“Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head”

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One of the nice things about being on a They Might Be Giants kick is finding myself back in their wonderfully insane world.  It’s hard not to enjoy this band’s oddities and quirks because they’re delivered so joyfully.  TMBG songs might be as surreal and experimental as, say, Pere Ubu, but with the addition of a childlike glee that makes all the weirdness less weird.

Take this classic from their first album.  “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head” is a disjointed collection of one-liners and accordion music that John Flansburgh and John Linnell somehow make seem like the best party ever.  Well, it would be a great party if you’re a nerd like me.

After a few listens, you realize this isn’t a song about some sinister cult that forces people into puppetry as a form of psychological torture; it’s just another coming of age song (a whole sub-genre of Country music).  The absurdity of life, of responsibility, of how out of place you feel as you move from teenager to adult, is summed up with the insolent “Memo to myself: Do the dumb things I gotta do.  Touch the puppet head.”  Who hasn’t felt strangled by the pointlessness of all the things we have to do when we adult?  (I love how usage has turned a boring nondescript noun like “adult” into a really descriptive, if vague, verb.)  Why does the singer have to touch the puppet head?  Who knows, and who really cares?  The puppet head is just another version of Hitchcock’s Macguffin.  It’s the thing that puts the action of the story into motion, but is never really clearly defined and might not ever even be seen.

Kind of like growing up.

“Twisting”

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I’ve still got that TMBG bee in my bonnet.  Come to think of it, them, Josh Ritter and episodes of the Star Talk podcast (with my personal astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson; he could be yours, too if you start listening) are just about all I’ve been listening to on the iPod for the last week or so.  I don’t know what that means.

Whatever.  Try not to dance as you listen to this song.  I dare you.  And if you can, please explain to me why They Might Be Giants aren’t more popular than they are.

“Your Racist Friend”

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Now that my class is finished, I’ve got a bit more time to go back to one of my favorite activities: ranting. (I don’t know whether to envy you poor fools or pity you.)

I’ve actually had a bit of a bee in my bonnet lately (the only one, I swear. . . see what I did there?  No?  Well, maybe you should go back to some of my older jukebox entries.)  So I’ve been listening to They Might Be Giants on the iPod lately, which always makes me smile.  But yesterday it dawned on me that they were, scarily, kind of prescient.  After all, have you gotten a look at the presumptive Republican nominee for president?  Yeah.  This song suddenly has a whole new dimension to it.

I wavered between this song and another frighteningly apt TMBG song, but the nasty bitterness of “Your Racist Friend” won out.  (By the by, I’d like to extend my thanks to the YouTubers who took the time to create videos to match the narrative in both songs.  Really nice work!)  And since the Blowhard hasn’t actually won anything yet, anointing him anything, even in jest, would just play into his enormous ego.

My message to anyone who would come to this craven, narcissistic, misogynistic, xenophobic, spray-tanned slime bucket’s defense is simply this: He is just as awful as he appears.  He always has been.  This man tears down historical buildings and replaces them with ugly phallic symbols (you just know all his skyscrapers and mega casinos are over-compensating for something).  And he is a racist.  He’s made that clear right from the get go.  Some poor deluded fool out there might try to argue he wants to improve our security, but he just wants to pander to the same disgusting ignorance and bigotry that he’s been carrying around his entire life.  I’ll give him this, he’s damn good at it.

I honestly thought he’d have imploded by now.  That the Republicans would’ve shunned him, and then he’d have run as a third-party candidate and confused all the bigots like him trying to decide which hateful idiot to vote for.  (Let’s face it, Kasich was the least objectionable of the bunch, but only because he lacks any sort of personality whatsoever; it’s a miracle he lasted as long as he did.)  But he’s managed to fool bluff hornswaggle convince enough people that he’s got something legitimate to offer this country.

He doesn’t, of course, and I doubt he’ll be able to get enough moderate Republicans and independents to vote for him.  He’ll get enough votes that he’ll be able to say that he’s important.  But he won’t win.  And, hopefully, his mere existence in this political race will wake up enough of the reasonable conservatives (yes, they do exist) to do something about the hideous demagoguery that has been masquerading as the GOP platform for the last few decades.

Dial-A-Song

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Things have been both busy and quiet enough for me to forget to remind everyone about the return of They Might Be Giants brilliant Dial-A-Song.  It’s been back for a few weeks now, and although the songs themselves have been a little hit or miss, I haven’t been disappointed at all.

