Interpretations:Three Might Be Duende

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Greatest Song Ever Written[edit | edit source]

The Monochrome Martinet is our hero. He does everything by the book and plays by the rules. He is skilled, but he wants to be great, something he will never achieve without help. So he makes a supernatural deal in exchange for greatness, which comes through three fates.

The first fate comes forth and gives our hero a new life. Our hero now has great talent, and produces great works. This is, in fact, the origin of Duende.

The second fate visits our hero and gives him opportunity. She allows him to actually be great. He becomes legendary.

The third fate ends our hero's life. His works are considered first class, and join the ranks of the greats. He has achieved Duende.

The Monochrome Martinet / His texture is starch / The song is a march

When calling a person "a martinet," it means that person is a disciplinarian. He has one color, his texture is starch, and the song is a march. So he does everything by the book and plays by the rules, without adding any color or flair.

And from the beginning / His Duende was winding

Winding here is pronounced as how the wind blows, or how you get winded after you run. It means that he was losing Duende from the beginning, if he ever had much of it.

But though he's a worthy emcee / He'll never be part of the three

Our hero is good at what he does, but he will never be great. (Simply following the rules and not taking chances rarely leads to greatness.)

Orpheum act / Faustian pact / Three Might Be Duende, in fact

Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and phophet who could charm all living things and even stones with his music. This is the kind of Duende our hero wants. Faust made a deal with the devil for greatness, and this is what our hero does as well.

Necropolis Blownapart / A ghostly sight / Emerges bright

The first fate is Clotho, responsible for spinning the thread of human lives. She is responsible for deciding who is born, as well as the circumstances of this birth.

Hot from the embers / The first team member / Is hatching a dastardly plan / Like a bird with a dastardly egg

She has charted out a new path for our hero.

Trapped in his time / Lost in his rhymes

Our hero is now gifted and talented, spending all his time working on his craft.

One Might Be Duende defined!

If works are not great, they cannot have Duende, so this might be the definition of it right here!

Apocryphal Espadrille / The shaper of dreams / Returns to the scene

The second fate is Lachesis, responsible for measuring the thread of human lives. She is responsible for choosing a person's destiny or fate, and shaping the circumstances of a person's life. She is being compared here to Cinderella's slipper (the apocryphal espadrille) which brought Prince Charming the tool he needed to find his bride.

No diorama / Could match his drama / A smile that would frighten the blind / The incubus freezes the mind

Our hero has an infusion of charisma. He knows how to say and do all the right things to get everything he wants.

Fooled by his charm / Right off the farm

To complete the Cinderella analogy, the people are all completely taken by our hero to where they don't even know what they're doing or where they are going.

Sound Might Be Duende's alarm

Sound the alarm! Sound "Might Be Duende"'s alarm, because this might be duende right here! This is the biggest clue that our hero now has duende. He's not just a great writer, but there's something very special about him.

Dystopio Smashedtobits / The keeper of dust / The builder of rust

The third fate is Atropos, responsible for cutting the thread of human life. She is responsible for ending lives, and here she is taking away this crazy success that has been given to our hero.

When you discover / Sleep's older brother / The trio is finally complete

Dying is the final step towards Duende, as you cannot leave a legacy if you have not left.

The trio has just one conceit / Forged by their past

The "one conceit" is Duende. People are defined by what they did when they were alive.

First in their class / Three Might Be Duende at last

Our hero is now remembered as the greatest people who ever lived.

duende defined[edit | edit source]

I'm not usually one for interpreting songs but this struck me as particularly interesting, and I'm kind of excited about it, so I figured I'd share. It's a bit loose, but I think the basic idea is easy enough to get across. As those who have read the page for the song (or the wikipedia page about "duende") already know, duende is not infrequently considered the most difficult word to translate from Spanish to English, owing to its nonliteral meaning and a bunch of associated feelings. Much more complex than the goblins or trolls the word can also represent. I think that the purpose of the song is to explain the meaning of "duende"—the deeper meaning—by using descriptions of three (possibly four?) of the literal trolls: Necropolis Blownapart, Apocryphal Espadrille, and Dystopio Smashedtobits (Monochrome Martinet is also a troll thing, but does not seem to fit the description of "duende"). That explains why these are names, and also such lines as "one might be duende defined". I haven't really fit every bit of the song to this interpretation, but there are a couple lines I think are notable:

"Realness like this / Hard to dismiss / One Might Be Duende, he insists"
The deeper meaning of duende is associated with having genuine feeling and authenticity, soul. That's the "realness" being discussed. I think that this Monochrome Martinet fellow (or someone else?) is insisting that he can represent "duende", because of his authenticity. For whatever reason (could his "starchy texture" have something to do with it?), however, he does not fit the criteria.
"One Might Be Duende, defined!"
I think this is pretty self explanatory.
"A smile that would frighten the blind / The incubus freezes the mind"
These lines (and the song, in general, lyrically) are pretty creepy and dark, and a crucial part of "duende" is the eerie sadness that it possesses. Music can be described as "duende" as well (dark sounding, etc) so the "sound might be duende's alarm" bit works well into that, too. The idea of an "incubus" also strengthens the idea that the lyrics deal with demon type things.
"No diorama could match his drama"
This too goes along with the authenticity, dramatic nature, etc.

There are a couple other bits which I can't quite explain (how appropriate!), but the word "apocryphal" seems like it might also be related, because of its meaning, but it seems to go the opposite way, and I'm not sure how a shoe (the espadrille, that is) would play into this. I think if more of the last verse were clear, lyrically, there would be another line or two to tie this together, but for now I'll have to settle for what we have. - Apollo (colloquia!) 00:49, 6 April 2011 (UTC)

Everybody Dies?[edit | edit source]

"When you discover / Sleep's older brother / The trio is finally complete"

My best friend Paul pointed out to me that "Sleep's older brother" is Death. You think? -TDK 05:28, 24 July 2011 (EDT)

Also, with regards to the "trio", Fate is classically portrayed as three sisters: one who spins the web of fate, one who measures, and one who cuts it (causing death). I like to think the trio remark is an allusion to Atropos. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 64.30.77.178 (talkcontribs) 04:52, 8 August 2011
Not to throw in a "me, too!", but well... I'm also currently 100% sure 'sleep's older brother' is death. YoungWilliam 18:33, 22 December 2011 (EST)

Wordplay[edit | edit source]

It seems like the character names in this song might be wordplay on famous names in history. For instance, "Necropolis Blownapart" (Napoleon Bonaparte). What might the other names be?

The other characters: The Monochrome Martinet, Apocryphal Espadrille, and Dystopio Smashedtobits.

"When you discover Sleep's older brother The trio is finally complete" (Sleep's older brother being death as TDK suggested) seems to imply that Dystopio is the only character still alive. So if these names are wordplay on real names, Dystopio might be the only living one, or perhaps recently deceased.

There may be an aural pun invoked here as well, of which TMBG are fond: On first listening, an English-speaking ear (if such a thing were possible), can easily hear the phrase as "three might be twenty." —Preceding unsigned comment added by 75.163.205.233 (talkcontribs) 09:37, 26 July 2011

Three Might Be a Different Band[edit | edit source]

It sounds to me like they are saying when They Might be Giants was formed by John & John in the 1980's, they almost had a third member, "One might be duende defined" - 1 additional band member defines a different band(?) either David Driver or Michael Cerveris who are the other two singers in this song. "The Trio is finally complete" - Refering to the very song they are performing. Although the trio might just be John F, David & Michael - My theory is flawed because of this and in the fact that John L does feature at all. So I'm probably way off. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU —Preceding unsigned comment added by 122.105.4.179 (talkcontribs) 12:31, 26 July 2011

I initially interpreted it as John F was the "monochrome"martinet" who would "never be part of the 3" (since he doesn't write as many songs), but seeing that he did write this one, I suppose it would be John L who is not part of the 3. Regardless, there is a 4th (or rather 0th) character included in the song, which I think is important to any interpretation. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 66.162.168.34 (talkcontribs) 15:50, 24 October 2012
mr. flansburgh writes just as many songs as mr. linnell! perhaps not as many singles, but i believe the only albums with a significant linnell slant were lincoln, and possibly the else, and the former was following the flans-heavy pink album. -Apollo (colloquia!) 17:31, 14 November 2012 (EST)
Speaking of the pink album, the original post here kind of ties in with Rhythm Section Want Ad ChaosS (talk) 20:09, 13 September 2013 (EDT)

