- Guitar Tab
- Bass Tab
- 1 Two people distracted while driving end up colliding
- 2 Flansburgh is a character in the book Linnell is writing
- 3 Same person, two characters
- 4 Has nothing to do with Trucks...
- 5 Triple Meaning
- 6 Another Joke? No a Puzzle.
- 7 Secret Word Combinations
- 8 Inaction vs Overaction
- 9 Two people driving one car
- 10 The Phone Call
- 11 Old Song Reference?
- 12 The Last Page
- 13 More on the internal monologue
- 14 Suicide note
- 15 Interpretation 15
- 16 A comment on the whole “two drivers” thing
- 17 The song spoils itself
- 18 Escaped from the mental asylum
Two people distracted while driving end up colliding
The song is sung by both Linnell and Flansburgh at the same time. Each have a different set of lyrics and from a different perspective. It would seem that the song depicts two drivers, one of whom falls asleep at the wheel and another who becomes distracted; and that these ultimately end up in a collision.
Flansburgh's character is a truck driver who believes his truck can drive itself, and so deliberately goes to sleep at the wheel. Perhaps his delusion is brought on by fatigue?
Linnell's character is an author who thinks of an idea to conclude his book whilst at the wheel. Imagining he has more pairs of hands than he does he attempts to write his ideas down whilst still driving.
As the two seperate stories are sung simultaneously it is implied that they are occuring at the same time. Linnell's closing lyrics slip from talk of punctuation to him noticing there is some trouble in the road up ahead; presumably Flansburgh's sleeping truck driver. As the former narrator has fallen asleep it makes sense that only Linnell's narrative recognises the impending collision. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Astralbee (talk • contribs) 09:38, July 18, 2011
- I fully agree with this, except for where it gets worse. The "truck" narrator keeps saying that his leg is so short that he can't reach the brake. Thank goodness it can drive itself! This leads me to think the narrator is a child in the truck, who hasn't fallen asleep yet, but the driver has. --Vidihawk (talk) 00:45, 15 April 2014 (EDT)
Flansburgh is a character in the book Linnell is writing
I like to imagine that Flansburgh's lyrics are sung from the point of view of a character in the book Linnell is writing while driving, and somehow the character's consciousness is being affected by the fact that the author is writing his story while driving a car, potentially threatening the existence of the character and the story. The character in the book (Flansburgh) seems to know something is amiss ("Something is nagging at me"), but later disregards it ("But never mind, it's gone"). As Linnell is too distracted to write an ending to his book, the character in his story is unable to control the truck he is driving; instead the truck simply continues driving by itself as nothing else in the story has been written yet. The character takes delight in his self-driving truck and sits back and lets go of the wheel as the the author yells out in surprise at some unknown trouble up the road. I know this is probably a bit of a stretch and it doesn't quite make as much sense as the above interpretation, but I honestly like the idea of a character in a story being able to sense that his author is in a dangerous situation, and I like to imagine that's what's happening in this song. --McBob 03:02, 21 July 2011 (EDT)
- Somebody previously mentioned they thought the Linnell was writing a book that featured Flansburgh as a character, which I thought made the most sense, and was my original interpretation. Looking back this may just be because the first time I heard it, the left channel on my earphones was significantly softer than the right channel. However, Linnell does say that he's "writing it all down while it's happening", implying that he's writing about someone who is driving, likely himself. Flansburgh seems to fit this idea. --SMB 03:58, 29 July 2011 (EDT)
- I like to think that not only is Flansburgh the character in Linnell's book, but also the one he crashes into. His protagonist comes to life, kinda like the plot of Stranger than Fiction. --Swagar 04:12, 28 September 2011 (EDT)
Same person, two characters
I took it a slightly different way, and thought that perhaps the two perspectives were actually one person. One is the "real" person, who is very distracted while writing. The other is the "writer," which is the part of the driver's mind which is wandering and just thinking about finishing the book.
