Interpretations:Withered Hope

From This Might Be A Wiki


Okay, rather than an interp this is sort of a little side note: although both Sad Sack and the motorbike say the "I want to live with you" line, they say it with a different meaning: Sad Sack is telling Withered Hope he loves her, he wants to be with her (maybe marry her and live together?) - and the motorbike is trying to say "spend all your money, buy me and take me home", pretty much like when you want to buy something - sometimes you can even feel how that thing talks to you so you buy it. --Kuriru 17:34, 21 December 2007 (UTC)

Well, this interpretation is based on something I'm going through, so, it's probably not going to fit to well with the song...

The type of people in this song are represented quite literally. Sad Sack being a depressive, possibly a loner. Withered Hope is a jaded female who has little hope and is generally pessimistic. Because of this she does not really like Sad Sack, but empathizes with him and feels sorry for him, and because of her general attitude Sad Sack can relate to her, and does, and falls in love with her.

Withered Hope doesn't feel the same way, obviously, Withered Hope does have feelings of love and is attracted to rebellious people, people who share her apathy for the world and these people are attracted to people who also show a degree of apathy so much so that they show no care for other people... "crooks"... of course, the crook is beautiful this either represents how shallow the soulmate is, or how Linnell can find good words with enough syllables to fit into empty spaces.

The Crook, or his personality type, is generally an undesirable person. Withered Hope believes the crook steals out of spite, when in reality, he steals because he's shallow and greedy (perhaps him being beautiful is representative of his shallowness?). So naturally, the crook is in love with his possessions (the motorbike) and while he probably wouldn't reject Withered Hope, he wouldn't care about her and would be obsessed about his possessions instead.

I believe the last part is representative of how Sad Sack, having experience unrequited love, has no desire to do anything, and material possessions begin to mean less and less to him.


This seems to stand up except for the fact that it says that Withered Hope is in love with A Soul Mate, not the Crook. The Soul Mate is the one in love with the Crook.


This is one of my favorites on The Else, and (as others have suggested) is another in a series of disappointment/broken relationship songs from Linnell. TMBG do inspire aggressive interpretation, which is fun, but it seems to me the simplest interpreation is likely the most accurate: this a song about people who long for something outside their reach, which ends up creating a circle of disappointment. In fact, it creates a Sad Sack and Withered Hope.

Why do so many of these discussions end up moving to gender/sexuality questions? Because Linnell tends to write without obvious he/she pronouns? This seems like a failure of the interpretive imagination to me. Not to be harsh...

User:Northside Jonny

I can think of a few reasons - most participants are highly interested in sex? Lots of high school and college folks here, ages when one is more likely to be entangled in the problems of gender and male-female roles? Mr. Linnell is effeminate, or in his own words, "strangely fey"?
Agreed that the pronoun ambiguity adds to it, plus the fact that TMBG songs often take the first person with items clearly not the singer in any way - inanimate objects, animals - so it loosens the automatic assumption that the narrator is the song writer. ~Christina Miller, September 2007
As a corollary example to Christina's thoughts, I would like to point you toward the EE Cummungs poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town," which does suggest that "anyone" is a he, and includes the line "and noone stooped to kiss his face." One way to interpret that is to believe that "nobody" stooped. However, the common interpretation is that "noone" is a girl, and the poem is a love story.
Literature tends to deal with human relationships. That's a fact. That we want to believe song lyrics are about humans just means that we're conditioned to believe they are. And, given the history of literature, I reckon we're right in that assumption.

Is this another allegory, like Particle Man? (cred to Cake Barna) Where the lyricist slapped words together with an underlying, subconscious kind of structure so that wet-behind-the-ears amateur literary analysts such as ourselves could argue about it? 'Cause we are so cute when we get worked up about this stuff.

Okay, Mr. Linnell - I'll try this one. *rolls up sleeves*

Let's say that each character is allegorical -

1. Sad Sack = the pathetic hero, or the Self

2. Withered Hope = Futile love, Suffering for Love

3. Withered Hope's Soulmate = Love from Afar

4. Picture of a beautiful crook = the idea of the Thief, or Heart-Stealer

5. The brand new motorbike = Consumerism, material goods

If we assume this, what do these icons do, and how do they interact?

