Interpretations:Climbing The Walls

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This might be an complication on a simple song but I related this song to a prison inmate finally deciding to hop the fence and run. The narrator once worried about the things that might (and eventually would) land him in prison but now that he has nothing to lose he finds a new job, Climbing the Walls. But maybe it's just me.

My interpretation is more uplifting than depressing; keep in mind though that right after I got this album, and minutes before I first listened to this song, I had something of an existential crisis. Long story short, it was the close of a great summer and I had just returned to a horridly contrasting bleak existence. Also keep in mind that the epic factor of it is greatly affected by the fact that I watched the entirety of FLCL during the better part of the summer.

To me, this song chronicles the rise of a young man(in my mind, the story of this song aligns perfectly with my intense emotions at the time, so I envision myself in this place)from his dismal life to one of adventure. This is summarized in the first verse:

I can't talk, I got to go Don't call me back, I won't get the door Got to focus on the job 'Cause I got a new job climbing the walls

Basically, the "new job" the narrator alludes to is a new purpose in his life to live rather than exist.

The first four lines of the next stanza explain his feeling that his youth until this point has been wasted on the frivolous, repetitive tasks "required" in modern society. This monotony grew so frustrating that he finally abandoned it for something he felt would have more meaning.

This next stanza is rather specific to my situation, as this personal meltdown of mine was largely brought on by having to live once again in a crowded, unorganized house filled with junk. In the story, the narrator too wishes to clear his house of the infuriating mess about him. He wants to load everything into a car, drive it down to the dump, and unload it . In my mind, the narrator stays in the dump and uses the scrap around him to construct his escape from the world.

The next stanza goes as such:

I got tired of pacing the floor Sick of it all, I'm done with the floor Walked away ever since I got a new job climbing the walls

The significance of the floor is two-fold. Primarily, the narrator again states that he is finished with the dull misuse of his life he has been trapped into; secondly, when he says he's "done with the floor", he is stating that he is abandoning the floor itself and its limiting power over people. He intends to take to the skies, where he can be free from the masses and their control.

Next, he discusses the "deep end". This is the truth beneath the murky waters of human potential. The narrator has thought long about where a common life will take him, or anyone for that matter. He has an epiphany: life is pointless; there is nothing anyone could ever hope to do to make a difference or bring substantial meaning to their lives. People in general don't think about this, and pretend that what they are doing is meaningful to the point where they have convinced themselves of it, not fathoming how pointless their existence really is.

This revelation leads the narrator to notice that the "walls" of his adventurous aspirations are worth more than just imagining and contemplating, thinking that achieving them is unrealistic and silly. He thusly resolves to take flight rather than merely waste away wishing he had done more.

On the final stanza, he abruptly severs the ties not only between his airship and the ground, but between himself and the world. The envelope rises, he climbs the rope ladder, and in sync with the final not of the song, he stares off the bow into the early sunrise.

When I listen to the song, my mental image invariably ends like that. Other They Might Be Giants songs carry the story from that point, and some act as a prequel. They expand upon his life and tell of his encounters with flight, love, strife, and, finally, the world he left.


Anyone ever read the Metamorphosis? Take half an hour to read it, and then listen to this song. It's uncanny. -Jaimee

Sounds like he's discovered a new way to live. --Nbx909 22:08, 6 May 2007 (UTC)

I think it's about a dog(or a cat) that gives up its old hobby of chewing its nails and instead attempts to reach the top of the wall. --Chiaro 21:43, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

It's about Spider-Man. Bored, nervous Spider-Man. Prove me wrong. --Fugitoid

Well, I think it's pretty improbable that Spider-Man is the narrator, seeing as Peter Parker never chewed his nails. ~ magbatz 01:40, 17 May 2007 (UTC)

This reminds me of the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper". Creepy. --Knud

I'm surprised no one else here said that "the deep end" represented suicide. That's the first thing that came to my mind, and it's a sticking point for how I see the song. --Mark

"Climbing the walls" is an idiomatic expression that means "to be extremely nervous or upset." It can also mean "crazy," in the same sense as "off the deep end."

