Interpretations:I Should Be Allowed To Think

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I may be going on a limb here, but it could be possible that this song is about Kurt Cobain, who died earlier in the year before this album was released, so it's not impossible that it couldn't be... i just get the idea from describing "paper stains on the utility poles" as associated with the kind of band Nirvana was, and "I should be allowed to shoot my mouth off" could be to do with how he killed himself because he shot himself in the head.--Ralph 12:02, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

This song is poking fun at teenage rebellion and thinking you're more intelligent than anyone else or someone in a similar mindset.

It shows a person complaining that he cant put up his band's poster up in some public viewing place (possibly a grey utility pole).

He then proceeds to over-dramatize his situation and claims that he is some sort of silenced genius that must be heard.

-Michael Edward Willenzik III

The first line is from the Allen Ginsberg poem "Howl."

-- Eric Vogl

"My guess is that well over 80 percent of the human race goes through life without having a single original thought." - H.L. Mencken

This is either a powerful song in support of freedom of speech or a denunciation of how stupid idea abuse the freedom. It could really go either way, but considering how John came down on tort reform, it's probably the latter.

Or maybe it's a complaint of how only stupid people get to speak ("the worst bands [were on] drywall ... [but] I should have a call-in show") and everyone else parrots their ideas ("I am not allowed / to ever come up with a single original thought ... I should be allowed to think").

In New York City around the time this song was written, there was a city ordinance planned that would have made it illegal to glue up posters; part of the Giuliani years' crusade against quality-of-life violations.

Yeah, the 1st impression I had after listening to this was that it was a song expressing frustration with the man. I can relate : )

I'm almost certain this is both a support of freedom of speech/expression/etc. and an expression of annoyance at those who abuse it. It's saying that this guy wishes he could make his statements to the world, because he knows they are important and/or interesting, and he's annoyed at all of the idiots figuratively shouting so loud that he can't be heard.

I think the song's about some delusional, paranoid, and slightly mad nut ("I was the worst hope of my generation; destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical") who think's somebody's keeping him down not allowing him to think ("I am not allowed / To meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me"). The fact that's it's just one agent makes me think that the narrator is just really neurotic and possibly afraid to express himself or even think to himself in front of this shady character, who may or may not be a figment of the guy's imagination. Of course, the narrator obviously has the ability to think, seeing as he makes these words, so it's these fearful thoughts that keep him from thinking that he can think. ~ magbatz 17:26, 19 June 2007 (UTC)

I think this song is a reference to the book 1984, in which people aren't allowed to think or they are taken by the Thought Police. I think this song is 1984 through the eyes of the main character Winston who goes against the government for love.


The funny thing about the first line is that Linnell sings/speaks it in such a placid, matter-of-fact manner. Ginsberg's 'Howl' was generally emoted to death in coffee shops across the country by breast-beating, bearded, beaded beatniks who presented it as a revelation! Linnell prefers to talk about grief and death with the tone one would use to biggie-size a combo meal at a drive-through window. It seems like a reproach to whiny emo acts. --Nehushtan 21:52, 9 Apr 2006 (CDT)

the interesting part of this song to me is how sure the narrator is that he is the one who should be allowed to speak. he is too busy trying to make his point to consider if his point is valid

I'm pretty sure that this song is about uniformity, and the narrator is saying that he should be able to stand out in the crowd. Good point. =) Great jorb Linnell. ^~ --Lemita 08:57, 5 Jul 2006 (MDT)

It's against censorship, although largely exxagerated. And it's not ABOUT the band guy, it's using that as an example. ~AgentChronon

Think about some of the ways that speach is represented in this song: "I should be allowed to shoot my mouth off", "I should be allowed to blurt the mearest idea, if by random whim one should occur to me." This song is an ironic parody of teenage "rebels" who naively believe they are being persecuted, when in fact they are simply being annoying. After all, if the narrotor isn't allowed to think, how does he manage to write a song?

The song is a rebellious song, duh. I think TMBG originally decided to make it non-exxagerated, but they got out of hand ;) ~AgentChronon

I'm not sure... but I think this song is about how someone should be allowed to think.


