Interpretations:Nightgown Of The Sullen Moon

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The title is taken from a poem by a child, who pinched the title from someone else, make no mistake this is a fantastic song. Lyrically Linnell is playing 60s style "random" word games that he has always been a sucker for. A wonderfully tight looped melody and densely packed lyrics mean it can analyzed to death (see below). Essentially whatever you reckon I think your right as its all open to interpretation. One of the Giants greatest songs that should have been on a main album. I envy someone the experience of hearing this song for the first time. Genius. (Mr Tuck)

The lyric: "Drug trip, it's not a drug trip so you feel a bit insulted" may refer to the not uncommon assumption made by people who are hearing the music of TMBG for the first time that their creative, original, and zany style must be due to drug use.

As a "clean" surrealist writer, I too feel a little insulted when people say, "wow, what drugs are you guys on?" None, thank you very much, this is all our own imagination.

Adam S Leslie

I'm surprised noone's taken this to be a love song (by which I mean infatuation song, and it must be pointed out that contrary to how most love songs go, this song seems to actually know that it's about infatuation). The first verse describing coming home from a date with someone that you really felt a connection with. The lines: "Looking up and abruptly / Forget what you're thinking" is a beautiful way of describing that dumb look we get when we're that happy as it follows a hurried description of a hectic situation with a moment of serenity, which I think is a common feeling that we get when we've just fallen into infatuation with someone who's reciprocating. The first half of the verse feels like it's stumbling over itself as the words rush by. Then, suddenly, it breaks its rhyming structure to describe the realization of one's own thoughts, and how they may be getting carried away. Worries start to set in. What if he's playing me? What if she thought she was just being polite? What if she's a Homeland Security operative who wants to sell my idea for a really cool sitcom to Nazi Communists? Ultimately it all comes down to the same question. Is it too good to be true?

That's where the insomnia comes in. I think the idea of talking about laying in bed not sleeping because your brain won't stop is wonderfully described by the windows leaning into the room, which is how the angle of the walls can make them look when you're staring up at them from your pillow (or floor).

The bridge talks about how similar the experience of losing sleep over infatuation is, in appearance, to that of being on drugs. You don't think straight, your eyes are bloodshot, and you smell like you did the night before in addition to roughly 3.785 litres of dried sweat. Its never nice waking up looking like a discarded banana peel and having everyone assume that it was because you thought it would be a fun idea to boot black tar heroin. It's not your fault you couldn't make your brain stop. Though you will probably end up with the appetite of someone who had a similar experience except that instead of having a date with an attractive member of the opposite sex, they had a date with a sketchy member of the amphetamine family.

The last verse describes somone going through the motions of playing the game that dating requires, while just wishing that people could simply be honest about how they feel about each other and get taken at face value. The "big whoredom" of having to pretend that we feel less strongly, or more strongly, than we really do in order to progress far enough into a relationship to start being honest with each other.

I'm not certain, but I get the feeling that being "Nothing but air / With your hand in the air" is a reference to feeling like a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man. Feeling like the biggest goof in the world and trying not to expose that by tying yourself tight to the ground and making yourself look as good as you can because when you think "is it too good to be true?" you're really thinking that they're better than you on whatever scale you think it is that matters to them superficially (be it shoes, cars, breasts, or brains, we all care about something), and so you have to do everything you can to fool him/her into thinking that you're worthy until you can finally get past that layer and get to tell her all the geeky things in your life that your really proud of (like writing long-winded digressions and passing them off as interpretations of They Might Be Giants songs), while finding out what really matters to them (like pitching stolen sitcom ideas to Nazi Communists). Rilom

OOh.I never thought of it like that. I think that is a grand concept. on a slightly different note, I at first thought it said "space walk, it's like a Cake Walk with a corresponding weight loss". I know it's incorrect, but that's how i sing it. Has anyone read the BOOK? -Adam Love

After reading the Amazon.Com description, I really want to: Ingram: The moon laments that poets have praised her and men have worshiped her, but no one has ever given her what she really wants--"a nightgown such as people on earth wear when they sleep under warm featherbeds at night." Children will love this imaginative explanation of the lunar cycle.
The first few times I listened to the song, I got the impression that the "nightgown" in the song is the shadow of the moon. But now that I've written that, I realize that the moon doesn't really cast a shadow... Hmm... - Rhinoceros Rex

Actually, the moon does cast a shadow. And when that shadow hits the earth it's called a solar eclipse. I've only witnessed two total solar eclipses in my life and I can tell you they're rather strange. Much of what this song describes could be similar to this, although I'm leaning more to the interpretation below. --The Great Puma - 13:22, 8 Sep 2005 (EDT)

I'd heard the song was based on a drawing that some kid did in school, so I took the "Drug trip, It's not a drug trip" line as a reference to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles. People said it was a reference to LSD but Lennon said it was based on a pic that Julian drew.