Sleeps Older Brother[edit | edit source]

Not to contradict anyone but (following the DC continuity) Sleep or Dream's older brother is Destiny, his older SISTER is death... —Preceding unsigned comment added by 24.215.220.89 (talkcontribs) 03:03, 1 August 2011

...but only if they are following the Neil Gaiman Sandman universe. They tend to be a bit more traditional in their allusions, so this seems unlikely (plus, "sister" wouldn't rhyme very well in that line). —Preceding unsigned comment added by 152.41.9.98 (talkcontribs) 18:47, 5 October 2011
Death's little sister is Orgasm in a French figure of speech. Neither here nor there, just thought you should know. ChaosS (talk) 20:11, 13 September 2013 (EDT)

Super Duende Bros.[edit | edit source]

I'd previously chalked this song up to pure goofy wordplay, but the interpretations here have got my brain going, and I'm convinced the song goes deeper. Probably not much deeper, but it's definitely more interesting than I first thought.

I think TDK is on to something, calling Sleep's older brother Death—and if Death makes the trio complete, then "Death" must be a name for one of the members of Three Might Be Duende. "Dystopio Smashedtobits" is a name resonating with destruction, as are the titles "keeper of dust" and "builder of rust". Dystopio is Death, or at least entropy, decay.

This bit of interpretation can be extended, a little: Apocryphal Espadrille is "the keeper of dreams", which is a title befitting a personification of Sleep, and an incubus is a demon that attacks slumbering women.

If Dystopio is Death and Apocryphal is Sleep, then Necropolis and the Martinet should also be personifications, right? But here we have to stretch a little. Necropolis emerges "hot from the embers" and is compared to a bird, which could make him a phoenix, which could make him Rebirth, I guess.

The Martinet is even tougher. A martinet is a stickler for rules, okay, great. Monochrome color and starchy texture seem to speak to a dry, boring personality, and maybe we could say the same of the march tempo (stretching!), but what does that make him in metaphorical terms? "Order"?

A song with a title that implies three guys but actually involves four reminds me of The Three Musketeers, with the Monochrome Martinet in d'Artagnan's role of the outside "member" of a trio. But now thinking of them as allegories for Big Concepts, they seem more like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Let me refresh my memory:

  • First rider: white horse: is given a crown, rides out "as a conqueror to conquer", commonly interpreted as Pestilence*
  • Second rider: red horse: is given a sword, usually interpreted as War
  • Third rider: black horse: carries a pair of scales, usually interpreted as Famine
  • Fourth rider: pale horse: explicitly named Death

We've got Death bringing up the rear, just like in the song. We've got War coming second, corresponding to the Napoleon Bonaparte cipher, and "hot from the embers" at leasts suggests redness. And the color scheme, personality, and starchiness of the Monochrome Martinet could be taken to correspond with the white horse and authority of the first rider (stretching). There is not a lot to match Apocryphal Espadrille with Famine though. He has "Apoc-" in his name. That's about it.

I definitely don't think this is a song about the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but I think that's a good angle to consider the song from. The spooky, sinister, and demonic vocabulary that accompanies the story of Three Might Be Duende's assembly can definitely take it from being a goofy song about a band getting together "at last" to a goofy song about a group of supernatural beings—"duendes" in the sense of "monsters"—convening to cause trouble (and maybe even bring the world to an end).

*You should go check the text in Revelations if you buy into this Pestilence thing. I don't know where people get it: "I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest." (chapter 6, verse 2, NIV.) What about that says "everyone starts breaking out in boils" to you?

--Afterward 02:14, 1 August 2011 (EDT)

It's all Greek to me.[edit | edit source]

For whatever reason when I heard the line "Sleeps older brother" I immediately thought of Hypnos and Thanatos from Greek mythology so I thought that might be an interesting filter to look through. In Greek mythology their are 3 gods of dreams plus Hypnos, god of sleep, and Thanatos god of death so to begin...

