What does that song mean?

What If They Really ARE Giants?

Posted Jul 24th 2023, 13:33 by Penguin Pete

I don’t get around to talking about They Might Be Giants often enough. With the usual apologies that I got busy tending other stuff, I do make a few sideways references here and there, such as covering their hit “Istanbul (not Constantinople).” Might as well take the segue to the other TMBG song immortalized in Tiny Toons animation, Particle Man:

Obligatory link to this might be a wiki (yes, all lower case, cuz indie hardcore).

They Might Be Giants’ | Flood

At the break of the 1990s, TMBG released their album Flood, which landed like a comet strike on the alternative / college / nerd-rock circuit. Here was a band that sounded familiar to almost everyone and yet had no identifiable genre whatsoever. It wasn’t their first album (pre. Self-titled debut ‘86 and Lincoln ’88), but it was their breakout and – so far – only platinum!

Your humble author has been married just about 30 years and change, and we got Flood when it first came out. I distinctly remember our stereo at the time too, it had a five-CD changer and random play function, almost like having your own narrow little radio station. We picked out 5-album sets that blended perfectly together, but somehow Flood was never out of rotation long. It was a common enough mixer that I dubbed They Might Be Giants’ genre to be “the exact opposite of heavy metal.”

Spin magazine ran a 30-year retrospective, including a reprint of their own review. Interviews in that article with artists who cite TMBG and Flood as an influence include Dashboard Confessional, OK Go, Soul Coughing (*I have Mike Doughty’s bio! Gotta share it sometime!), Less Than Jake, and more. Meanwhile when Flood came out, Rolling Stone reviewers all but blew their nose on it. Prima donas!

Nobody Even Questions What Half the Songs Are About

Take, for instance, “The Statue Got Me High.” Baffling, isn’t it? Is the statue a bong? (hehe shoutout to my other gig!) Is it some connection with classical mythology like the statue was Zeus or something? Honestly, I’m always reminded of that one SNES RPG game where you interact with statues a lot and they’d open secret passages or turn into level bosses or something. Illusion of Gaia:

There. Just hanging out chilling getting high with the statues. IDK.

TMBG half John Linnell told about this song in the book In Their Own Words: Songwriters Talk About the Creative Process (2004): Basically the song is about a person having their mind blown in the intellectual sense by a public work of art, contemplating its connection with history/mythology, whatever. BUT he also mentions that the song originally has entirely different lyrics – the refrain was supposed to be “the apple of my eye” – and he uses “dummy lyrics” just as a compositional tool.

So there you go, TMBG songs don’t have to be about anything in particular. They can have surreal and poetic meanings. Have fun arguing about all the songs they don’t explain!

They Might Be Giants Embedded Themselves In Early Internet Pop Culture

Obviously, given that paragraph of pioneering musicians who cite them as influences back there, early web culture was about as prone to quote a TMBG lyric as they were to quote Monty Python sketches. Thus producing fan-crossover and official collaborations alike, in cultures like Homestar Runner:

“Experimental Film” is a song I can relate to, as one of my other current gigs is co-hosting the 366WeirdMovies.com podcast, where we sometimes interview indie film directors. Recent episode here. I’m the one with the beard. And let me tell you, at a site named “366 Weird Movies,” “experimental” doesn’t begin to cover it!

But if you want TMBG fandom crossovers, look no further than the fan mashup culture around Star Wars!

Or for a more sophisticated take, here’s an entire children’s choir covering “Birdhouse in your Soul”:

Haunting! And see, there it is again. What the heck is a birdhouse in the soul supposed to entail? Is a soul like a tree? Don’t birds poop in a birdhouse? Nobody asks.

And of course animators can’t resist custom-crafting videos. They Might Be Giants and animation go together like cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. Here’s “Can’t Keep Johnny Down.”

That’s it, that’s the They Might Be Giants genre: Playful! Their music is full of almost insufferable optimism (but they can get dark whenever they wanna), childish innocence, baby-friendly lyrics, and simple joy. I don’t know how we’re going to finish constructing the “playful” genre but TMBG gave us a starting point.



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