Interpretations:Careful What You Pack

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Mmm. From the look of the lyrics (and I've not heard the music) it looks like the song will be all about the impact of the tune. Let's hope so. From the lyrics alone the song is about exactly what it says on the tin. For those of us who generally prefer early era Flans - as i do - the complaints lie in the "oh this will do" nature of the lyrics. I have long felt that this more pop throwaway style is Flans' deliberate or perhaps unconcious effort to write "hits". Initially this policy did bear fruit, working in a sense on Flood, when songs like Twisting had a great groove and clever lyrics. Since then its been much more hit and miss, the worst offenders in this misguided "hit" strategy being The Guitar; Drink; and the godawful Spy and It's Kickin' In. I miss the clever clever lyrics from the pre-Electra recordings. I'm hoping the tune kicks, as apart from the co-written "Damn Good Times" which was superb apart from its indulgent outro, most of Flans' contributions on the Spine were inferior to Linnell's lacking music (heavy emphasis on clever vocal effects) and decent lyrics. Worst still songs such as the aforementioned "It's Kickin' in" render the Giants ungiantlike and just MOR. If an album is a bag and the songs are items, the Giants may well want to pack more Linnell songs. Hopefully I will be proved wrong when I hear this song and Flans' tunes on "The Else". If so I will change my interpretation. (Mr Tuck) Having heard the song I loved it. I still think the lyrics are the least important bit of it though.

Are you kidding? I'm really astounded by these lyrics. They're brilliant. I have a good visual of the song, but I don't know exactly what it's about--which is how, in my mind, TMBG songs should be. ~Anna Ng hears your words. 05:01, 14 April 2007 (UTC)
The lyrics (which I quite like) are most probably connected to the plot of the movie the song was written for. I don't know how probable it is, but I can't help thinking about "Coraline", because the lyrics are so much in accordance with the spirit of the book. The song just gives me creeps when I think of WHAT kind of trouble "she" is about to get into. Flute
I think this song would count as one of TMBG's more abstract sets of lyrics. They often reinforce the idea that they want people to find their own interpretation of a song, not offer a definitive notion of what they are talking about. I think the lyrics really complement the sense of oblique melancholy evident in the music. Walrusaurus

Having thought it over, I've come up with an interp! The song's about a curious girl--I keep imagining her as a teenager with a somewhat childish streak. She is happy, but naive--partially due to her lack of life experience, and partially because she's just so absorbed in what she's doing. Still, she thinks she knows it all, that she understands what she's doing ("She thinks she's smart; she's just curious"). It's never stated what kinda trouble she gets into. Maybe she lets her guard down and is hit by a car or murdered; maybe it's something as minor as not paying attention in school. I'm guessing somewhere in between. Either way, the narrator knows her curious, naive, childlike nature is going to get her into trouble someday. She doesn't know what might happen to her, and he is indirectly cautioning her, because she can't just "go back" if she screws up really badly. ~Anna Ng hears your words. 04:19, 28 May 2007 (UTC)

Even though we all know not to take TMBG songs at face value immediately, I did some very basic research on the film - even looking at just its poster, you can kind of see where the lyrics come from. Regardless, it's a very well-written song. Several hoorays to Flans for this. -j2

The sense I get about this song is a sort of post-9/11 paranoia. The first hint is in the opening line, "The known, the unknown and the underknown" parodying the infamous doubletalk of Donald Rumsfeld ("known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns"). The subject of the song is an unaware citizen, someone who doesn't know that she's "in trouble". She's doesn't realize that she's under constant surveilance "She thinks she's alone Doesn't even know someone's watching her." She has to be careful what she packs because of new security measures brought on by the "new year," i.e. the new era of the war on terror.

(that's where I lean too, considering Flansy other songs dealing with the same type of shadow government/working undercover for the man) -nekrobomb
I thought the same about the Rumsfeldian language, but interpreted the subject of the song as America... "careful what you pack" referring to the lack of body armor, enough troops, etc. that would have been needed from the outset, but were not "packed" ahead of time, getting us into trouble. "There's no going back" ... we can't call a do-over now that we've started the war in a naive fashion. -concerned citizen 13 Aug 7

After reading that this was intended for a Neil Gaman movie, I sort of questioned my initial impressions. However, I believe that good song are open to a variety of readings, even if they weren't necessarily intended by the authors. Tutt 19:40, 16 July 2007 (UTC)

I think this is another song about the Hotel Detective, perhaps her origin. Compare these lyrics from "(She Was A) Hotel Detective" - "Come on and swing with me / From the top of a tree / And make me feel like a bee" - to this lyric from "Careful What You Pack" - "Shaking up the bees, swinging from that tree".

It could be a coincidence, of course, but there are also a couple of references to detective-like qualities ("Look at what she found / Digging all around / By the goldfish pond" and "She thinks she's smart; she's just curious"), and packing is an activity associated with hotels. I like that if this is true, it implies that although the Hotel Detective may think she knows all ("If you've got a secret boy, forget about it"), in truth "she thinks she's alone" and "doesn't even know someone's watching her". brandons 22:18, 20 July 2007 (UTC)

This song is actually kind of disturbing when you think about it. There's an innocent girl minding her own business, who's new in town and is not used to the neighbourhood. Someone's watching her, maybe holding her captive but she doesn't realize. She's in trouble becuase of the thing she found in the ground by the goldfish pond (whatever that is, we might not even want to know) and probably because she's not supposed to be where she is. There's no going back to her hometown.


