Interpretations:I've Got A Match

From This Might Be A Wiki

Abusive Relationship, but not a couple[edit]

Every time I listen to this song, I always feel as if the meaning behind it is very obvious and clear. The type of meaning that is so clear it isn't up for debate (but of course, everything can be debated, and everything can be interpreted different ways).

But for me, this song is about parental abuse; abusive parents.

"I’m gonna die if you touch me one more time Well I guess that I’m gonna die no matter what"

The second line sounds so much like something a child would passive aggressively say when arguing with a parent. And the despair and hurt in the line sounds like that of a child who flinches whenever their parent goes to do something.

"Love, people are there The smell of love is everywhere You think it’s always sensitive and good You think I want to be understood I’ve gotta match your embrace with my collapse"

This sounds like someone telling the child their parent loves them, and everything they do is out of love. Whoever is telling this to the child seems to think parental love is always sensitive and good. This person who's speaking to the child is bound to say "it's okay" or "I understand" at one point or another (being the child is speaking about abuse), but the child doesn't want to be "understood", no one could possibly understand what it's like.

"Beat up the cat, if you need someone else on the mat I put a rock in the coffee in your coffee mug Which one of us, is the one that we can’t trust You say that I think it’s you But I don’t agree with that"

Now, I think this part comes from the point of view of a sibling of the abused child. For a few reasons. One being: children who are abused often apologize for their abusers, or still strive to be better for them, hoping one day maybe the abuse will stop. And so while the abused child may think they need to be better, the sibling of said child can recognize with no blurred vision that what the parent is doing is terrible. This sibling probably resents and hates the parent for hurting their sibling.

It could also be the abused child themself, speaking about how much they hate their parent. The first line (about the cat) is very passive aggressive (much like something a child would yell at their parent). The child hates their parent enough to put a rock in their coffee, that means something. Again with some passive aggressive behavior from the child, saying that even though their parent knows the kid doesn't trust them, that the parent shouldn't trust the child either. (a threat).

"Why can’t you be sensitive and good Why don’t you want to be understood?"

Playing on what people assume love is like, the child asks their parent why they aren't a good parent. Asking why the parent is like this, why the parent hurts them, why they won't make any sense.

The title of the song, and the main line to be repeated is the biggest give away to me.

"I’ve got a match; your embrace with my collapse"

The child (even though their parent is abusive) would do anything for their parent's love and approval; their embrace. But in order to get that praise, they must collapse first, since the parent is abusive.

The Giants at their very best. Linnell twisting the dynamics of the traditional love song. So strong was the material on Lincoln, that this only made a B side. (Mr Tuck)

It seems like this song is about a guy who's in a relationship with someone he doesn't really like, and she doesn't understand that he doesn't like her. This comes to a head in the song, and he really just tells her off.

I think the previous edit got this pretty well. The narrator is in an unbalanced relationship - though I suspect his/her partner is still very interested in the relationship, they don't understand the narrator's feelings - "You think it's always sensitive and good / You think that I want to be understood" who is in fact disillusioned with the whole deal, and is noticing all the other's faults - "Take off that stupid looking hat you wear". The narrator is tired of it. "I've got a match," which often refers to a couple matching, here refers to the parter's love - "Your embrace" - and the narrators disillusionment - "and my collapse." One of my favourite songs, as depressing as it can be.

~ Crummy

In case anyone is a bit slow on this, the song plays on the old smart alec retort to someone asking for a 'match': "Got a match?" "Yeah, your face and my ass." I was reminded of this song by Dylan Moran talking about how relationships tend to start passionately and eventually settle down to a level where the people involved can hardly look at each other without a feeling of mild disgust.

You're all wrong. JF and JL got lost, driving around. They needed to make an inventory of supplies. "I've got a match, your embrace, and my collapse...FLANSBURGH WRITE THIS DOWN!!"

