he is altruistic (doing for others without benefit to himself), but he is also spiteful (doing harm to others without benefit to himself.) Killing off Jason and the screaming Argonouts does not sound like an accident, it sounds like a deliberate act. (Although the reasons behind that act are unclear.) There is not just a failure to benefit from these selfless acts, they also come at a cost to the actor. The canary is asphixiated for his altruistic vigil, just as he as a lighthouse loses his job for spitefully taking out the Argos. Ultimately, I think it is a song about conscience and moral behavior which is ultimately for the individual to decide. We don't know why the canary keeps watch or why the lighthouse wrecked the ship, but we can assume that they were motivated by their own moral compass to do what they thought was best. Actually, I'm not totally convinced of this, but I've been trying to figure out this damn song for 15 years and this is the best I've got.
i think that the blue canary stands for an imaginary friend..
"im your only friend im not your only friend but im a little glowing friend but really im not actually your friend but i am"
its a friend, not a physical friend, but a "glowing friend"
like when paranoid schizophrenics conjure up a act of their imagination into something that comforts them.. like maybe a blue canary nightlight they had when they were younger.. its like the two meanings combined, the canary nightlight, and the monster that inhabits his mind. but maybe the song is about the "bee in the bonnet" that inhabits his mind, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Note: I would appreciate if people who post religious interpretations would check to make sure that at least something they've posted is new. I've seen at least two interpretations that look almost copy-pasted from earlier religion-based interpretations. I like the first theory (Blue Canary=demon), but I really have to go with the night light explanation. However, "I'm your only friend... not your only friend.. your little glowing friend... I'm not your friend but I am..." seems to me that it's not saying "But I am (your friend)," but rather "but I am (something else that I would rather not tell you directly)." "I'm your only friend" is pretty simple, it is either referencing being your only friend at night as a small child, keeping away the dark, "I'm not your only friend" either says it's lying, or youhave other friends, just not in the middle of the night protecting you from all the creeoy things the darkness is. "Your little glowing friend"... Little glowing is straightforward, but friend is either innocuous or a baldfaced lie depending on how you interpreted earlier lyrics. "I'm not actually your friend" is telling you that it lied earlier, either becauseit isn't real and because it causes creepy shadows, or because it isn't actually your friend, but is... something else. Or it's your friend like a stuffed animal or blanket is your friend.
Blue Canary in the outlet by the light switch... That's basically the whole night-light thing. Or it may be an evil spirit sealed into a glass bird nightlight. The outlet by the light swotch may not be in the bathroom, it may simply be an outlet under a light switch, maybe to the left otr right, probably by a door. "Watches over you" could be in a guardianlike manner, or a malevolent way. Make a little birdhouse in your soul and "The only bee in your bonnet" mean basically the same thing: either "I'm a cute little nightlight, love me!" or "I want to be free of this accursed lamp, and must posess you in order to go wreak havoc elsewhere!"
"I have a secret to tell..." No idea what it might mean for a night light, but for a soul entrapped in a nightlight, its mere existence is the secret. The electrical well is the outlet, simple message, nothign necessarily hiden there, nor with "so the room must listen to me". "Whistles and bells..." Could be referencing the simplicity of the message, or it could be referencing spirits being weak against church bells and some spirits using whistles to confuse their prey. "My name is Blue Canary" is either referencing the shape of the nightlight, the spirit's name itself, or both. "Spelled one note- L-I-T-E" is interesting. How is a word "spelled one note," and why "L-I-T-E" rather than "L-I-G-H-T"? With a minor adjustment to melody (one half note to two quarter noytes) and no change in rhyme, the spelling could easily be adjusted. "My story's infinite..." could be about the history of lighting, or the lifespan of the spirit, and for "Like the Longine(s) Symphonette it doesn't rest," I assumed the Longines Symphonette was just a musical group that used a lot of flowing music without a lot of rests, if any, but the Longines Symphonette=electronics manufacturer and record label implies that it's just the manufacturer of the night light. In the case of the latter interpretation, "It doesn't rest" becomes unclear, as they don't seem to be knownm for manufacturing quality.
"There's a picture opposite me... shipwreck free" could be referencing either a light house or carrion-eating birds. It is later implied more clearly to be a lighthouse "I'd be fired... argonauts" because a little night-light doesn't have the power of the lighthouse from which it was descended. The unnatural stymphalian byrds or even harpies/sirens of greek myth (depending on what retelling you are using as a reference) could have been an alternative to the seagulls, who instead of eating the already rotting bits of the crew of the Argo would instead have ripped them to pieces while still alive. "Bluebird of friendliness like guardian angel is always near" could either mean the light can be navigated by even from another room as long as the door is open, or it is hovering nearby either as a guardian spirit or an evil equivalent tyo a guardian angel.
