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Who are the two guys on the cover of Lincoln?[edit]

John and John's grandfathers: Louis T. Linnell and Brigadier General Ralph Hospital.

According to the Fall, 1991 issue of They.

Thanks to John Iacoletti.

Who are "They May Be Giants"? How did TMBG get where they are today?[edit]

The two founding members of They Might Be Giants are John Flansburgh and John Linnell. John Conant Flansburgh (AKA Rolf Conant) was born on May 6, 1960, and is married. John Sidney Linnell (pronounced lin-NELL) is married and has a child.

Find out more about the early years of They Might Be Giants in the Early Years Handbook, (temporarily) available at "".

Currently the band also features the drumming of Dan Hickey, the excellent bass playing of Danny Weinkauf, and Dan Miller on lead guitar.

The following information appears courtesy of Smokin' Bo Orloff and the TMBG Information Club.

Following is the text of the APOLLO 18 TMBG band bio:


John Linnell and John Flansburgh have known each other since grammar school. They became friends in high school in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where they worked on the school paper and recorded some songs together. After high school they moved to different states. Linnell played in the Rhode Island band, the Mundanes. While in college in Ohio, Flansburgh played in a couple of hobby bands. Both moved to Brooklyn in 1981, converging on an apartment building in Park Slope.

Flansburgh: "We arrived as most of the New York bands we were interested in were going national or breaking up. We kind of missed the scene." They started working together on home recordings pooling instruments and equipment and playing on each other's songs. By the mid-eighties the Lower East Side club scene was heating up again, but the focus was on acts very different to punk rock. "We were on bills with a lot of avant-garde musicians and performance artists, which was challenging and exciting - and it definitely influenced us. But we always seemed very much like a rock band by comparison, and that's why it seems so inaccurate tag us with the same kinds of labels."

As for the band's name, John Linnell explains: "It's the name of a movie made in the early seventies. We wanted a name that was outward-looking and paranoid."

While the band was getting noticed on the downtown scene for their live performances, many people in and outside the New York area discovered They Might Be Giants through their Dial-A-Song service. Years before any other fan line, They Might Be Giants' service offered songs recorded especially for their phone line, and the only charge is that of a regular call to Brooklyn. Linnell says, "It's a difficult medium of expression. A lot of sounds just can't be heard over the phone, and of course if you hit that sustained note which sounds like a beep, the machine ends the song right there."

After their 1985 demo tape was reviewed in People magazine, Hoboken's Bar/None label approached the band about releasing an album, and a quick succession of events vaulted the band into the national spotlight. Their self-titled first album was widely praised and a solid commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies in its first year of release. Through a series of striking and creative videos the Giants became MTV regulars - a rare feat for a band on an independent label.

They Might Be Giants began touring nationally with their two-man show, and started to gain an enthusiastic national following. Flansburgh: "Most rock shows are very schematic -- they're about bigness. By comparison, our show probably seems very stripped down. We wear our street clothes on stage, and we talk to the audience. We play a few different instruments to keep things moving along, but we try to keep it simple. We'd rather people notice the words than a laser show." After the release of their second album, LINCOLN, the band signed with Elektra records and in 1990 put out their enormously successful FLOOD lp.

1990 saw They Might Be Giants' first major label single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul," become a top ten hit in the UK. They toured around the world and performed over 160 shows in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. The band made numerous television and radio appearances, including The Tonight Show, where they played with Doc Severinsen, Today, and Late Night With David Letterman.

Who originally performed "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"?[edit]

The expert at Sounds Enjoyable, a record store in Sacramento, California, informs us that The Four Lads were the first group to record this song, the record having been released in 1951.

Bart adds that the jacket to the album The Most Requested Songs of the Fifties has this to say:

If solo performers were particularly in demand in the 1950s, so were male quartets which proliferated like never before. With names like The Four Aces, The Four Freshman, The Four Coins, The Four Grads and The Four Most, they all vied for public attention. One of the most admired groups was The Four Lads, who backed Johnny Ray on his #1 hit, "Cry," and went on to make a name for themselves as recording stars. The group consisted of Frank Busseri, Bernard Toorish, James Arnold, and Connie Coderini, all from Toronto, Canada, who were discovered by Orlando Wilson, of the Golden Gate Quartet. Brought to New York on a two-week engagement, they lasted 30 weeks and were signed to the OKeh label, where they recorded their first hit, "The Mocking Bird." Subsequently they toured with Ray for months, and eventually followed him to Columbia. One of their early hits for the label and a song with which they became closely identified was "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," recorded in 1953, which charted at #10. Two years later, following a series of minor hits, The Four Lads had another best seller with the #2 "Moments to Remember," which stayed on the charts for 25 weeks.

Joe Koenen writes:

'Istanbul' [Not Constantinople] Was ... performed, and recorded by the Ames Brothers, circa 1953.

However, Jon Mann writes:

I was listening to an interview with a German singer, Katarina Valente, who's apparently been around for 60 or so years now (since she was 5). Anyway, she mentioned her first jazz album, which was a complete flop, but she still liked it.

Among the songs on this album was one called 'Istanbul'.

I thought, "No, it couldn't be." It was.

A very serious rendition of a very silly song, with what she said was the best jazz band (in Germany) at the time. This is really one for the collectors...

Did TMBG write that kid's song about the sun?[edit]

No, it's originally from a 1959 educational record. They Might Be Giants' studio recording of the song is now available on a single entitled Why Does the Sun Shine?.

Chip Olson writes:

"The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, A gigantic nuclear furnace, Where hydrogen is built into helium At a temperature of millions of degrees."

This is verbatim from a record I had when I was a kid called Space Songs.. essentially a bunch of cutesy kiddie songs teaching basic stuff about space. Other titles on that record included "Beep-beep...beep-beep... here comes a satellite..." and "Zoom-away zoom in our rocket ship..."

Samantha Lee Miller writes:

I found a copy of the original Space Songs LP, famed for the song "Why does the sun shine" covered by TMBG. The album is amazingly TMBG-ish, and not only for WDTSS, which TMBG covered almost verbatim. No date on the album, but I assume it's post-Sputnik 1950s. It is truly a fascinating piece of our musical heritage.

