Interpretations:Can't Keep Johnny Down

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I think this is probably about people not being able to keep someone named Johnny down. But that's just a guess. -Johnny

For some reason, every time I read the title, I hear [1]. -Yamfox

Well, seeing as both of our beloved Giants are named John, this could be a kind of “Hey, we’re back” thing. It tells us that, even with all sorts of other artists running around and after a slight break from the adult-oriented music scene, they’re still going strong. Being “outnumbered a million to one” could be a statement to the effect that, though may be many out in the music world going about in similar ways to produce similar music, the Johnnies can’t be stifled. - Mixolydian3

Possibly personal?[edit]

The moon golfing line is most likely talking about Alan Shepard who hit a golf ball on the moon. That happened in 1971 which would put Linnell at about 12 years old. (according to my trusty calculator) Being that he wrote the song (as quoted by JF) it's more than likely about him. I'd say it follows his life through childhood up to middle adulthood speaking about possible bullying and the generally hateful attitude of people. Then it (may) go on to talk about his wanting to do something about the situations but instead being passive for one reason or another. Maybe he's going further saying "look where I am now!" JF did say something about one of the songs being a (if I'm not mistaken) bitchy narrative. --Propman 04:17, 6 April 2011 (UTC)

class struggles[edit]

although i generally prefer not to interpret songs, this just came to me yesterday uninvited, and i have to say i like it.

in a sentence, i feel like this song is about the futility of attempting to repress the voice of the lower class; "johnny" is the voice, power, and embodiment of the common man. this first came to me by the "men piled up in a towering mound" line; this gives me the image of the stereotypical pyramidal hierarchy of society, especially antiquated ones, where you have the vast majority — the proles — controlled by just a few elite at the top. the "dicks" are vastly outnumbered (perhaps a million to one). as history has shown, they have never found a way to keep johnny down. the bit about the apollo astronaut (who did in fact go in their suits, btw), is a symbol of luxury; he doesn't even need to go to the bathroom to relieve himself. just because he is wealthy he thinks he's better than johnny.

i can't claim to have perfect explanations for every lyric here... i think the gas cap bit is about the upper class "guy" trying to point out things wrong with johnny, but johnny isn't just gonna stand there and flip him off (which often implies failure... it's a gesture that people frequently make when they're angry but they can't do anything about it). either that, or he's comparing himself to the elite man, who is, unlike him, the type to just flip someone off when it is pointed out that there's something wrong with him.

"remembering slights" is probably just johnny thinking about all the ways the upper class has screwed him over... and while he may not be perfect (a "monument to justice"), no one is. no clue about the face line, though.

the language also struck me; the terms "dick", "flip off" and "dude" are not typical linnell words; i think he may have been attempting to emulate johnny's voice here... the name "john(ny)" was likely chosen due to its commonality.

anyway, this isn't rock solid yet but certain parts of it seem very clear to me, so i thought i'd put it out there. --ant 20:30, 6 April 2011 (UTC)

Pretty certain this is about viagra. Right from the title "Can't Keep Johnny Down". One of the Johns had a bad experience with the pill, and figuratively 'couldn't keep Johnny down'. Evidenced best a couple of lines: "All of the dicks in this dick town" "Men piled up in a towering mound" "I'm not a monument to justice" "Bathroom in his pants and he thinks he's better than me" "I'm pointing a finger at my own face" "They don't know what's in here" "And they don't, don't know what I've seen" "They can't know what's in here" "And they can't keep Johnny down." I don't think I really need to explain each of these quotes, but it's pretty clear to me that this is absolutely the subject of the song. --༺𝄞𝄆Ⓠⓤⓔⓛ⎈Ⓓⓞⓜⓜⓐⓖⓔ𝄇༻ 07:48, 7 April 2011 (UTC)

I'm not gonna overthink it[edit]

To me it just seems like this guy who thinks everyone is out to get him, when really he's just a jerk. --Salt-Man Z 15:17, 7 April 2011 (UTC)

Some dude hitting golfballs on the moon.[edit]

Alludes to Destination Moon. TMBG's music is designed to make you do things subconsciously and listen to specific songs at specific times. 'Remembering slights' refers to songs such as Bangs, My Man, and Hovering Sombrero. Basically the whole Mink Car album. Because after you move back to your parents house and leave your old girl and find your one, apparently it's too much to ask to treat her well.