I have a secret to tell Out when youre all by yourself Theres a time when even you get up and leave your nothing to dwell I dont want to talk about that And no one listens to that But for the one who does, and shes the one you worry about Dont you say anything If you have anything to do with it
I'd like to cover the earth With a fresh-baked yummy dessert People couldnt live in it, but I think its worth the money and hurt cause I couldnt tolerate All the empty places in the world
from the dial-a-song lyrics seems a bit creepy, even malevolent, and don't sem to have much to do with a nightlight or even a captured spirit (wll, maybe some sort of literal-wish djinn). It seems to be a completely different song.
Anyway, I feel that this song is about a night light, and has multiple layers (none necessarily about a trapped demon or spirit creature), at least one of which is the disclarity to get you to think about the song (a convenient tertiary meaning for "I'm the only bee in your bonnet.") -JET73L (He's certainly human-sized)
I've always loved this song and just recently realized that the line "Blue canary in the outlet by the lightswitch who watches over you" could be a statement describing a night-light that watches over you or it could be a question, addressed to the night-light itself. Such as: "Blue canary in the outlet by the lightswitch: Who watches over you?" The narrator feels that the night-light infinitely watches over him or people, but he considers who watches over the night-lite. Like who watches the watchers or something. I see how it would work as a description of a night-light and it also works as a question asked to the night-light. It's kind of like a Magic Eye poster where you can stare at it and see one thing, then shift the focus a little bit and see things differently. It's such a cleverly written song and the music is very brilliant, as well. There is some great word play in this song but I don't think we're supposed to read too far into it as far as hidden meanings or especially religious agendas are concerned, though. LKR
Isn't this song, much like many of TMBG's tracks, about our influence on the environment?
They urge us (not to put too fine a point on it), to "make a little birdhouse in [our souls]", i.e. to take care of this Blue Canary, who would die (like our other "Guardian Angels", the canaries used by miners in Coal Mines) if we don't curb our emissions of Carbon gases (from our "electrical [oil] wells")?!
They also hark back to days gone by (as they do in I Palindrome I, referring to the spring of the Grandfather clock) where we used far less energy to go about our daily lives - here, we see a picture of our ancestors, who successfully (in the times of Jason and the Argonauts!) kept the beaches shipwreck free WITHOUT the use of lighthouses...
IMO, these are recurring themes across many TMBG tracks... leave a note if you'd like me to point out more...
In my opinion, the blue canary is like the songbirds that are in a mine shaft as a natural gas guage. But, that could be wrong...
I always viewed the chorus as saying "whatever happens, make a room for something in your heart" kind of thing with "make a little birdhouse in your soul" --Raulbloodworth 16:54, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
Ah, this is such a complex song. It is definitly about a child's night light. I used to have a nightlight in the shape of a cat. I was kind of afraid of the dark. But little kids are. Some adults are too. Like you can't go to a hotel unless you leave the bathroom light on all night. Some people get afraid because they are in a dark, unknown place. Light is like a security blanket. So this nightlight in the song is a security blanket to the little child in the song. (I drew an image in my doodle book to help understand the song a little more and the child is a kid version of linnell.)In this image, is kid linnell staring at his blue, canary shaped night light. (which is near the lightswitch. and opposite of him is a picture of some kind of birds being his primitive ancestry and they're standing on shipwreck free rocky shores. probably, they're Sirens or some other mythical bird. and as some humor there's a tree outside with a little painted bird house on it.) The child finds safety in the nightlight. He needs the night light. He "built a birdhouse in his soul". meaning he's treasuring the light because it's keeping the monsters from attacking him. It's doing what it's primitive ancestry was doing. Keeping beaches shipwreck free. The night light is keeping beaches shipwreck free by keeping the child's concience nightmare free. Little kid linnell feels safe to sleep at night as long as he knows there's light to ward off monsters and nightmares.
But the music video has nothing to do with birds. and those odd dancers are creepy. The little dance moves that the Johns do are great though. Music video is odd....
It's interesting how a song lyric can have a literal meaning that is wholly correct, and still be adaptable to other interpretations that provide alternate insights. Until I read some of the information on this site, I always thought this song was a tribute by the two Johns to music and song writing, reflecting their feelings about having a career as composers and musicians.
