Music for Grownups

There’s a great bot on the fediverse: TMBG Lyrics. It just posts random snippets of lyrics from They Might Be Giants’s songs. This morning, it posted this gem:

Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part
that wonders what the part that isn’t thinking isn’t thinking of

“Where Your Eyes Don’t Go”, Lincoln (1988) by They Might Be Giants

It’s a song I’ve known for probably 25 years, but these lines really struck me when they were pulled out of context like that. That’s part of the fun of this bot for me: it shines a new light on music I’ve loved for ages.

It also reminded me of an exchange I had on Twitter a few years ago.[1] A friend had asked for bands that had put out more than a few albums — I want to say five, or something like that — and had never put out a bad one. They Might Be Giants was the first band I thought of. We’d been friends long enough that I was pretty sure she knew TMBG is my favorite band, so I replied with something like, “Of course I’m going to say They Might Be Giants”. And because it was social media, a couple of people I did not know had to chime in to tell me I was wrong.

But the thing that stuck with me was that one of those people said something along the lines of, “their music was better before they started trying to make music for adults.” Those lines from “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” were on their second studio album. I generally do not expect that kind of contemplation of consciousness in children’s music.

It would be another 14 years after they released Lincoln before they put out their first children’s album.

I suppose if your first experience with They Might Be Giants were the few hits they had from Flood (1990) — “Particle Man,” “Istanbul (not Constantinople),”[2] and possibly “Birdhouse in Your Soul” — then maybe you’d think they were a children’s band.[3] Or maybe you think that just because their music is suitable for children, that makes them a children’s band. But you’d be wrong.

Lincoln has what is probably my favorite TMBG song of all time: They’ll Need a Crane. It’s an upbeat tune about a relationship falling apart. The two people in the relationship don’t recognize what’s happening and continue to hurt each other. One of them starts cheating, the other starts drinking. The cheerful tone of the music is like the mask the couple puts on to hide the pain. It’s a devastating song.

“They’ll Need a Crane” official video on YouTube

I have no qualms about letting my toddler listen to it, though. Until he’s old enough to understand the metaphor in the song, there’s nothing about the song that would upset him. The music’s not aggressive or scary. There are no swears for him to pick up on. But that doesn’t make it a children’s song.

Anyway, I love this band. They have 23 studio albums and I don’t think a single one of them is bad. There are a handful — five, to be precise — that I don’t listen to as often as the rest.[4] And even those five albums have some songs I adore.[5] There isn’t a single album of those 23 albums that I wouldn’t be happy to listen to from start to finish.

That is quite a musical career, in my opinion.

  1. I don’t know why this particular exchange gets to continue living rent free in my brain, but it just sticks in my craw. ↩︎

  2. Which isn’t even a TMBG original, it’s a cover of a novelty song from 1953. ↩︎

  3. Especially if that experience was from Tiny Toons (YouTube). ↩︎

  4. Four of those five albums are their children’s albums, actually. And although those don’t rank among my favorite TMBG albums, they’re pretty high up on my list of favorite children’s albums.[6] ↩︎

  5. “The Alphabet of Nations”, “Meet the Elements,“ “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?,” “Older.”[7] ↩︎

  6. Mostly I don’t go in for music written for children. I prefer music that is just written for people that is appropriate for children. ↩︎

  7. I’d really like to get people to starting “Older” for birthdays, instead of “Happy Birthday.” ↩︎