Interpretations:Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head

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I'm going to have to think that this song is about some guy who's got a crappy job where his boss is a pig and everyone just tries to please him. The singer realizes that he has to stop being stepped on of his life and 'put his hand inside the puppet head' and take control of his life. After that he realizes his job sucks, so he quits it and walks away, not having to write anyone a goodbye note, because he hates them all. He leaves town, and I think he may have gone back to school, because of the lines 'I'll see you after school'. But that's pretty much it as I see it. Done.

Some Idiot

25 FEB 2004

The "puppet head" is the world of personal perception, the one most people confuse with "reality" (colors, sounds, textures, etc.). Putting "your hand inside" is a two-step process in which one first acknowledges the perceptual world as a sensory projection, a show of sorts, the mere surface of all the manifold workings of the physical universe. The second step to putting "your hand inside" is acknowledging one's own inner sense of existence as being a direct link to these same manifold workings. Once these two steps are taken, a level of cynicism is attained ("as you fall from grace"), but the trade-off is that your consciousness, your "hand," has at least achieved a semblance of empowerment to the extent that it can somewhat manipulate the same reality it perceives. This also applies to the lines, "Note to self...Touch the puppet head."

To quote User:Tisher (see Interpretations:The World's Address), this can be expressed as "acting a false role for convenience's sake," the necessity of which the singer laments. Don't we all sometimes?

The part about the zombie was nice, once I saw the connection. It's a great way to dramatize the notion of something dead which remains animated, a wonderful reference to jaded souls like us (TMBG fans) who somehow find the beauty in life despite everything. That being said, the interpretation becomes unmistakable for the lines, "The good old days never say goodbye if you keep this in your mind: you need some loving arms." Love--or at least the longing for it--is the antidote for jadedness. I listened to this song for weeks before I understood the zombie, but now it seems obvious.

I see the part about the subway ads as testimony that we're all to some extent puppets in the show, but that behind the show, for all our faults, we're still all beings who are trying to do the right thing, however misguided at times.

As a personal aside, I express the opinion that the universe is in fact a single consciousness, a single hand in a single puppet behind a single show. I must emphasize that I am not speaking metaphorically here. Your consciousness is an actual facet of the one universal.

The phrases, "Quit my job down at the car wash," "I'll see you after school," and the suggestion that the puppet head be "busted in" I see as sentimental but understandable cries of frustration against both the impossibility of breaking out of the perceptual world and the desire to return to a state when the perceptual world (of childhood) was everything, and seemed like more than just surfaces.

There's an interesting exchange along the same lines between me and User:Tisher concerning the lyrics to The World's Address.


I always thought this was one (perhaps the first) of Flansy's anti-work anthems. (He refers somewhere, I think in a newsletter, to Operators Are Standing By as another "grumbling song" in the tradition of Minimum Wage, so I don't think it's entirely my imagination that it's an idea he revisits often.) You're on your way home from another day at work, maybe on the Third Street subway, and already you're telling yourself that the workaday life isn't so bad, that you'll be able to face it again tomorrow. Then your better nature checks in (in the form of a zombie? Well, why not?) with the harsh truth: your desk job sucks, you need to love and reconnect with people. You need to put your hand inside that puppet head and take control of your life.

The rest of the song continues the theme: everyone's slaving away to appease a hated boss, social conventions (the good-bye note) are boring and oppressive. There seems to be an abstract cry of "Down with the system!" in Flans's plaintive wish for a busting-in of the puppet head -- better that no one is in charge, he seems to be saying. But he seems to acknowledge that this is unlikely to happen, and concludes with a regretful "I'll see you after school" -- he knows, and we all know, that things are going to continue on schedule, at least for today.

Still, the title and the chorus all reinforce that subversive message, the call to individuality, the note of hope: Don't be a drone! Bust loose! Drive your own life! ROCK!

