First interp in 8 months? Really?
I guess everyone feels like Linnell already 'splained it so there's no room for anyone to say anything more! Perhaps we're peeved that he let the cat out of the bag, without leaving us a spot to paint in our own colors?
Really it's kind of an unspoken rule among artists that you aren't supposed to explain anything... a work of art is supposed to stand on its own and is often best appreciated when you feel it's deeper than you can fathom, or when it stimulates something you find hard to put into words. Explaining things can spoil the mystery -- like spoiling a movie -- or collapse the layers of association that make for a rich experience. Most of the time Linnell sticks to this principle, allowing us to unpack a song as we will. Maybe he's tired of seeing everyone "get it wrong", or maybe he just gets tired of holding to the secret.
I don't generally truck with the idea that is often floated, that a song means whatever the listener brings to it and that the artist's comment is only one of many valid interpretations. Sure, sure, the intentional fallacy, yada yada yada... so maybe that applies to some artists but I think a great number of TMBG songs are really puzzles -- intentionally so -- and the fun part is untangling the puzzle. And we wouldn't ever say that a crossword puzzle's solution is variable, and that everyone's solution is valuable... we want to know the answer and for the pieces to fit meaningfully.
Art is fundamentally communication. Let me hear what is being said. I don't want just an echo within my own mind, shadows on the cave wall.
So are there any questions left to the song, given that we know these nanobots are a metaphor for children, that need to be answered? Maybe a few. For example, why are the bots "yellow"? And why are they growing in the "cracks in the sidewalk"?
- You're probably right--nobody felt the need to "interpret" the song because Linnell kinda gave it away. The topics you mentioned (the bots' color, the sidewalk issue) are probably incidental to the meaning of the song. Remember how Linnell said he fit words to melody in "Don't Let's Start", and the overall lyrics were relatively meaningless? Well, now that he's in his 50s and an established lyricist, he can be as obscure/obtuse as he wants and people will simply accept it, even after he sheds light on his meaning.
- But part of the fun is trying anyway, so here goes. The bots are "yellow" because they are easily afraid of things, like children tend to be. They grow in "cracks in the sidewalk" because children love to play outside. It reminds me of that old "step on a crack" game kids play. Even to this day, I try to avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks, subconsciously. :-)
- I'm still stymied by a few lines myself: what are "sleeper cells" in this context? Why is the sun rising in "the wrong place"? All mysteries for other minds to ponder. --MisterMe (talk) 08:30, 5 November 2013 (EST)
- Here's what I think: the sun is rising in the wrong place because it's actually setting. The second verse is about the nanobots as teenagers, so I think of them as waking up at sunset (like teenagers sometimes do) and confusedly thinking the sun is rising. --The Silver Chauffeur (talk) 13:11, 9 August 2020 (EDT)
In response to the question about the cracks in the sidewalk, I think it is a perfect line, because it brings to mind the image of weeds growing out of sidewalk cracks, and weeds are also organisms that we lose control of as they grow and multiply.
Why do we know that nanobots are a metaphor for children? I think that the song is just about nanobots.
- john linnell has explicitly stated that the song is about children, though Apollo (colloquia!) 23:06, 1 December 2014 (EST)
Nanobots and children: line by line
This isn't really an interpretation, or at least not an original one (I'm pulling from the Linnell quote on the main page), but I was struck after reading about nanotechnology and listening to this song how well nanobots fit as a metaphor, so I thought I'd go line by line and point out various places where the cohesion between the images is particularly apparent.
"Grow the nanobots up (etc.) (chorus)" -- Nanobots are theoretical (but quite possibly soon real) tiny robots that can function on a small enough scale to rearrange individual atoms. For little bots to do big things, they have to exist in large numbers, and the easiest way to do this is to enable the bots to make copies of themselves. One doomsday scenario (the gray goo hypothesis) is one in which this bot-reproduction doesn't have an off-switch or the off-switch malfunctions, thus resulting in an endless rising tide of bots; this is what Linnell means when he's talking about not having control anymore -- as with nanobots, his kids grow (albeit in size rather than number) and become harder to control as they grow.
"Now all the old troubles will soon be at an end, and all the new ones will begin" -- If nanobots can rearrange matter, then they can hypothetically provide all human needs, but the problem of managing and controlling these nanobots is formidable.
"micronation" is a really clever pun because a micronation is a country that's too small to be a country but in this case it's a group of really small creatures large enough to be a nation.
"I would decorate the room but there's no more space" -- As nanobots would fill the world with copies of themselves in the gray goo hypothesis, Linnell's kids are filling the house with their belongings and seem to consume everything.
"I turn my back for two minutes and they've grown again" -- Exponential growth of nanobots as a metaphor for that feeling parents get when it seems like yesterday that their children were infants and now they're huge
"Eating what's available" -- Nanobots could create copies of themselves from any surrounding matter; kids eat whatever's in the fridge
With reference to the questions from earlier...
I feel like he picked yellow because it's two syllables and more similar to his kids' skin tones (and many of ours) than the colors we normally imagine robots to be. For "cracks in the sidewalk" I agree that it's about where kids play, in that he wanted to choose an image with a neighborhood association (kids) but also a smallness association (nanobots). For "sleeper cells," search this blog post for Turry to find a theoretical description of a group of nanobots that a superintelligent bot uses as sleeper cells to orchestrate a world takeover. Also helps to explain some of the "three-deep" and "vans on top of vans" imagery -- when a machine is designed with one purpose, it doesn't deviate from that one purpose just because it has infinite resources.
184.108.40.206 13:30, 5 February 2016 (EST)