Interesting facts: Singers: Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans. Lyrics: Hy Zaret; music: Lou Singer. Label: Motivation Records. Series: Singing Science Records (proud publishers of Energy and Motion Songs, Experiment Songs, Nature Songs, and Weather Songs)

What does "Ana Ng" mean?[edit]

Derek Thomas interviews John Flansburgh in the 8/90 THROTTLE magazine:

JF: Ng is a Vietnamese name. The song is about someone who's thinking about a person on the exact opposite side of the world. John looked at a globe and figured out that if Ana Ng is in Vietnam and the person is on the other side of the world, then it must be written by someone in Peru.

Jon McIntyre says:

John F is wrong; it's a Chinese name. `Nguyen' and `Ngoc' are examples of similar Vietnamese names.

Graham and Grendel write:

My friend Grendel says that Anna Ng is the world's smallest woman. She was at the 1964 world's fair. Somebody should look this up and see if it's true. That stuff about Vietnam and Peru is nothing but a clever ruse.

What are they wearing on their heads in the "Don't Let's Start" video?[edit]

Dylan Wilbanks writes:

Rolled up carpets. The place they're at is the site of the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, which would later be immortalized in "Ana Ng".

What is "Particle Man" about?[edit]

"Particle Man" concerns the nature of the life, the universe and everything. Triangle man has been construed to represent the Holy Trinity. Triangle Man has also been interpreted to represent change, religion, the homosexual community, and is a reference to a quantum physics phenomenon as well.

Peter Reitan writes:

To truly understand Particle Man, you must read the book "Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions" ( I do not know the name of the author, but the book is available from any good bookstore or ordering service).

The book was written from the perspective of a triangular shaped being who lived in a universe in which triangular-shaped people were confined to a two dimensional plane.

During the course of the book, this Triangle Man meets a Sphere Man who lives in a three dimensional world. Sphere Man introduces Triangle Man to a Particle Man, who lives in a no-dimensional world. Since Particle Man is confined to a point in space, everything he experiences and hears he believes emanates from his own world. He believes that he is the entire universe - from his no-dimensional perspective and understanding he is the Entire-Universe-Man.

Triangle Man also meets the Line-Men (no analogy in the song) who are confined to a linear universe. Of necessity, all line men are hermaphroditic, so that they can reproduce with the other line person on either end of their linear bodies. Three Dimensional Sphere Man (person man) takes Triangle Man outside of his plane of existence and shows him around the three dimensional world. Later, when he returns to and is again confined in his own two-dimensional world, Triangle man is imprisoned for heresy, for preaching that there is something greater than just the two dimensions that the triangle people know. In the end, person man wins - he returns to the three dimensional world and triangle man rots in prison.


Andrew Gill makes some observations about Particle Man:

|We pretty much write these songs and let other people |figure them out. I remember one thing that went into it |was that we were watching Night of the Hunter or something |on TV and somebody commented that Robert Mitchum reminded |them of a triangle. Something about his body type. He |seemed like this kind of evil triangle.

I happened to see this movie recently (gleaning purported Simpsons references), and I can see a few more possible references in the song:


Particle man could be a reference to a few characters in the movie--specifically simplistic ones (and there are a few). It could be:

the father:

Particle man, particle man Doing the things a particle can What's he like? It's not important Particle man

It's not really important who he is, since he dies early on. He steals a nominal amount of cash for his family (``Doing the things a [man] can do).

Is he a dot, or is he a speck? When he's underwater does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead? Nobody knows, Particle man

Mitchum (the father's cellmate) tells everyone that the money is at the bottom of the river. He didn't bury the money there, thus he didn't get wet. The only other option is that the water got him.

Triangle man, Triangle man Triangle man hates particle man They have a fight, Triangle wins Triangle man

Triangle man (who we know as Mitchum) eventually wins, in that he finds out where the money is.

the mother:

Particle man, particle man Doing the things a particle can What's he like? It's not important Particle man

Once again, the mother's character is unimportant. The plot requires her to be deceived by Mitchum.

Is he a dot, or is he a speck? When he's underwater does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead? Nobody knows, Particle man

The mother is killed, and she is thrown into the river.

Triangle man, Triangle man Triangle man hates particle man They have a fight, Triangle wins Triangle man

Once again, Mitchum hates their mother, and he wins.

However, the most likely is that the children are Particle Man.

Particle man, particle man Doing the things a particle can What's he like? It's not important Particle man

The kids aren't able to do much, and they are basically stereotypical child heroes.

Is he a dot, or is he a speck? When he's underwater does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead? Nobody knows, Particle man

The children are tiny (dots), and at one point, they go down the river (the water gets them).

Triangle man, Triangle man Triangle man hates particle man They have a fight, Triangle wins Triangle man

Fairly self-explanatory. Mitchum hates the kids, they get in a fight, and Mitchum wins.

Universe man: an owner of a hostel.

This woman is the only good, self-posessed character in the story.

Universe man, Universe man Size of the entire universe man Usually kind to smaller man Universe man

She owns a hostel/orphanage and is kind to the kids.

He's got a watch with a minute hand, Millennium hand and an eon hand When they meet it's a happy land Powerful man, universe man

At one point, she gives the boy in the story a pocket watch. It's a happy land when the boy and the woman meet--until then, he was in constant danger.

The woman is the only one who is more powerful than Mitchum, and she has him arrested.

Finally, person man: an old sea salt who lives in a shack on the river.

Person man, person man Hit on the head with a frying pan Lives his life in a garbage can Person man

The frying pan may be a reference to the fact that the fisherman was always somewhat drunk.

Is he depressed or is he a mess? Does he feel totally worthless? Who came up with person man? Degraded man, person man

The fisherman is depressed about the death of his wife years ago, his life is a mess, and he feels so worthless that when he sees the dead mother in the river, he's afraid that they'll think that he did it.

Now, this is probably not right, but it's at least interesting. I think.

Jim Naureckas writes:

I think the progression in the song has something to do with size--Particle Man being infinitely small, Universe Man infinitely big, and Triangle Man an arbitrarily defined two-dimensional figure. Person Man is also somewhere in that big middle, which is why he's (we're) so miserable.

Paul Bartolomeo writes:

Probably one of the most astute songs ever written, Particle Man asks and answers man's most pressing questions.