The Monochrome Martinet, literally a single colored whip. Phantasos a god of dreams who appeared as inanimate objects would fit well considering this outsider Duende has the nuter article "The" attached and is described as being made of starch.

Necropolis Blownapart, literally cemetery blown apart. Morpheous was the eldest of 3 gods of dreams so he is the first team member, could appeared as any human in dreams but whose true form was a winged daemon.

Apocryphal Espadrille, literally hidden/secret/non canonical shoe. Phobetor was the god of fear and nightmares, explaining his 'smile that could frighten the blind' and 'freeze the mind'. Dystopio Smashedtobits, literally bad person/being smashedtobits. Sleeps older brother in Death in Greek mythology which would be in keeping with the" builder of rust" or cause of decay.

The only problem with this is that in some myths all 5 of them are brothers while in others only Hypnos and Thanatos are brothers but the other 3 are the sons of Hypnos. I also don't know why they would include either only 4 brother or three nephews and the uncle and not Hypnos.

It may be that each duende might be an aspect of human nature. The Martinet is the superego keeping us in check and whipping us into shape but is excluded because no one wants to listen to him. The Necropolis is greed or anger one of the main motivating forces behind peoples actions, "hatching a dastardly plan" to get what it wants. Apocraphyl is fear or doubt which keeps people on their toes, trying to do better and stay out of trouble. And finally Dystopio, death, which is the greatest motivating force humans have outside of sex.

Duende, as already mentioned, doesn't just mean goblin but something else, possibly an anthropomorphic personification of more abstract ideas, the same way the lesser gods filled in the roles of naturally occurring events or personality aspects. TMBG are very careful and clever with their word choice so if the just meant goblin they would have used that term not the slightly more abstract. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 24.3.18.196 (talkcontribs) 03:01, 10 August 2011

Monochrome Martinet[edit | edit source]

The Monochrome Martinet could refer to "Master Marinent," also known as the Devil. This would fit with the "Faustian pact" line in the same verse.

I'm still trying to figure out "Apocryphal Espadrille." The best I can come up with is that it's referring to counterfeit shoes, and that the incubus can be identified because he wears fake Nikes, but that can't be right. :) —Preceding unsigned comment added by 70.169.224.75 (talkcontribs) 19:17, 29 August 2011

Help! Help! I'm be opressed![edit | edit source]

This song is about the spirit of the people being resurrected to help destroy the opression of a society. These ideas have to fight against the three duendes, or the faces of evil.

It all starts with an Orpheum act. The legend of Orpheus tells how he made a deal and brought his love back to life (only to lose it again, but that doesn't apply to this song). A Faustian pact is a deal with the devil (or Master Martinet). The Devil is a duende that fights against good, but because of the Orpheum act, this duende loses (it "was winning", but now it's not), and the spirit of the people begins to be resurrected.

This gives rise to Necropolis Blownapart. The necropolis represents people's lives under opression. People begin to realize they don't have to live their life under the rule of their leader and can actually do something about it. The first duende is the leader tryhing to come up with a plan to stop them.

Next comes Apocryphal Espadrille. This refers to the fake presentation that the leader has given the people. They start to realize that things aren't all fine and dandy like their leader has told them. Things actually suck, and they start seeing through the propaganda. People realize that the leader is actually evil, like an incubus, and that they've been fooled by the leaders' charms. At this point, they begin to "Sound Might Be Duende's alarm."

Finally, everything falls into place with "Dystopio Smashedtobits." A dystopia is a society that appears to be a utopia, but is actually a repressed society. This is smashed to bits as the people revolt. "Sleeps older brother" refers to the death of the leader. The three duendes have finally been exposed and defeated. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Srlagarto (talkcontribs) 19:43, 29 August 2011

personally, i think that "older brother" refers to Orwell's 1984, and the fact that he is sleeping shows that the totalitarian mentality is never truly defeated, but is instead merely dormant. -themightyblonde

All about the "Might Be Duende"s[edit | edit source]

I can't offer much, but it seems obvious to me (and I don't see it stated clearly here) that the type of being/position/whatever with which this song is concerned is a "Might Be Duende", and the title of the song refers to that fact that there are three of them. The first verse is obviously about someone who aspires to be one of the three MBDs. The second verse introduces the first MBD of the three. ("One MDB defined.") The third verse concerns the second member. And the final verse either introduces the third MDB, or sees the aspirant from verse one completing the trio. ("Three MDB at last!")