I think this song is pretty clearly about a mental breakdown, perhaps an anxiety disorder (the constant tooth-grinding and nail-chewing are common anxiety symptoms). The speaker has become increasingly paralyzed and crippled with the condition, and has become unable to function in society. As a result, his new "job" is to stay home and be crazy.

I second this interpretation.
The "too much junk" verse can also fit in with this. Often people with severe anxiety will discard items seemingly at random, in the mistaken belief (hope?) that it is the items that is causing their problem.
I can Attest to that actually. According to this interpretation this song sums up my life in 2004 and 2005 perfectly.--Lemmy 22:37, 4 January 2008 (UTC)

My interpretation is similar but slightly different than the consensus above. The Narrator got fed up wasting his life with is pointless, meaningless job so he quits. Like most people who hate their jobs, they think it'd be great to be able to just do nothing. But now he realizes that not having a job and doing nothing can drive you absolutely crazy, which is what is happening to him. His "new job" is "staying at home going crazy", metaphorically speaking.

The "Too much junk..." verse refers to him being so bored that he starts cleaning the house (as some people tend to do) to keep him you just flip out and go damn we don't need this, and this and that, what are we doing with all this junk? Basically he becomes obsessive/compulsive to deal with his boredom/craziness.

The "Deep end..." verse refers of course to the narrator going "off the deep end". Where some people talk about going crazy, he really is, he knows first hand what it's like now.

I second this. In fact, he might have even had a stressful job and finally retired, only to find that he is stressed by the boredom, hence the cleaning house, climbing the walls. ~Christina Miller, June 2007

The narrator is sick of his life doing pointless activities like chewing his nails and chasing his tail. He decides to get a new and important job, which is climbing the walls. Of course, the listener knows that climbing walls is pretty meaningless too, so it's objectively a sad song. Although, he gets to feel good about himself now, so maybe we should be happy for him.

I kind of like this idea but maybe it's just because of the existentialist/Sisyphus connection to it

i believe it is about a nasty drug habit thst leaves him crazy with nothing to do but stare at the wall. his condition got so bad that he had to quit his job and his anxiety and insecurities built so much that he couldn't be out in public anymore.

the junk in the song refers to drugs (junk is a common term for heroin but does not neccesarily have to be as it can refer to anything bad for us).

ok, maybe i ascribe to the other post with the "breakdown" scenario a bit more but this is another way to look at it and this can actually fit quite well into the other interpretation. the only difference being that drugs is what aided the mental collapse.

I subscribe to the drug theory, but I believe his job IS his addiction. His addiction got to be so consuming, it was like he was working at it. Now he's going clean and he's staying in his house and going through withdrawal anxieties, climbing the walls.

the statement "climbing the walls" is a metaphor for moving up in society. he is done with the floor and doing nothing like chewing his nails and chasing his tale. The wall is like a new opportunity.


Before reading, note that I am not fully convinced myself that this dialog was intended by TMBG, or is even correct, but it is a fun way to look at the album as a whole. My interpretation is based on the premises put forth by Milhouse911 in his/her interpretation of the song Impressed.

After reading Milhouse911's impressive interpretation of this song I have looked for similar themes in other songs on the album. The basic theme I see is a dialog about the transition from They Might Be Giant's limited fan base for 25+ years, and seeming carelessness about popularity into an attempt to move toward the mainstream; especially by working with mainstream producers for The Else. This dialog is put forward from several voices, each showing a different piece of the argument from one another, but as a whole creating a full picture of the Johns' real thoughts on the subject.

For a summary of my interpretation:

1. I'm Impressed introduces the idea to the audience just as TMBG themselves were introduced to the concept when they first thought of working with a mainstream producer. Read more about this interpretation of Impressed by Milhouse911.

2. Climbing the Walls, along with the original argument from Impressed, are pieces of the dialog arguing for going more mainstream.

3. Feign amnesia, along with slight words of encouragement from Take Out the Trash, and The Cap'm, provide a regretful voice, and argument against going for more mainstream.

4. The Mesopotamians wraps up the dialog as seen from the collective consciousness of the band, much like #1. This song portrays a conclusion where although voice #2 seemingly wins out, TMBG does not forget it's background or voice #3's argument.