Another ode to paranoia[edit]

John Linnell's lead track from Join Us is as ever a song about paranoia. John Lennon used to argue that all art is self referential and whilst no one can argue that Linnell is as openly confessional as a Lennon or a Morrissey you do have to wonder what he's like as a private person.

Lyrically less dense than usual, Linnell's narrator is paranoid against a world even when it offers to help by pointing out that his "gas cap is unscrewed". He is also jealous of the world thinking they are "better than him". The joke works in several ways John is never called Johnny, but he could be, and things that get Johnny down are imagined slights. And the huge amount of effort that is required to maintain his resilience is not actually required given that it's delusional.

Unhinged narrators are commonplace for late period Linnell, "I'm your boyfriend now" and "Renew my subscription" being good examples. The images here are less sophisticated and specific on this track, being deliberately ambigious. The surreal jumping of the song's narrative to the moon and back is abit like the inhinged lyric of the mighty "Rest Awhile." Overall a cracking song, beautifully produced that screams hit single and leaves you wanting to hear that chorus just one more time! (Mr Tuck)

Paranoia and its associated defensiveness[edit]

I agree with Mr Tuck's excellent interpretation above & just want to add that I think the song specifically illustrates the hair-trigger defensiveness (& agressiveness) that paranoia often breeds, which the song depicts so perfectly that I can't help suspecting that the songwriter at least sees the potential for reacting this way himself, even if he doesn't act it out. At least, as an insecure introvert myself (and as someone who grew up with a parent who was this way most of the time) I experience this type of reaction from time to time, though I also don't act it out, I usually laugh at it instead. It seems to me (though this is obviously an act of personal projection) that that is what the song is doing.

The humor is classic TMBGs: taking a very real, usually problematic emotion and seeing how ridiculous it looks from a more detached or objective (or just a different) perspective. --Tyranny Sue 01:51, 22 August 2011 (EDT)


"I'm not a monument to justice"

Seems to refer to the following dialogue from the movie Moonstruck.

Ronny Cammareri: "I ain't no freakin' monument to justice! I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget?"

On Astronauts[edit]

Song means what it says. You can't keep Johnny down. The smug bastard.

The line "Bathroom in his pants" initially reminded me one Homestar Runner Cartoon (And may indeed have been inspired by it) but of course it relates to Astronauts wearing nappies. As previously noted, golf has been played on the moon. Soccer, as far as we know, has now.

I suppose the narrator imagines Johnny as some hotshot astronaut bastard due to his feelings of inferiority.

Attitude problem = success[edit]

An interesting variation on a theme previously discussed as an attitude problem at work (e.g. "Snowball in hell"), or an attitude problem in social settings (e.g. "Your Racist Friend").

Because this time around, if and when Johnny succeeds, it will be because of his attitude problem. And it will be a sweet victory.

"They don't know what's in here"[edit]

I think that line is interesting. It's true, they really don't know what Johnny's capable of, or what he really thinks.

Alternate interpretation: The narrator is a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein, and Johnny is his monster. Think about it. ~ magbatz

Remember 'No One Knows My Plan'? It's just like that.[edit]

It just seems like a song about that one guy you knew whose crappy life was half his fault and half the world's. People haven't been kind to him, but the people who have, he's treated like they were being "dicks". But when he is talked to, he keeps on being his ignorant self, asking why an astronaut is better than him. The thing that makes him memorable is that he never gave up, he never conformed and submitted.-- 01:33, 10 March 2012 (EST)

Blinded & Justified by the illusion of Others' Vindiction[edit]

Imagine a world full of people who are trying to keep Johnny Down. "Outnumbered a million to one."

