Interpretations:Shoehorn With Teeth

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Even though it predates it a long way, the song is eerily portentious of the state of anti-progressive ideology on the web. Think about the last time you saw some closet racist arguing on Twitter.

"People should get beat up for statin' their beliefs"

Reactionary vitriol, leaping to condemn anything he interprets as a threat.

"He asks a girl If they can both sit in a chair"

"He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth 'Cause he knows there's no such thing"

Anti-progressive arguments frequently rely on "slippery slope" arguments, usually pitched as some kind of unrealistic demand, e.g. "If I said I found the word 'car' offensive, would you stop saying it?" He knows that this is too ridiculous for anyone to agree to, but he says it anyway so he can claim their response as a hypocrisy.

"Tour the world In a heavy metal band"

"But he doesn't get nervous She's not really there"

People tend to be a lot bolder on the web, since they're not actually facing the person they're hurling insults at. They might also lie about their lives to seem more credible.

"But they run out of gas The plane can never land"

Represents faulty logic, particularly false equivalence, in this instance assuming travelling by plane works as a car does.

"What's the sense in Ever thinking about the tomb? When you're much too busy Returning to the womb?"

Being close-minded about issues of "grave" importance, preferring to live in a state of childlike ignorance.


An alternative to a shoehorn that works pretty well is a comb. I used to use one pretty often for my dress shoes. And combs have teeth and they do in fact exist so it's something else the subject of the song has gotten wrong. I don't think that helps with the song interpretation much but that seems like a pretty obvious point that has been missed so far.

People get way too deep with this one. It's a silly song about hypocritical statements and forgetting your worries. Shoehorns with teeth don't exist, and stating the belief that "people should get beat up for stating their beliefs" is similarly ridiculous, as are all the situations presented. But who cares if you're being childish (returning to the womb) if it ends your worries of the tomb?

This song seems to be about sex, or at least some of the things people do when they really want to have it. The most obvious reference to this, I think, is the final verse:

What's the sense in ever thinking about the tomb When you're much too busy returning to the womb?

...with "returning to the womb", of course, referring to...well, you know. The other verses, when seen in this light, seem to corroborate this:

He asks a girl if they can both sit in a chair But he doesn't get nervous She's not really there

This is, of course, referring to masturbation. The second verse is slightly trickier:

Tour the world in a heavy metal band But they run out of gas The plane can never land

It took me a while to get this, but: When heavy metal rock bands play, what is one of the most prevalently noticeable things about the audiences? Screaming female fans. So, touring with this band, with all these girls screaming at him day in and day out, heck yes this guys going to get a little hot under the collar. But the last two lines talk about "running out of gas" and a plane "never landing", so I guess this guy's not very welll-endowed, or at least doesn't know what to do with what he's got, and any relationship he strikes up with a groupie will immediately fizzle out and die after she realizes he literally "has no gas." In other words, the proverbial plane will never leave the hangar.

That leaves the chorus, which is the hardest part to interpret in this light:

He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth People should get beat up for stating their beliefs He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth Because he knows there's no such thing

So, suppose, once word got around that he wan't much of a lover, each and every groupie girl he propositions immediatly spurns him, thus bruising his pride, or "beating him up" over the belief that they'll sleep with him. "There's no such thing" as a chance in hell for this guy to get laid among this particular group of women, and with that in mind, depending on what kind of heavy metal band he's traveling with, I think it's safe to assume that a "shoehorn with teeth" refers to the, ah, female privates.

(On a side note, it sounds to me as if the glockenspiel "ding" after "He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth, is meant as a wink to clue the listeners into the potentially funny subject matter...which, looking at the above description, I completely failed to get across. Oh well.)

This song sounds like some desperate band member who can't get laid and that's all he wants. When he finally does get it, he indulges so much he doesn't consider the consequences: "What's the sense in ever thinking about the tomb When you're much too busy returning to the womb?" A Shoehorn with Teeth could be some sort of toy that he wants to use, but he knows he can't because there are no girls around.

