Interpretations:McCafferty's Bib

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Interpretation 1[edit]

Tell me McCafferty's Bib is not a thing or concept that existed prior to the writing of this song! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

We have sold our souls for material goods and entertainment.[edit]

The curtain has been drawn aside, our technicolor cultural myths are imploding and the environment is collapsing, so what do we do? We work hard to distract ourselves from those harsh realities and our meaningless existence. McCaffery's bib is anything we use to numb ourselves: the entertainment glut we carry around in our pockets, selling us individuality while molding us into conformist consumers; the antidepressants that are prescribed like candy; opioids; porn; shopping - whatever curbs the imagination, keeps us compliant, and makes a few people rich and powerful. We're unhappy and don't even know why, but we'll carry our own shrouds and dig our own graves with smiles on our faces if the wifi reception down there is good enough.

I love the Gary Numan vibe of this song. Sonyar (talk) 19:20, 19 March 2018 (EDT)

Herbal Supplement[edit]

The name "McCafferty's Bib" reminds me of the name of a plant like "St. John's Wort" that is used as an herbal supplement, as suggested by the "bottle of pills" in the lyrics. The song is from the perspective of someone who accidentally ingests too much of it and begins to hallucinate. In a state of delirium, the mind can attribute an overblown significance to a simple word or insignificant thing. In the hallucination, McCafferty's Bib grows and becomes a concept that seems to be the key to the whole universe.

It's like when you eat too many hot dogs and then have a dream of everything in the world turning into hot dogs. -- Hockpa2e 13:12, May 17, 2018

Futuristic drug[edit]

It's a song about the futuristic dystopia in which everyone takes a new drug and clock out, the pills being taken are given a nonsense name because they are from the future. Everyone is taking them now, and everyone is happy. However, there are still darker undertones, it is described as one problem which solves all the problems. -- ToTheStone 17:13, May 25, 2018


I get the feeling that this is a song about an invention and ubiquity of smartphones. -- Emmett 11:03, June 9, 2018


One interpretation I heard that was quite convincing was that the phrase "McCafferty's Bib" is synonymous with the word nothing. For example, the speaker gets rid of all their problems but they now feel empty from a lack of problems, and we will never be rid of the concept of nothingness. -- Cye Eco 17:49, May 12, 2019

Addiction, Overdose[edit]

I think the singer is McCafferty. He is addicted to pills (probably benzos). One day he overdoses and vomits the pills all over his shirt, making the pills "McCafferty's Bib"

"If only there were some way to shut out all this noise in my head. Oh wait there already is, it's called McCafferty's Bib." The "noise in my head" is anxiety. He gets put on benzos for anxiety. Benzo abuse can lead to a bad short term memory. The "noise in my head" is also tinnitus. Benzo withdrawal can cause tinnitus. The tinnitus and anxiety reminds him he needs to take more pills. "Till my head falls off" is another TMBG song that goes over these issues.

"I used to have eleven problems, then they all went away when I added one more called McCafferty's Bib." Here he is realizing he is addicted, calling the pills a problem. The other problems like anxiety are not solved, it's just that now all he can think about is the pills.

"Now the gray, gray clouds have arrived and the gray, gray clouds have decided to stay with us from now on." This refers to how an addiction looms over you at all times and you never really get over it.

"I ate the whole bottle of pills and wondered what I had swallowed and I saw that the label said McCafferty's Bib" Now he has overdosed. There's another reference to bad short term memory, and a clue that these are prescription pills with his name on the label.

"And then all the scenery melted away and in back of it the only thing left was McCafferty's Bib" Maybe this is a dream or hallucination. Maybe it's a moment of clarity. Either way it drives home that this addiction has consumed his entire life.

"In cities all over the world all the people are suddenly struck by the same idea." This seems like a reference to how pharmaceuticals abuse is so widespread. It also sounds like a hallucination.

"They're massing in public squares and they're singing a note that rises from low to high. With one hand they're holding up signs of Bob Hope, in the other hand, everyone's waving McCafferty's Bib." More hallucinations? There's something here I'm not getting.

"The toothpaste won't go back in the bottle since it granted our wish and we will never be rid of McCafferty's Bib" This is mixing the phrases "the toothpaste won't go back in the tube" and "put the genie back in the bottle" both of which mean that some things can't be undone. Also I think it points out that that cartoon genie looks like a dab of toothpaste. -- sirhand 10:21, May 23, 2019


There's really only one solution to all of these problems...
Shutting out the noise in your head - solved
11 problems, they all went away - solved
Gray clouds arrived and decided to stay from now on - permanent solution
Swallowed all of the pills - I mean, come on...
Scenery melted away, all that was left was McCafferty's Bib - you died
Cities all over the world, people hold hope in one hand and despair in the other - that's poignant
The toothpaste won't go back in the bottle - you can't take back suicide. --Blake 00:14, August 7, 2019‎