The inner man, the sad pathetic yearner, is "in love" with Suffering for Love. Suffering for love has a second half, a twin, a "soulmate," which is Love from Afar, because loving from afar, (in the allegory "in another city, in another state") is half of suffering for love. It completes the Suffering.

Love from Afar prefers the idea of a beautiful Thief, of the tantilizing woman you cannot attain. She will steal your heart; that is part of her appeal.

But the unattainable woman doesn't want you, she wants material goods, and she loves Consumerism. Not just a motorbike, but a brand new motorbike, a thing to buy.

Consumerism (the motorbike) doesn't like crooks, because they steal instead of buying, but it is panting after the Self, the Sad Sack, who is searching for heartbreak, not material goods, but that is the one item in this story that will chase after him.

How'd I do?

Anyone like this one? Mr. Linnell? Are you laughing yet?

~Christina Miller, July 2007

Similar to my thoughts... but you stated it far better. Plus, you actually translated something out of the Thief and the Motorbike. Captain Red 10:30, 26 July 2007 (UTC)
  • bows* Thank you. *blush*
Well, I think the relationship of Motorbike - Sad Sack is a little different. I think that Consumerism is trying to get the Forlorn to go out and buy to make themselves feel better. And Sadsack would (may? the song doesn't actually say Sadsack declines the Motorbike, however its probably a safe bet to say "he" would) decline because, especially from the perspective of TMBG, consumerism isn't something that can take the place of unrequited love, so Sadsack would at least be reluctant.
Sure, I can see that.
I agree with the reassessment of the Motorbike-Sad Sack relationship; however, I was thinking about why Motorbike was chosen in particular. I believe it's due to the association of motorcycles with "bad boys." These are the same bad boys that get all the girls while the nice guys finish last so to speak. So it's consumerism exploiting this guy's heartbreak and offering him sex appeal in his time of vulnerability. -- Dave, 04.08.09

Seems like a song about an emo teen chasing another emo teen.

Why must it be a teen? The songwriter himself is a bit of a sad sack, for instance. I'm not sure where the age of the people is indicated, or even that they are people, per se. One is a motorbike, if you notice.

I think there is a pun about Withered Hope being both a female named Hope who has withered, and disappointment or a dream that has been much reduced, the downsized hope that the sad sack has for love or some other happiness.

Notice that everyone loves or is obssessed with someone out of reach - the sad sack loves the dried up dream, the dream is in love with a soul mate in another state, who is in love with a photo of a crook (not even the actual crook, but a 2d representation of the crook), and the crook only loves a motorbike (not even a 2d representation of a person, now we are down to an object, a thing as a love, and to bring the whole stupid tragedy back around, the object loves the sad sack. So nobody gets the one they love, everyone dies frustrated and sad, etc, etc, etc.

Whew. Man, that is gloomy.

Why does this guy write so many songs about disappointment and not getting what you want? Why is this such a major theme? Because this is just downer #47 in a TMBG tradition of deep disappointment songs. [~Christina Miller, May 2007]

Because no one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful. ;¬) -- Captain Red 12:59, 15 July 2007 (UTC)
Why did I see that one coming? :)
Because the phrase was right there, staring at me, and I have no willpower. :¬)
Yeah, I know what you mean. It seems wrong not to grab it when it's right there.  :) ~ Christina

In response, I have to say that Linnell writes the best deep disappointment songs I've ever heard. They capture the mood perfectly, I've Got A Match being the best example.

So you're saying the reason he writes so many of these darn things is because he's good at it? [~Christina Miller]
Are you saying that's a bad thing?
I'm saying it's a tautology.
Well, don't forget - anything can be interpreted to mean anything. I mean, just because people think they know what the song means doesn't mean that's what it's about. I have certain interpretations for certain songs, but, really, who knows?
Case in Point: I remember when I used to think (a long while ago) that the song "Which Describes How You're Feeling" was about the War in Iraq. Then, I discovered it originated from the 1985 demo tape. So, there went that theory. I'm not saying that there aren't songs by TMBG that sound sad, but I just want to point out that what you think the song means and what it actually does mean can be two completely different things.