As I started to listen to the song more, I came to the same conclusion two people here did: that the song was about Christianity. "Returning to the womb" seems really obvious, but then I thought some more and saw it doesn't fit the rest of the song. Even if it did, being born again wouldn't rule out thinking about Jesus' tomb; it would actually mean taking the tomb (and the resurrection) more seriously. So now I agree with the others who say that the song is about someone selfish. The shoehorn refers to his penchant for getting out of tough situations, and he's apparently lived a full life (getting the girl, playing in a band). By the time he's old, and he wants to be young again (does he actually regret his life or not?) it's too late. -Mark

I wonder if this quote, "He not busy being born is 'a busy dyin'." from the Bob Dylan song, It's Allright Ma' (I'm Only Bleeding), has any connection the the line "What's the sense in ever thinkin' 'bout the tomb when you're much too busy returning to the womb?" Perhaps this is another lyric reversal song, a la I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die. -Cronny

I believe that the song is about how stupid people come off as when they state beliefs or opinions as facts.

In the first verse the man is not ignoring someone and feeling more comfortable because of it. He's trying to tell someone what they should do, and it's easy for him to say so because he's not actually in the situation, the girl is not actually there so he's not getting nervous they way the person that he's talking to likely would if he tried actually asking the girl to sit in a chair with him.

The second verse... I vaguely remember someone trying to fool me when I was a child, saying that airplanes only need gas when they're on the ground, not when they're in the air. If the plane runs out of gas after take off, it will not be able to land. I can't remember where I heard this, might've been on TV or it might've been an older sibling or a grandparent, but I remember the argument and it seemed as though it had been passed along. I think that this attempt to spread false information is what the second verse is referring to. Note that it says the plane CAN never land, not will never land, meaning it's not possible for the plane to land without gas.

The third verse is talking about people who say "Don't live in the past". You need to remember the past in order to look towards the future. If you only look one way then you're either focusing on what ifs or you're not progressing at all.


Firstly, let us discuss the "he" in the song. "He" wants an object that doesn't exist. "He" feels that by killing freedoms like free speech, it will help him get it. But deep down, "he" knows there's no such thing. His actions will never get him what he wants because that thing does not exist. Thus, the he comports to selfishness. By "he" TMBG means the "unenlightened", to use terminology they don't use. *grin* The "he's" of society that want to control other people to get their way. But in a very real sense, we all do that. From this we can conclude this song discusses the darkest parts of the human self.

In the song we have him sitting in the same chair as a girl because he doesn't believe in her. In the real world, we behave the same way. If we only have enough for 1 person but 2 people need it, we use a winner take all system to ensure that the "he's" (and in this sense, we mean the powerful people) get the "chair". This also alludes to the ways we view relationships and the predator/prey games that far too many people play.

We have him touring the world in a band on a plane, having a big old party. Just then, the plane runs out of gas. Well, to "him" the party can never end so the plane must continue to fly without gas. The rationalizations about the plane come from the premise that "he" must always party. In a very real sense, our world sits at this same position. We will eat up the last 50% of the planet over the next 30 years or so and will have nothing left to do this "industrial civilization" thing. And just like the guy partying on the rock star plane, we refuse to recognize this fact BECAUSE we want our party to continue.

So now what "thing" could we all so selfishly want? I propose that it is nothing less than endless pleasure. Every one of use wants it. It causes all of the dark things we do as we strive to get it. Even though we know that no such thing as endless pleasure exists, we still chase it creating "shoehorns with teeth" such as police states, draconian laws. Even thought it hurts other people, denying them "chairs" as it were. Even though it cannot sustain itself, like running out of gas, we find our selves trapped because we WANT it so bad.

So we have been asked, "What's the sense in ever thinking about the tomb when you're much too busy returning to the womb?" Why would you want to think about the human race eating up all the life on Earth when you are just trying to get back to the endlessly pleasurable state of being in the womb. (Which goes doubly for sexual pleasures, as another here mentioned.) Why would you continue to push off the "death of self" until you die if you DIDN'T want to have endless pleasure? The micro and macro mirror each other.

We will never come to terms with death as long as we keep chasing backwards towards the womb and run away from life. To find it we must go beyond understanding and through death. And we will never do that as long as we keep trying to crawl back up into our Mommies.

Try thinking of TMBG more in this manner and you will find many more layers to their songs than you originally thought.

-- EntropyFails

It must have something to do with religion speaking of reincarnation - "returning to the womb" and the chair quote we can be some sort of christian prayer take on something

I think the song is about a man who acts only to make others miserable. He "wants a shoehorn [...] 'cause he knows there's no such thing", showing that he comes up with things to complain about. He "asks a girl if they can both sit in a chair" because he wants to make her feel guilty: "he doesn't get nervous", showing that he's trying to make the girl feel inadequate. The second verse is about the person's complaints: he had an opportunity to "tour the world in a heavy metal band", but he complains about it, or perhaps this verse reveals why the man is complaining. The "returning to the womb" line shows that he's becoming increasingly immature and childlike, but worrying and complaining about dying.