One of the best parts about the new Internet-era Dial-A-Song is the fact that these are basically music videos.  All the songs are accompanied by appropriate (or completely irrelevant) video, images, and animations.  The other nice thing is that if you miss a week, you can still check out the song because it’s archived on the site.  Neither of those things would have been possible in the original incarnation using a telephone and answering machine.  Yay, technology!

Even if you think TMBG aren’t your cup of tea, you should give Dial-A-Song a try.  Who knows?  You might become one of us.

You Can’t See Me, But I’m Doing a Happy Dance Right Now

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Who cares if the world is going to hell in a handbasket?  Dial-a-Song is coming back!

Dial-a-Song was a service from the perfectly weird They Might Be Giants which was pretty much what it said on the tin.  You dialed the number, listened to a song TMBG recorded, and presumably hung up.  I never had the guts to call the long distance number myself (this was a time before unlimited long distance plans on landlines, much less cell phones), but I just loved the idea that it existed.  Only a band this strange and smart could do something like that.  And now, thanks to the wonders of the interwebs, they’re doing it again.

The new Dial-a-Song is a website that will officially begin in January.  The video I posted is the song that’s currently available on the site, “Authenticity Trip” from the 2011 compilation Album Raises New and Troubling Questions (which I might have to get just for the title).  It doesn’t quite have the cool cache of calling a New York area code just to hear a song taped on an answering machine, but I know I’ll be clicking at least once a week.  More if the song is as awesome as this one.

Repost: They Might Be Giants

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I’ve been in a TMBG mood lately, so I thought I’d repost this to share the joy.  And weirdness.  Mustn’t forget the weirdness.  Oh, and by way of updating the original post, I did indeed get myself a blue canary in the outlet by the light switch.

 

 

 

TMBG are odd.  There’s really no other way to put it.  The duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell have created some of the most kooky, funny, and surreal music ever.  They have a bit of a penchant for sound effects, but that’s not what makes them so odd.  (So does Wilco, but they’re not weird either.  Well, not too weird.)  Their songs have strange stream-of-consciousness, dada-like lyrics, but that’s not really what makes them weird, either; it certainly helps, but it’s not the strangest thing about these guys.  No, what makes them really strange is the fact that they make perfect sense.

Come to think of it, that might have a lot more to say about me than it does TMBG.

In all seriousness, the lyrics are. . . different (but very intelligent), and the sound effects have a tendency to throw songs off-balance (but in a good way).  This is another case of using humor to expose some universal truths.  Thematically, they cover everything from common heartbreak to adolescent angst to bigotry and political corruption.  Their songs tend to be very short, but not much is needed to get the amusing point across.

I first discovered TMBG while watching MTV.  The video for “Don’t Let’s Start” came on, and I was hooked.  They were so unlike anything else at the time that me and my suburban, just post-adolescent angst never really stood a chance.

It was wonderful.  When I got a hold of their first album, it was more of the same.  So were the second and third albums (Lincoln and Flood, respectively).  When they first started out, they had a service called Dial-a-Song, which featured a New York number you could call and reach an answering machine with a new song on it every day.  I never had the wherewithal to risk my parents’ questioning me about making long-distance calls, or I would’ve been dialing up as often as possible.  One of my favorites by them is “Shoehorn with Teeth.”  The title alone should tell you what kind of crazy you’re dealing with.  It’s too short to have any sort of narrative, but the chorus sets the mood: “He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth.  People should get beat up for stating their beliefs.  He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth, cause he knows there’s no such thing.”  And for fans of Flood, ThinkGeek is selling a “Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch” http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/lights/e791/?pfm=Search&t=blue%20canary%20night%20light for only $12.99 (plus shipping & handling).

I’m afraid that TMBG kind of dropped off my radar after Flood.  I know they’ve made a lot more music; in the last few years they’ve made what is by all accounts charming and witty children’s music.  I need to rediscover them, but they set the bar so high with their first three albums, I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed.

Then again, how disappointing could it be to smile?

 

“Alienation’s for the Rich”

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I guess I’ve just got money on the mind right now.  It might be all that money I sent to the government yesterday.  It might be my piddling paycheck.  It might be that we’re going to have to pay off the contractors in a couple of days.