I've always felt that this song is an exploration into the twilight zone between being asleep and awake... I know there's a number of TMBG songs people think cover this subject, but this one is an especially good example. The way I see it, the narrator is woken from a sudden sleep, is confused for a bit, then eventually nods off after stumbling around for a couple minutes in a half-asleep stupor. The lyrics support at least some of it, too... The song itself starts abruptly, like a person being woken abruptly. "Fell in the door and fell on the floor with your hand on the knob" could be what woke the person up. Like someone knocking on their door, startling them and causing them to wake up and fall, perhaps bumping their head in the process. The "drug trip, it's not a drug trip so you feel a bit insulted" line could be that if someone saw you falling all over yourself, half awake and slightly out of it, they might suspect that you were high. And you'd be insulted if they did. Or it could possibly be in reference to a disassociated feeling, like you're not connected to your body properly, like a drug trip but not. Either his also ties in with the "And your shoelaces tied up together with care" line, not being able to walk and falling all over yourself.

Either way... it also seems odd, in this late hour, the number of references to walking in this song. Falling, spacewalk, shoelaces tied... a theme perhaps? Some greater conspiratorial metaphor? Or perhaps it's just bizarro coincidence. The world will never know. Drakken

Personally, I think it has something to do with sleepwalking.

"Fell in the door, And you fell on the floor, With your hand on the knob"

This guy has just walked into a door.

"Looking up and abruptly, Forget what you're thinking"

Have you ever walked into a door and NOT woken up?

"Fire alarms go off in your head..."

Have you just woken up NOT in your bed and in some other room? My brother did that, it would freak anyone out.

"Drug trip, it's not a drug trip so you feel a bit insulted"

I wonder what someone who is sleepwalking looks like? Kinda like that maybe?

"Space walk, it's like a space walk with the corresponding weight loss"

I suppose it's the sense of not being aware of where you are, or you might be in a dream, so you feel 'weightless.'

"And you're nothing but air, with your hand in the air"

...falling through the air?

I don't really want to go into taking apart the rest, but you get the point, no? -Vixus

I think "with your wand in the air" may mean having your hand in front of you like a sleepwalker/zombie or just someone who is in the dark

I thought it was a song about an insane person. When he's "falling on the floor," etc., he's getting chucked into his cell, and is wearing one of those paper night gown things that doctors make you wear, which is the Nightgown of the Sullen Moon. My guess is that his room has a perfect view of the moon at night, and it's about all he's got to look at. Fire alarms go off in his head because I suppose he's starting to realize the gravity of the situation as he claws madly at the locked door to get out. He's insulted that his brain not working is a result of insanity, rather than a drug trip (maybe his mind deteriorated due to drug overuse?). The windows leaning into the room is him hallucinating the room closing up around him. The "shoelaces" refer to the knots on a straight-jacket, which he wears as his insanity grows. While looking out at the moon, he probably visualizes himself roaming around on it freely, free from the asylum, free from even gravity itself. Maybe there's some sort of relation to Destination Moon?

I doubt it's what They had in mind when they wrote it, but this interpretation suits me A-O-fine.

-Mushroom Pie

The line "And your shoelaces tied up together with care" reminds me of that poem, 'twas the night before Christmas, which says "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there."

I have always assumed this was a story of someone dying. The narrator is having a heart attack -- falling on the floor, alarms are going off in your head. "A drug trip," is what it feels like to him. "Your head is on the moon" is something about being gone from this world. "Forever is a long time" is realizing that he's leaving life forever.

I hear "old men dying/being senile" stories all over Linnell's songs: Montana, Till My Head Falls Off. Either he's obssesed with it or I am!

William Bradford Hines

This song is about how great certain syllables song when put in specific order and sang melodically.

Wow, I never got anything as complex as some of these interpretations from this song... The first time I ever heard it, I immediately got the impression of the narrator waking up/being awake/falling alseep in the middle of the night when the full moon was shining through the window. 'Living in the nightgown of the sullen moon' is simply sitting up in bed and being bathed in the moon's light. The line "How the windows lean into the room" really struck me as a perfect description of the way the shadows of windowpanes fall across the floor when the moon is shining brightly on them.

The different thoughts and feelings the narrator describes seem very much like a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing, but they also work well as the weird thoughts that run through your mind when you're tired but can't sleep.

