Interpretations:Certain People I Could Name

From This Might Be A Wiki

Original comments (pre-2004)[edit]

Interpretation 1[edit]

An easily distracted person fails to pay attention to various TV programs and instead focuses on how the people onscreen remind him of people he knows.

The subject matter apparently being watched by the speaker are:

  • Some sort of Samurai film
  • A news report on a brutal dictator
  • A nature program about a lizard

Furthermore, the reminders are negative: A blood-drenched samurai counts "the arms, the legs and heads, and then divide by five'. The 'Genocidal overlord' casually lighting a cigarette, and the 'eyes with no expression watch the unsuspecting prey'. The tone is somewhat vituperative, and I believe at some points the singer is referring to someone in his audience as one of the 'certain people I could name', but is not going to say so directly.

Donald Rumsfeld[edit]

I think one of the "certain people" is Donald Rumsfeld, but that's just me.

Considering that Donald Rumsfeld did not become the US Secretary of Defense until January 20, 2001 (, it is unlikely that the song--which was released on Long Tall Weekend back in 1999--refers specifically to him. Indeed, I believe it more likely that the phrase "certain people" does not refer to anyone in particular, but rather to the vague feeling of "I've seen that guy before" one sometimes gets while watching television. Certainly it would be decidedly un-TMBG-like for the song to be political commentary, so those who see Donald Rumsfeld (or other political figures) in the song are merely imposing their own political views onto the song.
This is my first time listening to this song, so I'm not saying whether it references Donald Rumsfeld or not, but I want to correct the individual who said that Donald Rumsfeld did not become Secretary of Defense until 2001. He was also Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford, so he became Secretary of Defense in 1975. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:07, December 12, 2004

Interpretation 3[edit]

I think that it may be importent that all of the scenes in this song are violent. Sometimes Life imitates TV, sometimes TV imitates life —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:44, May 6, 2004

Interpretation 4[edit]

I was thinking about this today, and came to this sort of conclusion.

The song isn't talking about any person in particular. I think what is being meant here is sort of the irony of the gossip bug. The person singing the song is constantly saying "Oh, who does THAT remind you of, hmmm?" A common thing for someone who is constantly gossiping, or, putting others down and not ever thinking of themselves. The irony comes in that all the things that the singer is comparing to someone else (warrior, media, predetor) all share characteristics of the general gossiper.

In other words, the person is saying "Man, does THAT remind you of anyone? *wink wink*" without realizing that they are in fact the one who is doing the harm, not the one person to them. Does anyone else get it? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:48, May 17, 2004

Interpretation 5[edit]

Here's my thoughts: During the three verses, the singer describes three different events (possibly television programs). In all three, the characters are foreign to the singer (The Samurai, The Dictator, and The Lizard). In all three situations, the characters are committing terrible acts of malice. The singer and another viewer are both shocked by the malign displays, but then the singer realizes, that regardless of nationality, or even species, they're not too much different from themselves. The "certain people" are the singer's own people. The song is very much an exercise in putting things into perspective...but that's just my opinion. Who knows what Ol' Linny intended. - Stiddy 06:28, June 1, 2004

Interpretation 6[edit]

I have a less broad take on all of this. This is just a song about a bitter breakup. The singer is talking to his friends (or perhaps himself), lashing out at his ex. The phrase "Certain people" is plural, but the other phrases are all singular ("reminding you of anyone we know?", "who is it like?", "the very image of someone we know?"), and every comparison is made to a singluar creature (the lizard, the dictator, the Samurai). "Certain people I could name" is just his way of mentioning the girl without mentioning the girl.