The lyrics contains quite a few direct musical references: "whistles and bells," "one note," a songbird (canary) that's "blue," and not to mention the Longines Symphonette. There's also a line that says "The room must listen to me." A "blue canary in the outlet by the light switch" can be understood as a radio or record player as easily as a night light.
The verse about the light house can also interpreted as a fog horn that "keeps the beaches shipwreck free." Is a fog horn the "primitive ancestry" of a songwriter?
Since John Linnell and John Flansburgh both made music their lives and careers, there are some lyrics that point to dedication and commitment. For example, "Like guardian angels it's always near." "Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet." Music is always near and for TMBG, they put all their eggs in that basket. There's mention of "my job." The touching title image of a "birdhouse in your soul" works in this way too. Anybody who loves music can identify with the idea of having a bird constantly singing in your heart.
Just Another Viewpoint
I found the interpretations interesting, but I'm not sure I agree with all of them.
"I'm your only friend I'm not your only friend But I'm a little glowing friend But really I'm not actually your friend But I am
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch Who watches over you Make a little birdhouse in your soul Not to put too fine a point on it Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet Make a little birdhouse in your soul"
My first impression was that "blue canary" was a type of natural gas. However, after reading some of the other interpretations I think the blue canary is actually a pun. I think it refers to the "nite lite" idea, but also refers to the slang of EMT, firefighters, and police. They are sometimes referred to as "blue canaries".
FYI, "Blue Canary" as it refers to emergency personnel identifies a responder whose death alerts other responders to a potentially fatal situation, as canaries did for coal miners.
"I have a secret to tell From my electrical well Its a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells So the room must listen to me Filibuster vigilantly My name is blue canary one note* spelled l-i-t-e My story's infinite Like the longines symphonette it doesn't rest"
This seems more like the night light. Usually they're in the outlet by the light switch.
"There's a picture opposite me Of my primitive ancestry Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free Though I respect that a lot Id be fired if that were my job After killing jason off and countless screaming argonauts Bluebird of friendliness Like guardian angels its always near"
Obviously a light house. If the narrator is a night light, then of course he'd fail. If it were a rescue worker, the analogy doesn't fit.
I think overall the song is about staying positive even in the face of negativity and criticism.
Although the song seems to touch on a metaphorical nite light inside oneself, the bulk of the song, like many of their others, reflects on science. It is the invention and history of the electric light. The story from my electrical well, the blue canary nite light, the light house, the movie projector light that killed Jason Vorhees of Friday the 13th and countless screaming argonauts referring to other movie monsters etc.
"Making a little birdhouse in your soul" seems to be the nightlight's plea to whoever it's protecting. The nightlight is just a false comfort; it can't really do anything to protect anyone, it just makes whatever danger there is visible. It mentions this when it talks about Jason and "countless screaming Argonauts." The nightlight would have failed these heroes because it simply isn't strong enough to keep them safe. It admires the lighthouse in the picture for being stronger and more useful (lighthouses protect and also comfort sailors, both by providing light and by reminding them that people are watching out for them), while acknowledging that the nightlight, while tiny, does the best it can to make the world a little safer.
A nightlight only illuminates a tiny space. It is always stuck in one spot, in this case the light-switch, and can't accompany anyone out into the world. One's own bedroom at night is rather safe compared to the bigger dangers out there. Making a little birdhouse in one's soul means to make room for one's own "internal" nightlight (the nightlight in the song being bird-shaped), something you can carry around always to keep yourself safe without relying on anything from the outside. It could also express a wish that the nightlight were bigger and more able to provide real protection. I kind of want to interpret the "say I'm the only bee in your bonnet" as part of this wish: a "bee in one's bonnet" means "an irritating issue that is still relatively small." It could be the singer's way of saying "Say that the worst dangers you will ever face are still small enough that I'm the only protection you will need."
To me, personally, this song reminds me of a parent looking out for his/her child and wishing that he or she could always keep the child safe, while knowing that eventually, the child will leave the safety of its bedroom and its parents and have to venture into the world alone--but perhaps accompanied by the feeling of safety and protection its parents provided.
When I was very young, 1962-1963 (3 or 4 years old), my grandparents had a light-switch cover in one of their bedrooms with a bluebird on it chirping out a music note with the letters L-I-T-E. The cover had a built-in night light. It was comforting.
The rest of the song is a dreamy extrapolation of the possible history of this particular blue bird and his glorious ancestors...all accomplished whilst falling asleep.
