Interpretations:It's Not My Birthday

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This song is about everybody's favorite subject, depression. The first set of lyrics convey this quite nicely, as the narrator tells how, even though he doesn't WANT it to rain, it still does anyway, and if the world were to crumble away into nothingness tomorrow he's holding out on the hope that reincarnation is a lie.

The second set of lyrics show he's dissatisfied with his lot in life. As he's walking around, he's thinking of newer, better ways he could be walking instead of the boring old normal way. He knows it's stupid and that he's wasting time thinking about this that could be used thinking about something else, but he can't help it. Even worse, when he tries to think of other things, his train of thought gets derailed, making him think about things that quite frankly he doesn't want to think about.

The third set shows how he feels trapped. He knows that he should try to escape this rut he's in, but he's grown so depressed that he fails to see the point. There'd be "no percentage or proof" of his getting out of his rut to others, and besides, it's not that bad in here. It's only raining.

Once again, I probably put too much thought into this, but nobody else had interpreted this yet, so I felt obligated. - TheNintenGenius


This song involves what I think is one of the cleverest of TMBG's lyrics: "It's not my birthday, so why do you lunge out at me?" I think this is a reference to surprise parties: friends lunge out to wish you a happy birthday. However, since it's not his birthday, that means the action of lunging is more violent than well-meant. To be more specific about the first interpretation, I think the song is about being depressed about a relationship, as shown by the chorus: "When the word comes down, 'Never more will be around'" leaves out WHAT will never more be around, perhaps showing that the narrator doesn't want to talk about it. I think that this line cuts mentioning the relationship, which will cease to be, but the narrator will wish she was there and apologizes for being "less than we could bear". The narrator notes that "I'm not the only dust my mother raised". Possibly the "mother" here is Mother Earth, a reference to the mother of all mankind. With this line, I think the narrator is saying "But I realize that there are other fish in the ocean." The narrator is blaming himself for a failed relationship and becoming extremely depressed by it. --Chuckie


I think this song is about the narrator realizing he can't control the universe and that he isn't at the centre of it. The rain doesn't need his help to fall, and the lawn doesn't need his permission to get wet. I also think that the narrator is embarrassed about his thoughts of grandeur, and doesn't want to go back to them (that the "world," his reality and beliefs, will crumble and he'll never have to look at them again)

If you accept that the "train" mentioned in the second verse is a train of thought, he can't even control that; he can't stop his thoughts from being different than he wants them to be-simply thinking about walking and thinking- but instead they make him think things that are "uninvited."

The chorus "It's not my birthday" relates to the idea that on your birthday, everyone and everything caters to your whims. As it's not your birthday, NOTHING caters to your whims. "Though I wish we were there/I was less than we could bear/And I'm not the only dust my mother raised" implies that the narrator wants to be the centre of the universe, but wasn't important enough- there are others just like him.

The third verse relates to trying to hide, the desire to "evaporate completely" disappear in some other way is familiar to anyone who's been severely embarrassed. He is embarrassed by his thoughts of grandeur. However, the narrator decides that "there'd be no percentage and there'd be no proof" that he was ever someone if he just disappeared, and that life just goes on.

As TheNintenGenius said, I'm probably looking too much into it, but those are my thoughts.- Dragonrose


I tend to agree with Dragonrose, but I think that what's interesting about the third verse is all the alcohol references-- drink tank (I assume that's a reference to the "drunk tank"), percentage, and proof. I took at as him implying that alcohol was a major factor leading to the depression that he is currently in. I just think it's a neat verse. I like the images.