The song seems to be from the point of view of a stereotypical teenage group or person, struggling with their local laws and school rule enforcement. Example: (I saw the best minds of my generation, destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical...) a whining about how "the man" is pushing down our protagonist, and many before him. (...I should be allowed to glue my poster...) Possibly a reference to a specific guideline enforced in the character's school, restraining them from posting things such as fliers on school grounds. (...and I should be allowed to blurt the merest idea, if by random whim one occurs to me...) Basically a different wording for the title of the song, the last bit could be a jab at naive teenagers who, claiming that they have no free speech, didn't have any good ideas in the first place. (...if necessary leave paper stains on the gray utility pole...) Could have something to do with the "I should be allowed to glue my poster" thing. (...I saw the worst bands of my generation, applied by magic marker to dry wall...) I'm not sure about this one, as far as I can tell, it doesn't fit with the main idea. (...I should be allowed to shoot my mouth off, I should have a call in show...) Could mean "I should be allowed to commit suicide if I want to (possibly another jab)" and the other part representing (again) the main theme of the song. (...I am not allowed to ever come up with a single original thought...) If you can't get this one, and admit it, GTFO my internets (...I am not allowed to meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me...) "I am not allowed to talk to the supervisor about changing these rules/laws". (...I was the worst hope of my generation, destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical...) Past-tense, perhaps our protagonist is in college now, realizing that he did nothing to help the situation, or didn't do enough. (...I should be allowed to share my feelings, I should be allowed to feel...) Obvious. (...I am not allowed to think, I am not allowed to think, etc. ...) is probably still in college, STILL whining about "not being allowed to think".

I hope I helped -Denxel

My interpretation is that there's more than one narrator. One is the teenage rebel mentioned above, who doesn't like 'conformists', etc., and is just upset at people not listening to his or her ramblings. One is somebody genuinely desperate at the sameness of modern society- 'I am not allowed to ever come up with a single original thought'. One is either a whistleblower/opposition member in a poor democracy, or paranoid ('the criminal government agent')- or both, in different countries perhaps. One has actually been destroyed by being forced to conceal his/her thoughts and feelings (a gay man in a conservative society? someone in a forced marriage? plenty of options) ['I should be allowed to feel']. One is someone who wants to rant about something, and wants a call-in show to do it. Thus the song overall is about free speech, its good and bad points, the consequences of having or not having it and so on; all of whom 'should be allowed to think', though some have a little more validity in their complaint than others. --Thom

Sometime in ’93, around the time this song was being written and recorded, the city of Seattle was pushing hard for the ban of posters and ads on utility poles and streetlights. The ban went into effect in ’94, and consequently, promotion for local bands and entertainment was significantly restricted. Many Seattle citizens felt that the ordinance impinged upon freedom of speech, as well as would lead to a degradation of Seattle's music scene, the arts, and political communities.

This song comes from the point of view of someone protesting the Seattle poster ban. Trying to appear intellectual, the speaker cites Ginsberg's "Howl,” which was banned for obscenity in 1956. Not only does the narrator probably not understand “Howl,” but he/she does not seem to comprehend the personal, artistic, and cultural liberties that such bans threaten. Ironically, the speaker believes that the ban somehow interferes with his/her impulse to think and spout nonsense, and is fighting for the “right” to leave paper stains. -=ez

--EZamor 07:31, 2 June 2009 (UTC)

Criticism of Public School[edit]

One of the possible meaningings of this song is the conformist agenda of the public school system, particularly early levels, like elementary school. all of us have likely had to do an arts and crafts project for a class in school, such as making a poster, and except in exceptional cases, we have all faced pointless and unneccissary rules and regulations, such as not being able to use glue in the construction of the poster. the song goes on to confront schools for discouraging original thought and self-expression of all kinds, and basically goes with the assertion that only the conformed and conditioned thinkers can succeed in school. if the word "school" substitutes "maddness starving hysterical", then this meaning becomes clear.

The title reminds me of the scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz", who needed a brain. -- Buzzmusic100 ("Keep your voice down...")

I saw the best Johns of My Generation Quote Allen Ginsberg in some of their poetry...[edit]

Dear Readers,

The first two lines of "I Should be Allowed to Think" are an almost direct quotation of the opening stanza of Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, "Howl." Dedicated to writer Carl Solomon, "Howl" opens thus:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.." (Ginsberg, 1956)

This the Johns adapted into this opening lyric:

"I saw the best minds of my generation Destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical I should be allowed to glue my poster I should be allowed to think"

Now, one could hardly imagine John Linnell singing a musical adaptation of Ginsberg, but this song is a blatant, open tribute to Allen Ginsberg. Well, anyone should be allowed to think.