This makes much more sense when you know the story of Coraline. I did a project in... oh... 7th grade on the book, and I feel I should read it again, it's a really good story. The song kind of obscurely relates to the plot, really. --Lemita 01:09, 8 February 2008 (UTC)

I think that what Flansburgh is doing with this song is linking the story of Coraline (the movie which this song was written for) and his own views of our current social situation. Taken from the wikipedia article for the novella Coraline :

"[Coraline] opens the door to find...a dark corridor which leads to another apartment, seemingly a twisted copy of her own."

John is talking about how he feels that we are living in a twisted copy of our own world right now. Thing are the same superficially, but have changed dramatically.

With this in mind I believe John is telling the story of a naive, young girl at the airport who is trying to bring something in her luggage that is either embarrassing, or will not be allowed on the plane. If you have ever had your luggage riffled through at the airport, you know that they do it in public and with little concern for privacy (in this case, it seems, near a fountain with goldfish in it; i.e. goldfish pond). She doesn't think that what is in her luggage is a big deal, but apparently the security does ("Doesn't understand she's in trouble now"). Apparently, what she has in her luggage has gotten her into real trouble or at least delayed her because she's "waving from the shore", meaning that she has missed her flight; analogous to waving goodbye to a ship sailing. Also, the line "there's no going back" seems to lend to this idea of bringing something to the airport in your luggage that shouldn't be there. Once you're there, you are sort of stuck with your decision to pack the object.


This song is clearly about the character Coraline from the Neil Gaiman book of the same name. It is obvious, I mean it was originaly suposed to be for the soundtrack to the movie. If you have read the book it is obvious that Coraline, the girl, is beiing described here. Not to say this isn't a great song but, it is a pretty simple song for a movie.

I do believe this song relates to Coraline, namely towards the end of the movie, so erm, spoiler alert.

The known, the unknown, and the underknown, Look at what she found - The door leading to the other universe, at first just looks like a brick wall behind a door

Digging all around by the goldfish pond, She's going to get in trouble now, Shaking up the bees, swinging from the tree - Playin' in the garden

Doesn't understand, She's in trouble now - Doesn't seem to realize it's too good to be true

It's a new year - She decides she can live in the Other world

Careful what you pack - Shifting to the end going back to save her parents

There's no going back - If she loses they sew buttons on her eyes

She's lost from the beginning - The "Game" her and the Other Mother play

She's the new girl - New to this "new" world

She thinks she's smart; she's just curious - Thinks she's escaping her world, really just checking out the new

She thinks she's alone, Doesn't even know someone's watching her - Other Mother has been watching her through button eyes of her doll the whole time

She's going to get in trouble now - Obviously

This is all just a guesstimate, kinda what I thought of as I listened to the song. It was originally made for the movie, so the similarities were probably not a coincidence. If you've seen the movie this interpretation will make more sense.

I always thought this song was about...[edit]

...a kitten playing outside for the first time, especially the first verse. Ever watched a kitten exploring a garden? Completely unaware of anyone watching them from the window? Just content and blissfully unaware, digging, chasing. That's what the first verse sounds like to me. She's the new girl.

"She thinks she's smart, she's just curious". Curiosity killed the cat...maybe thats why she's 'in trouble now'?

Am I crazy or did anyone else get images of a cat?

Also the previous song, 'Climbing the Walls' sounded to me like it was about a dog. Huh.


Personally, I always saw the song to be about a girl growing up and moving away from home from the point of view of a parent who isn't ready to see their child leave.


I agree with one of the points above. This song was originally intended for the stop-motion animated film, Coraline, released in 2009 and based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. This song correlates to a lot of things in the movie specifically.

> Some spoilers here if you haven't watched the movie.

The first few lyrics of the song talk about the 'unknown' and a supposed girl digging around 'the goldfish pond'. Then it goes to say that she was going to be in trouble. This is possibly a reference to the mysterious Well in the story, which is implied (not confirmed) to have some form of supernatural connection to the Other World. I also intend to believe that 'shaking up the bees' is alluding to the fact Coraline bothering up her parents and giving them grief (similar reaction to what happens if you shake the bees). The 'Swinging from the tree' might just be a line to convey Coraline just having fun and doing things kids do. The part where it says she doesn't understand was referring to the fact that Coraline was in trouble as soon as she moved to her new house (in danger of being stolen away by the Other Mother) and she had no idea it was going to happen.

The 'Careful What you Pack' might be an indication to Coraline packing her stuff because of the move. It also might be an allusion to the film's tagline: Be Careful What You Wish For. I personally have reason to believe that it might be referring to Coraline packing up for her 'final stand' in the Other World and having to plan out what she wanted to bring. The part where it says 'There's no going back' is the idea that Coraline would be unable to go back to the real world if she failed the 'game' with the Other Mother. Coraline was lost from the beginning, lost in the new bright world and in the fantasies the Other Mother created, just as the lyrics indicate. The final bit is just the idea that Coraline is the 'new girl' moving into a new neighborhood...or maybe is it an allusion to her being the 'new girl' in the Other Mother's dead children collection?

The third stanza is describing Coraline to a T. In the film, Coraline seemed to believe herself as intelligent and she assumed that she understood everything, including the Other World. She initially believed it was a fantasy dreamworld where she could have everything she wanted, but in reality, Coraline was just curious of the new wonders the Other Mother created for her. The part where it says 'She thinks alone, doesn't even know someone's watching her' is alluding to the fact that the Other Mother had her eye on Coraline as soon as she moved in, using a doll she made to keep an eye on Coraline and thus she was never really alone. Not quite sure what the 'Waving from the shore' is about, but it might be referring to the life and afterlife. Coraline thinks she's waving from the shore (life), but in reality, she was close to dying like the ghost kids? I'm not sure.

A few of the lyrics after that are just repeats of the ideas above.

It's possible that this is the same protagonist as in Aaa and ECNALUBMA, but seen from an outside perspective. Similar themes of detrimental curiosity and all...