I've occasionally entertained the thought that the lyric, "When the word comes down, 'Never more will be around'" should actually be "When the word comes down, never more WE'LL be around," which is to say, "When the word [whatever that is] comes down, we won't be around anymore." Kind of awkward phrasing, but it would relate to the end-of-the-world motif in the "when this gray world crumbles like a cake" part. I'm probably totally wrong, though. --VoVat


Now, I'm not a religious person, HOWEVER I've always though this was a song about a very disgruntled Jesus walking around on Christmas, getting drunk and feeling frustrated about how the Earth turned out. Historically, Dec. 25 was semi-arbitrary date picked for when J.C. was born, and only He could know when that day really was. I'd get really annoyed if everyone got my birthday mixed up, I imagine he would too. THEN there is the "I'm not the only dust my mother raised" line. Jesus had a brother (James, I think?) who kinda gets forgotten about. As everybody is running around being happy and Celebrating the wrong day of his birth, Jesus is spending his Christmas thinking of new ways to remake the universe. As he says: "When that Gray World crumbles like a cake, I'll be hanging from the hope that I'll never see that recipe again." As he walks he thinks about a new way for creatures to move, a new way for creatures to think. -Anyway, it's a neat idea, and not entirely without precident: They write a BUNCH of Christmas songs, and Jesus has been mentioned in a few songs, especially early ones. -Devin T. Quin


I've always looked at this song in a kind of different light, so I'll go through it line by line to explain. First you have to picture an unborn fetus (perhaps only a zygote) in his mothers womb.

"Well the rain falls down without my help I'm afraid And my lawn gets wet though I've withheld my consent When this grey world crumbles like a cake I'll be hanging from the hope That I'll never see that recipe again"

This tells me that the woman, his mother is on her... well, time of the month. The walls of his 'grey world' are crumbling, which goes hand in hand with that process. The 'recipe' is foreshadowing events that happen later in the song, so I'll discuss them in a bit.

"As I walk, I think about a new way to walk As I think, I'm using up the time left to think And this train keep rolling off the track Trying to act like something else Trying to go where it's been uninvited"

His time is running short as his world crumbles, hes trying to act like something else so he can stay, but the train is falling off the tracks.

"It's not my birthday It's not today It's not my birthday, so why do you lunge out at me? When the word comes down, "Never more will be around" Though I'll wish you were there, I was less than we could bear And I'm not the only dust my mother raised"

He's saying it isn't his time to leave, not today, but his mothers body is forcing him out, lunging him into the world prematurely. He is addressing his mother saying 'I was less than we could bear' meaning he knows he is coming out too soon, and that he will be miscarried.

"So, I'm rattling the bars around this drink tank Discreetly I should pour through the keyhole or evaporate completely But there'd be no percentage, and there'd be no proof And the sound upon the roof is only water"

This part clears up a lot, or maybe it just adds to the haze. He's rattling the bars around this drink tank, meaning hes waiting for the inevitable. The keyhole would refer to his mothers womb, and his premature exit. And finally to clear up the reason for his early demise, the lack of proof that his mother is only drinking water. The alcohol references are obviously his mother forcing a miscarriage, or a 'spontaneous abortion'.

Thanks for reading: M Stuefen


This song is based upon what happens in a capitalistic society

--Tara


To me the segment which references the cake is an obvious reference to Richard Harris' song "MacArthur Park". It is seemingly a bittersweet love song with straightforward lyrics until the chorus:

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

I cannot entirely take credit for this; tgies told me that a line reminded him of a song called "Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain", which he had heard of, and I have done the research. Suujita 05:55, 9 Sep 2005 (EDT)


Usually on your birthday you feel as if you have complete control of the day, at least in your teenage years. He's saying that everything is happening without his ok, but its not his birthday, as if that gives you control. If anybody wants to discuss tmbg feel free to contact me at finneganswake05 on aim.


I looked at it completely differently. I thought it was a song about an intervention. All his friends surprise him and his response is "it's not my birthday".

Also when you look at the lyrics. "When the word comes down, nevermore will be around" They trying to convince him not to drink anymore. "..And there'd be no percentage and there'd be no proof" once again, no more alcohol.

if you look at all the alcohol references it all points to intervention. Javalsu


Free flowing and child like, this song's nearest relative is "Older". One of the great great great early songs, one again wonders how it did not make a main album. Typical of Linnell to contrast paranoia with a joyful melody and vocal. One wonders how Linnell would have faired as the lead singer of the Smiths and Morrissey as the lead singer of the Giants! I prefer the accordion heavy bootleg of this song often heard on the clock radio.(Mr Tuck)


I have a bit of a different view of this song as someone in the landscaping business. Rain can be bittersweet as on one side it means a day off, while on the other it means that you won't be getting paid for that day. I see a landscaper sitting at home and getting drunk because he was unable to work that day due to rain. The world crumbling could be seen to represent how he needs to find a new job, and he hopes that he will never have to do landscaping work again.