Referring to the controversial poster, in 1966, Ginsberg was featured in the Ken Kesey "Acid Test" TRIPS Festival Part 2 poster naked from the thighs upward, his left hand cupped with the fingers joined on top of his reproductive organs. Beatnik and later Hippie posters were often considered so controversial due to sexual and occult content that very often, they were banned from public view. Beatnik and later Hippie art and poetry were also legally challenged in obscenity trials frequently, with the ACLU and left-leaning First Amendment attorneys defending the Beatniks and Hippies and allowing them to create literary classics of their respective eras. Hallucinogenic-inspired posters still appear frequently as newer music bands adopt their styles, for example, the art surrounding the "Acid House Music" of the early 1990s.

The legacy of the Beatnik generation, including Ginsberg and his associates William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, continues on to today's popular culture, and "I Should Be Allowed to Think" is certainly a continuance, nay, an homage, to that.


Ginsberg, Allen. (1956) Howl And Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Books, p.9.


R. C. August

Another one that didn't work. Perhaps a proto version of "Johnny" from Can't keep Johnny down this song appears to me about the dangers of joining a band, especially if that band is not successful. All the more galling when the other bands are successful! Muscially uninspired, the Giants were running into the problem they've had to deal with ever since having the full band. For all the advantages it brings in playing live, they did, as Bill Krauss has correctly said, lose something when the stopped playing as a duo. (it's my fondest hope that they record an album with just the two of the again + Bill Krauss!) What was it that they lost? Well some of their unorthodoxy for a start. Musically it plods and we also get lazy lyrics about "government agents". One of the dangers of writing emotionally distant songs is that if the lyrics aren't sharp it won't work, especially if the melody isn't there to back it up. However, the lyric about the worst bands of my generation is a highlight and when one looks back to 1994, how many of the bands then are still going strong now, or were even going strong 18 months later? Go Giants! (Mr Tuck)

I always thought it was about how science has been held back by the government.

I think this song is about the first amendment and being allowed to express the narrator's self. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Xxapb134xx (talkcontribs) 15:48, March 10, 2019

Linnell hates hippies[edit]

I see the song "I should be allowed to think" as continuing some of the themes of "I've got a match", which expressed Linnell's frustration with the foggy thinking of hippy types.

Here, the narrator is proclaiming his right to free speech, but what this "free speech" actually involves is mere juvenile self-indulgence. The narrator blames a "criminal government agent" for his woes, parodying the way unthinking extremists of both Left and Right anthropomorphise the laws and general social mores that prevent them from acting without consideration for other people. Finally, the paranoid thinking is taken to its logical conclusion, which is that any form of legal or social limitation of the individual amounts to oppression designed to nullify all individual and creative thought. "The Man won't let me glue my poster on the wall -- this is like Nazi Germany!" And suchlike nonsense.

More generally, I think this song can be seen as an essay on the necessary limits to free speech. The original, ideal conception of free speech was that it enabled open discussion of political, social, scientific and artistic ideas - such open discussion having previously been prevented and punished by religious and secular authorities. This free speech was supposed to be expressed through civil discourse; it was not meant to be a license to inconvenience or discomfort other people. The reference to Ginberg's "Howl" is in fact a mockery of the notion that all self-expression is artistically valid.
-- Thread Bomb (talk) 21:50, 22 March 2020 (EDT)

The people in charge![edit]

I feel like this song is about a manipulating government that is brainwashing their people to think in a certain way and also to get people to be the same as each other, in other words communism.

John Henry is All About the Same Death, But in Alternate Realities Tour[edit]

Ok, welcome again to the John Henry is All About the Same Death, But in Alternate Realities Tour. My theory on this one is that this guy is fed up with the government destroying everything he loves. So he gets depressed and ultimately kills himself, and his final words are "I should be allowed to think." That was relatively short but it makes soon. Now we're headed to Interpretations:Extra Savoir-Faire for our next show. - HotelDetectiveInTheFuture🪗 talk 🎸 22:01, 27 June 2022 (EDT)