I thought they were trying to depict the sort of multi-mentality of many artists and maybe poking some fun at people who try to do too much while driving. Basically, to me, it was about an artist who is totally and obliviously wrapped up in his inspiration when he shouldn't be, and his common sense is pushed to the back of his mind.
I like the truck driver / writer interpretation too, which is much more literal, but the above is what came to me first. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 07:25, July 22, 2011
Has nothing to do with Trucks...
I feel this has nothing to do with trucks and that the title "spoiler alert" is meant as a pun only (Spoilers being on the back of trucks, vs ruining the end of a book.)
I feel like Linnell's character is just about to finish reading the book, while Flans' character has already read it and really wants to tell him the ending. In the end, Flans does tell him the ending to which Linnell's character gets pissed "What the hell!?" The trucks being a metaphor for holding back and keeping in control. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Armicron (talk • contribs) 22:40, July 23, 2011
To me there seem to be actually three possible interpretations to this song.
The first is the obvious interpretation, which has already been mentioned: Two drivers--one too involved with multiple distractions, and one who is too relaxed and possibly fatigued/about to go to sleep--get into a wreck.
The second is a less obvious interpretation, which to me involves two people reading the same book. One is completely immersed in the plot, constantly reading into each element of the plot, trying to figure out the ending as he is reading it. The other is completely laid back, relaxed and enjoying a good book, letting it lead him through the plot. In the end neither one is able to help from being blown away by the twist ending.
The third is a metaphorical interpretation, where the two drivers (or readers) from the previous interpretation represent two people living their lives. One is completely distracted by everything, feeling he has to make something of his life and constantly worrying about how he will make an impression on society. The other is laid back about life, not caring and not worrying about anything. In the end they both die anyway.
I wouldn't put it behind TMBG to write a song with three intended meanings, but I think it's more likely that they enjoy writing songs and letting the listener draw his/her own conclusions.
Either way, bravo to TMBG for their brilliant songwriting! In a world where inane lyrics are promoted, they create music that actually exercises our minds.
(As a side note, I find the similarities between the imagery of this song and the cover art for "Join Us" interesting. Anyone else?) —Preceding unsigned comment added by 188.8.131.52 (talk) 14:43, July 24, 2011
Another Joke? No a Puzzle.
Interesting that the Giants appear to be experimenting with more 50-50 collaborations. Like Never Knew Love they appear to being deliberately singing against each other (complete with conflicting vocal effects: Flans distorted; Linnell cleaner) This musical antagonism fits with the misanthropic themes of Join Us, but it doesn't make for easy listening. Like many of the songs on Join Us, the lyrics are a deliberate puzzle that challenges the listener to decipher what's going on. Without cheating and looking at the lyrics working out who says what is a real challenge and stylistically one could argue that this be a tribute to mono. The last song I heard like this was the The Murder Mystery by Velvet Underground circa 1968 with a similar duel opposing lyric. For younger listeners, the only way to find out what was going on was by flicking from left to right on the mixing controls of a stereo to listen to the vocals separately. The song suffers (compared with the earlier material circa 80s/90s which was obviously played live before being recorded) of being worked out in the studio. Too much of the Johns singing over each other is monotonous (as is the overdone pitter patter riff) and the tune works best when they allow each other some space to sing uninterrupted. If this had been tried out live first they would have worked this out and sorted it. Flans sounds worryingly near to being out of tune at times. The outro provides a calm after the storm. --(Mr Tuck) 13:49, July 26, 2011
- This reads an awful lot like a review, not an interpretation. 184.108.40.206 21:57, 31 October 2011 (EDT)
Secret Word Combinations
Even though I know who's singing what and what they're saying, I always get tripped up by the overlapping "phone call"/"lucky thing" part. It sounds like "fucky thing" every time I hear it. It makes me wonder what else overlaps to create weird 3rd meanings and whether any of it was intentional. Did I mention that in my spare time I connect JFK newspaper articles with thumbtacks and pieces of yarn? --Cronny 13:03, July 31, 2011