(see my interpretations in these 4 songs)

Climbing up the walls is the song which to me represents the strongest piece of the argument for going more mainstream and working with mainstream producers. Part of TMBG feels that they are tired of grinding their teeth and wasting their youth -- as in being not very well known for their 'youth', or the last 25 years. Now they are going to try something new – climbing the walls, or growing in mainstream popularity. Although I would not, and I doubt TMBG themselves would, consider their previous discography junk, the voice of this song is the part of the band's consciousness which is completely in favor going mainstream, and somewhat sick of TMBG's classic role.

Instances of supporting lines:

"Don't call me back, I won't get the door" -Don't try to get me to go back to classic TMBG because I won't.

"I was grinding my teeth, I was wasting my youth" -This voice was always wanting to become more popular, so it has always been grinding it's teeth, and wasting time not trying to be popular and mainstream.

"Hanging my head, chasing my tail" -This voice has had to live with hanging it's head the whole time TMBG wasn't attempting to become more mainstream.

"It got so bad I quit my job, then I got a new job climbing the walls" -I got so sick of being only somewhat famous, so I made a new album which is aimed to be mainstream in my attempt to climb the wall of popularity

"People talk a lot, but they don't know They pretend, they pretend They don't really know how deep it goes" -People may mean the other voices in the entire dialog. These other people pretend that TMBG hasn't always wanted to be more mainstream. They don't really know how deep this current voice is rooted in TMBG.

--JeshuaBratman 05:43, 31 August 2007 (UTC)

     -As sad as this makes me, I think you're right.  I was in denial up until I read that this is their only album in which every song is longer than 2 minutes and in which the accordion makes no appearance, both of which most people think is weird.

I heard this song today on the radio, being a recovering crystal meth addict, I knew instantly what it was about. The wanna be intellectuals who claimed to see allusions to Sisyphus or Existentialism can save their analysis for the classroom. It's not about the 'corporate ladder' or finding happiness in a dead end job.

There are peculiarities and idiosyncrasies associated with people using any drug. In this song several very clear references to the world of meth are made. First of all, 'climbing the walls' is something you do when your high on speed, not heroin or weed. Grinding teeth (hence the term 'meth mouth'),chewing nails and pacing the floor are classic meth using behaviors. The word 'tweaker' was invented to describe someone on meth who can't sit still, or stop 'chasing their tale'. People high on meth are known to take things to and from the junk yard, this is known as,'dumpster diving'.

The song also have several generic references to the hopelessness, futility, and loneliness of drug addiction: He talks about the intrinsic self-hatred associated with addiction; "hanging my head". "The deep end" can be very deep, as he says in the song-- many of us will put ourselves through tremendous pain, risk our lives over and over, before we decide to get help. -

It's just about a guy who keeps complaining about how much his life sucks, then decides one day that he's not just gonna mope anymore--he's gonna take action and start rebuilding his life. Pretty simple, I think, and actually quite a positive message. ~Anna Ng hears your words. 01:07, 13 February 2008 (UTC)

I believe the song is a metaphor of the transition from college living to suburban living. The narrator gets a new job (which he thinks is important, at first), cleans his house... starts anew. In the end he realizes he's 'staying where we are'. He seems to be suggesting that all that grinding was for the purpose of getting another meaningless job.

I don't think the narrator commits suicide. Although 'the deep end' could be interpreted that way, the 'how deep it goes' part doesn't make sense to me for it to be suicide.

If anyone here has ever played an MMORPG (glad I don't)... I think this song sums up that kind of video game perfectly.

This song is about someone that joins the army. --Jason DeLima 02:07, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

It's just about a job hopper, it's pretty obvious.

The lyrics and the melody sound to me more like someone who is still wasting time and being monotonous, which woulx imply that the job-switch didn't actually help. I think we have an unreliable narrator who believes he has moved on but is still in denial. The time wasting is all in past tense, but he seems to re-itterate a lot and repeat words and phrases as if he is still waisting time. Moreover "job" implies something productive but we never hear any accomplishments or even goals of "climbing the walls." The way it is phrased it sounds just as monotonous as any of his other activities.