No matter what is on TV, he is angry and bitter, and can't stop thinking about it. "How could anybody miss the obvious, uncanny, and clear resemblance" between that heartless lizard and his heartless ex, he asks his friends, even though such a notion is ridiculous. The resemblance only exists in his grief-ridden mind. - Veloso 15:28, June 4, 2004

The Seventh Samurai[edit]

I don't remember where I read it, but I think Linnell has confirmed that the first verse refers to Kurosawa's "The Seventh Samurai." A character in the film reminded him of a friend. - Vovat 16:43, July 25, 2004

That's weird... I was reminded of that movie (its title is actually The Seven Samurai) while listening to this song. --Captain Red 16:11, July 5, 2007
I don't think that's weird at all, I mean it is pretty much the most famous samurai movie there is...--Self Called Nowhere 19:28, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
Yeh, I'm trying to find that quote right now and being unsuccessful but I remember it too. I'm trying to decide if it's worth putting in the trivia without having the exact quote verbatim. Yes? --Self Called Nowhere 19:28, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
If that's the case, then I think that the samurai in question is likely Shichiroji. I can't find my DVD but I believe that after Kikuchiyo kills the last bandit, Shichiroji is in the background when Kambei and Katsushiro have a moment. Perspixx 01:51, 2 October 2011 (EDT)

Interpretation 8[edit]

I laughed out loud when I first heard this song, having had this experience while watching TV. It does what a number of TMBG songs do really well - pull out a moment, a certain mental state or activity, and capture it. Then, as the listener, you say to yourself, AH HA, yes, that is exactly what that is/feels/seems like. Little poems about mental states that other people don't bother to write about, but are interesting and familiar nonetheless?

I see the narrator as watching TV with at least one other person and being struck that someone/thing on TV reminds him absurdly of someone they know. Yep, wow, that lizard really does remind you of Bob, doesn't he? Same eyelids, expression, whoa. I never realized that Bob is like a lizard. (Or whatever.) If you have the kind of mind where you might see a lizard on TV and find its expression reminds you of a person you know, this song is terribly funny, because you've had this experience.

On a deeper level, I think there is, as was suggested above, a comment on catty gossip, and also a meditation on boundaries and how things that seem really separate are closer and more connected than they appear.

Lastly, this is a great visual song - I got a complete recreation of the TV shows they are watching from a very few well chosen words, as if I had peeped at the TV myself. "In the palace with her epauletts; see her little gestures as she lights her cigarette!" You see some Evita-like woman in tight bun, and you can tell she lights it with a flourish, although none of that is stated explicitly. Very evocative. ~Christina Miller 12:43, October 21, 2004

Interpretation 9[edit]

"Certain People" is another sharp and melodic satire (of the same stock as "South Carolina," "My Evil Twin," and "I Should Be Allowed To Think") starring Linnell as an ironically warped figure. In this particular song, Linnell draws a sharp contrast using his brand of evocative imagery and clever expressions (I've never heard of making a body count by dividing the limbs by five--and can you name a female genocidal overlord?) between these three grotesque verses and the following lines written in slack, conversational form. The lyrics seamlessly move from "drenched in blood" to the narrator asking "do you see the one I mean?" The irony, made possible by Linnell's obvious talent for imagery and juxtaposition, obviously targets gossips: those who would focus on minor parallels to acquaintances while watching richly detailed scenes of slaughter, genocide, and predation, otherwise indicating no other opinion about the content.

"Certain People" doesn't seem to be, however, a particularly emotional satire. This song may have simply come about from a strangely inappropriate thought Linnell personally had while watching a film or TV show (one interpretation makes note of this below)--besides, what beef would he have against the certain people who focus on minutae while watching something? (Does Flansburgh do this whenever they watch TV together?) From the perspective of analysis, it's clear that, no matter what the origin of the concept, Linnell fleshed out this idea beyond the simple recollection of an odd notion.

The melody has a queer disembodied feel, gently lifting and dropping off, giving the song sort of a casual aloofness that goes well with the lyrical content. The song seems to owe its popularity to this effective sound, along with the sheer irony of its content and the ingenuity of the lyrics. - wittytirade 05:05, January 15, 2005

Um, define "ironically warped." What the f*ck does that mean exactly? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:58, September 28, 2005

Destructive behaviors[edit]

I think this song is about destructive and self destructive behaviors. We all have some, perhaps smoking, drinking, over eating, killing mass amounts of people, etc. The people in the song represent the human race, certain people meens everyone! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:31, July 18, 2005

Interpretation 11[edit]

This song has an element of social grace to it, like the polite custom of whispering the word "cancer" at a dinner party when discussing a person who has it. In this song, the name of the person is not used, but the phrase "certain people i could name" is intended to point the audience (in the "in" crowd, as far as gossip goes) to the target of the gossip. The Samurai in back reminds him of ____. The Lizard reminds him of ______. The Genocidal Overlord reminds him of ______.