Haha, you're obviously a slash writer. *high five* No, really, though, I agree with Crummy. This is a sad (but good) song, like They'll Need A Crane. -- 33marzi

Just a very cool song... I think the word poignant sums it up nicely. It's the end of a relationship. The trivia section (with Linnell getting choked up and this obviously great song never being played live anymore) really makes it sound painfully autobiographical, at least to some extent (who knows if hats were involved). ~ benthorot

This has gotta be one of the most straightforward TMBG songs. A girl's in love with a guy who used to love her, but doesn't anymore, for whatever reason. However, she just doesn't get the hint, so she still shows him affection. Anna Ng 22:11, 7 Apr 2006 (CDT)

I'd say this song is far and away the most depressing thing TMBG has ever written, and it's only appropriate that it comes from Linnell. To me, it's the story of a bitter end to a romantic relationship filled with nothing but nonstop fighting. In a way, it reminds me of a much more wrenching version of the Goldfinger track, "Pick a Fight:" "I can't be happy without you/You can't be happy without me/Still you always wanna pick a fight/You say it's written in the stars/Some psychic read it in my card/Still you always wanna pick a fight with me." ~ Anyonymous

This probably has to be in any serious fan's top ten, possibly top five. What' so wonderful about this, and its sister-song "They'll Need a Crane" is that the protagonists haven't simply fallen out of love. Their relationships are a mess, and probably on the verge of "collapse." However, "love people *are* there/ The smell of love is everywhere," meaning that these people have so much love left, enough that they can't just abandon each other. Even though the narrator feels that another touch from his love will kill him, he resigns himself to it ("Well I guess that I'm gonna die no matter what") Unfortunatly they're depleting their stock of it day by day, and unless they do something (which is something "Crane" broaches and this song leaves unsaid) they'll soon have none left. I wonder how many people have shared a similar experience. Werstyq 08:15, 22 May 2007 (UTC)

I think this song is a message from artist to fans.

The first verse is a reference to where music might be heard of first, through the car radio or (in the case of TMBG) through the phone. By this time the would-be fan has already begun touching the music calling it 'Quirky' or whatever. The artist is reluctant, he doesn't want over-thinking and misinterpretation to kill something beautiful, but immediately realizes it cannot be helped and concedes that it will die 'no matter what'.

The next verse contains two lines which can be interpreted in a multitude of ways and two lines which basically comments on how stubborn people can be about their subjective opinion. I'm guessing a lot of lines in TMBG songs suffer from 'I Am The Walrus' syndrome (intentionally uninterpretable, but people try anyway) and the first two lines of the second verse may well be an example of this.

As for the chorus. Well, a lot of TMBG listeners would be teenagers, and any song with ambiguity would be interpreted by a teenager as being about a teenage subject. So, I'm guessing 'Love People' would be teenagers, people going through puberty falling in 'love'. I'd say 'The smell of love is everywhere' is simply saying 'if you want a song about love, it exists everywhere. There's no need to interpret this song as a love song'. As for 'You think it's sensitive and good, you think I want to be understood' that's self-explanatory, people think TMBG are sensitive new age people because of what people understand their lyrics are about when in actuality they write their lyrics after their music and put very little thought into the meaning of the lyrics. 'You think I want to be understood' They don't, they couldn't care less, they want to make good music.

I do realize the irony in this interpretation, but it's how I've always seen the song and making an ironic, tongue-in-cheek song seems like something They Might Be Giants would do.


P.S. Don't criticize me for this outlandish interpretation of what may seem like a straightforward song to you. Love songs are overdone.

P.P.S. I also thought They'll Need a Crane was about construction, so sue me.

I have allways seen the relationship in this song as a good one, the narrator has been able to find someone equally annoying as himself. 19:52, 14 October 2008 (UTC)

My interpretation has alway been a rather gruesome one: for some reason, the narrator has decided to suicide via self-immolation. They have drenched themselves in gasoline in some public place, and the police have just arrived to intervene. They "step out of the car", take off their hat, put down the walkytalky after radioing for backup. He threatens to go through with the deed if they touch him (again, for some reason; perhaps he is a political protestor such as the Buddhist monks in South Vietnam or the GIs during the first Gulf War who suicided in this way, suggesting a prior history with the State in general and perhaps the police in specific.) The "smell of love" is the overpowering gasoline fumes; the match is a literal one poised to be struck.

I think this song is about a relationship. I think this relationship is between a guy (the singer) and a girl. I think that the singer has no faith or love in the relationship anymore. I think he feels this way because the girl in the song is more interested in the 'idea' of things than the actual reality.

The Idea of "which one of us is the one we can't trust", or
The idea of "Love" being "sensitive and good"
and finally, the idea of the singer in his position in the relationship--she is interpreting his actions deeper than his intention, meaning she thinks he wants to be understood.

The last verse is a very important one if you consider who is singing the two questions-- ideally, it would be the singer.

  • If you think that the singer is mocking the girlfriend by saying she wants the singer to be sensitive and good, then it means that the girl wants to force love out of him.
  • If you think that the singer is singing those questions to the girlfriend, it shows he feels that she's pushing the "misunderstood" and "not nice/good" conception onto the singer instead of discovering she are both of those.