I can't figure out what meaning the "People should get beat up for stating their beliefs" has, if any. It doesn't really fit with the rest of the song. I'm pretty sure it's just TMBG being the witty and strange band we enjoy. --Whistling in the dark 18:01, 24 Jan 2005 (EST)

Well, I always just took that as a joke. "People should get beat up for stating their beliefs" IS a belief, so he'd be beat up if it were true.

-Mushroom Pie 'n stuff

Agreed, it's pure irony. Imagine that, in a TMBG song? ;) ~Christina Miller, November, 2006

I thought "what's the point of ever thinking about the tomb, when you're much too busy returning to the womb" was a reference to Christianity -- "returning to the womb" = "you must be born again," "tomb" = Christ's empty tomb after the resurrection. But then the other 2 verses are just baffling. This does seem to tie in a little with "people should get beat up for stating their beliefs," but the whole thing is still a mystery wrapped in a conundrum.

The "returning to the womb" line is a direct reference to the bible; when Jesus meets with the Jewish scholar Nichodemus and tells him he must begin, Nichodemus asks how a man can return to the womb. As for how that fits in with the rest of the song... well, I have absolutely no idea. Tutt 15:06, 19 Oct 2005 (EDT)MasterChivo

I always interpreted this song as being about a boy who wants to let his imagination bring him places and to let him think what he wants instead of being bogged down by others' talk of religion.

He wants a shoehorn with teeth, even though there's no such thing. People should get beat up for stating there beliefs.

What's the sense in ever thinking about the tomb (death, afterlife, worry), when you're much too busy returning to the womb? (living life through a child's eyes, enjoying things as they come to you.)

I think TMBG are making a statement about religion and the overall morbidness of it, and how they guilt people into believing. And they do it, as usual, in a very clever and funny way. -AJK

Nobody here interpreted the last line the way i always did. SEX- as a distraction from -DEATH "what's the sense in ever thinking about the tomb, when you're much too busy returning to the womb"

I always felt this song was fairly deep, as most TMBG songs tend to be, but I felt it stayed mainly to one particular theme rather than embracing the entire human psyche. I think many of these concepts have been brought up, but I thought I'd give it a go anyhow.

I've always interpreted this song as about the great lengths man goes to selfishly escape uncomfortable situations. After all, the shoehorn itself pries the foot out of a tight shoe or boot, which seems to represent how man is constantly trying to pry himself out of the harsh reality of life by the easiest ways possible - violence and ignorance.

I mean, beating people up when their beliefs are different from yours is the easiest way to get out of a wretched religious or political conversation. Why discuss why your way is more right than theirs when you could knock their block off and be done with it? I think the Johns are being mildly sarcastic (or ironic) with this song, this line in particular, because they know it's not the best way to go about it but it's how many people (governments, religions) go about it none-the-less.

And what better philosophy than this one! If someone makes you uncomfortable, just ignore them and they won't exist! (he doesn't get nervous/she's not really there) If you don't like the fact children are starving somewhere, ignore them and they'll disappear off the face of the planet. If you hate a man who has your seat, take it because you can ignore him into inexistance! It's all so very simple!

As for the plane, it's full of rock stars! The rich, the famous, the fabulous! They don't believe in death! So when their plane runs out of gas, they don't worry about crashing and dying---it just means that their plane will never land, because beautiful people don't die! Mortality is an uncomfortable thought! They must live forever!

Then, at the end, I think they're talking about midlife crises as the theoretical shoehorn. Man goes through those midlife crises, doing all that stuff to make himself feel younger (returning to the womb) because for the first time he realizes that he, too, is mortal (worrying about the tomb)and he must keep death at bay. But no matter how many times man tries to escape death, uncomfortable situations, unpleasant people, etc., he knows, just like the shoe horn with teeth, that there is no such thing, no true escaping. But he does it all the same because if the shoe doesn't fit, you gotta get it off no matter the cost, be it to you or to other people. And that's how I've always saw it. *shrugs*

--Beowolfe [edited 25.2.06@11:21 PM CST]

