Interpretations:Lucky Ball & Chain

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Interpretation 1[edit]

I'd say "Lucky Ball and Chain" is about a man whose girlfriend/wife left him, and he's telling people about how wonderful their relationship was to make it seem like the woman left for no good reason, when in truth he knew she was unhappy and he was too, he's just looking for pity. --Reeve the Cat 23:20, 18 Jan 2005 (EST)

I would tend to agree more with the first interpretation. I believe that the narrator didn't fully appreciate the relationship he was in until it was gone. Now, four years later, he's lying to others to justify himself, but he realizes that the breakup was his fault, and that he lost something important. --Dairhenien

Pregnancy/abortion themes?[edit]

This is a stretch and I never realized this until I read the lyrics, but is it possible that there are some pregnancy/abortion themes? She threw away her "baby-doll" (which can more accurately be read as a term of endearment toward the singer, but bear with me) and the singer "drinks for two," as a pregnant woman would eat for two. Or is it that the drinking for two is intended to harm the baby, as all know that alcohol and pregnancy do not mix. --Benthorot

I fail to see how this could have anything to do with pregnancy or abortion or children.
Whats going on in this song is that the singer is spinning it to his side and then revealing (confidentially) that he knows it was his fault. The whole baby-doll part is just the singer referring to himself, implying that this girl treated him as being more precious to her than he really was.
As for the whole "drinking for two" part, the singer is simply saying, in a clever way, that he now drinks too much, that he is now drinking her share of drinks from a night on the town.
I personally feel that this is one of the most straight-forward song TMBG ever recorded --Sarcasmagasm 08:12, 5 November 2006 (UTC)
Maybe. I just can't help but think of the number of TMBG songs where the choice of words suggests related ideas without actually saying them explicitly. Since it's a trick of their's, as is word-play, it seems likely the placement of the the idea of rocking with eating/drinking for two is designed to suggest babies. --~Christina Miller, Dec 2006
Alright, so one person thinks that "drinking for two" simply implies that his wife's gone and that it's emphasizing his drinking habits, especially over her loss. And you say that they're implying through rocking the barstool and "drinking for two" that there was a baby on the way. Well, I've always kinda equated the meaning of the lines with both. I think the "drink for two" of course fulfills the literal by saying he's drinking a bunch and he's drinking for her since she's not there, but the "choice of words" as you said kind of suggests that mother-baby relationship, where in their relationship the singer is the helpless baby. So I think yes, rocking a barstool and drinking for two implies a child, just not in the literal sense. ~ magbatz 22:32, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
I accept that, magbatz. I'm of the school that the words mean what the reader perceives, provided there is some common basis in the language for that interpretation. (That's to rule out, say, a schizophrenic legitimately hearing a call to cut off his boss' head in the Star Spangled Banner.) I'm not sure that what the writer believes he meant counts as the demarcation of the outside possibility of meaning.
Given that, I will agree that it is legitimate to interpret this as the speaker not thinking literally about his lost child, if we are willing to concede the choice of wording suggests a parent-baby interaction somewhere in the tale. --~Christina Miller, January 2007

Interpretation 3[edit]

..the breakup was his fault, and that he lost something important.

And after those four years he understood why she was whistling there goes the bride when she walked out the door. And it still pisses him off.
I could shake my tiny fist
and swear I wasn't wrong
But what's the sense in arguing
when you're all alone? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:39, October 24, 2005

Interpretation 4[edit]

"Now I rock a barstool and I drink for two" is suppose to suggest babies without saying it - rocking is what you do to a baby and the "for two" to make you think "eating for two."

It's pretty clever, because with only a few words he gets across how pathetic he's feeling and what he lost - he didn't just lose his wife, he lost the chance for children with her, and rocking the barstool is the substitute for rocking a baby. Also, he's become a drunk - alcohol has become his food substitute.

Also, one of the reasons she left him is he talked too much, and that's exactly what he's doing here - burdening some fellow in a bar with his sad story. The music sounds happy, but it's a terribly lugubrious song, sort of "relentlessly dour," in fact. It's one of his better ones, and it doesn't get the respect it deserves, I feel. Like "You'll Miss Me." --~Christina Miller Oct 2005

I don't see why you all think that "Drink for two" implies a child. I always figured it meant he was drinking enough for two people, himself and his wife. Rocking a barstool is jut him being too drunk and wobbly to even keep his chair straight. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:57, June 19, 2006
There is nothing for certain, of course, but there is a cliche "You're eating for two now" usually used to remind pregnant women to eat, or to excuse a pregnant woman who is making a pig of herself. The use of the word "rock" in the sentence plus the nearness of "drink for two" to "eat for two," (heck, eat and drink are antonyms, further bringing this to mind) just seems to be too much of a coincidence not to be intentional. The only way to tell, of course, would be for someone to go ask Mr. Flansburgh. --~Christina Miller

