Interpretations:A Self Called Nowhere

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The lyrics about waiting for a ride outside a music store very accurately describe a similar experience I remember waiting at a music instrument/lesson store. The store even had a stairwell you could look down in the front of the store to see the rooms where the music lessons were held.

In general I find the song to deal with your mind wandering while you are waiting for a long time. Where your mind comes up with crazy ideas as you deal with heightened bouts of creativity. The surreal music and lyrics always bring up thoughts of waiting for a ride and staring into the horizon. -pugly

This song's filled with that classic Bostonian accent - "cah", "pahking", "ahgan". It's missing a "wicked", though. :P .:Mavhunter:.

I noticed this too! Linnell sings the verses with the same Boston accent he later parodied in "Wicked Little Critta". The chorus, however, is sung in his normal accent. I wonder if this ties into the way the verses (or at least the second verse) seem to describe dreams. Are these scenes somehow related to his childhood? Or is he really describing a different character? -- Thread Bomb (talk) 06:03, 6 June 2020 (EDT)

The idea of how we push ourselves close to oblivion seem to stick with me. Take a look at this quote:

"....Surrounding the mind Of a self called nowhere It's a thing named "it" (It was confirmed by John Linnell in a Dial-a-song interview with google.) In a bottomless pit...."

The "Id" as defiend in The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition:


In Freudian theory, the part of the psyche associated with instinctual, repressed, or antisocial desires, usually sexual or aggressive. In its efforts to satisfy these desires, the id comes into conflict with the social and practical constraints enforced by the ego and superego. (See also pleasure principle.) [1]

The idea that we put ourselfs at great risk to get the things we want, but still not get it, is a major role in this song. in this case, it borders on the unusual, but then agan, when was the last time we dumped our lifetime savings into something of little or no value?


heres the deal though, freud sucks

the word "id" is also the Latin term equivalent of "it", so it has a bit of a dual meaning in its place in the lyrics

This song seems too blatantly psychological to lend itself to any sort of interpretation. Shii

The best way to figure out the song is by examining the title. At first I thought that they might have meant something along the lines of "A self-called nowhere" as in a place that someone thinks of as nowhere. However, later along I realized that they're probably using the self as a metaphor for a place. That'd mean that the self is currently nothing. That ties in to the whole thing about id. Id is the base desires of someone, so basically it's their self. And since that is in a bottomless pit it seems like the self is being supressed. -Cap'm Hook

I think it's about remembering madness, or tripping - or both. Maybe he's on acid (c.f. The End of the Tour) outside the music store, and the wooden chair and stairwell are giving him flashbacks to periods of acute paranoid depression, perhaps even in an institution. I've always heard "It's a thing named it", not id, and imagined him personifying the illness, vividly free-associating about it, and I find the song terrifying with its imagery - your gaze falling down the stairwell, feeling yourself dwindling into a dot, which dream-like becomes a line surrounding an absence where your consciousness was, the sunken head being your own, lying in the bed of nothingness. Or the "it" could be referring to himself, being reduced to a thing by insanity and drugs.

One of the best of Linnell's many "madness" songs, Where Your Eyes Don't Go being another one of my favorites. Sullen Moon

It just occurred to me that the "electric organ" in the second verse is perhaps not the same organ that the singer played in the first verse, but rather an artificial internal organ, or maybe a pacemaker or something like that. He suggests that he "must have sold [his] car when [he] needed to buy an electric organ"; rarely does one need so badly to buy a musical instrument that one is willing to give up one's car in order to do so. — Modus Ponens (talk) 14:05, 26 May 2013 (EDT)

For what it is worth, I own the CD and the liner notes have the lyric "it" not "id".

Crazy guy who plays the organ, reference to some old movie or character?[edit]

I have always thought the ID part made it about the psyche but the other stuff around it seems like he is perhaps mentally disabled or a savant or something. I also wonder about the studies which led to the declaration of the ID and if the wooden chair is part of a famous scene or patient in a clinic or something. I suppose the torn-down garage might be his mind, and they deconstructed it and him to build something mentally new, but he no longer has the 'car' to get there or put in it. Since the store lets him play the organ, and he wanted to buy an electric organ, I can only conclude that he was not successful in obtaining it so he needs a ride to and from the organ store each time.


Where they let me play the organ.

This song speaks to me of a man that they "let" play the organ. He isn't paying for it, or playing for an audience. Clearly this man is obsessed with music. So obsessed with music, that he sold his car, though he isn't 100% sure. Probably because hes so obsessed with music, he can't remember what hes done. The id is the compulsive side of our mind. The music is a bottomless pit where he throws his mind, his car, he is falling apart and so is his life.

Have you ever been so obsessed with something that your life almost fell apart. John has.

An interpretation[edit]

I'm sitting on the curb
Of the empty parking lot
Of the store where they let me play the organ
I'm waiting for my ride
But I want to wait inside
The store where they let me play the organ

The first part is just describing the fact that there's a store where they let him play the organ, but now it's probably closed and he has to go home and to wait outside, though he'd rather wait inside so he could keep playing.

But I'm thinking of a wooden chair
In the room at the top of the stair
And I'm looking down the stairwell

When he cannot be at the store playing he keeps thinking about playing organ cause he's obsessed with it. So he pictures himself playing in a church where organs are sometimes above stairs.

