Interpretations:I'll Sink Manhattan

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A fantasy of gaining the upper hand in an unpleasant relationship -- taking control and ending it all -- from a powerless and weak individual.

I've always gotten the impression that the narrator is the same one from "New York City" and the songs represent two different aspects of the same relationship, first he's in love with the girl and because they dated in New York, he came to associate the city with his relationship with her, then she breaks up with him, and because he strongly associated New York with her, he decides that he wants to destroy it by sinking it into the ocean. --Reeve the Cat 23:19, 13 Jan 2005 (EST)

TMBG didn't write "New York City".
Peter Schilling wrote Major Tom as a sequel to David Bowie's Space Oddity, so why couldn't TMBG write I'll Sink Manhattan as a sequel to New York City?
Because this song was written 7 or 8 years before New York City. --ZippZapp 18:20, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

ANOTHER TAKE: Telephones (and means by which we communicate in general) are steady themes in the work of the Johns, and this song continues that motif. The song itself begins with a phone ring, accompanied by the backwards masking of what sounds like a recorded message.

The lyrics tell of someone content to drown the entire island of Manhattan in order to terminate the relationship of a a loved one. The imagery suggests a literal interpretation of the actual drowning of the city (one line concedes, "I'll sacrifice friends"), but the pairing of images is very metaphoric. Consider the following:

You were so happy With the things that you said Like, "He's my lower half," you laughed But you're going to cry A river of tiny tears flow from your crocodile eyes Too late to apologize, I say, as flood waters rise

It seems the island will sink by way of the tears that issue from the eyes of the love object. Yet the position in the song seems to be that said love object can never suffer the kind of pain suffered by the narrator himself (the tears are of the 'crocodile' variety, commonly called so if sincerity is in question). On a metaphoric level therefore, one might conclude that the song is simply about the narrator seizing the opportunity to break up the relationship first, hoping to relish whatever scant amounts of pain this will cause the love object (pain that, of course, pales next to that which the narrator himself has already experienced).

How does this breakup manifest? With a phone call, of course, and a message left on an answering machine:

I've got a message So before I get through I'll find your answering machine And I'll sink it first

Literally, it would make sense that the answering machine would be the first to go (since the tears would begin to flow after hearing the message). Metaphorically, the answering machine may represent a larger component of the relationship. Breakup may be only the latest of many sentiments expressed on the machine. The narrator was presumably sincere when love was the context of previous records, be it via phone messages, letters, poems, or anything else. It would make sense, therefore, that the narrator would want to obliterate all record of such expressions (hoping perhaps that, in doing so, confessions of love cannot linger amidst his present bitterness). The irony, of course, is that his own sincerity is not being called into question, only that of the message's recipient (from whence the 'crocodile' tears come - his own tears are heartfelt).

It should be noted that while a great many TMBG songs are rather dour in content, the melodies that accompany them are often quite playful and lilting. This is one of the few songs that actually sounds like the dirge the lyrics suggest it is.

The meaning of this song is relatively obvious--a man breaks up with his girlfriend in a breakup so painful that he wants to kill his ex. And if that requires killing hundreds or even thousands of innocent people, so be it. ~Anna Ng hears your words.

Whenever i hear this song I have this crazy fantasy of Flansy dressed as a ganster with a tommy gun going scarface on a bunch of peolpe. This is probobly the darkest and most vivid TMBG song ever to me--drworm818

There is also some passing incidental wordplay in the early lines about finding the "sweetest spot to watch".

Namely, the "sweet spot" in golfing is the best place on the club to hit the ball with, when attempting to "sink" it. Youngwilliam 11:35, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

My perspective on this is impacted by my status as a survivor of domestic abuse, mind. A dehumanizing relationship can really fuck with one's head. It's tempting to take drastic action to achieve vindication, even if it would harm others along the way. This song has always been poignant to me, as it relates the emotion of wanting to do anything it takes to hurt the one who made you feel that way, to deliver with unquestionably certain authority that there are some things you just don't do to people, and that if you do, the consequences are entirely on your hands, regardless of how unreasonable the actions taken. That a situation where a person is struck so low risks robbing them of all the things that would stop them from actions with horrific collateral damage, and as the proximate cause, any blood spilled in the aftermath is on the hands of the abuser.

At the same time, it reflects why I could never pursue real vengeance against my abuser. Because the collateral -is- horrific. My friends may fully understand, but, just like how my abuser had no right to treat me like a pawn towards their edification and ambitions, I have just as little right to do that to anyone else.

I feel like the narrator knows this, knows what they're doing is wrong. But they're filled with the steely resolve that comes so easily to survivors of dehumanizing domestic abuse (be it physical, emotional, psychological, or something else).

I am struck by how the song seems to switch between literal (as flood waters rise) and figurative (I'll sink your answering machine) uses of sinking. Possibly the whole thing is a metaphor for showing people the worst aspects of humanity? The consequences of humanity's inhumanity? Thus sinking all who hear into the abyssal depths of despair?

Dunno. Sorry if this is all stupid and incoherent. - Vidihawk

Lower Half[edit]

My interp of "he's my lower half": she left our vengeful narrator (who we will call John) for someone else she likes better (we will call him Jeff). One conventionally refers to one's current mate as "my better half", but she calls Jeff "my lower half" to revel in his prowess as a lover, insinuating perhaps that John was lacking in that department by comparison. She's "so happy" at the cleverness of her own joke that she laughs at it - and at John - to press home the insult. --Nehushtan (talk) 00:47, 4 August 2019 (EDT)