I actually think of it as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) in which the 'hero' of the song is a person who cant help but touch something or do something he doesn't like. he cant help but touch it all the time and even says goodbye to it. --Sangokyu

For those who hadn't caught it, the line "Quit my job down at the car wash, didn't have to write no one a goodbye note" is a homage to the line from 'Guitar Man' by Elvis -- "Well, I quit my job down at the car wash, left my mama a goodbye note."

It's about OCD, yeas, but also about a perspective of life. The chorus tells you to "put on" a new personality, but it's fake like a puppet. The subject of the song gets used to his "fake" personality. -Walrus

This is a tiny aside, but I though the mighty zombie pounding at the door and talking up love and posterity was a rather unkind way to refer to a Jehovah's witness. But that's just me.

I think its just a song about how, in life, we are forced to do things we don't want to do, but we have to do it. It's about having to "put your hand inside the puppet head" because you will not get paid otherwise. The "ads in the subway" part is obviously about the people who thrive off attention from their bosses, and are forcing themselves to do these heart-less things to get the top. --ehsteve14

The way I see the song is close to what ehsteve14 describes, although it almost seems like a little story.

As your body floats down Third Street
With the burn-smell factory closing up

It seems like the singer has recently lost his job. "Floats down Third Street" gives me an image of someone wandering the streets, or perhaps he's been trying to drink his problems away and is stumbling his way home.

Yes it's sad to say you will romanticize
All the things you've known before
It was (not) so great

A moment of reflection as the singer considers that his life up to this point hasn't been what he'd hoped for.

And as you take a bath in that beaten path

"Taking a bath" is another way of saying that you've lost out in a deal, usually financially. If the singer has recently lost his job this would seem to be the case. Also, "the beaten path" suggests that he's only one of many in this situation. And what's the most inconvenient thing that could happen when you're taking a bath?

There's a pounding at the door
Well it's a mighty zombie talking of some love and posterity
He says "The good old days never say good-bye
If you keep this in your mind:
You need some (loving) arms"

Someone at the door... the zombie reference could very well represent some door-to-door evangelical, or perhaps some political pundit, or similar. This person's words seem designed to console. After listening to what the person has to say...

And as you fall from grace the only words you say are

The singer "falls from grace", or drops another notch emotionally. I guess the consolation didn't work... so the singer recites the chorus:

Put your hand inside the puppet head...

William Shakespeare once wrote, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." To the singer, the stage is more like a puppet show. Everyone has their part to play and no matter how bad things get the show must go on. So put your hand inside the puppet head and do your part.

Ads up in the subway are the work of someone
Trying to please their boss
And though the guy's a pig we all know what he wants
Is just to please somebody else
If the (puppet) head
Was only (busted) in
It would be a better thing for everyone involved
And we wouldn't have to cry

Here, I think the singer laments that life is too much about trying to please other people. If only it didn't have to be that way (the puppets were 'busted in') then people could be free to live for their own happiness.

Quit my... Job down at the car wash
Didn't have to write no-one a good-bye note
That said, "The check's in the mail, and
I'll see you in church, and don't you ever change"

I have to agree with Walrus that this looks like a reference to Elvis' "Guitar Man." Symbolically, though, it seems the singer has decided to cut all ties and start over. Quit his new job and left without telling anyone (or perhaps there was nobody to tell?). He does away with the social graces.

I'll see you after school

I think this last line is symbolic of a new start, as if he just got out of school and begins his adult life. He's ready to try again to get on with the show. - Smidge204 09:03, 8 Dec 2005 (EST)

About that "all the world's a puppet show," isn't that like saying everyone has to hide who they are and just be a puppet?

Well, I think the puppet head it symbolic of taking control. It's kinda simple if you listen to the song with that in mind. Some examples if you will:

In the beginning of the song, they guy/narrator is scared of taking control. The zombie, probably an older person he knows, says everything's better with love. Awwwww. =) As the guy "Falls from grace," he tells himself to take control next time. He then starts to see, and possible fear the results of taking control.

Well, that boss down at the subway with the ads makes the narrator fear control. If the workers take control, they get fired. If the "puppet head" was "busted in," the boss would take control and nobody would have to cry over their jobs.