If I was still a gambler I'd put 50 chips on this interpretation, so thank you Blake. Based on that, I will guess that the "bib" is a noose since both grip one's neck tightly. McCafferty? I'd wager 10 that this is a reference to the punk band by that name, who mention despair, death, and suicide quite frequently in their lyrics. --Nehushtan (talk) 12:29, 9 January 2020 (EST)
The high repetitive beep/tinkle sound might represent the "noise in my head" the narrator wants to "shut out." I gotta wonder whether that annoying dissonance is intended to simulate the experience of living with tinnitus (mentioned above by user sirhand). The tie-in would be that severe tinnitus suffering is known to elevate suicide risk. --Nehushtan (talk) 00:45, 13 May 2021 (EDT)

Old joke[edit]

I wonder if the old joke about an Irish dentist was somewhere in the subconscious workings for this song: What do you call an Irish denist? Phil McCafferty (fill my cavity). Which I guess would make McCafferty's Bib that bib they put on you in the dentist's chair.

Interpreting the video[edit]

About the song, Linnell publicly said that the title phrase was unknown to the internet. That he would bother to consider the issue is a reminder: if you want to create intriguing and puzzling art today you have to dodge Siri and Google. A movie or song will hardly be challenging if its mystery depends (for example) on recognizing & translating a bit of obscure Italian poetry. The phrase "McCafferty's Bib" is effectively a blank space (though I believe it is not meaningless), keeping the song's secret.

Which makes me think of the video. The white shapes in it immediately reminded me of the cover art for Led Zeppelin's album Presence, which features numerous photos of some typical 1970's middle-class scenes invaded by a blank black uniquely-shaped mini monument - a mute element of strangeness hinting that there is a pervasive, unacknowledged presence subverting the normalcy of those scenes.

In the video for McCafferty's Bib the blank hyperwhite elements are similarly unsettling... but different in intent. For Jimmy Page the dark presence probably evokes the daemon-haunted underworld of Aleister Crowley's magick paganism. TMBG would have no truck with such squishy woo... the video's unnerving shapes rather point to an absence: something has been erased.

And there are many such somethings: it can be practically any object, regardless of its significance. It could be a sheep, a broom, a smoking hole in the ground, an airplane, an eyeball, or the scream from a throat. All are equally subject to arbitrary elimination.

The other recurring thing in the video is the word "bib" itself, which pops into view, advancing, when it is spoken. On each repetition it gets closer until its center fills the frame and its top & bottom are cut off. It feels menacing, like the word is asserting its inevitability. It is "in your face" and not friendly.

Some of the new videos don't attempt to engage with the theme & mood of their songs, but I believe this one does, successfully. --Nehushtan (talk) 17:35, 23 February 2020 (EST)


I think this song is about coronavirus 3/31/2020 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Uh, yeah. 2 years early. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

I absolutely agree. I have a very detailed theory about the entire album, the Johns being time-travellers and McCafferty's Bib being the masks we now all need to wear due to Covid-19. Oh and the crowds gathering in squares are the BLM protesters, and the grey clouds being clouds of corona-virus. Dr R.


McCafferty’s bib (I’m making this up) is an imaginary drug. It is given in packages the shape of a lobster bib and the main dealer is known as “McCafferty”, hence McCafferty’s bib. They are actually named “grey cloud drugs” and you can easily get addicted. “Now the grey grey clouds have arrived (first doing them) and the grey grey clouds have decided to stay with us from now on (addiction)”. They are a problem and can kill you (I used to have 11 problems/ then they all went away (death)/ when I added one more/ called McCafferty’s bib.

Divorce and Modern Feminism[edit]

This song is mostly a personal account of what it feels like to get a divorce, but can also be interpreted as a sophisticated critique of feminism’s impact on the culture.

McCafferty is probably a reference to the Irish feminist Nell McCafferty. (

I think the phrase "McCafferty’s Bib" is some clever word play on “Women’s Lib”. McCafferty is a woman and a feminist. Bib rhymes with “lib”, and could also be a reference to overalls (working clothes).

But the meaning of the words “McCafferty’s Bib” continually shift and takes on all kinds of meanings throughout the song. Depending on whether you are considering the personal or a broader cultural lens the meaning can shift. The context of the verse can also transform the meaning of the title phrase.

There is some nuance here that I am not able to dive into...I am not trying to make any points myself about feminism I am just trying to understand the lyrics of this song. I also do not claim to actually know the songwriter's intended meaning, simply discuss what they seem to say to me.

Verse 1
If only there were some way to shut out
All this noise in my head
Oh wait there already is
It's called McCafferty's Bib

In this verse, McCafferty’s Bib is just “a pint” of beer.
McCafferty is probably a reference to the Irish feminist Nell McCafferty. (
Nell McCafferty fought for the right to drink a pint at a pub at a time when women were often not permitted to do so. (Bib is short for imbibe).
But he is mostly just talking about getting plain old drunk to numb his troubled mind.