- Two that strike me as intentional... or that at least pop out each time to me: "Here comes / This truck..." and "The end of the whole book / Is so short...". And then of course the more obvious ones like "cover my eyes" and the last part. ~ magbatz 13:13, July 31, 2011
Inaction vs Overaction
The impression I got from this song was that both sets of lyrics are from the internal monologue of the same person. The narrator has found himself in a situation that's rapidly getting out of his control and he can't decide how to handle it, and the Flansburgh/Linnell lyric sets act as a sort of angel/devil-on-the-shoulder set of conflicting ideas. Flansburgh suggests that the situation is moving forward on its own and the outcome will be the same no matter what the narrator tries to do, so he may as well lie back and let the chips fall where they may. Linnell wants him to do as much as he can, as fast as he can, so that he can try to shape the ending into something he wants it to be. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 220.127.116.11 (talk) 20:50, August 2, 2011
Two people driving one car
I don't think this is the correct interpretation, but it's an interesting one. Both Johns are driving the same car at the same time, wholly unaware of each other. Flansburgh is the first to notice that the car seems to be driving itself, which means he doesn't need to pay attention? Linnell gets distracted trying to work on his book while he drives, and notices that even though he's writing the car is driving fine, it's like he has extra hands. So Flansburgh assumes that the car is alive when actually it's Linnell driving, and Linnell assumes that he's driving subconsciously or something, and that he has extra hands he didn't know about, when actually it's Flansburgh driving. At about the same time, they both decide they don't need to keep driving, so they both let go completely of the wheel, but now no one is driving so the car crashes and they both die. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 18.104.22.168 (talk) 19:44, September 10, 2011
- Reading that while watching the music video made me think of an extension of this idea. The two POVs are from two separate hands being used to drive. The left hand would be the hand next to the window and truckers often have their left hand relaxing on the window "I'm totally resting, I’m reclining" The right hand on the other hand would be the one being more actively used, to write, reach into the glove box, to hold a phone etc. Additionally, Flansburgh, who is left handed, is singing the left audio while Linnell sings the right.--Koolkevk 22:07, 10 October 2011 (EDT)
- I really like this interpretation. An additional point to it... Notice, the left hand's "leg is so short that it can't reach the brake" - it's probably an automatic transmission. Maybe only a left-handed person would notice how much more the right side of the driver does than the left. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 22.214.171.124 (talk) 18:06, November 3, 2011
The Phone Call
I think it's about a guy (Flansy) who's driving a truck while his friend (Linnell) is in shotgun. Then, the driver gets a phone call. The phone call distracts him, and then he drives off the road, leading the passenger, who is finishing up a book, to say "What the hell?!", and then they crash. The flute at the end may be like "The Last Post", for remembering them after their death. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Garythesnail (talk • contribs) 18:08, October 29, 2011
Old Song Reference?
This is probably wrong, but I keep wanting to think that Flans is referencing AKA Driver, the nyquil is making him drowsy, he can't reach the brake, he is dreaming that the truck can drive by itself at the same time. Now, Linnell just reminds me of an uptight business type guywho is multi-tasking a little too much, and fails to notice the truck coming directly at him, starts cursing, then the minor flute solo is his dilemma, but he gains control, and avoids the crash (the song ending on a happy chord). —Preceding unsigned comment added by Nascarbean 97 (talk • contribs) 01:00, November 25, 2011
The Last Page
I agree with the auto accident interpretation, but wanted to submit that perhaps there's a double-meaning on the word "Page" in which it actually means a Text Message, and that it is written with the awareness that the person's life is about to end.
- Here comes The last page
Here comes the last text message I'll ever send.
- All I need is an ending
I almost have the message completely written out.
- Nearing The end of the last page
- And the end of the whole book
I almost have my last text message written and my life's about to end too!
- Yeah What to do with these loose ends?
I have some unfinished business, but I can't do anything about it.
- I should change the beginning
- But I shouldn't be typing
- While I'm driving
- While I'm making a phone call
- While I'm searching through the glove box
- While I'm writing it all down
- While it's happening
This was a bad idea, but I can't do anything about it now.
