TMBG.ORG FAQ/Page 3

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TMBG.ORG FAQ
Questions 1-15 | Questions 16-30 | Questions 31-45 | Questions 46+

What is the Hello Recording Club and how do I join?[edit]

The Hello Recording Club (also known as The Hello CD of the Month Club) was a subscription-only record company run by John Flansburgh between 1993 and 1997. The Hello Recording Club released ten CD singles by different bands per year. The singles were recorded exclusively for the Hello Recording Club. As of April 1997 the Hello Recording Club has officially gone out of business. Shut its doors. Kaput. Some copies of each year's selections are still available. Call 1-800-HELLO-41 ( 1-800-435-5641) for ordering information or write PO Box 551, Palisades, NY 10964. Going out of business. Last chance to buy. Limited stock.

You can also contact The Hello Recording Club by sending e-mail to <helloclub@tmbg.com>.

A discography of the Hello Recording Club can be found at "http://reality.sgi.com/relph/music/hello/".

Did you know that Nightgown of the Sullen Moon is a book?[edit]

Martin Holger Peters writes:

Thanks to my handy-dandy Books in Print computer at work (the general bookstore on campus, if you must know), I found this out:

Nightgown of the Sullen Moon; author Nancy Willard, illus. David McPhail

32 pages Paperback copyright 9/87 $4.95 Hardcover copyright 9/83 $14.95

Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company phone orders: 1-800-346-8648

paper ISBN 0152574301 hard ISBN 0152574298


What is the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul" all about?[edit]

Jens Alfke writes:

The narrator of "Birdhouse" is of course a blue canary-shaped nightlight.

I'll quote:

"...but I'm a little glowing friend..." "...bluecanary in the outlet by the light switch..." "...my name is bluecanary, one word, spelled L-I-T-E..." "...there's a picture opposite me, of my primitive ancestry..." "...so keep the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul..."

All this describes a blue canary-shaped nightlight plugged into an electrical outlet, on the wall of a (bed)room, opposite which is a picture of a lighthouse. [The lighthouse is a type of nightlight.]

The whole metaphor makes sense: a glowing nightlight [in the shape of a] bird in the birdhouse in your soul, making you feel safe from danger.

David Levine adds:

There's a picture opposite me of my primitive ancestry Which stood on rocky shores and kept our 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.

That is, the canary-shaped nightlight would be fired if he were a lighthouse. In the lyric, he imagines that if he'd been on the job when Jason and the Argonauts came by, they would surely have all been smashed on the rocks below, and he would have been fired for it.

Brian Rees Haag writes:

someone asked why the blue canary nitelite was fillibustering. (yes, i prefer the nitelite interp to the electricity interp)

the nitelite is there to make the kid forget that it's a dark night and there could be monsters under the bed, in the closet, etc. in effect, the nitelite is "fillibustering vigilantly" against the kid's fears.

David Rysdam adds this dissenting viewpoint:

The Jason and the Argonauts reference is a little play on words. Jason and the Argonauts were ancient Greek dudes who sailed around looking for adventure, treasure, and babes. (See: Fleece, Golden) Anyway, at one point J and the As were trying to sail through this strait that kept opening and closing and thus was extremely difficult to pass (they had to time it just right). In order to get through they sent out a dove and followed close behind. The dove, by instinct, presumably, timed the journey correctly and thus saved the lives of J and the As. Since electricity is being compared to a "blue canary", the play on words comes in by comparing electricity's primitive ancestry (fire) to a dove.

I think this verse points out the irony of the song. It's about electricity, but it's saying, "Don't rely too heavily on technology."

Actually Holly, Brent Lewis' sister, says:

Has anyone ever mentioned the similarity to Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers?"

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.

But really, John Linnell (They Might Be Giants) says:

I mean, for example, "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is a song about a nightlight. That's it. It's written from the perspective of a nightlight serenading the occupant of its room. The thing is, there are so many syllables in the songs that we have to come up with something to fill the spaces. So it ends up being kind of Gilbert and Sullivany.