The line "He asks a girl if they can both sit in a chair, but he doesn't get nervous; she's not really there" reminds me of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood": "She asked me to stay and told me to sit anywhere -- so I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair." That seems to be a reference, but I'm not sure. -- Sylvar

People sure have some convoluted interpretations of this song! Maybe not every TMBG song is a complex commentary on metaphysics or the human condition. I think Shoehorn with Teeth is probably one of many TMBG songs that are just supposed to be fun. It's not that I think this song is meaningless; there's definitely an idea behind it somewhere, however vague. In my opinion it's a silly song about a silly person with silly ideas, and as such it probably wasn't meant to be taken very seriously. -Ryan D

I remember a bugs bunny cartoon where he is flying an aeroplane which is falling from the sky and about to crash into the ground, only to stop in midair because it ran out of fuel, so the plane can never land or even move. - Thrawn

I feel this song actually has a very disturbing message hidden inside of it's words. To those who rip the song apart piece for piece, I don't hate you for it, but I do, incidentally feel it is worthless. Take one of Robert Frost's poems for example; people rip them apart like a paper with your Social Security number on it that is about to stolen by some random guy. And guess what Frost said, he said it was just about a walk he took once... Anyways, enough of my ranting, back to the main point: This song does have central themes - life, and sex (in some peculiar manner).

The chorus "He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth, people should get beat up for stating their beliefs," This, means that in life, you really never get what you want, too bad, go vent your anger on someone. (NOTE: Venting you're anger on people, contrary to popular belief, is fun...)

"He asked a girl if they could both sit in a chair but he doesn't get nervous, she's not really there," this one is simple - the guy masturbates.

"Tour the world in a heavy metal band, but they run out of gas, the plane can never land," this, on the other hand, is much more complex. As for how I feel, I think they are trying to say that in life, good things really do happen, but then something foolish messes it all up and you find out, 'well, that was worthless.' You go so far, but then it's all lost.

"What's the sense in ever thinking of the tomb when you're much too busy returning to the womb," this literally mean why think about dying when you just can have lots, and lots of sex. Deeper than that, this is the statement that keeps you alive. The previous things were telling you that life was sucking and you feel like committing suicide, but there is hope; something can drown your sorrows away - sex...

Well, that's all. I know I may have seemed like a hypocrite because I did type a lot and somewhat ripped it apart, but I'm trying to prove there is no reason for half of the things out there, and when you look at it deeper, you may find something, something possibly inaccurate, but what the hell, everyone takes risk huh?


It may be worth mentioning that "returning to the womb" was kind of a buzz phrase in the holistic psychology world a few decades ago, when things like water therapy were popular. I think that this song is about ignoring things that are real and lusting after things that can never be because those things can never be. The song's main character is a coward. He's busy attempting to return to the womb, which is physically impossible, instead of acknowledging the inescapable eventuality of death. He worries about the airplane being unable to stop flying when it runs out of gas. This is impossible, but it's far easier for this coward to focus on than the very real (and undesirable) possibility of the plane crashing. He happily spends his time imagining what he would say to a girl if she were present because he's too afraid to try and talk to her in person. The person described in the song can't cope with certain difficult situations, so he distracts himself with problems that are too ephemeral to really cause him much stress. The main character knows there's no such thing as a shoehorn with teeth. But he also knows that he's less likely to be disappointed if he hopes for something he knows he can never have than if he tries to obtain something real and fails. 16:00, 21 February 2009 (UTC)Ryan D.

There seems to be many people reading way too much into the meaning of this song.

To me, the song is about a Belgian man trying to buy a toothbrush, with a very poor grasp of the English language.


As far as the verses go, somebody told me a long time ago that the theory they'd heard was it's The Johns making fun of each other (Linnell being shy and Flans wanting to be a big-time rock star) and as far as I'm concerned if this isn't true it should be because it amuses me a good deal. Doesn't fit in with the last verse I know, but I definitely don't think that's about sex, I think it's about regressing to previous developmental states. Although if it is about sex then it's pretty hilarious that they've played this at kids' shows. --Self Called Nowhere 09:21, 26 February 2010 (UTC)

I think it's about second childhood. —Rafe


The song is about self-deception. The crucial point is that "he" wants something that doesnt exist. This is not because he is stupid, but it protects him from failure. Ie talk up girls (it works with non-existent girls - he is not nervous), dreaming about becoming a rock star ("it wont work because we will run out of gas on our tour..."). The tomb and womb line just sums it up why people WANT to deceive themselves: You don't have to worry about serious, important things (death) when you spend all your time with dreaming about sth and then searching for the reasons/excuses why it won't work (return to the womb=childish, immature behavior). The "beat up" theme, well it is a humorous, satirical assessment of how intelligent this strategy is. Note that is directly connected to "he wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth", and the answer coming is that this is a stupid thing to say (=deceiving oneself), and people like that should be beaten up for publicly expressing such amounts of stupidity.

