Interpretations:I Can Hear You

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MTV Unplugged[edit]

I have no interpretation to offer for the lyrics directly, but given the method of production, is this not the ultimate 'unplugged' (re: the MTV craze of the early 90's) song.

Interpretation 2[edit]

It seems to me like this is just Flansburgh spouting off phrases that might be heard in the faint, tinny, just barely audible tones that characterize this recording. Someone talking over a bad connection, an apartment intercom, a drive-thru restaurant box, the muffled voice of a car alarm -- we have all struggled to make out another human voice in these and other situations. Yet we do -- we can just barely hear that other person -- and so the song becomes a song about connections made against incredible odds, people reaching out to each other in an increasingly technologized world. It's beautiful, really. Radiohead would be proud. Plus it's got the ill tuba.

Interpretation 3[edit]

For Octofish, because he heard me. Lines 596-606 from Robert Browning's poem, "Paracelsus":

At times I almost dream
I too have spent a life the sage's way,
And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance
I perished in an arrogant self-reliance
Ages ago; and in that act, a prayer
For one more chance went up so earnest, so
Instinct with better light let in by death,
That life was blotted out - not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,
Dim memories, as now, when once more seems
The goal in sight again.

When I read these lines of Browning's, I had the rare feeling I'd been heard, which was odd (and the picture abruptly changed), because the author died over a hundred years ago. Later, when you wrote, "Hope springs eternal" and "I can hear you" on my vanity page, the connection in my mind between you and Browning was immediate.

The irony here is that despair also springs eternal, which is to say irony itself springs eternal, and that it's beautiful we all die frustrated and sad.

So it goes.

Still: I just worked a double shift which ended at 7 a.m., and although I wished for a graceful end to my life more than once before sunrise, I was glad when I read your comments I had survived the night.

That is my interpretation of the TMBG song, "I Can Hear You." --Flux 12:50, May 30, 2004

Interpretation 4[edit]

More than a song about connections, I think it's a comment on the state of technology and its failures to deliver on promises. We've all strained to hear a message, poorly-reproduced by some technological gizmo, that sounds like "I Can Hear You." I think They are pointing out the irony that, despite 119 years of progress, most recordings today still sound no better than Edison's original wax cylinder recordings. (Is it doubly ironic that they then recorded this on a CD?) --Saxifrage 04:08, September 3, 2004

I disagree with the above interpretation. My feeling is that it's all phrases we are able to say or hear thanks to Edison. Because of his inventions, our cars can talk, we can call home from a plane, we can buzz our buddies into our apartments. If it weren't for him, the best we'd have is recordings like, well, this song. --Brian Q 00:32, February 27, 2005

Interpretation 5[edit]

This is TMBG, remember, so it's irony. Yes, we still endure barely audible voices, but I think they also want to convey the idea that despite the great efforts man has made to apply technology to the transmission of the human voice in a variety of circumstances, what we have to say is often more banal than what the inventors might have imagined?

This song is one of their best, marrying theme and style with a great tune, like "Mink Car" or "Reprehensible". --Balb Kubrox 17:28, January 31, 2006

Overthinking it[edit]

I seriously think that you guys are just looking WAY too into this. I believe that it is about all those places where you can hardly hear or understand someone, such as at a drivethrough. That's it, plain and simple. --ArAn 13:56, 1 Feb 2006 (EST)

Interpretation 7[edit]

Well, think about where the song was recorded. I for one think that it's a person using an old telephone back when they were first invented. He's calling proudly, telling the person on the other end that he can hear him/her. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:45, May 1, 2006


this song always depresses me. just the way it sounds. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Thestatuegotmehigh (talkcontribs) 15:24, December 27, 2006

Interpretation 9[edit]

This song seems like an homage to recordings and audio systems everywhere, appropriately set in a far off tunnel with plenty of feedback and hiss. But maybe it's just me —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:12, October 2, 2008

Interpretation 10[edit]

C'mon, all. This is TMBG. In a very, very early audio recording studio (sans electricity, even); indeed, in such a monumental and historic venue, the Johns record a song about crappy audio reproduction.

It's epic. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:44, October 12, 2010


All of the above comments plus, in spite of advances in technical devices are we really communicating any better? I can just barely hear you -- especially when I'm doing all the talking. Such a beautiful, wistful little song! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:12, October 30, 2010

Tobin Sprout[edit]

I love this song. The production quality and lead vocal remind me of a Tobin Sprout GBV song. That is a good thing.  :) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:49, March 18, 2015

Emotional Distance[edit]

This is my first post to the TMBW site.

I think the song is about how machines have replaced a lot of human interaction and humans have essentially distanced themselves from each other with machines. The viper alarm is a machine providing a pre-recorded message; the call from the plane is actually a machine (the phone) delivering the message from far away - and the line "I'll call you when I get there" suggests that even when the speaker is closer, they will still be communicating with a machine separating them; buzzing a person in involves talking to them through a speaker box; and taking/giving an order at a fast food shop also involves talking through a speaker box. All of these involve communication through some machine rather than direct face-to-face communication, literally meaning there are machines in between us, distancing us from each other.

The line "I can just barely hear you" doesn't literally mean that I am having a hard time hearing (though this very well can be the case when communicating through machines, especially long-distance), but rather is suggestive of how much we have mentally and emotionally distanced ourselves from one another. The real "us" is not coming across through communication. Another thing common about all of the lines is that not only is the communication happening through machines, but everything being said is about the machines or other external objects (talking about the car, the plane, the buzzer, the fast food order); no real, personal communication is happening. Hence, we can barely hear each other, as we are not communicating our real selves to one another - most of what we say is static distorting our true feelings and thoughts. Finally, the old style recording just adds to that feeling of distance. --Created A Madman (talk) 21:04, 15 November 2018 (EST)

Interpretation e^2[edit]

Every time I listen to this song, I understand everything while it is being played and have no idea when it finishes. And this is beautiful. It might be (365-(1.2*52))*0.75))*11 ~> 2000 times. I'm pretty sure that I will understand it when I reach 20000. I will inform you when I do.

Audio Quality[edit]

It's a song about different situations where audio quality would be severely lacking. Classic TMBG.