Before giving my interpretation, we should all remember that " a man buildeth a house, but God created all things." So even though this is a They Might Be Giants song, it was in fact written by God. "Let those with eyes see, and those with ears hear." (if you see what I mean...)

With that in mind, we can ask ourselves, "What is he saying to us in Particle Man?" I'll be the first to admit I know of no other song where he so eloquently presents the realities of life, and man's historical curiosity (or woman's!!!)

The way I see the song, and this is likely to grow with time or even change, is as follows. PARTICLE MAN comes first. He's just doin' the stuff he's doin. So simple, but so much is shown here. The song is written from a man's perspective. The first thing a man sees in the world is basic matter. Also, the first thing that God created was basic matter. Either way, particles, from our eyes, is what we notice first. "What's he like? It's not important." This is another huge statement. It asserts that man, and his scientific endeavors, are not really important. This one you can rattle around in your head for infinity, which is exactly what happens when you pursue science. It does nobody any good to pursue and endless venture. Science expands to infinity at the subatomic level as well as the grand scale. Even though trying to figure out particle man is an infinite journey, that ultimately is really unimportant, WE DO IT ANYWAY! Why? BECAUSE HE'S THERE! And he's so damned interesting! "Does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead???" The paradox of particle man. He comes first, and the song is even named after him! Hence man's life is named- PARADOX- but only from our original perspective- one of science.

Triangle man comes next. This one should be easy, but I see many of you guessing erratically. It's not about a stupid geometrical shape!!! It's the FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST. It's only by the Holy Ghost that one can say this, so it comes down to your personal relationship with GOD Himself on how you react to this. Don't worry though, Particle Man comes first! Eventually you will realize, TRIANGLE MAN!!!!

"Triangle man hates particle man, they have a fight, triangle wins." Duuh. God is probably so sick of people clinging to their puny little theorems and hypothesis, that every once in a while he whacks particle man in a "fight". Some see it happen, and some don't. Hence your person's of devout faith. What do think, everybody who believes in God is an idiot? Believe me, they are not all idiots!!!!

Next comes Universe Man. For many people, they hear about God when they are very young, but don't see him whack Particle Man, so they move on to Universe Man, giving a personification to that in which we live, but cannot explain. "Powerful man, Universe man." This is the most sarcastic statement ever. remember, God made man in His image. You don't think he's sarcastic? Remember, He wrote this!!!

"He's got a watch with a minute hand, millennium hand, and eon hand." Funny how that number three is up again. This is a beautiful thing. We live in three dimensions. After the fall of man, there were certain penalties man had to face, the presence of evil to be precise. In Revelation 20 we read about the say when the angel with the key to the bottomless pit throws Satan in jail for a thousand years. This event starts 1000 years of peace. Anybody who knows anything about Astrology (which by the way is not sorcery as some people claim, Genesis 1 says the stars are for signs, and the three MAfi that found Jesus did so by the coming of the North Star, and they were WISE men) knows that when there is an alignment, a new AGE is born. When Universe Man's hands line up, there will be a Golden Age, 1000 years of peace. A word to the wise: don't ever underestimate the millennium. Do you SEE yet???

The rest of the song is pretty obvious. Man has fallen, degraded himself, and is currently living in a garbage can. Gee, there's a real stretch. God asks us twice, who "Who came up with person man?" There is only one answer. God. When He asks you the second time, don't let Him bust your balls, say "What, you didn't hear ,me the first time! GOD!" Be sure to answer though. Ultimately, TRIANGLE Man will fight person man because he hates what he has done. This is not really some great big statement. It is happening everyday. When we get beat, guess who did it. I think somewhere in Isiah it says, "And who created evil? I, the LoRD (hint) do all these things." Don't worry though, he doesn't throw the hay maker unless... you know...

Russell Pennepacker writes:

i think the song is a political satire, particle man being a basic government taken over [by] communists, triangle man. universe man represents either democracy or a higher form of government, incomprehensible to humans, which is a perfect blend of all types, everyone gets a hand in, or the force which controls the universe, a deity perhaps. universe man is the only man that triangle man will not mess with. maybe he just can't hang or he knows that either democracy or god will prevail. person man represents socialism which is not a bad government but in surveys it comes in right after democracy and right before "whoever is holding the conch". triangle man feels threatened by any other form of government and plans to rid the world of them.

by sending this mail i evolve from a listener to a philosophizer. i am not sure if that is a step up or down but i feel better after getting my point across even if this a captive audience.

Tom Bobzin says:

I always thought that 'Triangle man' represented radiation, and that the Song was primarily a no nukes ditty. The triple-triangle radiation warning symbol, and the greek 'delta' both have connections to the concept of radioactivity. Radioactivity also tends to 'beat' both particles and our good friend person man.

In an interview with Peter Koechley, John Linnell had this to say:

We pretty much write these songs and let other people figure them out. I remember one thing that went into it was that we were watching Night of the Hunter or something on TV and somebody commented that Robert Mitchum reminded them of a triangle. Something about his body type. He seemed like this kind of evil triangle. That was one of the things that went into the song.

[People said that the triangle represented] the three branches of government or the holy trinity but that's not what it is at all.

Actually, "Particle Man" is a song. Any meaning gleaned from its lyrics exist only in the mind of the listener. All meanings are correct. All meanings are bunk.

Jens Alfke writes:

More quantum-mechanical theorizing on "Particle Man". The song says "What's he like? It's not important" which makes sense for a particle; QM asserts that subatomic particles have only a few constant properties (mass, charge, spin...) and beyond that are completely featureless and indistinguishable. I.e. any two electrons are identical.

Ram Samudrala writes:

Particle Man is about the environment, of course! (:

But "tmbrich" has the last word:

In response to this debate,

"Nobody knows, particle man.", answers the question!

So, you see, nobody knows!

On the wiki, no one has the last word.

I think it's a few ideas thrown together to make an interesting song. See above for the authors' reference to seeing someone on TV and thinking he looked like an evil triangle. That's kind of like a supervillan named Triangle Man. Superhero comics are basically about the conflicts between heroes and villans, and the song progresses like a comic book, with X-man being introduced, who they fight with, a little about their backstory and nature.

Particle man seems to me to be based on a subatomic atomic particle. If you ask a professor of physics what an electron is "like", then "it's not important" is a perfectly likely answer. If you drop a proton in the water, can it be said to "get wet"? It will probably attach itself to an ion in the water, hence the water "gets him".

Triangle man's "backstory" (or at least inspiration) is above--evil triangle. Good at fighting, apparently; he keeps winning matchups.

Person Man is my favorite, because he's like Batman or the Watchmen or Mystery Men--people who really are just people. Frequently they have tortured psyches ("hit on the head with a frying pan"). So this is one of those type heroes, nutty and homeless. And who would come up with a hero like that in the first place? Rhetorical, but very legitimate question. Like imagine the question "Who came up with Rorchach?" from Watchmen. He's a good model for Person Man. He's basically psychotic and living in a trashed filthy apartment, etc.

I think Universe Man is just an exploration of taking wacky superhero ideas to their logical extreme. "How about a guy as big as the entire universe?" Completely impractical and meaningless and funny.

So, basically, a parody super hero universe in a song. The TMBG universe.

I like TMBG, what other bands might I like?[edit]

Lauren N. Banis writes:

Hotel Faux Pas is starting to make the rounds of the nation and they were heavily influenced by TMBG. In fact, they opened for TMBG in St. Louis as well as opening for Moxy Fruvous. You can check them out at

Michael G. Breece writes:

Ween Kaka Pussy Beck The Residents Pere Ubu Frank Zappa Captain Beefheart Michael G. Breece Laurie Anderson The Flaming Lips The Dead Milkmen De La Soul Pavement Violent Femmes Rasputina Frank Black Lambchop Tom Waits Beastie Boys Prince Jane Siberry Bruce McCulloch The Pharcyde The Beatles

B. D. Neufeld writes:

Canadian satirical folkies Moxy Fruvous have stated in numerous interviews that they were inspired by TMBG, and perform a (very short) segment of "The Statue Got Me High" on their 1998 live album, "Live Noise".

Fellow Canucks the Barenaked Ladies claim they were inspired by TMBG and "Ana Ng" in an early interview with Muchmusic, on which they perform "Be My Yoko Ono".

Brad Roberts, frontman for the Canadian band Crash Test Dummies (what is with Canadians and TMBG?) stated in an intimate interview a few years back with Muchmusic VJ Steve Anthony that TMBG were a source of inspiration for him.

The now-defunct Presidents of the United States have always been upfront about following in the footsteps of TMBG, as a number of interviews will attest to.

The Gosh Guys, the Creams, the B.Lee Band, and the Bobs all perform covers of TMBG songs, and Connie Champagne performs a cover of a Mono Puff song.

Former Pixies frontman Frank Black has told the tale, most recently in an interview with Muchmusic in 1998, that around 1990 he was given a tape of "Flood" and tossed it in the backseat of his car where it sat for years, intruding on his conscience. When he finally got around to listening to it, he realized it was "one of the best albums I've ever owned."

While not exactly musicians (not professionally, anyway) the Kids In The Hall members Bruce McCullough and Dave Foley are big fans of TMBG, and personally included the song "Spiraling Shape" on the soundtrack to "KITH: Brain Candy". It might be inferred from this that members of the quirky surf-rock (and Canadian) band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, who perform all the music for the KITH episodes, have a healthy respect for TMBG.

Soul Coughing has thanked TMBG in the liner notes of "Irresistible Bliss" and have said they owe much to both TMBG and Mitchell Froom.

Eric Furman writes:

though TMBG is my all time fav. some others of interest are Weezer (of course), the Rentals, Neutral Milk Hotel, Weston, Wolfie, Mono Puff, Atom and His Package, Sicko, MTX, and Ben Folds Five....just to name a few (not all of these bands have the same sound as TMBG but i can guarantee that any Giants fan will appreciate most if not all of these other bands.

Jason C Petters says:

I was kind of amazed that nobody had suggested XTC, the "Beatle-based pop" band from Britain to whom the Giants refer on one of Factory Showroom's best tracks. The idea for the song XTC vs. Adam Ant came about when the Giants were recording a track for the XTC tribute album. Urged by the Giants' impeccable taste, I picked up a copy of XTC's "Upsy Daisy Assortment," (their newest release) a somewhat random but nevertheless great selection of pop songs covering almost all of XTC's albums to date. I can definitely see what John & John see in them.

I thought I'd take this moment to mention Fountains Of Wayne, writers of clever songs with a sense of the ridiculous.

Fred H. Banta writes, "I was kind of surprised to not see Shonen Knife listed. Captain Beefheart and Yoko Ono should be there too IMHO." To which I say: Shonen Knife are a Japanese punk-pop group whose sense of the ridiculous might just appeal to the TMBG fan. Captain Beefheart is an acquired taste, and those listeners who like the bubblegum qualities of They Might Be Giants are advised that Captain Beefheart can be difficult listening, but he can also be extremely rewarding after repeated listenings. Yoko Ono? No comment.

Abe Scott writes, "Anyone who likes TMBG may like DEVO . . ."

Vikash R. Goel writes:

I and some of my friends who are TMBG fans also enjoy the music of The Presidents of the United States of America. Some see similarities in the two bands' music; some don't.

John Kage writes:

If you like They Might Be Giants and would like more artists with unusual/funny lyrics, I can recommend....

1. Weird Al Yankovic. 2. Monty Python, who did music as well as movies (remember the lumberjack song?) 3. Adam Sandler (but only if you don't mind a lot of cursing) 4. Geggy Tah (I quote: "There's a lot of stuff in my gut that I can't seem to get rid of")

Francophile Jodie writes:

one of the 80's best bands was talking heads. when i started listening to tmbg i thought that it was incredible that someone could have the same style as TH but be quite a bit less pessimistic.

another great and cooky band is camper van beethoven. they weren't afraid to go out on a limb and they sound a lot like tmbg on absolutely bill's mood. in fact, the guy who did the guitar on that song, eugene chadbourne did an album with camper called camper van chadbourne.

Lisa from London writes:

It struck me that another band that you folks in The States and Canada would like if you're TMBG fans is a band from Brighton (not far from London) called Tragic. They play a lot at free festivals and squat parties around Europe. Their music is a cross between fast East European Polka with a bit of a Jewish wedding feel to it, music hall punk and English folk with funny / political lyrics. They use a clarinet, an accordion, a mandolin and a small set of drums; a great set up and play any time anyplace anywhere feel. I've only got one tape of theirs called Here comes the lino man and it's great. If they've still got some you can get this tape from: Tragic, 70 Trafalgar street, Brighton, E. Sussex, UK

Matt Shapiro sent in these suggestions:

Gary Young. The former Pavement drummer cut a solo album named Hospital which sounds so much like They Might Be Giants it's scary.

Wesley Willis. A man and his Casio. he sings the same song 21 times on a CD, but changes the words around. Start out with Fabian Road Warrior. He's like "Weird Al" Yankovic, only he writes his own song(s) and he's a little more abrasive.

Ween. These guys are freakier than TMBG. Expect a lot of different styles from them, the singer often sounds like he's sucking in helium. Suggested CD's are Pure Guava, God Ween Satan, Chocolate And Cheese, and 12 Golden Country Greats.

Let's Go Bowling. A happy, snappy ska band.

Madness. One of the best British bands of the 80's.

Raymond Thomson offers the following:

The Flaming Lips - Are actually very similar lyrics-wise to Tmbg. They use really bizarre, screeching guitar, but it is a very charming effect. The lyrics are a showcase of the wonderfully sarcastic, sweet, and unique viewpoint on life of the lyricist, Wayne Coyne. start with Clouds Taste Metallic.

The Violent Femmes - How can one describe the Violent Femmes? The lyricist, Gordan Gano is pretty messed up, and that can lead to some charming songs. They play fast paced, acoustic guitar music. It's kind of like punk, without the unnecessary noise. Of course, the Violent Femmes are also a lot more intelligent than your average punkster, and it shows. start with Add it Up.

May we suggest The Sugarplastic? Their two albums, Radio Jejune and Bang, The Earth is Round, offer hummable melodies and obscure, seemingly meaningless lyrics.

The band Mailbox has been compared to They Might Be Giants. Quirky pop indeed. Contact Irving ( for more information.

Mike Palmer offers the band Soul Coughing:

an interesting band that is something like pop, jazz, hip-hop, and coffee house beatnik poetry rolled up. I think the lyrics would appeal to a TMBG audience (EX: a song about a girl having an out of body experience about a chair below her apartment), also might I suggest TDA (Those Darn Accordions) one killer San Fran band with a 70 year old tattoo covered guy named Clyde who sings his own version of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire", also another member Big Lou has her own theme altered from the song "Devil Went Down To Georgia".

Sam Meyer reminds us:

Of course, there's the incomparable Frank Zappa...

The lyrics of "Twisting" suggest The dBs and the Young Fresh Fellows, and the latter band opened for some TMBG live shows.

Ori S. Abrams writes:

I have loved Pere Ubu for years now, and TMBG had the wonderful idea of recruiting master bassist Tony Maimone. I suggest the Dub Housing album (available on CD) for any They Might Be Giants fan.

Marshal Happ writes:

I'd like to point out that the group 2nu might also be enjoyed by the rest of us TMBG fans. Well, one of the best things about TMBG (to me... aside from the incredible music) is the diversity of the lyrics and the many meanings that they could take on... Same attraction to George Carlin -- the language. With certain people, you can tell they're highly intelligent. That's the same feeling I get from 2nu. Plus, some of their lyrics are goofy, too.

An unknown contributor writes:

Well, as for more groups like TMBG, I would suggest the Meat Puppets if you haven't already. They are louder and probably more stoned than John and John, but their lyrics are interesting, and some of the songs are very similar.

I'd also like to confirm the messages of other readers. Barenaked Ladies who were mentioned write music which is more like mainstream pop, but it's pretty cool, and the lyrics are funny. Too Much Joy are kinda cool, kinda weird, but kinda cool. Daniel Johnston is very cool, I would recommend his Fun album. Brave Combo was also mentioned, and though I haven't been able to get ahold of anything prior to 1990 from them, I enjoy their music more than any of the above groups. Also, I ran into a copy of Pure Guava by Ween a couple of days ago at my local music store, and they're not much like TMBG at all, but I think that most of the readers would enjoy it.

A number of people have recently written to declare their love for Moxy Früvous (the so-called Canadian TMBG), including Andrew W. Griffin who says:

By the way, the chap who wrote about Moxy Früvous is dead on! Those boys are tops! Best thing to come out of the Great White North since Barenaked Ladies. Accordions galore! "Spiderman," "B.J. Don't Cry" and the swellest song since "Kung Fu Fighting," "King of Spain"

Steve Nicholson writes:

Brian Dewan. He was the featured artist on the first Hello Recording Club selection (Mar 1993) and he opened for TMBG during their summer '94 tour. He plays an electric zither that he himself constructed. The sounds he gets from it range from haunting and beautiful to a 30-string Les Paul through a stack of Marshalls. His debut album Brian Dewan Tells the Story (on Bar/None) is excellent.

Darwin Grosse writes:

Brave Combo started out as a party band in the North Texas State University area. Rockin' polka versions pop and classic rock tunes, as well as incredible original tunes. For those who are into the "hot polka" genre, the early albums/tapes are the best bet.

While I'd agree that Brave Combo would be interesting to the general TMBG fan, I'd tend to push their earliest albums and tapes as the most appropriate.

WretchAwry writes:

Oh oh! Another group that belongs there is Boston's Hypnotic Clambake, which is somewhat of a cross between TMBG, Camper Van Beethoven, Boiled in Lead, and 3 Mustaphas 3. The CD I bought at the BiL show is called Square Dance Messiah and is very aptly described as "It's like a bar mitzvah on acid" and "...take their tradition with a grain of salt -- quite likely some lemon and tequila, too." An address for info is:

Hypnotic Clambake P.O Box 121 Roslindale, MA 02131

Deanna Rubin writes:

I did buy the Drink Me tape, and thought it was pretty cool. They're not as wacky or zany as TMBG, but I still think they have a nice folksy-gone-nuts sound to them.

Steven Collins writes:

Speaking of other cool groups TMBG fans might like, I recommend King Missile. They can be a little harder-rockin, but I muchly enjoy their strange and wonderful lyrics.

Thomas Wallace Colthurst writes:

TMBG fans might also enjoy Color Blind James Experience, a band loosely affiliated with the Church of the SubGenius. Their newest album is entitled Noises in the Basement.

Richard C Miske writes:

The TWO members [of Ween] have similar names (Dean and Gene Ween), and they have lots of short songs on the album and bizarre lyrics (Flies on my Dick?!?), so in that way they're pretty similar. If They [Might Be Giants] had an Evil Twin, my vote would be for Ween.

Jason Proctor writes:

another group i like and recommend is Too Much Joy. they have 3 albums that i've found: Son of Sam I Am, Cereal Killers, and a new one, Mutiny.

Jeffrey P. Adams adds:

So, along the lines of related groups, may I recommend Eggplant. I particularly like their album Sad Astrology. They certainly have the same sort of fresh & humorous approach as the Johns, but as has been mentioned, everyone is unique.

Andrew Raphael adds:

Tlot Tlot, from Melbourne Australia. John & John stole their album from a radio station in the USA last month, I hear. Their album? pistolbuttsa'twinkle.

but Carlos Ramirez disagrees:

Their style is nothing like TMBG's. They are two guys who get up and play thrashy loud guitar based punk rap stuff with a whole mess of sequenced drums, strings, keyboards, and that sort of stuff. Some of their lyrics are pretty cool, but that's only going to appeal to those who can make them out.

Miles Goosens writes:


For those who don't know, R. Stevie Moore is a multi-talented composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist/pop eccentric who has spent the better part of these last twenty years recording sublime music and releasing most of it through his own cassette club, which he runs out of his home. Much like TMBG, it's difficult to describe his music to the non-initiate -- it's kind of like what you'd get if you threw the Beatles, Zappa, Talking Heads, Thelonius Monk, and Kraftwerk in a blender, and even that doesn't begin to describe the enormous range and stylistic diversity of his music. And if you thought TMBG were prolific, Stevie has nearly 200 cassette currently available (the equivalent of, say, 320 albums)!!! I have thirty of them, and can vouch that every one is a winner. There are currently two ways to check out his music. First, there are two compilation CDs out that I know of (GreatestTits on New Rose, and last year's Compact Risk), both of which you might find at larger record stores like Tower. Second, you can send a SASE to Steve himself, and he'll send you a catalog of his work, which even rates each cassette for "listenability"! His address is:

R. Stevie Moore's Cassette Club 429 Valley Road Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

(Miles has also created a web site for R. Stevie Moore, at

However, Alan Jenkins points out:

I'd like to endorse the comments about R. Stevie Moore, undoubtedly one of the finest artists in pop music who not many people have ever heard of. I would advise caution with his cassette club however because the quality ranges from absolute brilliance to stuff which isn't terribly interesting to listen to - I think he tapes his entire life, not just his music.

I would also like to mention a band from England called The Creams who describe themselves as a cross between They Might Be Giants and The Who. Their most recent album, Pluto includes a cover version of "Nothings Gonna Change My Clothes".

And John Relph opines:

The Pooh Sticks are wonderfully cheesy and inane, you gotta love the way they take bubblegum pop and twist it into an erotic ear feast. Check out their latest albums Million Seller and The Great White Wonder. The former has some wonderful music on it. One of the best pop albums of the last few years. Very silly, and very very good.

Soulwaltz says:

. . . i've heard that various members of tmbg, especially Flansburgh are fans of NRBQ. . .

Keep your ears and mind open.

What is the sample at the beginning of "Boat of Car"?[edit]

Johnny Cash, sampled from the chorus of the song "Daddy Sang Bass" (not the fish). We think he was sampled from the first line of the chorus, but others are not so sure. Those people believe it's the line "Daddy'll sing bass".

Andrew Russell Mutchler writes:

The name of the song is "Daddy Sang Bass" (words & music by Carl Perkins), which is also the first line of the chorus. Yes, I know that's not "Daddy'll sing bass," but the entire chorus is as follows:

Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor, Me and little brother would join right in there. Singin' seems to help a troubled soul. One of these days and it won't be long, I'll rejoin them in a song. I'm gonna join the fam'ly circle at the throne. No, the circle won't be broken Bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye. Daddy'll sing bass, Mama'll sing tenor, Me and little brother will join right in there In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

What are the palindromes in "I Palindrome I"?[edit]

In the bridge section of the song, the lyrics are a WORD palindrome (rather than the usual LETTER palindromes):

"Son I am able", she said "though you scare me." "Watch", said I "beloved," I said "watch me scare you though", said she, "able am I, Son".

(A word palindrome is also a type of "chiasmus".)

After "see the spring on the grandfather clock unwinding" the background lyrics are a well-known palindrome: "Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age!"

john writes:

one you all missed is the background chorus of "man o nam" or "man oh man"

The song's length is 2:22.

Who is "dead uncle allotheria"?[edit]

Jennie Larkin writes:

OK, I now know who dead uncle allotheria is.

Class Mammalia is broken up into 2 subclasses: Prototheria and Theria.

Subclass Prototheria is broken up into 2 Infraclasses: ALLOTHERIA and Eotheria. Infraclass ALLOTHERIA has 2 orders:

1. Order Monotremata- The duckbill and spiny anteaters of Australia & New Zealand. 2. Order Multitubercalata (extinct)- Jurassic to Eocene forms (think dinosaurs) perhaps comparable in habits to the later rodents.

The definition for Infraclass ALLOTHERIA is "Forms with widened braincases and no Jugals".

The definition for subclass Prototheria is "Primitive mammals defined by certain technical characters, such as the small alisphenoid bone and no tritubercular teeth."

Subclass Theria ("Normal mammals with well-developed alisphenoids") is subdivided into 3 Infraclasses:

1. Patriotheria- small, primitive ancestral forms 2. Infraclass Metatheria, which is inclusive of Order MARSUPIALIA 3. Infraclass Eutheria- the higher mammals, with an efficient placenta.

Any more questions?

To which Andrew Raphael adds:

> 1. Order Monotremata- The duckbill and spiny anteaters of > Australia & New Zealand.

That should be the platypus and echidnas of Australia & Papua New Guinea. No monotremes in New Zealand. Their only native mammals are bats, which are placental mammals.

> 2. Order Multitubercalata (extinct)- Jurassic to Eocene forms > (think dinosaurs) perhaps comparable in habits to the later > rodents.

Nothing to do with dinosaurs. Multitubercalata were mammals living at the same time as dinosaurs. Theria means beast, but sauria means lizard. The mammals & dinosaurs evolved at about the same time.

What are the lyrics of "James K. Polk"?[edit]

Richard (Rick) Yanco writes authoritatively:

In 1844, the Democrats were split The three nominees for the presidential candidate Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist James Buchanan, a moderate Louis Cass, a general and expansionist From Nashville came a dark horse riding up He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear His oratory filled his foes with fear The factions soon agreed He's just the man we need To bring about victory Fulfill our manifest destiny And annex the land the Mexicans command And when the votes were cast the winner was Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal He seized the whole southwest from Mexico Made sure the tariffs fell And made the English sell the Oregon territory He built an independent treasury Having done all this he sought no second term But precious few have mourned the passing of Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

"Napoleon of the Stump" was one of his nicknames, according to Joseph Nathan Kane's Facts About the Presidents.

I validated most of the song, and there's very little poetic license employed. The only major "error," as it were, was that the top nominees on the first ballot were Martin VAN BUREN (146 votes), Lewis CASS (83), Cave Johnson (24), John Caldwell Calhoun (6), James BUCHANAN (4), Levi Woodbury (2), John Stewart (1), John Knox POLK (0). That is, there were seven nominees, not three, and Buchanan was fifth.

On the eighth ballot it went CASS (114), VAN BUREN (104), POLK (4), Calhoun and BUCHANAN (2 each).

On the ninth, Polk was nominated unanimously.

What is "The Statue Got Me High" about?[edit]

John Linnell said in an interview:

"The Statue Got Me High" is not about drugs or anything like that. It's literally about a guy who looks at a statue, and his head blows up.

However, alternate interpretations continue to proliferate...

Andrew Weiskopf writes:

Our French Literature specialist has brought to our attention the Moliere work called Don Juan. The relationships between this work and the TMBG song are too numerous to ignore: "And though I once preferred a human being's company, They pale before the monolith that towers over me..." Don Juan, the king of all lovers, sees a statue one day, when suddenly, the statue strikes up a conversation with him. The two have a good rapport, and so Don INVITES THE STATUE OVER FOR DINNER, as opposed to one of his many LADY FRIENDS.

"The statue got me high..." During dinner, our hero suddenly realizes that his dinner guest is not the kind person he originally met. But before Don can run away, the statue HYPNOTIZES him, and makes him sit back down at the dinner table.

" killed me..." The statue KILLED Don Juan. 'Nuff said.

"The statue made me fry..." Then, the statue sent him down to HELL, to FRY for all eternity.

"And what they'll find is just a statue standing where..." Had angry villagers busted down the door, I suppose all they would have seen was A STATUE STANDING WHERE the statue got Don Juan hypnotized...

Pretty incredible, huh? All you TMBG/Moliere fans- is there any truth to this?!?! Did all of this really happen in the same book? If so, one cannot deny that there must be some credence to this theory.

During the 1994 They Might Be Giants tour, John Linnell introduced the song as having been written about Don Giovanni, although ``I didn't know it when I wrote it.

By the way, Don Juan and Don Giovanni are the same person, just different works, the former a play by Moliere, the latter an opera by Mozart.

J.D. Baldwin says:

If L. introduced the song this way, my guess is that he was referring to the Mozart opera of that name, based on the same story. Since it is much more widely performed and much more familiar than the Moliere play, it seems reasonable that his references were based on the opera. More musical that way, anyway.

What is "Purple Toupee" all about?[edit]

David Broyles writes:

the first time i heard the song (and, coincidentally, the first time i heard TMBG) was when i saw the video in late 1989 on a small PBS rock video show in Maryland called VIDEOSPIN. one of the guys showed the purple toupee video, said that TMBG were one of his favorite bands, and said that he had heard TMBG say that the song was "about when you get old and all your memories start getting mixed up in your head". this explains the reference to a toupee, and the loss of hair; it all has to do with the aging process. also, all the confused references to historical events make more sense as well.

However, the song deserves a deeper interpretation. So here is "Purple Toupee", as interpreted by:

  • Jens Alfke
  • Justin
  • Sadiye Guler
  • Melinda M Hale
  • Guy Jacobson
  • Tracy Kimbrel
  • John Relph
  • William J. Schmidt
  • Jim Ellwanger
  • Jason Kreitzer
  • Russ Josephson
  • Dawn Sater
  • Chris Harrington

I remember, the year I went to camp, I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks

Civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, and the fact that Rosa Parks, who would not move to the back of the bus, is a black woman. Selma is a city where Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested on Feb 1, 1965, while protesting voter registration regulations.

somebody put their finger in the president's ears it wasn't too much later they came out with Johnson's Wax

During the Johnson administration, and perhaps before, the following were a popular type of stupid riddle:

Q: How do you make a Venetian blind? A: Poke his eyes out!

Q: How do you make Johnson's wax? A: Put your finger in the president's ear!

Johnson's Wax is a polishing product made by S.C. Johnson Wax. There was specifically a famous photograph that was published at the time, showing Johnson holding this hound dog by the ears. I think it made a stir because it made the president look like a buffoon (the strange pose plus LBJ's own sizable ears).

Also if you care about corrections to the TMBG FAQ, Johnson is not holding up "some hound dog" in that very famous photo, it's his beagle. He owned two beagles, Him and Her. He shocked the nation with this habit, but he insisted they liked it.

Could be a reference to "finger on the trigger" and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Also could refer to Johnson's implacable attitude towards continuing the Vietnam War, despite the mood of the country, advice of aides, etc.

I remember the book depository where they crowned the King of Cuba

The book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK's assassin, hid, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of course the Cuban missile crisis (with JFK in office). Also since Oswald was supposedly involved in a CIA plan to overthrow Castro (the King of Cuba). Oswald was a supporter of Castro, dictator of Cuba, and of communism in general. Warren Commission report issued Sept 27, 1964.

That's all I can think of, but I'm sure there's something else, way down inside me I can hear it coming back

Purple toupee will show the way when summer brings you down Purple toupee and gold lamé will turn your brain around

"Purple Toupee" could be a play on both the title and the music of Prince's song "Raspberry Beret".