With this kind of attitude, Johnny finds himself justified in his dedication to fight an entire world of competitors.

If a guy says, "Your gas cap is unscrewed," and is trying to keep the old JMan down, he's trying to tell Johnny that he's crazy. That's why Johnny wanted to flip him off.

But upon reflection, it seems like Johnny has a dignity problem. He doesn't believe kindness exists, only dignity. He is unable to consider that people aren't trying to insult, defeat, or hurt him. Viewed through this, each act, even kind-intended ones, is an insult upon his capabilities and dignity. A man plays golf on the moon to show how far humanity has come. Johnny thinks that the astronaut is showing off--instead of doing his job on the moon, he's showing off and playing golf? Take that, Johnny.

Part of my series on the thematic interpretation of Join Us.

In the context of the entire album, this is a strong start. Catchy, people are more likely to note the persistence in a dire situation. Unfortunately, I see that Johnny justifies all of his fury and anger on the fact he's not a monument to the idea of justice, and is justified in competing with humanity. I figure the song is tied to being unable to understand kindness, and therefore Love, a thematic cornerstone of the album.


It sounds to me like the protagonist is pretty full of himself. He sees himself as so much more clever/tougher/better/etc than the rest of "the dicks in this dick town," that just about any interaction with another person is viewed as some kind of challenge of his perceived position (relating to the paranoia theories above,) and every hostile overreaction driving the outside party away is another victory and excuse for Johnny to pat himself on the back.

--SoreThumb (talk) 14:09, 16 May 2013 (EDT)

Slipping Freuds Under the Closet Door[edit]

I don't think this is the real, intentional meaning of the song, but it's amusing to think that Johnny is putting up this tough, "masculine" front because he doesn't want people to find out his sexual preferences, as he seems to live in a small town where it might not be accepted, or maybe doesn't even want to admit it to himself.. Under that theory, some of the lyrics turn into embarrassing Freudian slips, such as "All of the dicks in this dick town," "Men piled up in a towering mound," and "They haven't yet built a man that'll keep ol' Johnny down."

Inferiority/Superiority complex and paranoia?[edit]

To me, it seems like Johnny is afraid that everybody else is out to get him, and he sees himself as oppressed by "all of the dicks." We see that he is paranoid as he always seems to be railing against everybody for really undefined reasons, just because of a gut instinct that people don't like him. Perhaps he also assumes himself to be superior to others, and to be getting "attacked" for that reason, when in fact he is just a person in a sea of people, and he interprets other people's neutralness towards him as hostility, becasuse of his expectation to be treated specially. Also it is interesting to note the poor phrasing of many lines in the song (eg. "but which I don't forget a face"). This could be due to the fact that Johnny is ranting senslessly and coherence of speech comes second to getting his emotions across. -- DogWalker 2/06/2016

Projected Narcissism[edit]

I think what's easy to miss about this song is that whilst all of Johnny's thoughts are evidence of textbook narcissism, absolutely none of his actions are. Actual narcissism is not so much about how highly one thinks of oneself, it's about how highly other people think of them. Arrogance isn't about believing that you're right, it's about telling other people that they're wrong. Johnny's "thoughts" in the song are extremely arrogant, but it's filled with comparisons he makes between himself and others that nobody other than himself could possibly know about because he doesn't believe anybody but himself is worth explaining them to. To all outward appearances Johnny is just a guy who keeps to himself and struggles with verbal communication. Because of the stark contrast between his thoughts and his actions I believe the song isn't actually about Johnny's thoughts, but instead describes the projected thoughts and attitude that must logically follow from certain common assumptions that people tend to make about other humans.