I think that ultimately, this relationship is sucking the life out of the singer. He's tried so many times to be himself, or to try to make her happy, but the only match that will make the girl happy is her embracing him further, and the collapse of his strength/care/life.

--SoreThumb 03:52, 1 April 2009 (UTC)

Later thoughts by SoreThumb

What if their ways of showing love is his constant pushing her away, and her constant embrace? It sounds likely, since she keeps thinking he wants to be understood-- it might really just be his way of showing love.

Which is awkward. Not sure if that's the likeliest interpretation.

--SoreThumb 18:51, 16 June 2009 (UTC)

Out of curiosity, is the first line of the chorus supposed to be read as "Love-people are there," or "Love, people are there"?


first off, an apology, dear wiki: normally my interpretations are not serious. this one, to some extent, is. regardless of diction which may indicate certainty (high school english courses have done this to me) i do not believe it is actually what the song is about; however it has amused me for a few minutes now so here it is for you to enjoy, as well. the second in a tmbg meets classic english literature series. excuse the scatteredness.

warning: spoilers will most likely be contained ahead. go read lolita if you haven't!

this song is clearly an ode to nabokov's opus, lolita. let's have a look:

lolita opens with a fairly well-known paragraph (one which i have committed to memory, jussayin): "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul...", etc.

the reference to light/fire is pretty obvious, and though it's not the first line that drew me to connect the book with the song, it is the one that sent me over the tipping point. "i've got a match" could easily refer to Humbert Humbert's long-term "acquisition" of young Lo (the match [light; fire] being the girl). although it might be easier to say that Humbert's embrace leads to her collapse (i have the curious "cat" scratches on his arms in mind), her imagined embraces — H.H. being, after all, one of the most unreliable narrators, another factor which i suppose could have drawn JL to the subject — led to his own "collapse", as he admits, toward the story's end, to being a "maniac" who has "deprived [Dolly] of her childhood" (or something along those lines; i can't be bothered to check). this unreliable narration — with occasional lapses — may also account for the lyric switch on the final verse (though this could also be explained by the change in dynamic that occurs).

Humbert often stresses his own good looks. he describes himself (and recounts others noting) as resembling an actor, or a grown version of one of Lo's "dream lads". thus, he runs into the unfortunate issue of attracting a wide variety of (grown) women.

these are the "love people", i suppose. they overwhelm Humbert, who, were he not a pedophile, would probably be very happy and successful and married, or something.

Humbert is frustrated by Lo's Americanness. he finds her to be fairly dull, apart from her body and later tennis skillz. he frequently condemns her childish magazines/interests, and when the two settle in beardesley, he gives her many rules (no boys, no parties, you can only be in the play if you fellate me, etc etc).

this accounts for the opening set of lines in the song (imperatives). in particular i think "put down the phone", fits here, especially considering her eventual inclination to call for help, though it also fits with the idea of restricted communication with the opposite sex. "take off that stupid-looking hat you wear" may also be one of H.H.'s European jabs at Americana. but i don't know.

when Humbert Humbert visits Lolita for the last time, she says to him "Don't touch me. I'll die if you touch me." at the start of the story, it is revealed (albeit obliquely) that she dies in childbirth soon after, though she is already dead, having, for three years, been raped repeatedly by her stepfather.

"I'm gonna die if you touch me one more time; well I guess that I'm gonna die no matter what."

and thank you for reading, dear wiki. perhaps there is more to come. i wish only that i had more lyrical material to work with. and a less scrambled mind. -Apollo (colloquia!) 21:33, 17 January 2013 (EST)

A Sightly Different Perspective.[edit]

I know this song seems to have a fairly straightforward meaning, but I had an idea of a slightly different perspective that I found quite interesting.

The idea is this: the song is about a very, very old couple that has had a very, very difficult relationship (Possibly the couple from They'll Need a Crane?). They are perhaps together again, or just meeting up to settle their differences. Either way, they are sitting in a car together. All of a sudden the narrator feels death approaching (maybe a heart attack, or something like that.). Then this song begins and everything changes. The narrator expresses his true feelings as he sees no point holding back his emotions [take off that stupid hat you wear]. He realises the irony in that he feels that He'll die if he has to touch his partner again, but he is going to die anyway. They are presumably in a park, or somewhere where the Love people are there. As he feels death approaching he realises that love isn't all about being 'sensitive and good', its about the tough bits as well. To top it off as he says his last words his partner embraces him, but only as he collapse as death takes its hold. As he passes away he reflects on the senseless things they squabbled about and, again, reflects on the irony that his partner thinks that he thinks she will die first [The one that we can't trust] but it was actually him.