It's just about a sad tale of unrequited love--a love pentagon of sorts. Very Sad Sack loves Withered Hope, who loves her soulmate, who loves the picture of a crook, who loves a motorbike, who loves Very Sad Sack. ~Anna Ng hears your words. 03:28, 12 July 2007 (UTC)

That's pretty close to what I came up with: Sad Sack is a sad sack, and Withered Hope is unrequited love. Sad Sack is in love with unrequited love, rather than love which might be reciprocated -- he is drawn to what he cannot have. This works down the line. Withered Hope, unrequited love personified, is in love with Soul Mate. Soul Mate's own attraction, to the picture of the Crook, is another expression of unrequited love. It is that unrequited love that attracts Withered Hope. The crook takes what is not his... that's what makes him a crook. But he cannot take the Motorbike's love. The Motorbike in turn loves Sad Sack, but because he loves unrequited love -- the love of what or who he cannot have -- he ignores the Motorbike's love. -- Captain Red 12:59, 15 July 2007 (UTC)
So basically, it's a tale of limerence--none of them seem to be able to accept the possibility that they'll never be together. What makes it even sadder is that limerence, unlike regular love, demands reciprocation--but it comes full circle, so none of them can have what (or, rather, who) they want. Damn, this song is depressing. ~Anna Ng hears your words. 03:52, 24 August 2007 (UTC)
Alright, I'm bored, so I shall elaborte more.

The love pentagon goes something like this: Sad Sack > Withered Hope > Soulmate > Crook > Motorbike > Sad Sack. Fairly simple. Their real relationships with each other, are kind of different. 1. Sad Sack and Withered Hope are close friends. Unfortunately, Sad Sack suffers from an unrequited love for Withered Hope. She's "his friend to the end", but she doesn't like him like him, so to speak. 2. Withered Hope and Soulmate definitely know each other, I'd say, but their relationship is probably less close than Withered Hope's relationship with Sad Sack. Seeing as how he lives in "a city in another state", they're probably penpals or Internet friends or something. (They may have met in real life, but not necessarily.) In any case, she's in love with him, but he feels differently. 3. The crook is probably a celebrity. She's not necessarily an actual crook--indeed, she probably isn't. She's just an actress or singer or whatever that Soulmate has a huge crush on. Unlike the others, he might not be in love with her per se (it just says that he thinks about her, not that he's in love with her). Obviously, it's unlikely that the two have ever met. 4. This one's a bit confusing. Perhaps there's some connection between the crook and Sad Sack--specifically, a common friend. That friend, of course, is the motorbike. (Not a literal motorbike, obviously.) The crook (who I'm personally guessing is a lesbian, because I really can't imagine the motorbike as being male) has fallen for the motorbike, but again, the motorbike doesn't like her "that way"--she's madly in love with Sad Sack to the point of obsession. (Perhaps there's some similarity between the relationship between them and the people in I'm Your Boyfriend Now.) So there, that's pretty much it. ~Anna Ng hears your words. 17:47, 17 October 2007 (UTC)

It begins with Sad Sack asking Withered Hope to marry him. She refuses, saying she has a soul mate already. Later in her life, her soul mate breaks up with her. She now goes back to Sad Sack asking to rekindle his love. The song ends with her calling out "Sad Sack".

I also have a feeling this is about online relationships. "Sad Sack" and "Withered Hope" are their screen names. --Chiaro 01:54, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

I think the end refers to the motorbike talking to Sad Sack LeftistHominid 19:30, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

Also its apparent that Sad Sack is a straight/bi male and Withered Hope is a female, but what are everyone else? LeftistHominid 02:06, 20 May 2007 (UTC)