- They're gonna be so impressed When they get a load of me
It's a REALLY COOL Text message, though!
- It's like I've got two extra pairs of hands Two to write, two to steer, one to scratch my head and one to cover my eyes Which would help me to think up an end Yeah Some kind of punctuation mark
I'm really good at this multitasking thing. I just need to punctuate it and I can send it...
- Some kind of, some kind of… Some kind of trouble up ahead What the hell? What the hell?
There's a man asleep at the wheel in a truck and he's about to crash into me! —Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 01:05, April 14, 2012
More on the internal monologue
Perhaps Flansy and Linnell represent the left and right hemispheres in the brain of a dying man, as the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the sides, begins to break down. Each hemisphere rationalizes death in different ways - Flansy as a truck exiting him that he can't stop, and Linnell as the ending of a book. The right side seems to be bombarded by a cluster of images while the left side simply stops narrating, which sort of fits the classical interpretation of the brain hemispheres.
Also, I thought one side saying "I'm letting go" while the other side is panicked and saying "what the hell" at the end was pretty telling! —Preceding unsigned comment added by 188.8.131.52 (talk) 12:58, October 23, 2012
Flansburgh, The Idea, drifts through the "John"'s mind, a desire to divide itself from the internal struggle of feelings vs. reasoning. The truck is driving out of his mind. His self-control has finally been grinded to the point that it can no longer overcome the desire, thus cannot reach the brake.
It repeats as the person reconsiders the scenario over and over, afraid to see the end. At this point in the story, "John" frequently comes to his senses and drops it, but he's too tired to stop this time. Carrying on.
This truck, he insists, can drive itself. He doesn't need to think, the objective compels him. It feels great to just stop thinking for once and be free. "John" covers his eyes and ignores the danger signs.
Linnell, The Real, recognizes this fantasy, feeling stronger than before. He's spelling out his feelings in his journal at home, but it's starting to feel more and more for a public historical account of his life than for personal relief.
His mind is starting to drift through everything he's yet to resolve. He has feelings in his journal he's afraid of people finding out and feeling disappointed. Maybe he should edit it so people accept that it's come to a reasonable end, and he's supposedly accomplished everything he needed to. Suddenly, he's beginning to feel motivated, afraid he shouldn't be spending it on this emotional state. Using an analogy of dangerous driving, he thinks of calling his therapist, perhaps looking through his desk for his pills or possibly a knife or handgun. There are so many emotions and thoughts going through his head, as he's putting it all on paper.
He usually stops himself there, but looking back on the entry so far, he's feeling quite proud of his expression. He considers that his life can provide some insight for others' seeking to understand, comforting himself in saying it has meaning. He keeps going.
He stretches for more imagery to distract his hesitant logical side. As he's taking note of everything, he's organizing his thoughts into one direction, he questions himself, and he tries to lose himself in imagination to get back in the mood.
John needs to finish it. Flansburgh's suppressed his restraint enough to let his mind run freely. He pushed further than before through rationalization. He's totally resting. He's reclining as he's driving. Linnell's stumbling over himself, letting imagination take over completely. As he's desired so often before, John's finally let go unhindered by that pesky brain of his. Flansburgh's truck drifts off the road, careening over a cliff, he slips off the ledge of the rooftop, he relaxes his arm and starts to pull the trigger. Linnell is struggling to accept this. As loud as he celebrates, he can't help but shout out the trouble up ahead. As he drifts blissfully to his end, he's simultaneously panicking. He's finally coming to his senses as it's too late.
It stops abruptly. The title, Spoiler Alert, implies that he is convinced that it's going to happen, but hasn't yet. The conclusion plays as John falls into bed to go to sleep, trying to recover from the pseudo-revelation. The book goes on as he dreads the ending. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.108.40.206 (talk) 23:07, December 21, 2012
Review by "interociter" from the TMBG Are OK tumblr, found here.