Verse 2
I used to have eleven problems
Then they all went away
When I added one more
Called McCafferty's Bib

Here is where things start getting more layered. I read this verse in two ways. I think it is definitely about the songwriter’s divorce, but it is also a sophisticated metaphor for feminism.
In this verse, McCafferty’s Bib is about drinking feminist doctrine, or one particular product of the feminist movement, the no-fault divorce.
From a certain interpretation of feminism, men cannot justly complain about their problems because they haven’t been oppressed or held back by the patriarchy the way women have. The problems of a man are therefore comparatively meaningless. As a man, at least the songwriter has pretty much always enjoyed the right to walk into a pub and get a pint!
But for the songwriter, feminism presents a separate and new problem, a problem that likewise makes all his other problems feel insignificant by comparison.
As a married man, he had lots of problems in his marriage. Now he has traded those in for the singular problem of facing a divorce.

Now the gray, gray clouds
Have arrived and the gray, gray clouds
Have decided to stay with us from now on

A lot of the themes on this album are about divorce, and I think the “gray gray clouds” can be the confusing haze of a “woke-male-feminist” who is also losing his marriage. His problems aren’t supposed to matter, and his marriage comes second to his wife’s rights. I think he would acknowledge that she deserves her right to leave the marriage, but I think he is lamenting the personal implications of divorce. He feels like the storm clouds are rolling in to harass him. He can foresee no end to the storm.

Verse 3
I ate the whole bottle of pills
And wondered what I had swallowed
And I saw that
The label Said McCafferty's Bib

Eating all the pills is about swallowing the many, many bitter pills that come along with a divorce. It’s not like one bitter moment. It is bitter pill after bitter pill.
He is like, “WTF is this bitter f-ing medicine that I have to keep taking?”
Oh! It’s a modern no-fault divorce! (incidentally informed by feminist thought)

Verse 4
And then all the scenery melted away
And in back of it
The only thing left
Was McCafferty's Bib

“All the scenery melted away”. This is about a broken home. He had to move out of their shared home, or they had to sell their house and shared belongings. It can feel like the end of the world when suddenly all your shared belongings evaporate, and sometimes the person you were once in love with even becomes an adversary who is trying to harm you.
Who was “in back of” all the scenery melting away? Who was behind this sudden scorched earth melting of the world?
In this verse, McCafferty’s Bib is a clever play on “Women’s Lib” short for Women's Liberation. There is one Liberated Woman in particular who is left standing in the rubble of the songwriter’s melted world. She has freed herself from the marriage, and the implication is that she is responsible for the devastation.

And the gray, gray clouds
Have arrived and the gray, gray clouds
Have decided to stay with us from now on

Divorce is the “gray, gray cloud” that follows him from now on. If they had kids, they have to keep interacting with the former spouse, but under the oppressive rules of a divorce decree. Everything they built together is pretty much in ruins, and they have traded it for an oppressive relationship that is mediated by a judge.

Verse 5, 6
In cities all over the world
All the people are suddenly struck
By the same idea

They're massing in public squares
And they're singing a note
That rises from low to high

The song was released in 2018, the “massing in public squares” lyric is likely a reference to the (then recent) 2017 Woman’s March, where an estimated 7 million women worldwide marched for women’s rights.

Verse 7
With one hand they're holding up
Signs of Bob Hope, in the other
Hand, everyone's
Waving McCafferty's Bib

The feminist protest scene continues in verse 7, but it seems that now McCafferty’s Bib is being used as a feminist icon of some kind. It is now something that can be waved at the protest (maybe a reference to those iconic pink pussy hats?).
There is much to unpack in about “Signs of Bob Hope”. There’s a weird photo of a 1966 protest in which large signs depicting Bob Hope are being held up right next to signs depicting Chinese communist revolutionary Mao ZeDong.
If the signs of Bob Hope are still there then McCafferty’s Bib(aka feminism) is sorta being compared to Mao Zedong. I think this comparison is about the songwriter’s personal feelings and perhaps the oppressive feeling of a divorce where he cannot choose to stay together even if he wants to. It takes two people to start a marriage, but one person can choose to end a marriage. That feels a lot like the power of a dictator.

Verse 8
The toothpaste won't go back in the bottle
Since it granted our wish
And we will never be rid
Of McCafferty's Bib

You can’t undo the cultural shifts that feminism has introduced, and marriage is probably an institution that will never be the same.
Divorce can be such a painful and emotionally devastating thing. Perhaps the greatest possible compliment is when someone willingly commits to spend the rest of their life with you. It follows that the greatest possible insult is to revoke that commitment.
You can’t undo the emotional hurt. After a divorce, you can never go back to the way things were. Especially when kids are involved, divorce can be like a zombie marriage. You want it to be dead and gone, but you can’t actually escape the obligations and responsibilities that you share.
The gray gray clouds seem like they will always be there! You can never be rid of your former spouse, the Liberated Woman. Society can likewise never be rid of the effects of Women's Lib, for better and for worse.

Cheers mates!

Nell McCafferty:
2017 Women’s March:
1966 Mao-Hope March: