I first got into TMBG fairly late in their careers, around the release of The Spine. Since then, I've consumed as much of Their music as I can. Now, at the age of 29, I'm getting ready for my first TMBG concert in New York during the upcoming tour.
Update as of 2020! Now I'm 42 and suddenly The Spine doesn't feel so recent. I've seen a bunch of concerts now, and I can't wait until the pandemic allows them to tour again.
Interpreting TMBG Lyrics
As a former student of linguistics, I have always been fascinated with the lyrics of Their songs, especially their tendency to word play and the juxtaposition of disparate ideas. Below is my "template" for interpretation of TMBG lyrics:
Very often, TMBG lyrics can be entirely obtuse until viewed in the light of a certain piece of information. For example, "Birdhouse in Your Soul" makes no sense until you understand that the narrator is a nightlight. With that key, however, the rest of the lyrics fall into place.
Often, a well-known idiom or phrase is adapted into different language, or embellished to make a point. For example, in "Bee of the Bird of the Moth," we hear that the title creature "defeats the mouse and man, it's messing with their plan." This line makes far more sense in light of the line from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse." "The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley." (Usually misquoted as "The best laid plans of mice and man often go awry.") Rewording, alliteration, internal rhyme, and many other poetic devices influence the shape of the Johns' lyrics.
Sometimes a line makes no sense if interpreted literally, but can be traced back to a previous version of the song, where that line is different. One good example is in "Richards on Richards," in which the subject of the song is noted to always wear a monocle. But in previous versions of the song, it was a helmet that she always wore, which makes the entire passage make more sense: "She doesn't ride a motorbike, she says it doesn't fit her. But she always wears a helmet."
Often if the melody changes in a given passage, the interpretation of that passage changes as well. For example, the chorus of "Sleeping in the Flowers" is far different in melody than the verse, and is best interpreted as a fantasy sequence. Sometimes, this shift is indicated by nothing more than word, such as the word "confidentially" in "Lucky Ball and Chain," which alternates between the narrator's justification of his breakup, and the truth of it.
If you want to get in touch with me, just send me an email to Dairhenien (at) gmail.com