Not that I could tell you what exactly a MBD is, but there you go. --Salt-Man Z 22:48, 29 August 2011 (EDT)

Emphasis on "Might Be"[edit | edit source]

I just want to point out that the song is about three "might be" duende, not three definite duende. The word is hard to define, and that's part of the joke. Are TMBG's descriptions of Necropolis Blownapart, Apocryphal Espadrille, and Dystopio Smashedtobits possessed of the right kind of dark, energetic coloring to qualify as duende? John and John don't know. They think so -- and they hope so -- but they're not sure. Hence, they give us three "might be" duende. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 125.53.183.144 (talkcontribs) 07:02, 17 September 2011

Red herring title[edit | edit source]

I don't speak Spanish and when I read that Duende can refer to a kind of monster, possibly a big one like an ogre, it made me wonder. I thought at first that, if the song's title is a play on TMBG's own name, then "Duende" might correspond to Cervante's windmill giants in some way. So I looked in Don Quixote in the original Spanish, and "giants" just comes from the word "gigantes". The word "duende" appears twice, one of which is Don Quixote comparing his fortunes to leprechaun gold or something, I don't know. So that was a red herring. Just thought I'd share.

Rafe

Necropolis Blownapart[edit | edit source]

If we go on the previous notion of Necropolis being rebirth, from "hot from the embers" and "Like a bird", we cannot ignore at least a faint connection to the renaissance. Renaissance means "rebirth." It can be said that the Renaissance was a "necropolis" for Greek and Roman art. Girolamo Savonarola, homophobic Florentine preacher of the last days, carried out the bonfire of the vanities, where he burned all sorts of ancient works, hence "necropolis blown apart". This also fits with "Hot from the embers" and, of we stretch a little, "trapped in his time", because he was trapped in a time where people appreciated homosexuality and beautiful non-biblical art, ideas that he (wrongly) disagreed with. On top of all this, the man who single- handedly ended the Florentine renaissance through destruction of ancient artifacts fits well in a song involving incubi, duende and sleep's older brother. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.192.23.118 (talkcontribs) 14:36, 25 November 2011

Three Musketeers, Plus One[edit | edit source]

In the Three Musketeers, you had Athos, Porthos, and Aramis as the titular Musketeers. But then there was also D'Artagnan, the young hero who joins them. A fourth, joining the three who already exist. A similar dynamic appears to exist in this song.

We are first introduced to the Monochrome Martinet. His name tells us everything we need to know of his character. He sees the world in black and white, and he has a strict, military bearing (c.f. the definition of a martinet). We then learn that he is stiff ("his texture is starch") and war-like ("his song is a march").

We now learn that his "duende," which here I interpret as something akin to mana, or power, was winning. In other words, strict discipline and military precision gave him great power. However, this is not enough, for the narrator next informs us that despite these qualities, he will "never be part of the three."

The next lines describe the three. They are sworn together in a Faustian pact. (Faust, of course, sold his soul for wealth and worldly pleasure.) They are an "Orpheum act," Orpheum being a common name for entertainment venues. Orpheus was a mythological figure, the archetype of the inspired singer. I believe these are the two components of the Three -- bound eternally, are creatively inspired. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 69.74.255.98 (talkcontribs) 20:48, 18 May 2012





Anger, Falsehood, and Death[edit | edit source]

The first set of lyrics informs us, in a roundabout way, that order is prevalent in society and in Life. This is reinforced by the lyric "the song is a march" which matches up with the tone of the music playing. However, it also alerts us that there are also forces beyond order, ones that are dark and appealing. Perhaps the song is a warning from order about these forces?

The first team member is correlated to violent words, such as cemeteries and explosions. This suggests anger, which can cause violence and meltdowns. The lyric "hot from the embers" also correlates to this. "trapped in his time, Lost in his rhymes" refers to the practice of counting to ten before speaking, and an agitated stutter.

