So here is my story of how TMBG became my life!
It was 1987. My mom heard The Johns interviewed on something or other on NPR. She thought they sounded weird and interesting, and she bought a copy of Pink for my dad, who is a weird and interesting guy. He liked it but ended up not really turning into a fan, but he did play it enough for it to seep into my consciousness. I was four, and let me tell you, when you're four an insane album like Pink will BLOW YOUR MIND. I was completely entranced by "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," the bridge in particular (for some reason "TOUCH THE PUPPET HEAD" was like the funniest thing in the world to me), and I was also very fond of "Toddler Hiway" (being barely away from toddlerdom myself) and I believe "She's an Angel." I completely adored the album, relatively limited as my exposure to it was. And that cover! So brightly-coloured and intriguing.
So, all through my childhood I had it stuck in my head that TMBG was awesome, and had a few other small encounters: when we watched the Tiny Toons "Istanbul" in my 6th grade social studies class and then everyone clamored for "Particle Man" too I distinctly remember trying in vain to inform everyone "BUT THEY HAVE OTHER SONGS TOO AND THEY'RE A LOT BETTER." And sometime around then I was in a Sears, hanging around by one of the display TVs while my mom was shopping. It was on MTV (remember that?) and the host was reading a letter that "says we should play a They Might Be Giants video because they're always SO interesting." So she played the Birdhouse vid and I thought "Um...interesting this certainly is..." But, I was stuck very very firmly in oldies/classic rock territory at that point. I owned no albums that were released past say the early 70's. Buying and listening on my own to anything later was out of the question, no matter how much I was drawn to it.
But then high school hit and my musical horizons broadened drastically. I got a CD player (!) and started buying things by bands that hadn't broken up 25 years ago. And I still remembered that weird weird album that had made such an imprint on me ten years ago, so I decided something by those guys was one of the first things I should buy. I opted for Apollo 18 because it had the best cover (well it DOES). And if there'd been any doubt in my mind of how fantastic They were it was completely obliterated with the purchase of that album. I tried to introduce everyone I knew to the wonders of it but for the most part they were just too square (I can still picture the look of skeptical confusion on one friend's face as I excitedly played "Fingertips" for her). "Turn Around" immediately became my favourite song and I still consider it my first since now I actually had more of a grip on what was going on. Skulls, unreasonable bouncy catchiness combined with such a topic, and the use of the word "obsequious" cemented Them as one of my favourite bands. (My junior year, I actually used "Turn Around" for a poetic song response assignment for my creative writing class. Oh, and I used "Kiss Me, Son of God" in the closing credits of an English class video project about a cult.)
The other albums were acquired at a steady rate, and Lincoln and Flood (which were cassettes) became mainstays in my car, which only had a tapedeck (still does, in fact). Junior year, my friend Sarah made me a mix tape (YES WE STILL ACTUALLY MADE TAPES IN THOSE DAYS) which remains the best and most influential one I have ever received. Along with "She's an Angel" (which I of course already knew but certainly didn't mind having more excuse to listen to) and the Mono Puff version of "Hillbilly Drummer Girl," it contained "Doctor Worm." I had all the studio albums at this point but not Severe Tire Damage yet so it was unknown to me. The entire tape was completely fantastic but I could never get too far in it cos I would just keep rewinding and repeating, repeating, repeating that song. (I ended up teaching it to some of my friends in band and we would end up singing it there in the trombone section in the back of the band hall.) So, after "Puppet Head" and "Turn Around," that was definitely the song that most propelled me along.
Concurrent to all of this I had developed a deep devotion to Conan O'Brien, and TMBG were of course major mainstays on his show at that time. I was always really excited when they were on and made note of all the appearances on the labels of my tapes (I have, with a few holes everything Conan has done since 1997 on tape somewhere). When I left for college, the Conan highlights tapes I made to take with me contained the appearances of maybe four or five bands only, but TMBG was one of them. (In spite of seeing them all those times, however, I somehow never picked up on how completely gorgeous John Linnell is, which will baffle me until the end of my days.)
It was right when I got to college that I started going to shows and being involved with fandom. (More about that in a minute.)
And, you ask, what about the Linnell thing? Well...