That's how I know he's still being useless; as for what that means, I think the narrator was initially indecisive but when he tried to make decisions was incapable of making good ones. He clears his room, but when he gets to the dump he ends up staying there, so why clear the room in the first place? He is supposed to turn at the wall, but when he gets tired of staring at it he does the first thing that comes to mind and just keeps going forward. He doesn't want to pace the floor, so he decides he's done with it completely instead of just walking somewhere useful. He's tired of going in circles so he walks a straight line into the middle of nowhere.

Open your eyes.[edit]

The Else is Linnell's vision for the band. This song is about Linnell being happy that he made the sounds that he's been wanting TMBG to make. You can obviously hear in the songs the heavier guitar riffs, none of the songs are under 2 minutes, they're all full length feature songs. This entire album is a dialogue between the two johns about the direction that TMBG is headed. Linnell wanted the album to sound like it did, Flansburgh was wary, thought the old sound and structure was good enough to stick with. 'Don't fix what ain't broken' is what he's trying to say.

I think a lot of people are ignoring the actually meaning of "climbing the walls", which is to be extremely nervous or upset.

My guess would be, given the meaning of the phrase "climbing the walls", the song is about the protagonist's bout with stress until ultimately, he kills himself by jumping to his death ("I misunderstood, thought the wall was just good for staring blankly at." i.e., the height he jumps from becomes the proverbial "wall.")

Self-employment as Self-actualization[edit]

A lot of people have pointed out the clear narrative about getting sick of a stressful, dead-end job (grinding my teeth, wasting my youth, pacing the floor) and quitting, only to be stuck at home and start climbing the walls (going crazy from boredom).

I think this is only half the story though, and that this song features the kind of deliberate double-meaning tmbg use a lot.

The song is about quitting a job you hate to chase your dreams. The cynical view of this is that most people aren't prepared or committed enough to make that work. The narrator is seen as either delusional about "climbing the walls" being an important new job, repeating his grievances about his old work to encourage himself - or perhaps he's just broken, resigned, and claiming he'd rather climb walls than work there.

But it is possible to succeed and create a career for yourself, to do something you love. In fact, this is what the Johns have done by making a career out of TMBG. So it would seem odd for this song to be so negative on the idea. To me, the song is describing the rat race, and it's easy for us to extend the metaphor from "pacing the floor" and "chasing my tail" to rats in a maze. Here, the rat who climbs the wall is one who escapes the maze, and leaves the cycle of thankless jobs behind to do something else with his life - he's "done with the floor". It's a cathartic song proclaiming victory over the doubts and pressures that held him back from that ambition.

That doesn't discount the other reading - I think from the grimly determined tone (akin to Til My Head Falls Off) this song acknowledges the risks and societal disapproval involved in trying to carve out your own path. But it's using that negativity to fuel a defiant, victorious stand against wasting your life.

Dog Reincarnated as a Spider[edit]

'I can't talk, I got to go/Don't call me back, I won't get the door'

Spiders can't talk, or get the door.

'Now I'm done chewing my nails/Hanging my head, chasing my tail/It got so bad I quit my job/Then I got a new job climbing the walls'

I know one of my dogs loves chewing his nails and hanging his head. My other dog loves to chase her tail. If the dog died, then its soul, presumably the narrator, may interpret each life on earth as a job.

'I got tired of pacing the floor/Sick of it all, I'm done with the floor'

My dog often paces the floor.

This sounds really stupid, I know.

Leaving your first ever job[edit]

I believe that this song is about leaving your first ever job. The narrator in this song is telling their boss that they’re leaving the place.

The job might not be ideal for this narrator, and he wants to leave. So he does. - HotelDetectiveInTheFuture🪗 talk 🎸 18:21, 9 April 2022 (EDT)

Temporary Reinvigoration[edit]

The protagonist grew very tired of his day-to-day life being unproductive, repetitive, and generally unhelpful to the world. He threw it away in favor of climbing the walls, as it is a new and exciting experience for him, causing him to feel as though his life finally has a purpose. However, it is truly not any more productive than his previous work. Him climbing the walls won't do the world any good. He will become dissatisfied again. Theymightbescientists (talk) 18:27, 11 August 2023 (EDT)