I’ve always been middle class–although if my mother wasn’t here helping with my bills, I’d probably be destitute.  And I never really used to have anything against rich people.  They earned it.  Or inherited it.  Either way, it’s their money.  And they’re allowed to do whatever they want with it.  If they want to spend it all on parties, drugs, and ugly shoes, well that’s just peachy.  Whenever I have extra money, it goes to music, books, and socks, so I’m not really one to judge.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much class and financial equality is tied to so many things it shouldn’t be tied to–things like sex and race.  Poverty is a generational problem, distinctly linked to so many factors that aren’t in the control of the poor that I don’t even know where to begin.  So many young African-American men are depending on their bodies instead of their brains because sports is one of the only ways to break the cycle of poverty so many of them feel trapped in.  But that’s just one of the mythical traps that powerful people sell to the powerless to keep them from questioning the real problems of inequality.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Never mind that you never got the same opportunities.  Never mind that your school was inferior because funding has always been linked to property taxes, which were artificially depressed in your neighborhood because all the financially secure white people moved out the minute a family of color moved into the area.  Don’t even think about the fact that your professional opportunities were taken away when corporations moved all the factories to other countries because they would’ve been forced to pay a living wage here.  Ignore the fact that housing and healthcare costs have skyrocketed, but the federal poverty line (you know, that magic number that determines eligibility for social services) is still calculated according to the cost of feeding a family of four.  (Which also fails to take into account all those families of more than four.)  And of course, even if you are eligible for SNAP or Section 8, or any other social safety net designed to help raise the poor out of poverty by increasing their standard of living, you can’t get enough help or you go on long waiting lists because programs like this have had their budgets slashed into near non-existence.  And never, ever, ever mention things like mental health, addiction, domestic violence, or child abuse.  Those topics are still taboo.  Just get off your lazy ass, and get to work.

Your corporate masters, of course, are allowed to pay you a criminally low wage.  And they can cut your hours to below full-time so that they don’t have to offer you insurance (which they charge too much for anyway).  They’re also allowed to prevent you from unionizing, donate as much as they want to their political causes, and a myriad of other things that are meant to keep you dependent on them for everything.  They’ve rigged the system so that not only can you not pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you can’t even afford to buy bootstraps.

The tax system is rigged to favor the rich, just like everything else.  You’ll hear stories about how much certain politicians pay in taxes, but that’s for show.  Stories like that are put out there to keep people from asking how much CEOs pay (not much).  So here’s a lament for everyone who’s realized just how hard it is to overcome this system.

Freaky Friday: “Shoehorn with Teeth”

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Here’s a charming little bit of absurdity from They Might Be Giants, quite possibly the freakiest artists to record anything aimed at children since Shel Silverstein started writing poetry.

Obviously, this is not one of their children’s songs.  It’s from their second album, Lincoln, and it’s so strange it’s utterly irresistable.  At least it is to me.  I like strange things.  Just take a moment and let the lyrics sink in.

Now try to shake them off.  I dare you.

Have a nice day! 🙂

“It’s Not My Birthday”

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Okay, so actually today is my birthday, but I have the feeling it’s not going to be my best ever.  It won’t be bad, per se, just overshadowed by life.  I haven’t checked my work email yet, but I should be tutoring today (unless there’s a drop call because it’s been duller than doornails over there).  Dad has some issues (nothing bad, just irritating for him and me).  Mom has been sick (that reminds me, I should call her later).  I need to put away/do laundry.  There’s just a myriad of little things that ensures today will be . . . pretty ordinary.  I’m probably going to even end up cooking dinner tonight.  (Okay, here’s my one semi-real birthday-related peeve.  My father thinks nothing of getting the whole family together for everyone else’s birthday, including my brother’s, but never makes a family gathering out of mine.  He’ll take me out to dinner usually, but no one else gets called.  I’m not really feeling the love here.)

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not really complaining.  And I suck at remembering other people’s birthdays (except for family and my BFF), so I shouldn’t expect them to remember mine.  Most of the music birthdays I’ve posted about I discovered by accident.  So I think I’ll take TMBG’s tack here:

“It’s not my birthday.  It’s not today.  It’s not my birthday, so why do you lunge out at me?  When the world comes down, never more will be around.  Though I’ll wish you were there, I was less than we could bear, and I’m not the only dust my mother raised.”