Purple is widely regarded as the color of psychadelia. Jimi Hendrix' biggest smash hit was, of course, Purple Haze. Jimi didn't wear a toupee, but had a wild hairstyle, and wore gold lamé (at the same time as every color of the rainbow; He certainly had a unique sense of fashion). Purple Haze and some of the rest of Jimi's debut album are definitely about drugs. There was a variety of LSD known as Purple Haze, though I don't know whether it was named after the song or vice versa. Another possible (drug-free) interpretation of "turn your brain around": Jimi was and still is considered one of the most (if not the most) influential rock musicians in history. He turned the music world upside-down.

Chinese people were fighting in the park we tried to help them fight, no one appreciated that

But it seems to me that one of the leading Asian generals on one side of either the Vietnam or Korean War was named General Park. I've always thought that's what the "park" here was referring to. This may also be a reference to the fact that the USA "interfered" in the Vietnam War.

It's General Park Chung Hee! He plotted a coup d'etat in (I believe) 1961 and became president in 1963! He was assassinated in 1979 or so. He's really quite well known. (Vietnam. Honestly.)

Makes me think of the Chinese Civil War, where we gave aid to the repressive nationalist side, because the other side was Communist. In the end, the communists won.

You're partially right, in the sense that it was vietnam, here's my rationale. It's well known that the song is about Sixties events mangled up in the Johns' minds (which rules out Korea) anyways, one of the Johns saw asian people fighting and assumed they were Chinese, also the "park" part comes from the fact that Vietnam kind of looks like a park. Another thing that supports my idea is the fact that no one appreciated the fighting, i.e., all the protests they would have seen on the news.

From 1987-88 I lived in Xiamen, China (my father's job at Kodak was temporary moved there). True story. Every morning, quite early circa 6 AM, the Chinese People of all ages, especially older would gather in the Park right by our apartment complex. There they would perform Ti Chi as a mass group. I saw this every morning for a year. It was incredible. In Ti Chi, they appeared to be fighting an invisible enemy through a series of strict movements. I think this holds up as a really good explanation of the lyrics. It's exactly what I remember when I was there. additionally, i watch a lot of documentaries on China and you'll see this demonstrated over and over again.

Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms ten years later they were sharing the same cell

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. again, and Malcolm X (ten years later they were both dead).

I shouted out "Free the expo '67" 'till they stomped on my hair,

Abby Hoffman and the Chicago 7 were widely regarded as political prisoners following their arrest for disrupting the Democratic National Convention in 1968. This probably is a confused reference to "Free the Chicago 7". Also a possible reference to the De Gaulle's "Libre Quebec" speech at Expo '67, in Montreal, Quebec.

and they told me I was fat

When the Beatles first arrived in the US during the British Invasion, John was just a trifle porky. The newspapers immediately dubbed him "the fat Beatle".

Now I'm very big, I'm a big important man and the only thing that's different is underneath my hat.

Purple toupee is here to stay after the hair has gone away the purple brigade is marching from the grave

Hair was a popular and influential Broadway musical, from which came the songs "Aquarius" (the dawning of the age of aquarius / the spawning of the cage and aquarium), "Let the Sun Shine In", and of course, "Hair" (give me a head with hair / long beautiful hair).

In Italy, a group called "Red Brigade" committed terrorist acts in 1978.

Louise Mowder writes:

People who saw John&John in the new york area prior to 1988 may remember that Purple Toupee was ALWAYS dedicated to Joe Franklin, a local TV personality whose very-late-night show was a celebration of local, rather Times-Square of the '50s talent... comics, singers, minor celebs etc.

Joe, who just retired last year, would be very generous with his air time, and it was on The Joe Franklin Show that John & John first met the etherealized waves -- back in '83-84, I believe.

Anyway, if you ever saw Joe, you'd know that "Purple Toupee" and "gold lamé" are both appropriate to the show's dress code.

The show had been on in the NYC area since forever, and by the '80s was the site of a lot of cultural nostalgia for those of us who were little kids in the real early 60s, as the Johns were. "Lady named Selma and some blacks" and the President's ear joke are about the way that Big Current Events sound to a first grader in 1964. And The Joe Franklin Show always seemed stuck right about there.

For those of you who caught the 7-night extravaganza in NYC last year, you may remember that Joe Franklin introduced TMBG on the final night, and briefly reminisced about their early days. This was the night when the show that consisted of the exact replication of the first album (the Bar-None/Rodney Alan album). The show brought back extremely fond memories of crowded nights at Darinka. (Anyone else remember Darinka?)

Ori S. Abrams writes:

I think it is simply about the rewards one receives for being ignorant. The narrator clearly never paid any attention to the important events happening around him during the 60's. Yet today he's important (albeit bald) and living high on the hog.

Where did the cover of Flood come from?[edit]

Annie Sattler contributed this:

The Holiday 1995 TMBG Info Bulletin contains this answer:

That photograph was found by Flansburgh in the basement archives of Life magazine. It existed as only a contact print on a roll of film shot by famous photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. It was in a series of photographs of Kentucky flood victims from around 1930. Another photograph from that very same shoot has become quite well known. It is of people standing in a bread line in front of a billboard poster of a happy family in a car with the words "America: Highest Standard of Living." It is featured in the Best of Life and has become synonymous with the Great Depression, even though the events surrounding the photograph are unrelated to it.

LIFE Photographers: Their Careers and Favorite Pictures by Stanley Rayfield (Doubleday, 1957), contains this short biography of Margaret Bourke-White:

``An original Life staff photographer, Margaret Bourke-White made the cover picture for Life's first issue. She was the first woman photographer in World War II to be accredited to the U.S. Armed Forces, the first authorized to fly on a combat mission. She was torpedoed in the Mediterranean and was the only non-Russian photographer on the Russian front. Margaret Bourke-White was the last person to interview Gandhi, six hours before he was assassinated. Because she was a dangerous woman to have in Korea with a camera, the Communists put a price on her head. Margaret Bourke-White's quarter of a million pictures are a major contribution to the revolution in photography which has taken place in Life's first 20 years. Margaret Bourke-White has written several books and received many major photographic and civic awards.