"It's not my birthday so why do you lunge out at me." Would refer to the fact that a day off is a gift that he didn't ask for and that he doesn't want.

"When the word comes down nevermore will be around." 'nevermore' I believe is a reference to the raven, so the line would refer to his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend coming around, and how he has no money to take her on that date that he promised her. In any case he sees the relationship as dead, and "I'm not the only dust my mother raised" would basically mean that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

-Taylor, Cowtown AB, May 19, 2006

Rattling The Bars[edit]

My view is that the song is Linnell's response to a Christian evangelist. He rejects the call to be born again ("It's not my birthday"), the idea of prayer ("The rain falls down without my help"), the concept of eternal life (I agree with VoVat above that the line can be read "When the word comes down, nevermore we'll be around"), and the evangelist's "evidences" ("There be no percentage" - no chance that it's possible - "and there be no proof"). And he insists that his "mother" (earth) rather than "God the father" is responsible for "raising" him from the dust.

In America, hearing a sound "upon the roof" has a fairly particular holiday connotation. So the line "The sound upon the roof is only water" might roughly be unpacked as: "The rain falling on my roof (like that on my lawn) comes without my prayers or God's intervention... it's only water, not a divine gift. To believe it is would be as silly as thinking it's the sound of reindeer hooves"... correlating religous faith to belief in Santa Claus.

The singer seems to assert a dry scientific naturalism/materialism against the claims of the Christian religion. But his emotions peek out in interesting ways. "I'm afraid": Grammatically it is just an aside to the previous line, but it can also be read as a (stealth) expression of his reaction to a godless universe. The evangelist promises that God will restore our world to paradise... but the singer never wants to see this "gray world" again after it crumbles - he's had enough of "that recipe." The second verse begins: "So" - because heaven is empty - "I'm rattling the bars" - you'll find me getting plastered at the local pubs.

Though I'm a Christian myself, I like and admire the song for its verve and wit. --Nehushtan 12:43, 10 Feb 2006 (CST) (updated) --Nehushtan (talk) 02:40, 5 July 2020 (EDT)


My dorm floor has a tradition of throwing floor members into the shower, on their birthday. For me, the song is about someone on my floor who is trying to get out of being showered. -- TheBlunderbuss 05:04, 2 Mar 2006 (CST)


I think that the reference to 'And I'm not the only dust my mother raised' is simply referring to the line in the bible simplified as 'For dust you are and to dust you shall return' not neccesarily referring to any mediocrity in the singer.

Yes, the reference to 'dust' is an allusion to the Bible, but it is said in opposition to the Bible: the narrator insists that his 'mother' (the earth) gave him life, not God the father. --Nehushtan 00:43, 29 Mar 2006 (CST)

Well, the rain falls down without my help, I'm afraid
And my lawn gets wet though I've withheld my consent

The husband is being sarcastic to his wife because he can't mow the lawn today, and it is wet (anybody that has mowed a lawn knows wet grass is a bitch to mow). Wife is angry, thinking he is just making excuses.

I'll do more when I'm not so...*ahem*lazy...--tehbagel 15:49, 29 Apr 2006 (CDT)

Ok. A year later.

"It's not my birthday, so why do you lunge out at me?"