Interpretation 5[edit]

Flans's song of regret for a lost love. A great punchline in the title of the song for why she left him, I doubt he calls his wife this. At the time in contemporary interviews he did complain about how hard it was to meet someone whilst on the road. A rare Giants song that can easily be identified as a song about a potential personal experience. --(Mr Tuck) 15:40, February 1, 2006

Child's perspective[edit]

If you want my opinion, it's from the perspective of a child who's mother left him. Uhm, I haven't heard it in a while, so I need to hear it again to post a full interpretation. So, there. Listen to the song with that in mind and it works. I think. --Lemita 01:24, 20 July 2006 (UTC)

They'll Need a Crane Part 2[edit]

I've always thought of this song as "They'll Need a Crane Part 2". I'm not sure exactly why. --Alice 13:45, June 15, 2007

Interpretation 8[edit]

Maybe I'm completely wrong, but when I hear it, I think of a mixture of the two competing ideas on this page. That the wife didn't actually walk out on him, but became pregnant and became a doting mother, so her attentions shifted from the husband to the child. He drinks for two not because she left him and he acts as if she's still there, but because she stopped drinking, for the baby. "There goes the bride" because she's more a mother than a wife now. She walked away from a happy man to focus on the child. All of that good stuff. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:06, November 17, 2008

Conflicted narrator[edit]

I think this is one of the most powerful TMBG songs, if only because it features the narrator being able to undergo introspection and recognize his own character growth. To go through part-by-part:

First refrain I, establishes that his girlfriend left him for talking too much. The fact that she was five feet tall may refer to her being a "ball of fire," a small (or timid) woman with a ferocious temper.

First verse, the narrator "held his pride," which seems to imply that he intended on getting along fine. Furthermore, the fact that she threw away her baby-doll seems to show that they were close. Also important is that he considers himself foolish then and foolish now, and that that is the only change he can see in himself since then.

First pre-verse, the narrator goes back on his word and says that in his telling of the story, he wasn't entirely truthful. He had initially mentioned that she called him baby-doll, which isn't actually true; and that he was very proud, and could get by, but such was not the case. He seems to be compensating here for what he wishes he had (a sturdy relationship and enough pride to get by).

Second refrain I

First refrain II, he "thought he was so cool"; that is to say, he was under the impression that the relationship was doing fine. This is corroborated by his saying that "she walked away from a happy man." When she left, he "stood there whistling," which goes back to the above point that he thought he could get by, when such was not the case. It should also be noted that "there goes the bride" is the narrator thinking about what could have been but wasn't.

Second verse, he contemplates fighting against the breakup, but fails to do so due to her not being there. Naturally he could have called her, but he decided that after she was gone, he was done with her. He gives up, saying that "you can't change your fate," and says that he knew then that she was gone for good.

-Second pre-verse, he reminisces about "her charms," which seems to imply that he still has feelings for her. He then goes on to mention that he made another accidentally-on-purpose error in his story by mentioning a home they shared; however, he felt perfectly at home when he was with her. This pre-verse exists to show that he hasn't given her up as much as he had made it seen.

End with refrains I and II.

The main running themes within the song seem to be pride, being able to let go of one's own feelings, and being truthful in telling a story. (The latter of the three is expressed in the pre-verses.)

That's just my humble opinion. Granted, I may be wrong. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:32, October 21, 2009

yesterday's epiphany[edit]

Not so much an interpretation as a musical epiphany. Listening to an interview on Terry Gross' 'Fresh Air' program with a songwriter who wrote many of the famous girl-group songs (Ronettes, Shangri-Las, etc.). In her song "Today I Met, the Boy I'm Gonna Marry", as she meets him she hears music playing "... here comes the bride, as he walked in the door." - and the TMBG tune uses the exact same melody and rhythm, while flipping the words around. --Marc Falk 22:51, October 21, 2009

also worth noting about the melody is the use of the very common doo wop progression (I-vi-IV-V) heard in songs like "earth angel" and "stand by me." the girl group comparison isn't too far-fetched when you look at it that way 01:31, 18 July 2014 (EDT)

Just a thought.[edit]

There's a chance that it doesn't mean anything at all, but I think an element that's being overlooked is the gunshot that can be heard during this song. Is this just a sound that they thought worked well and had no symbolism or significance? Perhaps. I personally don't think that's usually how They Might Be Giants runs things though. The character is already quite depressed and is going to alcohol for comfort. Does the gunshot mean more than the lyrics do? Is there a hinting toward suicide? Possibly not but I think it's very possible. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:40, November 28, 2009


Narrator was a 'cool guy' (aka total dbag) in high school who knocked some chick up and got her pregnant. He was such a lame-o to her that (she probably hadnt told him she was pregnant) she aborted the child, told him off, and left. He's not being pensieve and is depressed over the events that have transpired. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:19, February 13, 2011

Railroad Apartment[edit]

For years now, I'd thought 'railroad apartment' just meant something comparable to a motel; a boarding house by a train station, so folks who just came into town can get a temporary place while looking for real housing.