Can someone tell me who Marvin Gaye and Phil Ochs are? Who is Kurtis Blow?[edit]

Don Marks writes:

Phil Ochs is only one of the best folk singers ever. His songs are caustic, sarcastic, touching, hard-hitting, funny, and usually right on the mark. If you have an aversion to 60's left-wing politics, you may want to avoid him, but I'd recommend picking up the CD compilation There But For Fortune which contains some great music. TMBG covered Phil's "One More Parade" on the Rubaiyat compilation.

Marvin Gaye is a soul singer from years gone by, but I'll let someone who knows his stuff better fill in the details.

Both are dead now, sadly.

Bo Orloff writes:

Marvin Gaye was a quite famous & successful soul music (Motown) singer/musician/songwriter. He was shot (and killed) by his father.

Representative works:

I Heard It Through The Grapevine, What's Going On?, Sexual Healing

Phil Ochs was a somewhat less famous & successful folk/protest music singer/musician/songwriter. He hung himself in his sister's bathroom.

Representative works:

I Ain't Marchin' Anymore, Outside of A Small Circle of Friends, Tape From California

Alec writes:

Kurtis Blow was a funk singer/rapper of the late 70s/early 80s. His best known songs are "The Breaks" and "Christmas Rappin." "Christmas Rapppin" is recognized along with the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and the Fatback Band's "King Time III (Personality Jock)" as being one of the first one of the first seminal rap singles.

You're free to come and go Or talk like Kurtis Blow

Who originally did the song "Frankenstein" that They play at live shows?[edit]

The song "Frankenstein", lately a staple of They Might Be Giants concert performances, was originally performed by The Edgar Winter Group, from their album They Only Come Out At Night. Good title. Positively prescient.

The song "Frankenstein" has never been officially released by They Might Be Giants. However, the song was released on a bootleg album entitled Dr. Spock's Back-Up Band as "Instrumental No. 2".

Where did the song "Lady is a Tramp" from?[edit]

The Man writes:

"Lady Is a Tramp" is from a musical called Babes In Arms (not Babes in Toyland). I don't recommend seeing it. It was a mild success when it first hit Broadway in the first half of this century, but that was mostly due to the fame of it's creators. The libretto [read: book, script, the non-musical portion of a musical stage show] was SO bad that when one of the pair of creators died, the other immediately rewrote the libretto and put in his will that the original must NEVER be performed. At the time, librettos were only to give some kind of reason to sing on stage, and this was a bad one. The rewrite isn't much better though, because it kept the same songs, just even more out of context, a sacrifice to get a plot. You might want to get a CD of the music, if you like cheezy musicals, or, just go to a good library and get the lyrics.

Sam Meyer notes:

I've figured out what the sample in the middle, saying "Tramp" is. It's from an Otis Redding and Carla Thomas song called, surprisingly enough, "Tramp." It's Carla (most often paired with her husband, Rufus Thomas) that says it, and it sounds to me that the sample TMBG used is the second time that Carla says it in the song.

Is the song "We're the Replacements" a mockery or a tribute?[edit]

A tribute to a band that mocked themselves.

Jeffrey Chen writes:

They Might Be Giants' song "We're the Replacements" is a parody of the lifestyle of The Replacements based on their public reputation, and that it was unknown whether the Johns revered them or is just making fun of them. I could be wrong.

Koenig Feurio writes:

Personally, I believe that the song is both a tribute and a parody. I have no quotes from John or John to back this up, but I have quotes from Slim and Tommy of the 'Mats:

Me: "Have you guys heard the They Might Be--" Tommy: "Yeah, I heard that, it was pretty funny." Slim: "What? What are you talking about?" Tommy: "They Might Be Giants, their song about us." Me: "'Hey where's Tommy, someone find Tommy.'" Tommy: "Yeah, it's pretty funny." Slim: "Is it supposed to be an insult?" Tommy: "I think it's more like 'Alex Chilton.' Kinda both."


What are the strange background vocals in "Dinner Bell"? What are they singing in "See The Constellation"?[edit]

Bernd Jochintke a German fan studying English at Kiel, writes . . .