This is one of my favorite lines by the Johns. It's sarcasm. What's your birthday? It's YOUR day, all about you. Everyone is supposed to be nice to you. "Lunging out" at someone (hurting them in any way with little or no antagonism by the victim) on this special day would be the meanest and lowest thing someone could do. The speaker is so depressed about his life that he's sarcastically asking his wife, "Hey, it's not my birthday, why are you ruining my life NOW?". GENIUS


Every day we live is mediocre sans the one day of year where attention is put on us. This song covers all the aspects of feeling mediocre, he can't control the rain, he can't stop his lawn from getting wet, and he's not the only dust his mother raised (a possible reference to the population of Earth and how we are just another piece of dust) -- Timus


IMO, many of their songs are about failed relationships (Ana Ng, Twisting) or fantasy relationships (Sleeping in the Flowers, Shoehorn with Teeth). Here I see a rebound relationship that he didn't actively encourage (my lawn gets wet though I've withheld my consent), but he is too busy obsessing about a prior relationship (I was less than we could bear) and how to make another one work (I think about a new way to walk) to give it a chance (why do you lunge out at me?). What I take from "I am not the only dust my mother raised" is that his mother was divorced or widowed (when this gray world crumbles like a cake) and found new love (though I wish I were there), but he hasn't accepted it (I'll never see that recipe again). But he tells one bartender after another (rattling the bars around this drink tank) it would all be easier if he could just "evaporate completely" as he listens to the rain (the sound upon the roof is only water).


I think we all have the tendency to let our own lives have too big of an impact on our interpretation of songs. Freud called it projection. So I feel with a song as vague as this one, it's near impossible to know exactly what john was trying to say. If you ask me, I think this song is about something depressing that is masked with the metaphore of a rainy day. In the first two lines john admits he has as much control over the situation as he does the weather. The end of the first verse is about how when this ordeal comes to an end, he'll be happy to put it behnind him, and "never seeing that recipe again" means he never wants to revisit it/feel as badly as he does now. At first this song seems like a very pessimistic song with a bleak outlook on the situation at hand: "It's not my birthday" seems like a very ironic way of saying hes having a bad day and he talking about drinking in the second verse. But I feel the attitude of the song is captured in the line "But the sound upon the roof is only water". He's saying that the rain is nothing too serious and is underplaying the situation. This line allows you to view the rest of the song with an optimistic spin. Rather than a dirge about how horrible his life is, it turns into a song about how he's going through a tough time, but it's nothing to fret about, and nothing to take too seriously. I don't think we'll ever know if john was speaking in general or had a specific ordeal in mind, but i feel this is what he was trying to get across.

-LR


Just for the record, John wasn't trying to say anything with this song. He said something. If he wanted to say something else he would have said something else. There is no try there. Secondly, projections are what poetry is all about. John felt something and wrote it down, and we're talking about situations where we feel that feeling, though they may be different situations, the feelings are the same. That's the whole point of music and poetry. Trying to find out what the poet was thinking when he wrote the poem is nigh impossible in any situation for any poem. Best we simply talk about what it means to us rather than some ultimate meaning no?


Well now... this song is very, very sad and, also, in tandem with that, one of the best TMBG songs there is; I once was trying to read outside and, instead of doing that, just started singing this song to myself, over and over, for a half hour. "It's Not My Birthday" very quickly took on the connotation for me of, it's not my BIRTHday... HELL no. It's my DEATH day. And as such, I consider it a part of a Death Trilogy continued with Dead and Mink Car.

"It's Not My Birthday" is a suicide note. "When the word comes down, never more will be around" -- as soon as you find out about my intentions, it'll be too late, I'll already be gone. "I'll be hanging from the hope" -- play on "rope", obviously enough. The lyrics to this song may be stream-of-consciousness, but there are plenty, plenty of TMBG songs, especially early TMBG songs, that talk about depression (Become A Robot, Alienation's For The Rich, The Biggest One, Don't Let's Start), and if Linnell just wanted to improvise a TMBG song, I feel like these words come naturally to him. "I was less than we could bear": a key, key line. Like LR says below, I'm relating this to my own life here (especially my own life when I first heard the song), but it was always the case for me that a feature of depression is believing that one's self is a nothing, a void, a nonentity, and that it's practicially criminal to try to "inflict" one's nothing-self on others, even on one's dearest friends. Thus: "I was less than we could bear", and also, "When I walk I think about a new way to walk" (isn't this also a reference to that song "I've Got A New Way To Walk"?), trying to establish one's creative personality somehow, even in the smallest, silliest way possible. I can't imagine all this not occurring to Linnell at least subliminally.

