Interpretations:When Will You Die

From This Might Be A Wiki

Linnell gets mean[edit]

In countless interviews Linnell is at pains to explain how detached he is from the subject matter in his songs, arguing that his life is uninteresting for popular consumption. Extracting the self from finished pieces of art is impossible, and although often disguised by methaphor keen Giants fans have a firm sense of what Linnell is like as a person from his songs. It is rather ususual to find him so mean.

When will you die shows Linnell at his most malicious although he is careful to cover his tracks on the identity of the person he so hates. Given that the demise of his hated figure will be celebrated by a nation of school children they must be quite high profile. In a recent interview (which I can't be bothered to find the reference for) Linnell said that the band were a bit uneasy as he sang the lyrics trying to guess the identity, perhaps that's why he (unwisely) starts name checking the band and discussing high fives ect. This deflates the menance somewhat and perhaps shows the influence of writing too many songs for kids. It is still a mean spirited song, the narrator sounding childish in his list of complaints, which echoes Can't Keep Johnny Down. One suspects the hated figure is political(perhaps an emotional sequel to I'm Impressed) and for this listener the line "When will you die", may well be borrowed from the song "Margaret on the Guillotine" on Morrissey's Viva Hate 23 years ago. The songs, I should add, sound totally different!(Mr Tuck)

General "I Hate You" Song[edit]

Quoth John Linnell;

"When we were working on it, everybody was looking at me, like, “Who is this about?” [Laughs.] And no, it was kind of hilarious to keep people… It’s a funny thing to lead people to believe that there is somebody that it’s about, because in a way, the energy of the song is derived from that. I would joke and say, “Well, it’s about someone in this room, but I’m not going to say who.”

Mr. Linnell says right in the quote that he found it funny to lead a person to believe the song was actually about someone, which of course means that there is not actually a someone that it's about. This song is simply a generalized 'I Hate You' song. In my opinion, sometimes it's nice to sing an angry song about nobody so you can fill in the blanks and project whoever you're mad at onto it.

This is just such a song.

The insults are inordinately mean, with such gems as "We will know at last how great it is to be alive" and the part about buying tickets to jump on the subject's grave. Scathing to say the least; vindicating to someone listening to the song with hate in their heart.

As for the self-reference, it ties the song firmly into 'reality' (or at least the illusion or such) by reminding us that They Might Be Giants is a real band of real people who have a real hate for this poor sap they're singing about. It also reminds us that this really is just a song meant to be funny and over the top with a dose of tongue-in-cheek humor.

How is "you" not me?[edit]

Sorry, I automatically assumed the "you" in "When Will You Die" was me. And I loved it. It reminded me a little of "O Do Not Forsake Me." It doesn't sound all that malicious to me. It made me laugh. Am I sick?

OMG I feel that way about the song sometimes TOO. I wish you wrote your signature so I could know who you are! --Flansfan 23:08, 1 January 2013 (EST)

oooooh i know i know!![edit]

This song is about the crying girl and linnell wants her to kick the bucket because she wont stop crying

Vive Le Revolucion![edit]

In my opinion, it seems as though he's writing about the collapse of a government. The banks will all close? Maybe they've been burnt down, as some oppressive regime is crushed. Schoolkids, i.e. students are often the first to rebel. It makes sense to me.

Reply: No, he's talking about how it will be a national holiday because everyone hates this person so much.

Lol No[edit]

Banks close on federal holidays. The painfully obvious intention is that the death will be so memorable they will declare it a national holiday. Suggesting it's supposed to be anarchist is ludicrous.

Prisoner on death row[edit]

From the first time I heard the song, I thought it was about someone on death row who has committed a particularly heinous crime. Linnell knows every detail of the death such as the how and why except for the timing as capital punishment is such a drawn out process - Ash

Narrator as Killer?[edit]

I get the impression from this song that the narrator is planning to murder the subject of this song. The main thing that gives me this idea is that he says "I know HOW." Why would he know how this person is going to die unless he was planning on doing it himself? Thus the main point of the song is to psyche himself up to commit this crime against his fellow man.

The narrator hates this person so much for his so-called heinous crimes. This is unsubstantiated in the lyrics, but given that the narrator is insane enough to want to murder someone, I like to think that he may just be so annoyed with all the things that the soon-to-be victim is doing (or not doing) that it has driven him to kill this person, similarly (a little bit at least) "The Tell-Tale Heart."

Worse yet, the insane narrator then believes that everyone will congratulate him for his deed, joining him in dancing on this dead man's grave. The "insane, bad, sociopath who wrecks everything he touches" is who again? -WhatIsThatThing 21:42, 6 August 2011 (EDT)

Re: "I know how" the narrator doesn't mean it like that, or else he couldn't say a few lines down how everyone would rejoice if "we" knew the hour of his death. He doesn't know it more than anyone else. user:PaintSplatter 00:15, 27 August 2011 (EDT)

I like to think[edit]

it's a song about bin Laden.

And I about McKinley. ~ magbatz
It's clearly about my mother in-law
I like to think of Donald Trump
in these trying times

Impossible to interpret[edit]

Like a lot of songs on this album, the lyrics are lazy, and this song is impossible to make sense out of. We don't know anything about the sociopath except that he is a sociopath. An oddity about the song, however, is that the band members are named, as if it really is about a specific person.

Chorus of "yeah" has clues?[edit]

TMBG uses a chorus of "no" in a lot of songs, but this one has a chorus of "yeah." Could be informative to compare the meanings of those songs.