Yes, Ms. Hope is female and Mr. V.S. Sack is male. Pictures of crooks usually take the male gender as well, and motorbikes of course are females. If a soul mate, sought by the female Withered Hope, thinks about a male picture that thinks of a female motorcycle in love with the male Sad Sack (who unfortunately has his own different interests), then there is no question that this soul mate must be a sexually frustrated homosexual male. Unless the reason that Withered isn't attracted to Sad Sack is that she is lesbian herself, in love with a female soul mate; however, this is quite implausible because Withered's actions are very in line with typical heterosexual female behaviorisms. So, to recap:
  • Very Sad Sack: straight male
  • Withered Hope: straight female
  • Soul mate: gay male
  • Picture of crook: straight male
  • Motorbike: straight female
It's pretty simple. ~ magbatz 05:16, 20 May 2007 (UTC)
Now that I look at it that way, motorbike is female, respectively. She can only be straight/bi. The crook is described as beautiful instead of handsome, so it seems likely that the picture of the crook is female. Lets assume that every loved-one is capable of loving his/her respective lover.
  • Very Sad Sack: straight male
  • Withered Hope: straight/bi female
  • Soul mate:  ?
  • Picture of crook: bi/lesbian female
  • Motorbike: bi female
known. extrapolated
We should question Linnell about this
LeftistHominid 22:46, 20 May 2007 (UTC)
Uh, why are we assigning genders to inanimate objects? Photos and Motorbikes are a-genderal in English. Furthermore, why are we assigning sexual orientations? ~[Christina Miller, May 2007]
By learning of the genders and orientations of the characters of this song, we can better look at the general landscape of the mind of John Linnell. For instance, realizing Linnell sees a picture in a book of a beautiful crook as being heterosexual and male, one can further understand the state of mind he was in as he wrote Don't Let's Start and can determine that that song as well is about inanimate objects' sexes. As I said, it is quite simple. ~ magbatz 17:25, 24 May 2007 (UTC)
Are you joking? That's not simple, it's ludicrous. My take is that the crook is female and the motorbike is just an anthropomorphized motorbike, genderless. Either way, though, not only is figuring out the gender of the motorbike (etc.) relatively pointless and/or impossible, even if we could figure it out for sure and our conclusions could somehow prove Linnell's state of mind when he wrote Withered Hope, it wouldn't do anything to shed light on his state of mind when he wrote a song over 20 years earlier.
I think it is a bit of ribbing? I was also under the impression that the crook in the photo was female, and the motorbike a genderless object. But I also got the sense that the genders of the objects was immaterial, since it was so absurd in the first place, and he is fond of assigning consciousness to inanimate objects in songs, and not feeling the need to make them particularly gendered in order to make them animate. ~Christina
Of course, all gender is socially constructed, even that of inanimate objects. Tutt 03:04, 12 July 2007 (UTC)
But how about this;
Very Sad Sack: straight male
Withered Hope: straight female
Soul mate: either simply a straight male, or symbolism of the person you may love if you

met them (such as Ana Ng

Picture of crook: straight greedy female, a celebrity crook, someone famous the Soul mate would have seen but never meet or the celebrity who the symbolist soul mate would be with instead of Withered Hope.
Motorbike: stuff, greed, the reason the picuture of a crook is a crook to begin with, and in turn temptation for Sad Sack to rival his lust for Withered Hope Sandwich maker
Honestly, I don't think the orientations and sexes of the characters themselves are of any consequence whatsoever (yes, 'twas indeed a bit of ribbing). It's just a simple song about unrequited love, with the intended irony being that the act of so strongly yearning for "Withered Hope" is foolish in itself, for very apparent reasons. All of the other never-to-be relationships are similarly hopeless wishes that can never be fulfilled, though to lesser extents. ~ magbatz 04:21, 16 July 2007 (UTC)

Better discussions of the song lie above, but an interesting tune. Sounding as if it could easily fit on Mink Car, this song is another one to add to laughing linnell's portfolio of disappointment and dislocated relationship. Performs the function that Broke in Two did on the Spine. (Mr Tuck)

If you people at this wiki are going about interpreting this song as a comparison to other Linnell songs, take this one into consideration: Particle Man. Whithered Hope is the "Yin" to Particle Man's "Yan". In most respects it's just a quazi-story about several non- (or sub-)human characters who all have a connection to eachother via an emotion. In Particle Man, all of the characters are related to eachother due to their fights with Triangle Man. It is an odd group of beings connected by hate. In Whithered Hope, all of the characters are related in a circle of unattainable love. It is an arguably stranger group of beings related by love. Together, these songs perfectly illustrate mirroring musical images of hate and love in the perfect lyrical voice of John Linnell. I'm going to write my thesis paper about this. -Cake Barna

Time to try this out... I personally believe this has nothing to do with the varying grotesqueness of homosexuality. If you want a dissection here it is: Sad Sack- the 'hero' of this story, the one who reaches for the possibly obtainable, I have met many people like this. Sad because of lack of self-worth. Looks for someone to complete them. Withered Hope-The person for whom Sad Sack reaches for(obviously obtainable). She is withered from many either externally or internally failed relationships. Possibly dislikes Sad Sack because of the similarities between them. Reaches for that which is outside of her(in this case) grasp. Met many girls like this. Soul Mate- The person who is beyond Hope's grasp, whom may never go with Hope because of geographical and emotional distance. Is in love with a woman in an advertisement for motorbikes(at least that is what it seems like). Crook- Someone whom is almost entirely unreachable for 'Soul Mate' because she has no knowledge of him. From the point in the picture, looks like she is in love with motorbike. Motorbike-an inanimate object, which seems to call out for Sad Sack(like when you are in a store and see something you really want). Sad Sack hopes that this will fill the hole left by Withered Hope.

I personally find this one of the saddest and most beautiful songs by TMBG.It also reminds me of a Midsummer's night dream. With the 4 person love story, and the mischievous mixer of love potions, it sounds very much like it.

What do you all think?

Withered Hope and Sad Sack are childhood friends. Sad Sack has always had a crush on Withered Hope, and they run into eachother somewhere. See, Sad Sack has a "withered hope" that this girl would like him, therefore Linnell uses the name "Withered Hope" as a pseudonym of sorts for Sad Sack's crush. Withered Hope doesn't like Sad Sack, she passes it off that there's somebody out there that she's hoping to marry, which is a celebrity, or the crook. But of course, the crook/celebrity loves his belongings, material things. Withered Hope eventually gets some sense and realizes she's always loved Sad Sack.

Now that I've all confused you, I'd like to say that this is a very sad, but very great TMBG song. One of The Else's best. :) --Lemita 17:16, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

The incongruous names and inanimate objects (not to mention the second verse's chain of people, one of whom is "in a city in another state") remind me of the handles and usericons on a social-networking site, like Myspace or perhaps LiveJournal. This strikes me as a very young-people-on-the-Internet sort of song.

Okay, so this isn't breaking news, but I felt so proud of myself for figuring it out, I just had to put it here.

And he cut out a paper heart, pinned it to his arm = Heart on his sleeve!

Yes, I'm an idiot. Let's all move on now. -Alice

It's interesting to note that this is the second TMBG song to portray a motorbike in a rather negative light. And if we were to include bikes in general, you'd have to consider John Linnell's South Carolina...

Posted on another message board:

I just realized the truth about one of my favourite songs, Withered Hope.

This is more shocking than the time I learned that 'Gigantic' is a song about an old lady who spys on some white girl getting railed by a black man.

This is even more shocking than the time I realized (after actually, y'know, listening to the lyrics) that 'Lola' was about a trap.

Read on:

Very Sad Sack is a sad bag Very, very sad Very Sad Sack

Withered Hope says she is his friend to the end, But she doesn't like Very Sad Sack

Today Withered Hope saw the Very Sad Sack And she tried not to meet his eyes And he cut out a paper heart, pinned it to his arm Gave her everything he was holding in his head This is what he said:

Withered Hope, I'm in love with you Want to live with you, Withered Hope Are you going to say to me this can never be? Are you going to say to me, Withered Hope?

Sad Sack Sad Sack

Withered Hope says she has a soul mate Living in a city in another state But the soul mate thinks about a picture in a book of a beautiful crook And the picture of the crook in the book is in love with the brand new motorbike But the motorbike doesn't like crooks, It's obsessed with the Very Sad Sack

Sad Sack, I'm in love with you Want to live with you, Sad Sack Are you going to say to me this can never be? Are you going to say to me, Sad Sack?

