Interpretations:Spiraling Shape

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I think this song is all about making bad choices. Many times, we are aware that the choice we are about to make is one that we will regret, but because we are hypnotized by the "spiraling shape" we go through with it anyway. Then, upon experiencing the consequences of the bad decision, we try to warn others who are in a similar position, but they too are hypnotized by the spiral, and will not accept our advice. Sometimes we insist upon stumbling through our own mistakes in life, rather than learning from the mistakes made by those before us.


I Think that it has been inspired by watching the Monkee's Episode "Mijacogeo." The one where the spiraling eye has hypnotized all the people who watched it. I believe my point is further solidified by the fact that they call it a "Groovy Thing" which, of course was a term frequently used in the late sixties around the time the Monkee's TV show was aired.


Re: the line "Don't spend the rest of your life wondering", I'm going to add an interpretation I haven't seen explicitly spelled out here yet: The reason you shouldn't spend the rest of your life wondering is exactly that the Spiraling Shape really isn't all that great, as spelled out in the last verse. Spending the rest of your life wondering is exactly what the hype machine wants you to do. I don't think the line is really pushing the listener to take another "hit" on the shape. Of course the fact that it can be interpreted in either of these two contradictory ways is part of why we love TMBG, I'm sure.

In this one instance, I'm really glad TMBG decided to make a song with a specific message, one that still fits in perfectly with their overall ethos, one that they even made sure to spell out in the Factory Showroom "Guided Tour". I think the "fad" interpretation resonates really nicely with another interpretation I haven't seen here yet: the Spiraling Shape, which after all is also a "groovy thing", is a record, with its spiral grooves. - The Silver Chauffeur


All these speculations aside, what it's REALLY about is the anti-LSD television propoganda from the 1960s. The government anti-LSD commercial consisted of a black and white spiral turning, with a doll floating down it...it was supposed to show what taking LSD was really like- (i.e. frightening and surreal). It's pretty clear what the reference is...




Blind Simeon - This is my favorite TMBG song, mostly because of the meaning I got from it. To me, they're not talking about anything specific, but saying that to get anything worthwhile in life, you must risk everything else. "Go ahead and wreck your life / that might be good" says to me that a drastic change that ruins what you currently have may lead to something even greater. Even though you may regret it later and you can't get back what you had, you now have to deal with the consequences of going for the "spiralling shape." "Don't spend the rest of your life wondering" encourages me to reach for what I really want in life, even if it takes all I've got. Otherwise, I may spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been. The "spiralling shape," to me, is the deep desire that exists in every person, no matter what it is. It's what we'll always want, but we may not get. Unless we take a chance. Once again, beautiful song.


It's about hype, in short. That's all. It's about hype in general. -Vixus


its about drugs yall, drugs, just think about it, its about drugs, duh -uncletony


I always figured this song was about a Floater. Everyone wants to see the "spiral in their eyes." It might not be what the song is entirely about, but it does seem like a plausible reference.

- Teddyleevin


Around the time this song was written (c 1995) there were a lot of new, very hyped-up roller coasters opening, like Great American Scream Machine, the first one that you actually stood up on. This song is (obviously) about something very much like a roller coaster that's been very hyped up. You're very excited to try it out, and you and your friends arrive at the theme park in the car and you're so exited your face is pressed up against the window and you have to wipe away the condensation to see the great ride you can't wait to get on! You have a little fear in the pit of your stomach to be getting on such a crazy thing, but everyone seems to be enjoying it, and when you finally get on... AAAAHHH!!!! You scream pretty damn loudly! But once it's over and it comes to a stop, hey, it was nothing! I've been on worse. But if you enjoyed it, enough to buy the picture of you screaming when you get off even, that's what matters. You didn't spent the rest of your life wondering. :)


January 1, 2005 - Interpretation by W. Kiernan

The "spiraling shape" is DNA and by extension sexual instinct. The metaphor is as shallow and translucent as a cigarette paper - there's virtue in clarity. This here song is about sex, and its deleterious yet irresistable effect upon the soul. Specifically upon the soul of a virgin. Happy New Years!

January 18, 2004 - Interpretation by Maxwell Q. Infantlauncher

This song is about drugs, or anything similar to drugs plaguing society. I'd say that the part containing groovy were a reference to the drug use of the 1960's, if not for the fact that it were in Rocket Ship (which is, of course, the song that was "cannibalized" to make this one).

September 23, 2003 - Interpretation by Doctor Worm

The song is about reincarnation. The spiraling shape is DNA and it's a metaphor for life in the human form. In a grass-is-always-greener way, the souls from the other side peer in at the living and want that for themselves. I believe this to be the interpretation of the first verse and the chorus.