An example most of us are guilty of at some point in our lives is assuming that we are to blame (or that we are being blamed) for another person's absence be it from an event, a place, or even a conversation. A friend of mine quit facebook a while back and I was amazed by the number of people who thought he'd decided to stop being friends with them specifically. I had to explain repeatedly that he still liked everyone, he just didn't like facebook's policies so he deleted his account. When the only reason we have to believe this is the absence itself then we're assuming that Johnny is utterly alone because he would rather obsess over offenses that were unnoticeable to anyone but him than confront anyone about them. This is a clear depiction of narcissistic thinking being projected onto someone who's exhibiting the exact opposite of narcissistic behaviour.

Another common assumption that the song discusses is how everyone feels when they perform some small action for a stranger and don't get thanked for it in return. Be it opening a door for someone, picking up an object they just dropped and returning it to them, or letting them know that their gas cap is unscrewed, acknowledgement of the deed is a perfectly reasonable expectation so it's natural to feel offended when it doesn't happen. But the song shows us what we're actually assuming when we place that feeling above the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people are just too fatigued to be able to interact normally, sometimes people are obsessively ruminating about whether or not they passed a test at school, sometimes people just broke up with a lover and want nothing to do with the rest of the human race for a bit, or sometimes it's one of a million other things that could explain the lack of pleasantries without the need for placing blame. If we let our feelings convince us that we're being intentionally disrespected then essentially what we're saying is "not only did Johnny just flip me off, he didn't even respect me enough to flip me off while doing it!".

What is clear throughout the song is that one way or another Johnny certainly is being kept down. If you look at the song as the irrational thinking of a paradoxically introverted narcissist, then Johnny would obviously be keeping himself down. If you look at it instead as an attitude being projected onto him due to false assumptions, then it's the assumers keeping Johnny down by further alienating a misunderstood lonely guy who has difficulty connecting with people. Don't get me wrong, the Johnny described in the song is definitely a bit of a douchenozzle, the question is only about whether or not Johnny is the one who's actually thinking all those thoughts. -- Dysfunkt 25/10/2017

When Will Johnny Die?[edit]

I haven't seen this interpretation before, but I think Can't Keep Johnny Down is a companion song to When Will You Die. They're both extremely hateful songs, are on the same album, and most importantly, they deal with exact opposites. One man versus the world in the case of CKJD, and the world versus one person in WWYD. Johnny thinks the world is out to get him, and he's right. Or maybe it's just the members of TMBG hellbent on making it seem like the world is against Johnny, since it's very easy to interpret WWYD as just being a small group of people hating one person. 04:47, 2 April 2020 (EDT)

Johnny is the hero of this story: he’s a “dreamer”[edit]

I'm pretty sure the first thing most people think when they hear about Johnny is "This guy needs help..." yet...We are to feel pity, and even grudging admiration for Johnny: it’s understood he has some underlying deficiencies, but these are not all his fault. He has some developmental delay, some antisocial personality, some paranoia, and he carries a lot of anger and feels he has to fight all the time to defend himself... then you get the little accordion lick as the omniscient narrator telling you how to feel about that. It starts off as the exact rip off from a 90s era rock song I just can’t recall: a young woman singing furtively, dramatically, to a galloping beat: “Dreamer... da da dreamer...” Sure wish I could remember that old song... Thezef (talk) 06:51, 30 July 2020 (EDT)

Ps I am aware the solo also sounds just like Journeys “separate ways” guitar solo, but I still think it’s a joke with the other song lyrics (dreamer) which I just can’t find...

A Story of Two Enemies[edit]

This song is about two enemies. The main character is named Johnny and his enemy's name is unknown.

The use of the word "dick" and the phrase "flip off" show that Johnny really has it out for his enemy.

The title of the song suggests that Johnny can't be stopped from competing with his enemy.

The lyric: "And he thinks he's better than me." shows that Johnny's enemy thinks that he's better than everyone. including Johnny.

The lyrics: "They haven't yet built the man/That'll keep old Johnny down." shows that no one else is quite like Johnny.

This also could be about the two Johns in a fictional world where they are enemies. JL is Johnny and JF is Johnny's enemy.

Mrs.Xcitement (talk) 09:38, 24 March 2023 (EDT)