My musical background is admittedly limited, but I have never heard a song like Spoiler Alert. The song takes the form of two different lyrical tracks sung at times separately, at times simultaneously, and at times in counterpoint, all while one instrumental track plays out. Each vocal track matches the instrumental track, and the lyrics, while different, converge twice; once figuratively, and once literally.
The first time I heard Spoiler Alert I was confused and taken aback. Who sings two songs at once? Who does that? It took a few listens before I realized what was going on, and was able to differentiate the different lyrical tracks. In the left channel, you have Flansy describing driving a truck that’s making him crazy, which he cannot control, and to which he ultimately surrenders. In the right channel, you have Linnell describing his efforts at being a creative writer, the potential impact his work will have, and the fact that all his writing and concurrent multitasking are taking place while he drives.
Upon closer analysis, at first I believed this song to be each John swapping their classic themes. Flansy's song touches on some classic Linnell motifs, like losing/surrendering control, absurd bodily imagery ("my leg is too short to reach the brake"), and mental distraction. Linnell's song plays with various topics often covered by Flansy, such as fame and the creative process. Because of this, I thought that perhaps each had written the lyrics for the other. I later found out that Linnell wrote the whole song. Perhaps in doing so, he allowed his voice to come out more fully in the Flansy part and reined himself in and played in Flansy's toolbox for his own part, whether consciously, or unconsciously. Perhaps I'm crazy (another recurring They Might Be Giants theme).
The vocal tracks converge figuratively as the conclusion of the plot of each vocal track would seem to lend itself to the interpretation that both singers, by carelessly driving their vehicles, have collided with each other. Bleak? Perhaps, but a bleak ending to a song is nothing new for the Giants.
The vocal tracks converge literally when each singer's story reaches a similar, but divergent, point and they sing "cover my eyes" at the same time. I believe I discovered this sometime around October 2011. Join Us came out in July 2011. It took at least three months of listening before I even realized there was a shared lyric.
This dual song structure is impressive, and the vocal counterpoint at the end is both difficult to master, and impressive to hear. I wonder how they recorded it. I would guess they did it at the same time in the same studio, since they seem to sing it live together, but the fact that they disappear and sing the song backstage through their sock puppet "Avatars of They" makes me think at least they don't have to look at each other while singing it, which would throw me off, I think.
A comment on the whole “two drivers” thing
Linell is supposedly trying to finish typing (or reading) a book and Flansburgh is supposedly realizing his truck drives itself, and relaxing. This is apparently proved by the final lyrics, notably Flansburgh singing about how he is letting go of himself and ceasing to watch the road while Linell, who was already distracted by the book and many other things, panics and crashes the car. My take on this is that the two are arguing about the symbolism of the absurdity of how life passes eternally and we can do nothing to change that. Flansburgh is talking about how, even without his assistance, “this truck has a mind of its own,” or life goes on whether or not you do anything, pushing us toward the metaphorical car crash at the end of the song, to which Flansburgh responds that he’s calmly “letting go,” while Linell is fearful for what happens next and exclaims “What the hell?” If the end of the song is meant to be the end of their lives, this song is meant to be an ode to the way these people live their lives. Another theory is that, in the literal car crash at the end, one of the Johns survives and Good to Be Alive is the sequel, sung by Flansburgh, as he is the survivor. This contradicts the music video for Good to Be Alive, wherein a man recently attacked by a yeti is pursued and attacked again by the same beast, but I still don’t really know if music videos mean anything yet.
-When Cheese Met Chalk
The song spoils itself
There’s not a whole lot I can add that hasn’t been said already, but I feel it’s worth mentioning that the first lines before the singers’ voices overlap seem to foreshadow the final moment, at least from the perspective of the distracted author: “Here comes / this truck” Witchymarisa (talk) 14:18, 31 August 2020 (EDT)
Escaped from the mental asylum
I think that these two people driving have both escaped from a mental asylum. Flans’ character thinks that the truck can drive himself, Linnell’s character believes he has six hands. - HotelDetectiveInTheFuture (talk) 13:00, 3 April 2022 (EDT)