Down, down, down you go
No way to stop
As you fall, hear me call
No, no, no
Listen to this warning and
Consider these
Simple words of advice
Stop, stop, stop

Fogging the view, cupping face to the window
In darkness you make out a spiraling shape
Putting all reason aside you exchange
What you got for a thing that's hypnotic and strange

The spiraling shape will make you go insane
(Everyone wants to see that groovy thing)
But everyone wants to see that groovy thing
(Everyone wants to see that thing)

And nobody knows what it's really like
But everyone says it's great
And they heard it from the spiral in their eyes

The second verse is about the uncertainty of the life that has been chosen by whom they refer to as "You". The assertations "that this could lead to excellence or serious injury" and "who can say what's wrong or right - nobody can" reflect a Buddhist philosophy that we are here to learn lessons and that there is no correct way to run one's life.

This could lead to excellence
Or serious injury
Only one way to know
Go, go, go
Go ahead, wreck your life
That might be good
Who can say what's wrong or right?
Nobody can

Put out your hands and you fall through the window
And clawing at nothing you drop through the void
Your terrified screams are inaudible drowned
In the spiral ahead and consumed in the shape

The last verse is what "You" thinks of life after he has died and returned to the afterlife. The report is that it wasn't so great. Sure you get to have sex and watch the Simpsons, but you also have to deal with adolescence, the death of loved ones, disease, war and the trials of life. The grass is always greener even in death.

And now that you've tried it, you're back to report
That the spiraling shape was a fraud and a fake
You didn't enjoy it, you never believed it
There won't be a refund, you'll never go back

The last part of the song is actually a recommendation to make the leap into the next life. Contrary to what was said in the beginning of the song which states:

Listen to this warning and
Consider these
Simple words of advice
Stop, stop, stop

The narrator of the song changes his tune and recommends the spiraling shape again, revealing that no one is immune from wanting another shot.

Don't spend the rest of your life wondering!


Just my two cents here, but I'm gonna have to disagree on the reincarnation idea. Right from the first listen, my impression was that this song is about addiction to or obsessive/compulsive behavior about "something". The song leaves the something completely open to interpretation by giving it the ambiguous moniker "Spiraling Shape", which means that it could be anything from drugs to cult mentality to chocolate cravings to trendiness. The idea, it seems, is that to devote one's self so totally to anything at all is a dangerous course - illustrated by the "it wasn't worth it" verse (which starts "And now that you've tried it..."). If anything more concrete reinforces this interp, it's that the song was written for and featured in the film "Brain Candy", all about the fun of psycho-active medication. - Charlie Coniglio


Hmmm, I'm surprised no one related this to religion yet. Does anyone know TMBGs stance on religion? It sounds to me in this song that they are reffering to Christianity perhaps. It makes total sence with all the lyrics too.

Putting all reason aside you exchange< What you got for a thing that's hypnotic and strange<

They of course in this song dont like religion, saying you put all your reason aside for it. and you give everying you have to God, someone who is hypnotic and strage.


I think the song "Spiraling Shape" is about the song "Spiraling Shape." The spiraling shape, in the song, is the song "Spiraling Shape." - Rhinoceros Rex


I've allways loved this song so I thougth i would share my own interpretation with you guys. i think this song is kind of about greed. i'm not sure if that's the right word. here's how i picture it in my head, and maybe that will help explain it

Down, down, down you go No way to stop

him falling into a dark abyss from a doorway just floating there,

As you fall, hear me call No, no, no

the singer is in the door reaching for him, but it's too late

Listen to this warning and Consider these Simple words of advice Stop, stop, stop

goess back in time so to say, and he's warning him about this object with a big spiral on it.

Fogging the view, cupping face to the window In darkness you make out a spiraling shape

later, he's looking at the spiraling shape.

Putting all reason aside you exchange What you got for a thing that's hypnotic and strange

he doesn't know why he bought it, but he had a strange urge to

The spiraling shape will make you go insane (Everyone wants to see that groovy thing) But everyone wants to see that groovy thing (Everyone wants to see that thing)

telling you what's going to happen. and everyone wants it

And nobody knows what it's really like But everyone says it's great And they heard it from the spiral in their eyes

no one knows what it is, but they want to try it

This could lead to excellence Or serious injury

you warning him again

Only one way to know Go, go, go Go ahead, wreck your life That might be good

being sarcastic

Who can say what's wrong or right? Nobody can

basicly "what do i know, it's your life"

Put out your hands and you fall through the window And clawing at nothing you drop through the void Your terrified screams are inaudible drowned In the spiral ahead and consumed in the shape

he reaches for the spiriling shape and all of a sudden he falls through something kinda like another demension. there's a big spiral and as he screams, you run to the hole and look down and reach for him (which brings us back to earlier)