As I said TMBG had already made quite the impression on me when I was in preschool and was one of my favourite bands in high school, but I somehow never felt the need to dig too deeply into anything about them beyond the songs themselves. I knew they were both named John, lived in Brooklyn, and ran that crazy Dial-A-Song thing, but that was about all the info I had and all I was interested in.
Then came August 10, 2001, when I woke up and my entire life had changed. I didn't realize right away that my entire life had changed, of course. It all seemed very innocent at first. You see, I had a dream the night before that John Linnell and I had been exchanging flirty e-mails with each other. Yes, that's really it. That's the entire content of the dream that threw me into devoting the last nine-years-going-on-forever to this man.
But...did I mention that I knew nothing at all about them individually at this point? I didn't even remember that clearly what "the cute skinny one with the accordion" looked like, even though I'd seen them on Conan all those times. But! I had dug up a whole 3 pictures to put on the covers of burned CDs of downloads of Dial-A-Song stuff and b-sides from Napster (yes, I suppose I am dating myself here) so I consulted those and thought "WOW HE'S EVEN CUTER THAN I REMEMBERED!"
So, obviously I immediately started digging around trying to find more information about this guy. This part is amusing: for the first hour or so, I had their last names flipped around backwards, because I'd heard a few big fan friends of mine talk about how cute "Linnell" was and I thought "oh come on, NO ONE in the world but me is going to think THAT weirdo is cute--and he plays ACCORDION? REALLY?" So I decided Linnell must be the nice normal guitar player one. So imagine my disappointment when I found a (horribly outdated) "who sings what" list on some website and discovered that this Linnell fellow had written all the REALLY good songs. Fortunately, I got that straightened out quickly enough.
So I spent the entire rest of the day researching him and the more interviews I read, the more pictures I saw, the more I was in love with him. I remember sitting in Ninfa's Mexican restaurant that night talking to my mom about him nonstop and shaking a little because of how giddy I was. The next morning we were flying across the Atlantic for my high school graduation trip to Ireland and England, where I dragged her to every record store we came across looking for random singles or something. I didn't find any, but I did manage to snag the Best of the Early Years compilation--already owning Pink and Lincoln it was of course no material I didn't already possess but that was not the important thing. The cover on the back of the CD was the same as the back of the "Don't Let's Start" EP and oh god that picture that picture that picture that picture was what pushed me from thinking he was awfully awfully cute to KNOWING he was the absolute, definitive most gorgeous person to ever exist in the history of time. As such, it is still my all-time favourite picture of him, partially because of his gorgeousness and partially because of its significance in my falling in love with him. To this day, I have a thing about any picture where he is playing his accordion and looking down like that.
A couple of weeks after the trip I was off to college. And, as it happened, that was right when Mink Car was coming out. I rushed home early from my first-and-only college party to watch the Conan appearance of "Man, It's So Loud in Here" in the Wilson House living room and I couldn't remember ever being so happy. When I found out they were doing the CD release instore in New York three days later there was no question I'd be going. That show, September 10th, was exactly a month after the day I'd had that dream. Because it was an instore I even got to meet John (everyone in line made a point of the fact that this was not a typical event) and he was a million times more gorgeous and exciting than I'd possibly imagined. He can also be...um. Not exactly the nicest person? And for whatever fucked up reason that makes him a million times more appealing to me. I managed to make it to 27 other shows over the next two years, going way out of my way for many of them. I got to talk to John two other times, once at another instore and once when he arrived at a show for soundcheck. He was super-sweet to me then and it was the happiest I've ever been in my life and I will never forget that.
So really it just comes down to the fact that John Sidney Linnell GETS to me in a way no one else in my life ever has. He is absolute perfection as far as I'm concerned, he is so brilliant as a musician and so overly intelligent as a person. Every little thing about him makes me excited somehow or other. (I have a list.) And, yes, physical attraction still plays a huge part in it as well, not gonna lie--I didn't know it was possible for a human being to be as gorgeous as he is. I love his hair and his long fingers and his veiny arms and his Converse and his tight black jeans and his big brown eyes and I HAVE JUST A LITTLE BIT OF A THING ABOUT HIS GLASSES and I could go on and on (and on and on). But really my answer for why I love Linnell more is just that...he's him. He's John Linnell, he is a god, so. That's my answer.