. . . concerning the inaudible background vocals on "Dinner Bell". Well, I gave that one a good listen as well and came up with the following:

I BRING TEA, MY SIR/MASTER GIVE IT A GOOD LOOK AND WALK AWAY

I swear I heard a /t/ before the /i:/ sound in the first line, and the idea of somebody serving his master with some nicely decorated (?) tea and then leaving him alone to enjoy his beverage would fit the overall atmosphere of the song pretty well.

David Blodgett writes:

I think Bernd Jochintke is on the right track. The right channel definitely sounds close to that. But personally, after listening to it over and over, this is what I hear: (don't laugh)

I bring tea, my sir. Give it to Gertrude, and walk a(way).

The left channel is way too ambiguous to tell. The Johns probably made it so on purpose just to mess with our heads. Could be "reheat", but "gumbo" sounds dubious. The eighth syllable sounds like "to", but the second and tenth are really ambiguous.

J.L. Hutchens writes:

Also, in reference to Dinner Bell, I mailed my interpretation of the mysterious message at the start of the song:

I...drip...ping...mast...ter It...is...a...bee...ell (I can only make out this bit from the left channel) And...walk...a...way

At the end of this I said the words could be in Russian, which was just a of a joke (because Pavlov was, of course, Russian).

But Matthew S Coon writes:

Well, I put in an intensive listen last night and I deciphered the background bit. First, I am absolutely positive that each syllable is repeated as the sound bounces back and forth. Those of you who disagree should follow my original advice and use the fader on your stereo to isolate the left and right channels and you will hear (basically) the same thing on each side. Secondly, I am POSITIVE that the dripping master thing is WRONG. I am very confident that what is actually said is

I reheat my soup Give it a good look And walk a(way)

This is most clearly heard on the right channel (the lower pitch) because the high one is very unclear period. Listen to the right a few times, then try the left and you will hear the same thing. Then listen normally and you will hear how they fit together. I think it is really clever how the isolated right channel says

and walk a waiting for the...

with the word waiting completing the phrase "and walk a(way)".

Shane Markle adds:

I just read your TMBG FAQ, and came across the discussion about the words in "Dinner Bell", and did a little investigation myself. I was amazed at what I came up with, and that is, there are actually two correct answers. It does depend on which side you're listing to, as was mentioned in the FAQ. But the highs and the lows don't sync up with each other. In the space between the highs,the lows come through, that's why it's so choppy, so that one side can come in where the other rests, and make the second message.

Right Left

I repeat, my sir* I reheat my soup, fit it together (It is a gumbo) and walk a(way) and walk away

  • my sir, master, something like that.

On the right side only, the (way) in "away" comes from the "waiting" in "waiting for the dinner bell", but on the left side only, the way comes and then the "waiting" from "waiting for the dinner bell" comes afterwards separately, as Matthew S Coon said, clearly showing that there are two messages. Check it out for yourself.

So you see, everyone has so far has been only partly right.

To which Matthew Coon replies:

Well, I finally got around to giving this section another critical listen, and I have to stand by my original interpretation. Both the L and R channels contain the same message,

"I reheat my soup, give it a good look, and walk away."

The confusion may stem from the fact that the words are not broken into syllables in quite the obvious way. Rather, it is something like (in either channel, with each syllable separated here by a pipe):

I | re | hea | t my | soup gi | ve i | t a | good | look and | walk | a | (way)

Since an orthographic representation is (obviously) rather awkward, here (as best I can manage in ASCII) is a phonetic representation of what I hear in BOTH channels:

[a ri hi ?m^ sup]

/gI vI t^ gUd lUk/*

[a_end w)k ^ we]

where: /)/ = [-high, low, back, round, tense] /a_e/ = [-high, low, -back, -round, -tense] /^/ = schwa, stressed or unstressed /?/ = glottal stop

  • note: the second line, as you may have noticed, is actually a phonemic representation, since I happened to notice at least one phonetic difference between the L and R channels (an aspirated /t/ in one channel and a glottal stop in the other) in that phrase. There might be others which I missed, of course. (I don't have that much free time:-)

Grant Melocik writes:

As far as the lyrics concerning serving someone's master are concerned, I always assumed this was a song about conditioned response (since TMBG is awfully into that mindless follow-along sort of thing, not to mention all of the references to Pavlov's dog), so I don't really see how SERVICE comes in so far as the song details anatomical responses... Just my opinion.

