Dittyday 8: They Might Be Giants

Oh my, oh my my my, this one’s liable to be polarizing, or it might be if I had readers anyway. This band is notorious for, if nothing else, earworms, songs that stay with you for a very long time, but I’ll readily admit this might be a bad thing if they’re really not your thing – I think they accomplish the ‘catchy’ part without necessarily getting to the ‘likeable’ part for a lot of people. I also suspect that they’re liked a bit more than openly admitted, especially when hanging with the cool crowd. As the title says, this is about They Might Be Giants, composed primarily of John Linnell and John Flansburgh, and they’ve been going strong for four decades and counting now, and have some pretty impressive credentials.

Describe them? A million different adjectives can be used, like, “eclectic” and “quirky” and “weird,” which their music videos do nothing to dispel. But then there’s also, “clever” and “slick” and even “educational,” and I’m not going to delve into my half-assed attempts to break them down or evaluate them. Just pay attention:

It always amazes me that they got so popular with John Linnell’s amazingly nasal vocals, but then again, that might be a part of it. Or it may be that their compositional skills transcend such meager shortcomings.

This post was provoked by listening to ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ Sunday night and having it get stuck in my head, and naturally I felt I wasn’t going to be the only one, but seriously, you have to appreciate lyrics that include, “filibuster vigilantly,” and,

Though I respect that a lot,
I’d be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off
And countless screaming Argonauts

What’s amazing is that they pull these off with more style and talent than most popular artists, and almost force you to find the lyrics to confirm that they really did just reference the Longines Symphonette, and then, to find out about the Longines Symphonette…

And their videos, so many of which fit the music so well, not necessarily in a timing and choreography way, but in that they appear to be created by college kids up way too late at night in their dorm room. We really should be studying, but did you ever think of what a communist robot would look like?

[I doubt that’s what they were after, but that’s what I see, anyway.]

This one gets a little lost in the mix, so check out the lyrics here to find that it’s a love song, of sorts, kinda maybe.

My cousin and I did get to see them perform live back in 2000, I think, in a ballroom-style auditorium, and you will not be surprised to know that during one song, the vast majority of the audience joined together into a bunny-hop conga line that snaked across the floor, threatening to submerge those tiny islands of holdouts of which we were one – terrifying in a completely absurd way. They had a backing band for the tour, but John Flansburgh can seriously jam with his guitars, pipe-smoking-nuclear-dad image notwithstanding.

My introduction to the band came through attending an animation ‘festival’ film featuring the following video:

… which also introduced Ren and Stimpy and Bill Plimpton so… yeah. But ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ is actually a cover of one performed by Four Lads nearly five decades earlier – probably TMBG’s most well-known song, just not their own. It reflects their style pretty well, but perhaps with a little less hidden depth in the lyrics.

There are more songs out there than you can imagine, so feel free to poke around and find a favorite – they’ve released 33 albums, give or take (depends on how you count them,) including five aimed at children and educationally-oriented:

And, seriously, check out their Wikipedia page to realize just how much they’ve been doing, and still are – they’re on tour right now.

This rabbit hole can get really deep and I’m trying not to spend five hours on a post, so I’ll simply close with another favorite of mine, as much for the video as for the music. I identify a little too well with the scene of John shouting over the phone at John, who laughs it off, and I’ll let you ponder the psychology of that on your own…

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