I know this is probably not the intended meaning, but I think its pretty thought-provoking, and it matches up pretty well with the lyrics and tone of the song.

Ukuleleman1 07:19, 25 January 2013 (EST) Felix

One small detail[edit]

A few people picked up on what I think is the idea they're getting at; it involves a couple made up of a narrator who's tired of and irritated with the relationship by now, and a woman who hasn't taken the hint. One thing worth noting is that it seems like he's kind of embracing the fact that he's being a terrible partner. He announces to her that he put the rock in her coffee, and he insists (rather tongue-in-cheek-ly) that he's quite certain that, despite her opinion, he doesn't at all think that she's the untrustworthy person in the relationship. He knows he's the guilty party, and he's asserting the role in hopes of her finally getting the message that he wants out of the relationship.

-Just a comment about the line "Love people are there, the smell of love is everywhere" I agree with common interpretation, that this is about a guy(or girl, I see nothing in this song to specify gender of either party,) wants out of, while this sentiment is not shared by his partner, and ultimately they're both unhappy. This line could be referring to people who are happy, love people who are in love and loving it, going around filling the air with the stench of their love, and all it does is remind these two that whatever they have is far from love, is nothing even vaguely resembling it.

Miscommunication, Mental Health, and a Deteriorating Relationship[edit]

When I listen to this song, I get the image of a relationship (platonic or otherwise) where one person involved is depressed or anti-social and disillusioned, while the other is trying their best to reach out and failing to do so.

The narrator is doubtful of themselves and has low self-esteem ("Which one of us is the one that we can't trust? / You say that I think it's you but I don't agree with that"), possibly bitter and/or jealous of others who are happy with something they don't have and the pressures of what they should be feeling in this situation ("Love people are there... You think that I want to be understood"), lashes out and feels they just bring the mood down where they go ("Take off that stupid looking hat you wear... Beat up the cat if you need someone else on the mat / I put a rock in the coffee in your coffee mug"), and the misunderstanding and failure to connect in the relationship feeds into this behavior ("I've got a match / Your embrace and my collapse").

On the other hand, the other person in the relationship who is trying to reach out and is failing is trying to be patient and sympathetic but slips up from frustration ("Why can't you be sensitive and good? / Why don't you want to be understood?"), straining the relationship further.

Earlier interpretations can also apply within this framework-- parent and child, romantic partners, potentially friends, etc.

A song about dating a hippy[edit]

This song is about dating someone you desire but don't respect. More specifically, it's about John Linnell dating a hippy.

  • "Take off that stupid looking hat you wear" - A great contradiction: desiring the loved one to disrobe, but at the same time mocking their dress sense.
  • "I'm gonna die if you touch me one more time" - This is a standard trope refering to sexual arousal.
  • "Love people are there / The smell of love is everywhere" - The stereotypical hippy is famous for using incense (e.g. patchouli), and also perhaps for being unwashed or not using deodorant. So where hippies ("love people") are, there is also a distinctive smell.
  • "You think it's always sensitive and good / You think that I want to be understood" - The loved one is unrealistically positive in outlook, and demands complete mental and emotional openness - standard hippy traits. The song's narrator is uncomfortable with this. (The second part might also refer to the way that fans want literal meaning from lyrics that are often mere linguistic associative games. Is John dating a fan here?)
  • "Which one of us is the one that we can't trust? / You say that I think it's you but I don't agree with that" - There is a lack of trust in the relationship, and John is saying in a roundabout way that he is the one who can't be trusted, because of his secret critical thoughts.
  • "Even when we get along" - Even when the couple are having a good time, John still has lurking doubts.
  • "Your embrace and my collapse" - Referring to the way one's critical facilities and moral position can be undermined by sexual/emotional arousal.

By the way, I have nothing against hippies, and find that they are pretty nice people on average. The person in this song seems to be a ditz in line with some of the girls Woody Allen's character dates in Annie Hall. -- Thread Bomb (talk) 00:07, 9 March 2020 (EDT)

not a whole theory, but a fun detail[edit]

"I've got a match" starts with a vocal melody that matches the riff that repeats at the end of Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. The line sung to it is "Get out of the car". Springsteen fans will remember that Thunder Road, of course, is a whole song trying to convince someone to get INTO a car. --Never (talk) 13:23, 3 June 2021 (EDT)