Man on death row[edit]

When I hear of this song I think of a man on death row asking for a ridiculous object (shoehorn with teeth) as his "last request", in a sarcastic/desperate attempt to prolong his life. The chair referred to may be the electric chair. The part about the heavy metal band is him fantasizing what he'd like to do before he dies, but then the thought trails back to him wanting to stay alive against all odds ("but they run out of gas/the plane can never land").

My Expert opinion (which also means nothing)[edit]

First the obvious thing. "people should get beat up for stating their beliefs" is a hypocritical statement. and therefore a joke. 2 TMBG core members john and john have been friends since middle school. I don't know if you have had friends since middle school, but the enormity of the INSIDE JOKES and silliness that me and my longtime friends have is probably a peek into whats going on here. Is this presumptuous? yes! Like many of the songs by TMBG, I believe are just a series of inside jokes that should be taken for whatever meaning the insiders have, and passed off as a thing we can never be a part of. I often feel that I am hearing one side of a conversation, when john L sings, for instance. It's usually about loss regret or the realization of ones own small and insignificant mortality. John L is a road map to self-doubt and makes a celebration of all things awkward. John F has a similar vain but in a sense is trailing behind in the darkness category. He tends to bend observations into a new catchy phrase and taking away old meanings and replacing them with something illogical. SHOEHORN is a mix of all these things with scarcely a singular meaning between the verses BESIDES the theme of wanting the impossible.

Mandela Effect[edit]

Makes me think of the Mandela Effect - this guy always thought shoehorns had teeth, now he knows there's no such thing but wants his old reality back.

Heavy Metal Guy[edit]

I always thought this song was just about an immature, macho guy, who gets his kicks from asking store clerks for things that don’t exist, and being close minded. He used to tour in a heavy metal band, but they never really took off, so now his life is just mundane and he hides through immaturity, making up stories about encounters with girls, and telling stories of his failed band.

It’s not super cool, and no one likes a guy like that.

Psychology of a fascist society[edit]

At first glance, I assumed the song was just about a guy who doesn't want to face reality, who wants to somehow feel the benefits of things like a relationship, touring with a band, etc, but without actually having to go through the effort and to experience the negative side effects of those things. So he has his own little reality to shield him from that.

However, the line "people should get beat up for stating their beliefs" seems very important, and it just doesn't fit that narrative. Another stand-out line is "...because he knows there's no such thing."

Those two lines make me immediately think of some kind of fascist (or other right-wing authoritarian) leader who rallies a population around a false narrative, and a false expectation of achieving goals that he knows are either impossible or that he has no intention of trying to achieve. Example, the Nazi mythology of the Aryan race (because they knew there was no such thing) and Fascist Italy's attempt to restore the Roman Empire, etc. The girl who isn't there and the heavy metal band are representations of the failure of these political ideologies, but at the same time, it represents their persistent appeal to a lot of people. Even if the plane never lands, or even if the girl isn't really there, the fantasy of it is nice, so many in society still support it, and keep on beating up those people who state their beliefs.

Of course that's probably not accurate, but that's just what my mind went to, and also I'm assuming the song does have a real meaning in the first place, which is....questionable. 23:56, 28 February 2022 (EST)

The song is about any and all people with ridiculous opinions and ideas (shoehorn with teeth, the plane can never land), their childishness and lack of self-awareness about it (returning to the womb), and intolerance of ideas besides their own (people should get beat up for stating their beliefs).

It's funny how one editor commented that this could be interpreted as about anti-progressives. It can certainly be applied to them, but it could also be applied to ultra-woke progressives. Cancel culture is basically a different form of beating up people for stating their beliefs. The song can be applied to any radical or cultish groups or ideas, whether that's the alt-right, the woke, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, 911 truthers, conspiracy theorists, religious nutjobs, hippy communes, etc...