The phenomenon (gossip) is common, but John's imagery (what reminds him of "this person") is a riot. I agree with the sinister-deranged speaker theme in this song (mentioned above).

This is quite possibly my new favorite TMBG song, until I find a new one on clock radio... that is. --PastaKeith 01:16, September 18, 2005

Interpretation 12[edit]

This is a great song, and I'm sorry it never found a home on a major release. As far as interpretation goes, what I get out of it is the humorous juxtaposition of horrific images with the blase and pedestrian comments of the narrator pointing out people who look familiar. Perhaps it's a commentary on our cultures media obsession: sitting on the couch watching horrific events unflold on CNN while we eat potato chips. Incidentally, the line "halfway through the thirty minutes, halfway round the world" is a reference to Headline News. At the time this song was written, their slogan was "Around the world in thirty minutes." --MasterChivo 10:05, September 28, 2005

Video game[edit]

Am I alone in thinking that the music sounds somewhat video game-ish? When I first heard it, I was picturing all the scenes that are being depicted featuring 16-bit graphics. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:48, September 28, 2005

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko[edit]

Actually, I believe the female overlord referred to in the song is Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, who went on trial in 2002 for her part in the Rwandan genocide of the mid-1990s. I remembered reading an article about her the first time I heard this song (a couple of years after I read the article) that described her in almost exactly the same way, with cigarette and epaulettes. Very creepy. --darrelplant 18:35, January 11, 2006


I think, based on the subject matter of the TV programs, that they are watching PBS. --Nehushtan 22:23, 26 Jan 2006 (EST)

Interpretation 16[edit]

In my mind, this song is about the highly relatable encounter between two friends watching a movie or some other form of visual media. One is trying to convince the other that someone on screen looks like someone they know or know of. This happens to me all the time; I make connections between two people that my friends don't understand at all. -Cronny 19:21, February 12, 2006

Interpretation 17[edit]

I'm putting 1 and 1 together here just because it may not have been obvious to everyone. We nearly agree that TMBG do not refer to anyone specific as a rule AND people on this page have named specific female dictators.

May I suggest that if you see something twice on TV, you tend to genaralize that that event "always" happens. Such as Columbine and other school atrocities. We were almost saying, "geesh, the U.S. gets a school shooting a month now," because it's so alarming and now repeated. In the case here, the narrator is surprised, but now generalizing: --those female dictators--

I know this doesn't exactly tie in the meaning of the title, but I think it is a message being portrayed. -RL 16:29, March 17, 2006

Marriage in reverse[edit]

I think that the song is the narrator's marriage to someone in reverse

The samurai are them in the court battle over the belongings
The overlord is thier marriage as she controls him.
The nature show is when they first time at a club and she wants to get his money or something. --Sandwich maker 21:37, April 17, 2006

Interpretation 19[edit]

This song is easier to interpret backwards ending with the complexity of human nature where as humans we can find ourselves sinless in our actions by being in integrity with our internal and external world. The lizard is behavior with no reflection on intention because it is so purely animal there is nothing but action. The animal behavior is sinless without reflection. The Genocidal Warlord is filled with a complexity of conflicting visuals indicating a conflict between intention and behavior and a clear example of Sin as defined as 'missing the mark' and acting without cohesion and worse yet without reflection. The Samurai is our human-nature finding a way to resolve conflict between our internal beliefs and questionable external acts.