Turns out, it's an actual thing. A house where there's a series of rooms, all of which open up into a hallway that runs along one side of the house is a 'railroad house' (named after the way it resembles the setup of a train carriage). Generally, they're pretty cheap, due to the simple design.

I happened upon the same phrase in a Tom Waits song and thought, "Ok, either TMBG cited Tom Waits, or I should research this". YoungWilliam (talk) 01:37, 10 August 2014 (EDT)

similar lyric to they'll need a crane[edit]

I have a playlist where They'll Need A Crane follows this song, and last year I was listening to it and realised: "i lost my lucky ball and chain" "it's gonna take a metal ball hung from a chain" And i thought hold up.... that's either a cool intentional thing or just a coincidence (most likely the latter but you never know). Just a thing I noticed DoLetsStop (talk) 17:47, 18 September 2022 (EDT)

interpretation #idk[edit]

I believe it could mean a father and a daughter "she threw away her baby doll, i held on to my pride. but i was young and foolish then-" I think this means a daughter growing up and growing sick of her dad who refuses to acknowledge that shes grown up, when the daughter comes of age she leaves and doesnt stay in touch "now i rock a barstool-" hes rocking the barstool next to him, like a cradle for his kid, who he still thinks of as a child "and i drink for 2" his daughter is old enough to drink now but would never go drinking with him or he's drinking for the wife/girlfriend that left

i think that he could also mean ball and chain as in his wife/girlfriend and child, the ball being the wife, the chain being the child they both had the song starts and his daughter has left him and then he starts to regale how he lost his wife too "i was young and foolish then, I feel old and foolish now" "-i held on to my pride-" "confidentially, I never had much pride" the meaning being that he acted too prideful, even though inside he didn't have any pride at all, showing he doesn't communicate even with people close to him. "she's five feet tall and sick of me and all my rattling on-" eventually the people around him got sick of him not communicating and acting prideful and they left him

I know they said it wasn’t, but-[edit]

I know it’s been stated the song isn’t about suicide, but it’s clearly a regret song, and there’s quite a few hints to the possibility of it. The “time bomb in my mind” meaning the contemplation of something explosively drastic and the gunshot before the last chorus both feel very telling, but I realize that it’s far too dark of a subject matter for TMBG. I can definitely see the points contrary to this interpretation though, I just tend to find one meaning and stick to it, and the weight of this cheery country song about being unable to find purpose after a breakup really spoke to me. It feels like all of this “cool dbag” nonchalance finally caught up to him, and he can’t take it. The hints toward a pregnancy and stubbornness all feel like things a narrator would look back on and be unable to reconcile with, which makes this drastic understanding feel almost plausible? I dont know. 16:08, 17 May 2023 (EDT)

Trouble showing love, and "toxic masculinity"[edit]

Lucky Ball and Chain follows a protagonist who was deeply in love with his wife, but lost her by not expressing it properly. The song explores what is now commonly referred to as "toxic masculinity."

"The old ball and chain" is an odd term of endearment used by husbands to refer to their wife when speaking to friends. The image that is painted is of the wives as ball and chains, something that is imprisoning the men and keeping them from moving, but it's usually used in jest. The use of the term in this song calls to attention a core theme of the song, keeping up appearances. Despite calling his wife this, she's something he views a lucky and dear to him, but he can't express it. The protagonist is keen on playing the toxically masculine role of the husband who hates his wife. To him, admitting his earnest love for her would be a loss of pride. While he was "a happy man," she was never happy with it. She'd only call him the pet name "baby doll" in public and drop it when alone with him. This distain grew o the point where she finally bit the bullet and left him. As she left, he stood whistling not willing to drop the act even then.

One note I want to make is that the husband and wife keep up opposite appearances. The husband pretends to hate the wife when he loves her, and the wife pretends to love the husband when she hates him.

Emotional honesty is the key to having prevented this tragic breakup, but the protagonist felt the need to bury his love. 01:18, 13 January 2024 (EST) Dylan M. 1:17 January 13th 2024