The spiraling shape will make you go insane (Everyone wants to see that groovy thing) But everyone wants to see that groovy thing (Everyone wants to see that thing)

same as above

And now that you've tried it, you're back to report That the spiraling shape was a fraud and a fake You didn't enjoy it, you never believed it There won't be a refund, you'll never go back

he didn't like it and you're not going to waste anymore time with it

The spiraling shape will make you go insane (Everyone wants to see that groovy thing) But everyone wants to see that groovy thing (Everyone wants to see that thing)

And nobody knows what it's really like But everyone says it's great And they heard it from the spiral in their eyes (Spiral in their eyes)

Fogging the view, cupping face to the window In darkness you make out a spiraling shape Putting all reason aside you exchange What you got for a thing that's hypnotic and strange

you start thinking about it, and you want to do it again.

The spiraling shape will make you go insane (Everyone wants to see that groovy thing) But everyone wants to see that groovy thing (Everyone wants to see that thing)

you become edicted and obssesed

Don't spend the rest of your life wondering (Everyone wants to see that thing)

Don't spend the rest of your life wondering (Everyone wants to see that groovy thing) Don't spend the rest of your life wondering (Everyone wants to see that thing)

basicly saying, don't let things pass you by. take the chances you get

so that's just what i think about it. i was thinking of making a flash movie that's something like this. -klimdeeni


I and my sister would like to posit that the "spiraling shape" in the song actually refers to Syphilis. The shape of the syphilis bacterium is a spiral. Moreover, syphilis has been known to cause dementia over an extended time if untreated. Yet this does not deter the carnally adventurous, as they, like everyone, want to "see that groovy thing." That groovy thing being, obviously, the act of intercourse.


This song strikes me as the hypnosis analog of The Bells Are Ringing. AaronSw


This song is about a black hole, if you have ever listened to "Rocket Ship", which is another version of spiraling shape, I guess, you would know what I'm talking about.

---

I agree, it's about a black hole. It fits everything in the song (much better than the drug theory), but it's more abstract than I thought it would be. Oh well. I'm just glad I figured it out! I love "decoding" TMBG songs. --Mark


It seems that you guys are reaching to hard for an answer. It's simple really- TMBG is talking about the media and how you are "brainwashed" to want stuff (but everyone wants to see that groovy thing). Then, after the narrator falls into the trap and buys the product, he comes back disgusted, realizing that what he bought was a waste of time and money.


Ok, I was listening to this a lot cause I wanted to use the song in a presentation, and I wanted to know what the song was really about before I did. And the way I see it is very simple, like Birdhouse.

The song is about a disco ball.

It's the spiraling shape in the middle of the dark room that makes people do stupid things, like dancing, that can cause them to hurt them selves and look dumb.

I'm sure there is a deeper meaning as there normally is, but on the surface, just a mirrored ball in the middle of the dance floor.


i think that everyone is over reading this song its about a spiriling shape that makes people go insane when they see it the song is rally litteral


The one thing I really love about this song is the irony in the first line, as They sing "Down Down Down You Go" as the chords on each beat are rising up the chromatic scale - Anklepants


It's about a slinky!


I think - well, even though TMBG already said what it's about and all of your really good explanations - that it's about that Windows screensaver that keeps changing. That's what came to mind when I heard it. :P - Doug the Aquacell Guy 22:44, 27 May 2006 (CDT)


Alien Girl's Mystery School interpretation: The spiralling shape is the swastika. The song is addressed to the generation in Germany that falls in with the Nazis and later regrets it, saying the "spiraling shape" (Nazi ideology) was a fraud, and claiming they didn't really enjoy it. The lines

This could lead to excellence
Or serious injury
Only one way to know
Go, go, go
Go ahead, wreck your life
That might be good
Who can say what's wrong or right?
Nobody can

show how disaffected, alienated Germans viewed the Nazi party--they thought it could lead to excellence, or maybe injury, but most of all they wanted change, any change would do. So they put all reason aside and went insane.


This song is obviously about love. How we all want it, but we don't know why, and it ends up destroying us over and over again, but we keep going back for more. - Dr Worm

Interesting interpretation, Dr Worm. I'd say that's exactly true. See, this song happened to me. Here I am, a mallet percussionist ("snazzy vibes"). What do I do? I go and try thinking about postmodernism vs. foundationalism ("Go ahead, wreck your life / That might be good / Who can say what's wrong or right?"), and then I go crazy. And it was for love, the whole time. HTH, --HearingAid

One of my fav's, this song always reminded me of Alice in Wonderland...

My Insatiable One


This song just makes me think of Giygas, the villain from Earthbound, whose physical body was consumed by evil and he ended up as nothing but a spiraling shape.