The next correlation is one of falsehood, such as a pair of fancy shoes. This is supported by referring to him as a "shaper of dreams", which are often brought to form by fictional worlds. The polish of these fantasies distracts others from the requirements of life, but is noticable to "the blind", as in those who are not taken in by such worlds. Sound being an alert could refer to not warning him, but warning you. Also, it could refer to the dismissal of rock and roll as evil.

Finally, Death is also related with words that fit, such as darkness and sudden ends. This ends many lives and is reffered to in mythology as Thanatos, brother of the god of sleep.

All three feature as the main cause of destruction in plays and games, and are also made by what exists before. The trio has one allure to humanity, and that is Media. Violent images, fancy products, and vapid lifestyles that end in tragedy. In short, evil disguising itself as Art!

174.52.156.74 14:04, 25 March 2013 (EDT)Alex




Four Horsemen[edit | edit source]

Now, a different interpretation explains Death and War pretty well as being "Dystopio Smashedtobits" and "Necropolis Blownapart," respectively, and it's not difficult to associate these two horsemen with the characters in the song. I'd like to elaborate on the other two horsemen.

Pestilence isn't technically a horseman, except in a few modern interpretations. The more accurate title of that horseman is Conquest (possibly Victory), and it rides a white horse, hence "Monochrome." The "Martinet" would refer to order or control, i.e., Conquest. Conquest is also the first horseman, which is accentuated in the song ("And from the beginning/His Duende was winning") as in, his spirit or essence, power, had control from the beginning (the "emcee" would also make Conquest the foreteller of the apocalypse, which has also been indicated). Also, some theologians have interpreted Conquest as not an evil being, but rather a holy one, even going so far as to say it represents Christ, or possibly the Holy Spirit. This would, of course, separate Conquest distinctly from the other three horsemen. Moving on.

Famine seems difficult to relate to "Apocryphal Espadrille," especially as an espadrille is just a shoe, plain and simple. However, I did a bit of research and (although the symbolism of shoes is a tricky business) what I can make out is that it can commonly symbolize the wealthy, so the title essentially means false or dishonest wealth. An interpretation of Famine is that its arrival symbolizes destruction based on a class gap in society, in other words, an excess of goods go to the wealthy and far too few to the poor. This leads one to infer that the wealthy do not share their excess with the poor, making them untrustworthy - and also one could label their wealth as false, seeing as it isn't really wealth anymore once one has so much more than one needs yet refuses to share. Now. Two things. One: dreams don't always mean what happens when you sleep. Dreams also mean goals, longings, as in, hunger. Famine. Two: an incubus is defined as a male demon who performs sexual intercourse with human women, in other words, a lustful demon. And lust is, once again, a loose synonym of hunger. Finally, "Sound Might Be Duende's alarm". Apparently, Famine is the only horseman whose arrival is accompanied by sound, a voice dictating prices of wheat, barley, etc., unreasonable demands. Pretty self-explanatory.

Bat Out of Hell: Necropolis Blownapart and Meat Loaf[edit | edit source]

This could be a coincidence, but doesn't "Necropolis Blownapart" seem like an apt description of the cover of Meat Loaf's 1977 magnum opus, "Bat Out Of Hell"?

The "Bat Out Of Hell" cover - couldn't figure out how to get the image to pull directly into this entry

Necropolis Blownapart/A ghostly sight/Emerges bright/Hot from the embers

Yep - that's the motorcycle dude blasting out of the cemetery.

The first team member/Is hatching a dastardly plan/Like a bird with a dastardly egg

The character in the title track of BOOH is obsessed with plotting his escape from Nowheresville.

Trapped in his time/Lost in his rhymes

That's a fair description of Meat Loaf himself. And indeed, Meat's work might be "Duende defined" - full of the "dark sounds," the screeching and sighing and such. Not necessarily the world's most gifted musician, but all up in there with the struggle with darkness and light.

Is it possible that the characters in Three Might Be Duende are in fact fanciful, riddly portraits of artists or other personages who personify "duende"?

--204.152.239.219 14:05, 16 May 2014 (EDT)