The narrator knows his death will be taken hard by his friends, but he's convinced himself to not let that get in the way: "Why do you lunge out at me?" (Meaning, "Why are you so angry? I'm not the one who's at fault here.") He plays and toys with his ideas so as to make them seem almost heroic: "The lawn gets wet though I've withheld my consent". The only thing that'd be good enough for him is to be able to control the weather itself: what a funny idea, flippant, even. But then again, he'd obviously never be able to control the weather at all; so his death was fated all along. But the horrible thing about "It's Not My Birthday" is that at the end of the song I do, I think, every time, whether by his daisy chain of poetic images or just the hot-damn catchiness of the whole song, justify his suicide; and then I shake my head over again and just say, no, no, this can't happen.

- The Silver Chauffeur


I think this one might be from the perspective of a drop of water, or a potential drop of water, in a cloud. It's not my birthday means that today, it won't turn into rain. But since something is lunging out at it, maybe it did become rain, and it's in denial. Then all the recipe stuff doesn't make any sense. Maybe this is uninterpretable. --Kit


What? I thought it just wasn't his birthday!


It just might be about abortion. "It's not my birthday so why do you lunge out at me?" and "I was less than we could bear", as in bearing a pregnancy. "Discreetly I should pour through the keyhole / Or evaporate completely" also goes with this explanation. "And I'm not the only dust my mother raised" - does this mean that fetus's mother is promiscuous? However, I have no idea what the rain, the lawn, walking and thinking would mean in this case, so I give up.

Life as an Artist[edit]

''Well, the rain falls down without my help, I'm afraid
And my lawn gets wet though I've withheld my consent
When this gray world crumbles like a cake
I'll be hangin' from the hope
That I'll never see that recipe again
''
(I am not an important person, and as such I have no control over my destiny – it’s such a disagreeable arrangement that I hope I never have to relive life on earth.)

As I walk, I think about a new way to walk
As I think, I'm using up the time left to think
And this train keeps rolling off the track
Tryin' to act like something else
Tryin' to go where it's been uninvited
(Life is short, and leading a normal life is the safest bet - yet my mind favors pondering abstract ideas that are typically viewed as irrelevant and wasteful, and my life as a struggling artist is not normal or safe.)

It's not my birthday
It's not today
It's not my birthday so why do you lunge out at me?
'When the word comes down "Never more will be around"
Though I wish we were there
I was less than we could bear
And I'm not the only dust my mother raised
(I’m not an important person, and I find it odd that you’ve mistaken me for one. This band will never be considered one of the greats. No matter how much I wish it were true, this band will not stand the test of time because I’m not important enough, and bands are a dime a dozen.)

So I'm rattlin' the bars around this drink tank
Discreetly I should pour through the keyhole
Or evaporate completely
But there'd be no percentage and there'd be no proof
And the sound upon the roof is only water
(What the hell am I doing with my life, playing rock shows in bars? If I was wise I would quit now and lead a safe normal life, but then I might as well have never existed. Besides, this pays the bills, so all that talk of a normal, safe life is just a suggestion, not a rule.)

And the rain falls down without my help, I'm afraid
And my lawn gets wet, though I've withheld my consent
When this gray world crumbles like a cake
I'll be hangin' from the hope
That I'll never see that recipe again
(I am not an important person, and as such I have no control over my destiny – it’s such a disagreeable arrangement that I hope I never have to relive life on earth.)

It's not my birthday
It's not today
It's not my birthday so why do you lunge out at me?
When the word comes down "Never more will be around"
Though I wish we were there
I was less than we could bear
And I'm not the only dust my mother raised
I am not the only dust my mother raised
(I’m not an important person, and I find it odd that you’ve mistaken me for one. This band will never be considered one of the greats. No matter how much I wish it were true, this band will not stand the test of time because I’m not important enough, and bands are a dime a dozen.)

-J-


Wasn't there an interviewer that asked the Johns about the meaning of TMBG's songs, and John said sometimes even they couldn't figure them out, and referred specifiically to "It's Not My Birthday" as an example?

Justin


I think that this song is about the narrator realizing how little control he has over his world. He can't tell the rain to fall, but it does anyway. The lawn gets wet, despite his attempts to stop it.