I don't know who you are, but Earthbound is my favorite game. --Dunklekuh81


Has anybody ever read the horror manga Uzumaki? It's kinda creepy how much this song goes with it. Find a torrent of it or something, and check it out. cyber95

I thought there might be an explicit relationship here, that's why I came to this page to check -- it turns out the song predates the comic by a few years, but they're still definitely interesting to think of in relationship to each other. AFAIK (which isn't a great deal) Junji Ito never claimed TMBG as an influence on Uzumaki.


I think this song is about taking drugs, then getting pwned later in life.

-JasonDeLima 03:16, 27 September 2008 (UTC) -


Despite the assured interpretation (that it's about fads), I find this song very eerie - with its use of the spiral symbol, hypnotic suggestion, and people writhing everywhere. Instead of it being about simple fads, I'd say this song describes all consumption cultures like America.

That said, I despise the refrain. It ruins the mood, which is one of dark sinister... evilness. This song's so great, but once John sings "groovy" it just ruins everything for me.



Spiraling shapes, particularly those which embody Phi, are found everywhere in art and nature (such as a Snail Shell). Everyone is indeed impressed by this natural, mathematical construct. Some artists are quite aware that this common symbol is enjoyed en masse and that the implementation of mathematics in art can drive you insane, as infinite possibilities flow from no center to no boundary. Like much of They Might Be Giants' music, I'm reminded of the way in which the subconscious reveals itself to the waking mind on LSD. Beautiful symbols, a sense of terrifying impending doom, contradictory, almost paradoxical statements, and the feeling that you've figured it all out. Now you just have to deal with it and there's no going back, for better or worse.

Mich Zimmerman




timely[edit]

I don't know how a song from 1996 could be about something happening in 2010 but if you keep this in mind while re-reading the lyrics it's abundantly clear -- it's about the experience of watching "Lost".


Three letters: LSD. Think about it.


Aristophanes' Clouds[edit]

The song shows a few strong similarities to the Aristophanes play, "The Clouds," a comedy of fifth-century Athens. The main character foolishly wishes to learn to make clever but unjust arguments to argue his way out of paying his debts, so he consults academics who are known for teaching such skills. They offer a new and trendy type of education. He is told that the god "Whirl" or "Vortex" has driven out Zeus. He totally buys into the philosophy, and then finds out that there are very negative consequences to this new kind of education. His son begins to beat him up and argues that he is doing it justly. Our hero regrets his actions, realizes this new god is a false one, and sets the school on fire.

This is a super abbreviated summary, but suffice it to say that the hero is drawn in by an appealing new way of thinking represented by a spiraling shape, it turns out badly for him, he learns his lesson but can't undo the damage that was done.

oohlookasquirrel



trust the people who are saying it's about LSD. if you've ever tripped on LSD, you know what this song is about.


Episode of Star Trek the Next Generation![edit]

This song is strangely reminiscent of a Star Trek: TNG episode. When a single Borg is rescued and separated from the collective, he becomes an individual named Hugh. The crew of the Enterprise then struggle with the moral implications of using Hugh to destroy the Borg via feeding an image of a mathematically impossible spiraling shape directly into Hugh's optical processors, and returning him to the Borg. It was thought that the spiraling shape would spread through the Borg like a virus, disabling them as their neural processors become overloaded with analyzing the impossible shape, perhaps driving them insane! -Dave


its clearly about a spiraling shap


When this album came out I was taking an electron microscope lab. This song perfectly describes not only the steps to start up an electron microscope, but it also describes the experiment quite perfectly


I've done lsd a bunch of times and I'm like 95% sure spiraling shape is about it or at least anti acid propaganda to be honest. It's just too specific to be about anything else. Saying it's not about acid is about as pointless as saying alienation's for the rich isn't about getting drunk, it's just that few of the people here have done acid while most have drunk alcohol at some point


The slow sections sound like elevator music! Literally, "Down, down, down you go..." thatbluething


i think this song is about taking lsd and seeing a toroidal shape in your minds eye, a shape representative of space time and known as the ideal particle accelerator, but never being able to believe in it without feeling crazy,, you cant get a refund or go back bc u got acid off a dealer, when it talks about the void it means the emptiness of a come-down off some strong acid, the phrase that rlly changed me was, didnt believe in it bc he dint want people to know what he saw, ik this is crazy but its a real thing guys


I think the song might be about the golden spiral.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_spiral

The Golden Spiral is *literally* a spiraling shape, and it is infinite ("Down, down, down you go"). Humans seem to love the golden ratio ("Everyone wants to see that thing"), which is based off phi (φ) which is equal to √ 5 + 1 / 2, which is an irrational number ("and nobody knows what it's really like"). - SGR, 11yo TMBG Fan