Willie Williams writes, authoritatively:

The repeated message in "See the Constellation" is indeed Dee Dee Ramone shouting "Four!" It's taken from the opening to the Ramones' song "Commando," off the album Ramones Leave Home, and Dee Dee's entire four-count is present at the beginning of "Constellation," only it's slowed down a bit to match the song's tempo.

Who is James Ensor?[edit]

In an interview with Peter Koechley, John Linnell says:

Well, he's a painter. The song just tells you everything you need to know; he's a Belgian painter. . . He's a real guy.

In another interview, a John said:

In my art history class, while in college, we were bored and all of a sudden his works came up and we were surprised at how exciting it was. He was an expressionist, like other 20th century expressionist painters, who was ahead of his time and was very eccentric. The line, ``Dig him up and shake his hand, is actually very specific -- a parallel idea to a lot of his paintings which involve resurrections, skeletons and puppets being animated.

It's not an accident that the language of the song reflects his work. He did a painting -- titled something like Self Portrait in 1970. It's a skeleton, wearing his clothes. He became a phenomenon right before the turn of the century. With the song, I'm trying to encapsulate the issues of his life -- an eccentric guy who became celebrated and was soon left behind as his ideas were taken into the culture and other people became expressionists.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, has this entry:

Ensor, James. 1860 - 1949. Belgian painter whose works, such as Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888), influenced surrealism and often feature nightmarish, masked faces.

Who is Edith Head, and where does the song She Thinks She's Edith Head come from?[edit]

Edith Head was the costume designer for nearly four hundred films between 1932 and 1982. She created the costumes for such classics as Saigon (1948), The War of the Worlds (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) as well as most of Alfred Hitchcock's & Jerry Lewis's films. For a complete list of Head's work, check the Internet Movie Database.

John Flansburgh has said that the song is based on a woman he knew in college, and that this woman actually thought she was Napoleon Bonaparte. However, since it's very rare for a woman to think that she's Napoleon, he changed it to Edith Head to make it more "universal".

Why aren't the lyrics to "AKA Driver" printed in the liner notes?[edit]

In an interview with Peter Koechley, John Linnell was asked that very question, and he says:

We're afraid of getting sued because it mentions a product name. We can't print the word NyQuil on the record, so we had to call the song something else besides "NyQuil Driver". But we can say it in the song all we want, we're just not allowed to [print it on the record]. We didn't want to get sued. . . I don't even know why NyQuil would be upset. Is it that we are suggesting that there is something wrong with their product? Or, is it that we would be stealing their customers away by getting them to buy records instead of cold medicine?

Does the song "The End of the Tour" mean that They Might Be Giants will never play live again?[edit]

No.

Colby Cosh writes:

I have long been captivated by Brooks Ann Camper's theory about the song "The End of the Tour"--i.e., that it is about a man tortured by his involvement in a horrible car accident. But I think the FAQ should note that the text of the song contradicts this theory in one very important respect: it is clear that the narrator of the lyrics is the car, not the driver. "He" says "I was bent metal," and refers to "The people inside me driving themselves to distraction." Her interpretation almost makes sense, and it fits the mood of the song well, but when you look close at the song it turns out to be a little bit, well, nutty. Kind of creepily intense.

Brooks Ann Camper writes:

Ask me now I understand the words that John has said....

I have never had an experience quite like last night when i realized what "The End Of The Tour" is about. It is the absolute saddest song I have ever heard in my life. I cried for over an hour listening to it.

It is about a horrible car crash and a man's struggle to forgive himself for killing a car full of teenagers. It actually was not his fault because the girls were drunk driving but ever since the incident he has brutally blamed himself. He is finally finding the first bit of hope toward recovery from the horrible wreck that he was involved in.

Listen to the words....

There was a beautiful teenage girl who was at a party, under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She became bored of the party so she decided she could drive; she thought that she was able to "see herself". She takes her friends and they drive out on I-91. The man is driving also and it's late; he is distracted by many things. When on the overpass, he is hit. His car is merely dented but the other car bursts into flames and the girls are killed. He watched the police take the bodies out. He saw how beautiful the children were and was scarred by this completely.