Sad Sack Sad Sack

They Might Be Giants lyrics have never been straightforward, but they do tend to lean on one solid interpretation. In this case it's unrequited love. Now, the thing that's open to interpretation is the personification, or lack of. Instead using metaphors and similes they flat out refer to objects and concepts rather than people. However, one can assume that each concept/object is intended to represent a human being, especially since 'Sad Sack' is explicitly referred to as a 'he' and Withered Hope is explicitly referred to as a 'her'. Assuming that each concept, object has a gender....

Male---------Female-----------Male---------Female-----------Male----------------------The fu--

Sad Sack --->Withered Hope--->Soul Mate--->Beautiful Crook--->Brand New Motorbike---> Sad Sack

I think I should note, I have no problem with Gays, this revelation just took me by surprise.

So, your claim is that, even though you asserted that the motorbike is male, rather than a sexless representation of consumerism, and shoehorned in an unrequited gay romance into a song whose whole basis is unhealthy obsession, and responded to "male interested in male, what the fuck".... Your claim is -still- that you have no problem with gay people?
Not to mention the race mention above, I think you may want to reexamine how you interpret things toward your political leanings, rather than continue to pigeonhole the rest of the ambiguous world (i.e. all of it) into your narrow worldview.

Well, I feel a bit silly in comparison with the in depth responses here. The first time I heard this song, what I pictured was (by the way, you should know I thought Linnell was saying "sad sad" sometimes, as opposed to "sad sack")... well, I pictured a bag, who was upset. He loved this odd black-colored withered creature, but that creature loved a peson, a soul-mate, maybe another withered (or fuller) creature. This person wanted their fantasy of this theif in a book they read to be real, and he was, but was too obsessed with a motorbike to love the soulmate, but the motorbike belonged to sad sack. I dunno. I think they just kind of threw this one together. Has anyone ever considered that these songs mean EXACTLY what they say?


Yeah, I know this might not be as complex as the other interpretations and someone might have already said this, but when it says "he cut out a paper heart, pinned it to his arm" isn't that sorta like 'wearing you heart on your sleeve'...literally?

-Izzy Palindrome Izzy

A couple of interpretations above mention the possibility that these relationships are internet affairs. I think this is the key to understanding the song. Like Chiaro said, the names of the players (Very Sad Sack, Withered Hope, etc.) seem like the kind of handles / monikers that people invent for their on-line personalities. I would guess the "book" in the last verse is a reference to Facebook. So, the word "friend" could indicate that they were friends in the Myspace sense of the term. Perhaps the line "today Withered Hope saw the Very Sad Sack" could refer to their first face-to-face meeting, arranged online but now a disappointment? --Nehushtan 19:01, 6 August 2009 (UTC)

Short Blips..[edit]

I've always visualized a particular person not as Sad Sack, but as 'a beautiful Crook' So the lyric is '...The soulmate thinks about a picture in a book of a beautiful crook. And the picture of the crook in the book is in love with a brand new motorbike..' The crook is Hunter S. Thompson. In his final book, 'Kingdom of Fear' he writes about 'Speedism' (p. 168), after Ducati sent him a superbike to test. He's a beautiful crook, he's in a book, and theres your brand new motor bike.

Anyway, I think this song is more about the interconnectedness of people beyond their knowing, and a cautionary tale of misguided notions of love.

All the characters are just barely missing their intended targets. Sad sack >loves> withered hope >loves/hopes for> soulmate >is oblivious, studies/loves beautiful crook> beautiful crook >loves motorbikes> motorbike >Loves sad sack> loop to withered hope and so on. All these seemingly random connections of unrequited love eventually circle around, showing the movement of desire. That desire is ultimately fulfilled by none as none of their intentions are focused on REAL love, just materialistic and/or selfish tendencies that each character convinces themselves IS real love. However, obsession, wishful thinking of imaginary perfect lovers afar, possessions, ect.. None of these are true love, and no one involved ever gets the love they are seeking because they don't understand how it works. It's like hammering a nail with an insult. The tool is not compatible for the job.

Thanks for reading, any comments appreciated -