At the vanishing dot
On the map of the spot
Let me take you there
The dotted line
Surrounding the mind
Of a self called nowhere
It's a thing named "it*"
In a bottomless pit
You can't see it there

From this place if he looks below the world looks different, dark, distant and filled with music; all that remains in the world is intangible. More specifically the dotted line is the music staff, the dots are the notes and the mind sees nothing but the music in it.

The sunken head
That lies in the bed
Of a self called nowhere

This could mean 2 things: 1) Its still about the music staff, and the head its the head of the note, that once it's played fades in the rest of the music already played. 2) This is a day-dream in which for the music the dreamer has annulled/forgot his persona.

Standing in my yard
Where they tore down the garage
To make room for the torn down garage

Meanwhile at home other people are doing important things, like changing the garage layout, but he only cares about the organ, so to him it looks just as if they only tore down the garage for nothing.

I'm looking for my car
But I must have sold my car
When I needed to buy an electric organ

Finnally playing the organ is so important to him that he will sacrifice his car because he cannot live without playing it, even if he can only afford the cheaper electric version.

A Lovecraftian perspective[edit]

Disclaimer: I won't pretend that the song was written with this in mind; I just find it an interesting lens through which to view the song.

Reading some H. P. Lovecraft inspired books recently, I was struck by some of the parallels this song holds to the cosmic horror genre. Namely:

  • Location. Given the accent, the location is Massachusetts, or at least New England. This region is the setting of these stories so often that it's been dubbed "Lovecraft Country".
  • Isolation and desolation. The parking lot is empty, the garage is torn down, the store seems to be deserted, and the speaker interacts with nobody. Only "they" are mentioned in passing, an unseen, unnamed entity who lets him play the organ or who tore down the garage.
  • A sense of being trapped. It's never stated outright, but in the first verse he's waiting for a ride which never comes, and in the second he's looking for his own car, which he can't find for reasons which he uncertainly rationalizes to himself.
  • Obsession with the unknowable. The greatest hallmark of the writings of Lovecraft: something outside of the human experience or perception, an unseeable undiagrammable unfathomable "it" which consumes the mind. The chorus begins, each time, with the narrator's mind being drawn inescapably back to the stairwell that leads to the mysterious "self called nowhere".
  • Describing that which cannot be described. It's a trope often made fun of that H.P. Lovecraft would call something unnameable or undescribable, then spend pages listing its names and attempting to describe it in chaotic, contradictory terms. This would appear to be the function of the chorus.

The last thing I'll point out: the cosmic horror genre likes to follow dreamlike patterns or to "plumb the depths of the unconscious" and the like. I'd say this song qualifies (I've had dreams eerily similar) but then, so does a lot of TMBG's discography. Perhaps TMBG is just a good cosmic horror band.
It's probably coincidence, but that said, the Johns are remarkably well-read...
Bluef00t (talk)

Dreams and imaginings[edit]

The verses seem to describe dreams about Linnell's youth. The chorus is more problematic. It seems to be a quite dark revelation of psychological emptiness. This is odd as it contradicts Linnell's stated objection to self-indulgent angst. So possibly the chorus is simply saying, in an abstract way, that the real self vanishes while sleeping, and the dreaming self is a separate entity that doesn't exist in the real world. This seems to align with later song "Sleep".
-- Thread Bomb (talk) 05:58, 6 June 2020 (EDT)

Lack of Self-Worth[edit]

My interp is that the narrator believes he is worthless, a waste of space. He is the self called Nowhere! I also think he struggles for money, hence selling his car to buy an electric organ. Nothing makes sense to him, so they torn down the garage to make room for the torn down garage. BTW, it is 'a thing named It'. John Henry but not really (talk) 03:51, 17 January 2021 (EST)


Personally, this song sounds like depression. The tiredness of the singer, the "self called nowhere" (which I interpret to mean a lack of identity, not knowing where you fit in and feeling alone because of it), and the overall vibes of it. The singer wants to go into the store, but they don't. They don't have the motivation. On a personal level, it feels like depression in its more lethargic form. tsu 13:54, 19 June 2021 (EDT)

"who am i?"[edit]

the narrator desperately scrambles to confirm the existence of a self that turns out not to be real. it's "the vanishing dot" within their mind they're desperately trying to track down. the actual self is something the narrator hasn't accepted, is deeply hiding, and which they may be dehumanizing, "a thing named it". they grow depressed and dig into their bed, unable to find their "self" and so declaring it "nowhere". then the ending represents the notion that the newly found self, the "thing named it", that reveals itself in the absence of this true self that's gone missing, might not be "nowhere". --Ncrecc (talk) 23:38, 28 July 2022 (EDT)

A prideful musician's lament.[edit]

Basically, it's a song about a lonely musician who ran away from home in pursue of fame. The verse before the chorus is him trying to remember his old home and the warmth of his family, but in a way, he didn't belong if he couldn't pursue his dreams. Now that he's far from home, he knows he's in too deep to come back, and he doesn't have the money for the trip back home anyways (I'm looking for my car, but I must've sold my car). All he has now is his electric organ, and the only place he ever felt like he belonged in was the store where he bought it.

The chorus is the perfect summary of what I think this song is about. He's describing some kind of analogy where, even if he's being himself, his identity is forever lost. A dotted line on a map surrounding an already lost mind, he's trapped in his own thoughts and regrets.

-Lukas Patrickson