So they guy quit his own job, he regrets it. At first he's happy, ("Didn't have to write no one a good bye note") but then he regrets it. If he hadn't took control and quit, he would have had his job. After school, I think he means when they're dead. o_O;

Another great song. Very upbeat and fun. {applauds} A triumph for Flansburgh! --Lemita 14:44, 18 Apr 2006 (CDT)

This song is about a guy who lost his job and realizes that it wasn't that great. The "mighty zombie" (the zombie might have some thing to do with an old and forgotten view on life) is whatever thing made him realize that this is a chance to get a better life and to find someone to love ("find some loving arms"), and not just a better job. Putting your hand inside the puppet head is taking control of your life. I think that Some Idiot was right about the "I'll see you after school" line meaning he goes back to school (to get a better job). -Tyler Cochrane


I think the lines
Yes it's sad to say you will romanticize 
All the things you've known before
It was (not) so great

are pretty clearly anti-nostalgia. It is very typical of humans to think of the past as "The good old days." Pretty much anyone who has talked to an older person has heard about how much more original movies were when they were young, or how everyone used to play outside, and kids these days are missing out... yadda yadda yadda. This song is talking about a (probably) young person whose life is in a bad place, but who will someday romanticize his youth, believing his past to have been "great" even though it was really "not so great."

The "mighty zombie talking of some love and posterity" is a metaphor for nostalgia for the past. A zombie is dead, but still is animated and outwardly seems alive, just like a memory of a time long gone, but still vivid in one's mind. The zombie represents clinging to a romanticized past, shown by the line, "
The good old days never say good-bye
If you keep this in your mind:
You need some lo-lo-loving arms

I almost think the "you need some (loving) arms" line is just meant to be cliche'd sentimentalism.

This is also supported by the line:

Quit my job down at the carwash
Didn't have to write no one a goodbye note

which is a play on the line "Well, I quit my job down at the car wash, left my mama a goodbye note." In the Elvis version, he writes his mamma a goodbye note because he was leaving town. In this song however, the narrator doesn't have to write anyone a goodbye note, because he isn't going anywhere. Nothing has changed with his social situation because his former boss says "I'll see you in church, and don't you ever change."

Based on this, I feel that this song is about someone who doesn't really change much in his life, but despite everything essentially staying the same for him, he still romanticizes the past as being better. Its about someone trapped in sentimentalism and nostalgia.

Of course there seems to be alot more to it than that, especially regarding the actual "puppet head" lines, but to me it seems to have much to do with unwarranted nostalgia.

I hope there isn't some arbitrary boycott on writing a review on this song, seems so strange no ones interpreted it yet though. Sorry if I deflate some big plan of TMBG's fans by guessin about it.

To me, this song seems to be about a man exaggerating his benefit to mankind in a position of corporate superiority, telling a boss that everything hes doing is great without any perspective. So then the "Puppet Heads" are like corporate 'yes men' who you have to try not to be, making sense with the big wigs reluctance to "do the dumb things I gotta do, touch the puppet head...", which I interpret as busting it in. Putting your hand inside means to become one, to join with them. I like how optimistic this one is. I don't think I've ever heard a song put corporations in an optimistic light. It was sorely needed :) what I mean: "even though hes a pig", hes just trying to help somebody out. See, hes got good intentions with his ads and his business, and loving his boss, but his judgment is being clouded by over-optimism. And the liberation of freeing your business from yes men (aka, himself) is compared in the third verse with the liberation maybe he felt when he was younger, when he quit one of his highschool jobs. Its a feeling of when you get the chance, doing the totally right thing, as opposed to half right, and not going crazy, cos if you're tense, you're doing something wrong. As for the religious drone in the first verse after his first burn smell factory closed up, I see it as his first lesson in a good package with bad results. Because the deranged religious guy is no different from a Yes Man, really. "As you fall from grace, the only words you say are...", suggests the religious thing, but ironically falling out of grace by listening to the 'loving arms'.