A Metaphor That Can Mean Anything Means Nothing
My twelve-year-old daughter loves They Might Be Giants (as do I), and I was hoping to find a nite lite to give her for her birthday. What a surprise to find this place where conspiracy theorists and graduate students identify hidden meanings in lyrics, reading their notes in accordance with their thesis so their conclusions match their assumptions.
A bit of context. John and John lived in Chicago while I was at the University of Chicago and my brother was an art student (now he teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago). They were (and are) hilarious and talented guys, and every day or sometimes every week they would leave a new song--usually about sixty seconds long--on their answering machine. I feel fairly certain that these musical doodlings were not about Gnostic secrets. They were just meant to be funny.
There's a scene in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick where Ahab nails a gold coin to the mast, and promises it as a reward to whoever sights the White Whale. Just about everything Moby-Dick is generally believed to be a symbol for something: Moby-Dick, for example, represents a God who inflicts suffering and death at his whim. That's fine: Melville was reading Nathaniel Hawthorne while writing Moby-Dick, and he became fascinated by the notion of having character names, objects and actions be symbolic or emblematic of other meanings.
But there are times when an emblem or metaphor becomes so overloaded with possible meanings that it no longer functions as metaphor--that is, as a literary device that helps us see something in a fresh or new or startling way--and instead becomes something that could mean anything. The gold coin, for example, could mean what: redemption? damnation? salvation? a bunch of money? Almost anything we believe to be a reward.
It's like the word "democracy," which has been stretched in service of so many different ideas that it is now suspect any time anyone uses it (will Egypt become a democracy? Depends on what the word means.) Or the American flag--which supposedly means freedom or democracy or respect for people with different faiths or ideologies--but which was also painted on the Hiroshima bomb, where it also meant or represented death on a hitherto unimagined scale.
So you could say the blue canary (Marxist) represents the proletariat, or (Jungian) represents the collective unconscious, or (Feminist Literary Criticism) represents the anima or feminine side of the masculine, or (Nietzschean) represents the Ubermensch, or (Derrida) represents--well to be honest, I never really understood Derrida. I've written a lot of papers suggesting such things--and as a professor, I've graded even more.
But for me, biography trumps critical theory every time. This song is one of many--written by a couple of funny guys--who used to leave short and silly songs (whenever they wrote a new one) on their answering machine. And I think knowing that puts it back into perspective.
It's been over 20 years and I'm still not sure if he's my friend or not...
A TV set
This is the song about the effect of television on people's minds. The only friend but not exactly a friend. Light that you expect to save you, like a beacon but... tough luck.
Or! I present an alternate theory! It's incredibly damn convoluted and only covers a couple lines: 'Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free, Though I respect that a lot, I'd be fired if that were my job, after killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts.' SPOILERS FOR THE TV SHOW LOST!!!! If you've seen Lost the TV show from close to, if not over a decade ago and you've finished it. You'll know about a character called 'Jason' who kept watch over the Island and took care of a light which kept the Island alive or something... it's confusing as hell. But anyway, I digress. He was regularly shown on a beach, watching at passing ships and actually cleaning up a shipwreck once. This song came out many years before Lost but the coincidence is insane. Your friend, IrishTnT
Two People in Love...that was meant to BE.
This song is about 2 people that would have never crossed paths, but have formed a genuine Love. One night, they found each other, and there was genuine magic! Unfortunately, they came from separate worlds, socially separated from each other, but connected on so many levels. The birdhouse represents the possibilities, as there are openings between the bars.
Unfortunately, the bars were too strong, leading to the question of why there are separations at all. Who owns the bars that keep people apart?
Love should not be deterred by the bars of religion, race, nor income. We all deserve to be free and open. Its also time to really ask our representatives, why they make their decisions, and hold them accountable. regardless of party. Love deserves better.
Tie to Bukowski
This song always reminds me of Bukowski's poem "Bluebird"
there's a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I'm too clever, I only let him out at night sometimes when everybody's asleep. I say, I know that you're there, so don't be sad. then I put him back, but he's singing a little in there, I haven't quite let him die and we sleep together like that with our secret pact
This song seems to be a reminder to build a birdhouse for the bluebird - to welcome it and take care of it, and to keep the nightlight on in there while you're at it.
NIGHTLIGHT ARE YOU KIDDING ME
This song is about a nightlight. Nothing else.
-When Cheese Met Chalk
The Longines Symphonette I once owned was a clock radio with a nightlight built in. Well, kind of a reading lamp on a stick. There seems to be just one style like that - the clock is either oval or rectangular. -drink moorebeer-