When this gray world crumbles like a cake I'll be hangin' from the hope That I'll never see that recipe again

This bit is the narrator saying that he does not like the world. "crumbles like a cake" may mean that it is on the brink of destruction, somehow. Gray is a bleak color, and serves as an excellent descriptor for the speaker's view of the world. The recipe may be a metaphorical "recipe for disaster" that caused the world to crumble like a cake. He doesn't really want to see that recipe again.

The chorus seems to be a reworking of the phrase "I wasn't born yesterday", or so I theorize.

...I've only heard this song a couple of times, so that's pretty much all I got. :| I might try and interpret more later.

PNEUMONIA[edit]

"Well, the rain falls down without my help, I'm afraid / And my lawn lung gets wet though I've withheld my consent" The narrator goes out in the rain and gets pneumonia "When this gray world crumbles like a cake" When the narrator dies... "I'll be hangin' from the hope / That I'll never see that recipe again" He hopes that he'll be reincarnated as someone that does not have pneumonia

"As I walk, I think about a new way to walk" It is difficult to walk when restricted by a hospital bed, so the narrator has to adjust to this new sort of life. "As I think, I'm using up the time left to think" There's little time left to think, because he's going to die. "And this train keeps rolling off the track" His life is rolling off the track, so to speak, ie, it's all messed up because of pneumonia. "Trying to act like something else / Trying to go where it's been uninvited" The pneumonia is, as is typical of pneumonia, invading his body, acting like something else. And I don't think anyone has ever invited pneumonia anywhere, so.

"It's not my birthday / It's not today" delusional ramblings (Otherwise, he's going to die today, so indeed, he is not being born, quite the contrary.) "It's not my birthday so why do you lunge out at me?" lunge out at me with medicine, etc. He's going to die anyway, so by his logic, why bother? "When the word comes down 'Never more will be around'" He's going to die. "Though I wish we were there / I was less than we could bear" He doesn't want to die, but the world can no longer sustain his presence. "And I'm not the only dust my mother raised" He is not alone in having pneumonia, "dust" referring to his relative uselessness, unable to move, work, etc, the mother is disease. In essence, the pneumonia has caused him to grow into something useless.

"So I'm rattlin' the bars around this drink tank" He's trapped in his hospital bed. "Discreetly I should pour through the keyhole / Or evaporate completely" He doesn't want to be there. "But there'd be no percentage and there'd be no proof" No one will remember him after his death. "And the sound upon the roof is only water" From his bed he hears the rain, a cruel reminder of his disease. -Apollo (colloquia!) 21:05, 27 January 2011 (UTC)


Okay so when I listen to this song I keep thinking about homemade liquor. He's evaporating off the water from his cider or something to make like 140 proof apple jack. That's why is says 'there'll be no proof'. Note that this is incorrect. --Mc Frown 16:35, 8 October 2011 (EDT)


My interpretation about this is that the singer is addressing his fear of death. It's typical, on one's birthday, to feel "Oh my god, I'm getting older". Since it's not his birthday, he asks this demon, "why do you lunge out at me?" Why now?

Someone could write a book unpacking all the references in every line. Referring to himself as "not the only dust my mother raised" is a reminder of the "dust to dust" funeral line. "Rattling the bars around this drink tank" conjures an image of a prisoner rattling the bars in a jail cell ("i should pour through the keyhole" -- "I know I should probably go out or something"), but obviously "bars" are also places where one drinks. "Drink tank" is a play on "think tank", a reference to the hard work the narrator is doing processing his morbid thoughts.

The train of thought keeps going off the tracks, trying to act like something else, trying to go where it's been uninvited. These morbid thoughts are unwelcome. This is not a birthday party, and if it were, they would not be invited anyway.

"The rain falls down without my help" is a reference to the futility of one's own existence. The lawn will get wet whether I agree or not. I am powerless, I barely exist, and eventually, as time marches on, I won't. Like crumbling cake melting in the rain, the grey world will never see my recipe again.

But since it's not my birthday, it seems unfair to have to think about that. So I drink.

--Isaac Z. Schlueter 2016-05-28