Wow, its amazing how interpretable these lyrics are. Each TMBG song should have a TV show episode based about it :), always very unusual, but real life premises in their songs. I'm glad I actually read the lyrics to this song! The recording, being one of their first, is especially hard to decipher the lyrics in (especially since I believe they sped it up from the demo version). But hey, it makes it sound better :) Even if for the longest time I thought they were saying "Crip(ple) Maaaaaa..."

Puppets: like the people chained up in the cave in the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy. --Swagar 04:40, 19 March 2010 (UTC)

I think Flux is close, but it's a bit simpler than all that; this song is quite simply about the masks we all wear in everyday life. Those personas are imagined as puppets we manipulate, making them say and do all the socially expected things regardless of what we really think. At work, our puppets work hard to please a guy we secretly hate, while he's similarly concerned with pleasing his own boss; even when we're on the way out the door with nothing to lose, we write meaningless platitudes in a goodbye note instead of telling people what we really think. Likewise, we put on a puppet show for church, where Jesus (the "mighty zombie") tells us to stick to the old ways and don't change things -- keep up the charade. And we obey, even though we don't really believe it ("fall from grace").

The world would be better, the song says, if everyone were to throw away the masks -- bust in their puppet heads -- and accept one another as we really are. The song ends saying "I'll see you after school" in reference to the innocence of youth, before we learned to partition off chunks of our lives and put on the puppet show we think others want to see. 19:56, 24 May 2016 (EDT)

Just something to think about[edit]

But Jesus could very well be that mighty zombie, talking of some love and posterity. John and John have been critical of religion in interviews and other songs.


They have been, but they have not been critical of Jesus' message, only organized religion. It is unlikely a reference to Jesus, as the zombie appears to stand for a "fake" love in the past, likely representing nostalgia.

An Odd Interpretation[edit]

There are much better interpretations for this.

But this strangely reminds me of Galápagos, by Kurt Vonnegut.

I can't help but feel as though the lyrics are describing, as Flansy says, a "body floating down Third Street". I keep imagining a cataclysmic happening, a sinking of Manhattan, if you will, and your body "takes a bath in that beaten path", and you can't help but really think about your life. How exactly you think after death is beyond me, ask Leon Trout.

It seems somewhat universal that the "putting one's hand inside the puppet head" is taking control of one's life. And that seems to hold with my thoughts. Wishing, wishing that people would have taken control while they were still alive.

As for the final verse, like Leon Trout, he looks at his own life. The thing I can't help but wonder, if the "quitting" is literally quitting or dying along with the rest of us. Did he put his hand in? Or did he regret to, like the rest of us?

Just my foolish thoughts.

Its a hint guys...[edit]

It's the first proof i've found!!! THE MATRIX IS REAL!!! The "puppet head" represents the world that we think we live in. They might be Giants is singing from the prepective of the agents, and telling people to join the illusion. That make this song unnecessary, however, because we are already in The Puppet Head. We cannot leave until we know we are in. The line "pounding at the door" is a reference to the mesage they are trying to send. The knocking is giving you a clue, so that you can escape. Im not crazy, i swear.

Tanline666 (talk) 23:03, 2 May 2023 (EDT)

I think it’s about entering the real world and realising that you’re have to give up your individuality if you want to be accepted by society.

“Yes it's sad to say you will romanticize All the things you've known before”- your life may have seemed bad before, but once you’ve begun to experience how it is now, you would want it to be back to how it was before.

A beaten path is something that has been commonly used. The singer uses the beaten path, in this case pretending to be like everyone else. The zombie pounding on the door is someone preaching about religion.

“Putting your hand inside the puppet head” would refer to giving in and putting on a façade to be safe.

“If the pu-pu-puppet head Was only bu-bu-busted in It'd be a better thing for everyone involved And we wouldn't have to cry”- the boss could be a metaphor for society as a whole. The boss not knowing that the workers are wearing puppet heads protects them from being harmed.

“Memo to myself: Do the dumb things I gotta do Touch the puppet head“- they are reminding themselves that they must participate in the rat-race if they want to keep living. 11:27, 21 June 2023 (EDT)