From Twitter...[edit]

@tmbg Just who is the song "When Will You Die" about? #dontsayme

1 Nov

in reply to ↑

@tmbgThey Might Be Giants

@tkking Hate.

It's funny because...[edit]

... the real sociopath in this song is the narrator. No matter what happened, this level of hatred is almost certainly disproportionate to anything the person concerned could have done. --- Whirrrlwind (Woosh!) 18:02, 8 February 2012 (EST)


the song is about the band. Linnel is wondering when the band will die.

Don't Judge Me If I'm Not Right about this.[edit]

I think that this song is about John and John arguing.

-- Flansfan 15:36, 29 December 2012 (EST)

Maybe I'm being simple here...[edit]

...but the only person or people that came to mind are George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney. A specific political interpretation would allow either of them to fit the description of the person in the song, and we know from interviews and live stage banter and view expressed in other songs that both John's are not only left-leaning, but were pretty adamantly anti-Bush.

This was pretty much my first thought, as well (re: Bush/Cheney). The lyrics (which many here have described as sociopathic or psychopathic) reflect the impotent helplessness that many of us felt during that time period -- the sense that we were powerless to stop the terrible things our leaders were doing, and all that we could do was to hope to survive their term...which could not end soon enough.

So, maybe. Maybe not, though. I mean, maybe that was TMBG's immediate experience and inspiration -- but really, who _hasn't_ felt that impotent rage? Where it seems as though all you can do is fantasize about a day where it might be over, and we'll be able to emerge from a nightmare and celebrate our liberation.... Yeah.

Record Industry Rant?[edit]

Like several other TMBG songs (I've Got a Match, Rhythm Section Want Ad, Hey Mr. DJ..., etc.) this could be about the traditional recording industry. Especially important are the lines "I know how" and "I know why". We know that new distribution methods will eventually make record record companies (as we know them at least) obsolete, we just don't know how long it'll take.


I think it's about Fidel Castro. It seems like he's been ruling forever. "When will you die?" cries an incredulous Linnell. -- 19:43, 25 January 2014 (EST)

The narrator is already dead[edit]

He's not happy the subject is gone, he wants the subject to Join Us.--Pittsburghmuggle (talk) 17:32, 29 January 2015 (EST)

The singer's talking about himself[edit]

Crazy theory - instead of the singer of this song talking about some terrible mean person, he's talking about himself.

Suicidally depressed, the singer asks himself when he will die, thinking of himself as a "terrible person" who makes everything worse by existing. He fantasizes that everyone will celebrate when he is dead, and that things would be much better without him in the world.

The only part that clashes with this theory is when Linnell lists all the members of the band and that they all want the subject of the song dead. I mean, I don't know too much about any sort of history of depression from any of the band members, but if someone in the band did ever have a similar vein of depression in the past, the inane belief that everyone wanted that person dead would kinda make sense.

However, the listing of the band members wanting the song's subject dead might just be metaphorical, mentioning band members instead of the "friends" of this hypothetically depressed singer.

Just a thought. (I also like the theory that it's asking when the band itself will die.)

Paintspotinfez (talk) 08:42, 7 November 2017 (EST)

Baby Boomers[edit]

I choose to interpret this song as being about an entire generation ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

John and John are clearly psychic[edit]

For years this song kinda rubbed me the wrong way. It was a little too much of a downer for me to handle and really distorted the whole feel of the album for me. Then 2016 happened. Now I hear this song in a whole new way. The lyrics just apply much too perfectly to a certain US President for there to possibly be any other interpretation than the Johns presciently writing about the reign of Trump. I know I'll be in line to buy a ticket to dance on his grave, even if his death doesn't become an official bank holiday.

When Will God Die?[edit]

Now maybe some people will get angry at me for this. But it occurred to me that he could be singing about God.

I've heard it said in other places that God doesn't actually know right from wrong, because He cannot feel pain or die the way humans can. Therefore, He is not fit to judge us. Only we are fit to judge ourselves. So God is a sociopath, who wrecks everything He touches. (See: the story of Noah's Ark)

And we just can't wait for Him to die. You know it, I know it. After all, God is a vindictive jerk whose authority we're expected to accept solely on the basis of him being infinitely more powerful than us. He's supposed to be responsible for everything on Earth, right? How can you believe that and not want him dead?

This may not be supported by anything Linnell himself has said about the song, but I find it makes the song very much more funny and enjoyable. Just the thought of singing in an upbeat manner about how much you hate the world and resent God for making it this way. Seems very TMBG. It's also empowering in a strange way. Especially the lines "Knowing that your wicked life is over / And that we will carry on". God is dead and we killed Him, but we can carry on, free at last. Just cheers me up, you know?

I should clarify that I kind-of talked about God as though he exists here, which I don't think is true. Also, to any Christian theists who may be reading: if you disagree with my opinion, please just ignore it.

Maggie T[edit]

Margaret Thatcher always comes to mind for me for this song. I'm not saying this is what they intended, but it's who comes to mind.

FROZENHUMANRUG (talk) 17:19, 8 April 2023 (EDT)

A drug addict maybe?[edit]

A clue in “I know how” - if not drugs, the person in question is no stranger to dangerous behavior. That’s kind of funny itself, in a way. The earlier lines about lies and backstabbing support it too. Someone else suggested a person in the music industry, and I kind of agree. Maybe a lawyer.

It was about Henry Kissinger[edit]

Now the prophecy is complete.