During the song he refers to the family of the beautiful girl and the horror that they must have felt when the police knocked on the door to tell them they had lost their child. He also breaks into the nursery type lyric about watching the police pull the bodies from the car.

He has blamed himself for the wreck from the beginning, but he has been ruining himself with it and finally decides to turn to God who helps him out. He finally finds a peace within himself saying that at the end of his life, if anyone will forgive him, he will meet the girl in heaven and apologize. Until then he must endure his own life, but one day he will be in heaven to ask for forgiveness.

He is beginning to realize that it is not his fault and he must go on and God has "let them go" for a reason. He will always be haunted by the experience and will never be the same. And he's never going to tour again.

There is actually a lot more I could say about the song but I just wanted to share my experience.

It is incredible. Thank you John.

Sam Meyer offers this interpretation:

I've always been of the opinion that the "girl with the crown and scepter" refers to Courtney Love (The Yoko Ono of the 1990s...) If you look at the cover of Hole's Live Through This, it fits perfectly. I'm not sure if the rest of the verse follows along quite as well, but "WLSD" might refer to all the drugs she's reportedly taken, and the bit about the "scene is over now" might refer to Kurt Cobain's death. Just a thought...

What was the countdown that TMBG used during the They Might Be Giants tour?[edit]

This was previously listed as the John Henry countdown; it was actually used to introduce the show during the tour to support TMBG's debut album, They Might Be Giants. You can hear a recording of it from the 6/20/88 show @ Tipitina's in New Orleans, LA here. The text in parentheses is read by John Flansburgh, the rest is John Linnell.


Sarlakk2 writes:

Here it is, typed for your reading enjoyment. Note: The text in parentheses is not part of the countdown itself, but rather another thing in the same song. And now, without further ado, here is the countdown.

Countdown to the program! Checklist: 10! Your ten fingers reach into the air. 9! You wiggle your nine toes in anticipation. (Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. They Might Be Giants have just crash-landed their glass bottom car into the control tower at Jim Baker International Airport.) 8! Already you've forgotten what you ate for dinner. A creeping numbness consumes you. (This just in, the human egg has been sighted plummeting from the sky. Scientists standing by to assure us that nothing is wrong have already been found murdered in their laboratories.) 7! Seven members of the band They Might Be Giants have quit the group over bitter disagreements about the introduction to tonight's show. 6! You begin to feel six. (Watch Professor Psycho-Fuckup, arrested and convicted of gate-crashing the show tonight, has hung himself by his watchband in his prison cell. He is listed in perfect condition!) 5! Your five senses swell as you realize that history is not being made tonight, rather it is being consumed by a creeping numbness standing next to you. 4! No one seems to know what this is for. (Overturned tractor trailers rubbernecking bumper to bumper!) 3! Only three seconds remain until They Might Be Giants hits the stage over and over again. 2! It's time 2 sit back and make way for the 1! band that can overcome the 0! in their bank account. I don't mean to be the -1! but you'd be -2! if it weren't for the fabulous show you're about to enjoy. Ladies and gentlemen, make way for They Might Be Giants!

What was the countdown that TMBG used during the John Henry tour?[edit]

Previously, the debut album countdown was here. This is the actual countdown that was used during the John Henry tour, as recited by John Linnell. As you can see, it's a little different.

10! Your ten fingers reach into the air. 9! Your nine toes wriggle in anticipation. 8! Already you've forgotten what you ate for dinner. 7! Seven stagehands reach for the one remaining beer. 6! You feel six. 5! Only five seconds remain until They Might Be Giants hits the stage over and over again. 4! No one seems to know what this is for. 3! Only three things stand between you and this evening's event and 2! of them are huge security guards. Which means the 1! obstacle remaining is the 0! holding up the show with this countdown. I don't mean to be the -1! but you'd be -2! if it weren't for the fabulous show you're about to enjoy. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome They Might Be Giants

Which John sings this song?[edit]

Another fan has compiled a list of which songs are sung by which John. Check out the Who Sings What list ("http://www.tc.umn.edu/~cab/whosings.txt").