Surviving Samurai - Does the samurai still exist? If thought of as a type of archetype of a human's internal and external world. Yes. A Surviving Sumurai has a code that allows the warrior to survey the battlefield and make sure the task has been completed. They are in integrity and have no shame in their actions. Importantly although they can see as violent and gruesome

A Genocidal Warlord - Our initial visualization of a warlord is in conflict with the description given in the lyrics. There are so many conflicting images it is really incredible. On the individual human being level, this suggests actions in conflict with intention. When my intentions are in conflict with actions or behavior this is when I am in a state of 'sin' where sin is defined as 'missing the mark.' My internal beleifs and external actions do not match and I have misse the mark in being who and what I truly am. More gruesome when I remove myself from self-examination (sitting in my palace or just in my head), my actions are more reprehensible. They not only miss the mark, they are sinful in a being a life un-examined.

A lizard represents our true animal nature. The narrator is just a voice describing events. We see a lizard and other predatory animals of note as acting without any conflict being intention and behavior because behavior is all there is. No conflict beween what they are and what they express. Sinless in their acts because they are acting purely and as Szymborska describes these animals are living as they live. She says "there is nothing more animal-like than a clear conscience and the Third-Planet from the Sun." Being human requires us to live within all three states of being. Humanity and the individual human are linked when are human-beings when we acknowledge these states of being, some with purity of intention, some a pure act of nature and what we don't want to miss out on is the gift of being human and by examining our actions on an individual level contribute to how future generations will define "humanity." -JAYFO 21:22, October 28, 2006

Interpretation 20[edit]

I just think the joke of the song is (sort of similar to Dr. Worm) that he's kind of cruelly and viciously making fun of someone he knows, saying this person looks like 1) murdering samurai, 2) an evil dictator and 3) a disgusting lizard eating an insect. Ouch. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:25, June 19, 2007

I completely agree, although I think the first verse refers more to one of the torn-apart corpses, making it even more offensive. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:15, July 6, 2008

Interpretation 21[edit]

I've been listening to this song a lot lately, for it is a good song. I'm surprised that the interpretations people have posted on here are so different from my own interpretation. I think the lyrics discuss, somewhat vaguely, people who see horrible things and don't react to them. The samurai looks at the bloodshed, the narrator describes the lizard eating the bug, and the newscaster talks about genocide, all without any emotion. This reminds the narrator of someone he and his audience (possibly just one person) know, who tends to be disinterested about things the narrator cares about. It's not revealed who this person is; maybe it's someone who only exists in the story, or maybe it's someone famous. I guess it could be that the narrator is just gossiping.

Also, I wonder why it's necessary to count all the limbs. Wouldn't we just need to count the heads? --Mandaliet 16:10, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

I think the explanation I heard somewhere or other (probably the newsgroup) was that counting the limbs was necessary because even if those people weren't dead they would still be out of combat. --Self Called Nowhere 19:31, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
Oh, okay.--Mandaliet 06:25, 1 May 2010 (UTC)
Weird. I came here to add my thoughts and I discovered that I already had. Woo, shoddy memory. Anyway, something I just realized is that the narrator sounds kind of passive-aggressive. I think the person he's addressing might be the "certain person". The narrator is basically calling "you" a sociopath, back before it was popular to call people sociopaths (like in When Will You Die).--Mandaliet (talk) 12:46, 15 May 2015 (EDT)

Interpretation 22[edit]

My idea was that there are friends you have or people you know that seem cruel or distant or abusive, but you downplay these traits internally. You think 'Well they don't really mean it,' or 'they were just joking around and didn't realize they went too far'. But then you start noticing bloodthirsty inhuman creatures remind you of them. I think it's a comment on how a person might not want to believe the cruelty a friend or acquaintance might be capable of. Nobody they know could be a monster.

However, Jeffrey Dahmer was somebody's neighbor. -They Might Be Stupid 23:44, April 18, 2009

Interpretation 23[edit]

I've always thought of this song as being the thoughts of a man watching television with his significant other, who he secretly hates. --D Levy 15:25, September 13, 2016

Same Actor[edit]

While watching TV he is always reminded of the same person he knows. They are so like him, because the samurai, lizard and dictator are played by the same actor.I myself know that feeling of being reminded of someone in a movie, because he played another guy in another movie. But you cant pinpoint it in the moment.