Well, regardless of whether it means anything at all, this is a great song. One of my current favourites. Vespa

This reminds me of one of my friends that has never liked to dress up. I think this person falls in the doorway, gaping, imagining alarm bells ringing at the announcement of the formal event. She imagines the gown she'll have to wear, dressed up carefully, and how boring it will be. so she holds her breath to get her way. "Your head is on the moon," she tells herself, "It's not neccesary to breathe..." ~Qz


I have always thought this song was about taking drugs, and reaching that horrible point when you just really don't want to be fucked up anymore. -MLM

I think this song is about someone that dreams, both figuratively and literally, about going to the moon. --ZippZapp 18:13, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

Escaping a fire[edit]

I don't know. Maybe this is my own mad interpretation (well it is, but I mean that it bears no resemblence to song anyone else heres.) But I always thought it was something about being trapped in a building thats on fire.

Somethings that 'tipped' me off:

Fire alarms go off in your head...

Clearly this could be a metaphor that closely resembles the reality. Yes it means mental alarm bells, but it's because there *is* a fire.

In the nightgown of the sullen moon How the windows lean into the room

Smoke is rising above the windows, you can see the moon shielded by the smoke, like a night gown. The windows lean in as the fire uses up all the air in the room, a possible symptom of an imminent backdraft.

Drug trip, it's not a drug trip so you feel a bit insulted

Space walk, it's like a space walk with the corresponding weight loss

And you're nothing but air, with your hand in the air

And your shoelaces tied up together with care

Lack of oxygen causing the feeling of weightlessnes, being high and feeling like your nothing but air. You've collapsed and you can barely lift you hand into the air. You've lost your senses, having put care into tying laces when you should be escaping.

After the second chorus, a fire alarm sound (like an alarm in the firestation, *not* in the home on fire). Applause sounds, the fire brigade are on their way.

Your head is on the moon

Guess what, no air on the moon

It's not necessary to breathe

There's no air on the moon, so why breath?

Your head is on the moon

Brain is starved of oxygen.

Forever is a long time

This line speaks for itself

All the mentions of the moon, I think is because the victim can see a moon as they reach for the door.

Any way, this is my take on it. Thoughts?

bummer interpretation[edit]

Oh jeez, I always thought this one was about an interrupted suicide attempt. The subject has finished their preparations and is about to um become weightless and breathless, but some interloper barges in and they fall back to the floor.

I could go on about the lyrics following a conversation between the subject and interruptor, or the fire alarm noise representing their big realization moment, but we'll stop now. Forever is a long time. 09:51, 25 August 2017 (EDT)

Panic Attack[edit]

The confusion and anxiousness in the lyrics lead me to believe this song is about having a panic attack. "Fire alarms go off in your head" describes the sudden anxiety you feel out of nowhere that's overwhelming. The windows leaning into the room adds to the feeling that the world is closing in suddenly. The spacewalk, feeling like nothing but air, and "your head is on the moon" could mean the way that you can feel outside of yourself during a panic attack. "It's not necessary to breathe" also fits in as panic attacks can often cause you to lose control and either hyperventilate or struggle to breathe.


This might seem basic, but it's not. Some dreams can be surreal, or they could seem almost real and you drown into the rabbit hole of a dream that seems like reality.

The lyric: "Drug trip, it's not a drug trip so you feel a bit insulted" could suggest that some dreams seem like drug trips but you might actually not be on drugs so you could be frustrated or disappointed.

The lyric: "It's not necessary to breathe" could suggest that you could feel like you're dying in a dream.

The lyric: "Forever is a long time" could suggest that some dreams could seem like they last forever they spiral in your mind while you sleep.

The mention of the moon could suggest that dreams usually take place during the night.

The image of windows leaning into a room suggest that the dream is warping reality and everything around the speaker of the song.

The title of the song itself seems like a type of figurative language that could mean that the speaker of the song is basking in the moonlight while dreaming.

Mrs.Xcitement (talk)

Admiring a sexual partner[edit]

I can't be the only one who sees it this way.

Falling into the room with the partner: "fell in the door / fell on the floor" "with your hand on the knob" (Knob = Double entendre?)

The partner is anxious amidst the excitement: "forget what you're thinking / fire alarms go off in your head"

"You live in the nightgown of the sullen moon" - The "nightgown" represents an affect, the way someone's demeanor changes when aroused.

"How the windows lean in to the room" - the feeling of anxiety about being witnessed in such a vulnerable state.

The partner almost feeling embarrassed for being turned on: "drug trip, it's not a drug trip, so you feel a bit insulted" and reaching climax, "Space walk, it's like a space walk with the corresponding weight loss / and you're nothing but air with your hand in the air" Come on!

"And your shoelaces tied up together with care" - No need to untie or remove your shoes if you're in a nightgown!

"There's a feeling of boredom of the big whoredom following dressing up in the nightgown of the sullen moon" - Perhaps the moment of clarity after reaching climax.

"It's not necessary to breathe / forever is a long time / your head is on the moon" - The narrator is admiring the hazy state of the partner in the aftermath.

Great song!

Kudzuwarrior85 (talk) 14:31, 5 April 2023 (EDT)