Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Okay so this was my final research paper for English my senior year. Blogger formatting is terrible; I tried my best etc etc it looks like crap, sorry.

The fantastically amazing people over at tmbw.net, This Might Be A Wiki, used a ton of this for their page about the band, which you can read here. I just kind of put it out there and they edited and linked it all up, and it's really really great.

Here is the Thing That I Wrote About the Rock Band They Might Be Giants Complete With In-Text Citations and Hyperlinked Works Cited Screw You MLA Formatting You Are Terrible and Repressive:

“We like playing fun rock music, for the love of it. We only pretend to have a plan for world domination,” answered John Flansburgh, when asked by an interviewer to set the world straight on the purpose of the band he and his high school friend, John Linnell, had founded in 1982 (Dougherty). That band was They Might Be Giants, and twenty-six years later, the two Johns are still making music. They Might Be Giants, loosely classified as alternative rock, is a prolific, unique, pioneering band whose groundbreaking achievements have helped pave the way for other alternative musicians.

On May 6th, 1960, John Flansburgh was born in Lincoln, Massachusetts to Earl and Louise “Polly” Flansburgh. His father is a successful architect whose firm has designed over two hundred schools. His mother founded Boston-by-Foot, a non-profit organization that gives tours of Boston. He has an older brother, Paxus, who is a political activist. Flansburgh married Robin Goldwasser in 1996. She occasionally provides vocals for the band’s songs.

Flansburgh is half They Might Be Giants’ singing and songwriting power. He plays guitar, left-handedly. He is the “businessman” of the band; he’s greatly involved in orchestrating shows and in the design of much of the art/visual aspect of the band such as music videos and album art. He’s had many side projects, the most notable being his band Mono Puff, which released four EPs and two studio albums.

John Linnell was born June 12th, 1959, in New York. He moved to Lincoln when he was nine. His father, Dr. Zenos M. Linnell, is a retired psychiatrist, and his mother is a poet. Linnell has a brother and sister and possibly other siblings. John Linnell married Karen Brown in 1997, and they have a son, Henry, who was born in 1999. Henry has done vocal work on a few of their children’s albums’ tracks.

In concerts, Linnell mainly sings and plays the keyboards or accordion, but he also plays the saxophone, clarinet, Kaoss Pad, and stylophone. He shares songwriting duties with Flansburgh. Before starting TMBG with Flansburgh, John played keyboards in a new wave band called The Mundanes. Linnell has released three solo EPs and a studio album.

Flansburgh and Linnell both grew up in Lincoln, a small, upper class, suburban town in Massachusetts. Though they went to the same elementary school, they did not know each other. Flansburgh recalls being made to write a get well card for Linnell after an accident: “It was this singularly bogus thing, but because our schoolmate John had to go to the hospital, we all had to write him letters saying ‘Get well soon!’” (Schnack). In high school, Flansburgh somewhat sought Linnell out, showing him a play he’d written in which there were 150 acts, each being one line long. Linnell was a little taken aback by Flansburgh’s outgoingness; while he himself was reserved and quiet, Flans was “gregarious” and “kind of interested in just talking” (Schnack). "John was always calling me up, and I didn't know who he was really. He'd call and go, 'So. Linnell. What's happenin'?” (Weiskopf).

They came to be friends through the school newspaper. John Linnell joined the paper’s staff his freshman year and eventually worked his way up to senior editor. Flansburgh also became involved with the paper, and John and John became good friends spending long weekend nights working on putting the paper together. Both of them also liked to draw and, in addition to submitting cartoons to the newspaper, made comic books to distribute throughout the school.

Some time during high school, Flansburgh acquired a sound-to-sound tape recorder, with which he and John made “electronic recordings. They were very strange and kind of unlistenable in a way” (Schnack). After high school, in 1981, John and John ended up moving into the same apartment building in Brooklyn on the same day. The first actual song they recorded was a Yoko Ono cover, “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow), which they sang with Rod Serling-esque voices (Schnack). They continued their collaboration, writing songs and making recordings.

Their first show was in the summer of 1982 at a Sandinista rally in Central Park. The crowd was almost all Spanish, and the band was introduced as “El Grupo de Rock ’n’ Roll.” Flansburgh played guitar while Linnell played the clarinet and keyboards. In January of 1983, the Johns played their first show under the name They Might Be Giants. They took the name from a George C. Scott film about a millionaire who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. When asked about the origin of their name, Linnell said, “It's the name of a movie. It's not a very interesting answer, unfortunately; it's not a very good movie and it doesn't hold that much significance for us, particularly, except that we thought the name was good” (Throwrug).

In 1984, Linnell broke his wrist in a bike accident, and Flansburgh’s apartment was burglarized. Though they couldn’t perform or play shows, they still wanted to produce more music. Flansburgh started Dial-a-Song, an answering machine that played a song when his phone number, (718)-387-6962, was called. The song would be changed daily; they used Dial-a-Song as a way to motivate themselves to write more songs. In the documentary Gigantic, Flans remarks that “anything with long sustained notes makes it rewind” because the machine would interpret the noise as the end-of-message beep and that most of the songs on their first album were short and staccato, just so they would work on Dial-a-Song. Dial-a-Song lived on through the 80’s,90’s, and 00’s, offering hundreds of demos, song fragments, and exclusive unreleased tracks to the public.

Throughout the early 80’s, Flansburgh and Linnell played different underground places in NYC such as 8BC, Darinka, The Pyramid Club, and CBGB. The Johns relied very heavily on the reel-to-reel tape recorder during their shows - “playing straight through, pressing play and going” (Schnack). With John Flansburgh playing guitar and Linnell playing accordion or saxophone, the tape recorder and drum machine were the third member of the band, supplying backing tracks and percussion. Early shows were very strange, incorporating props like puppets and giant fezzes and “The Stick,” a literal stick with a microphone attached, which would be banged on the floor to produce a reverb percussion. Al Houghton, who helped produce early TMBG releases, said of their shows, “Some musicians just thought they were ridiculous, you know, it was like the antithesis of the musician” (Schnack).

The style of their songs was very diverse, and critics had a hard time pinning down exactly in what genre they belonged. The Johns called themselves a rock group, and in some ways they were, though very few of their songs were technically “rock.” Steve Dougherty described them in People Weekly as a “mock-arty-garage-polka-metal-country rock duo.” Though some wrote them off as a novelty act, they slowly built up a following and produced a full demo tape in 1985, which they sold at shows. The tape caught the attention of Michael Small, who then reviewed the tape in People Weekly. The review was very positive, and ended by saying, “These guys should definitely change their name. It won’t be long before they really are giants.” This gave the Johns their first national exposure and garnered the interest of Bar/None Records.

They Might Be Giants signed on with Bar/None in 1986 and released their first album They Might Be Giants, known to their fans as The Pink Album, later that year. Reviews of the album were generally positive, though some thought They Might Be Giants to be just a quirky, wacky novelty act. In a review for Rolling Stone, critic Jim Farber states, “They're going to have to create a whole new category of weird to contain They Might Be Giants. After all, what other group around these days would release an album with nineteen songs that incorporate genres from art pop to country to polka, all operating under titles like ‘Youth Culture Killed My Dog’? … No matter how far afield the duo ventures, though, huge pop hooks always keep things firmly anchored. Also tying the genre gyrations together is a relentless, distanced irony, accented by hysterically evasive lyrics.”

Earlier that year, video director Adam Bernstein had seen them at Darinka and told John and John that he would direct a music video for them and pay for it. They decided on the song “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head,” and spent $1500 and two days in Williamsburg shooting it (Schnack). The video mainly consists of John and John lip synching and dancing in the style of the band New Edition (Direct From Brooklyn). The video was played on television, on MTV, a month before their debut album came out. TMBG collaborated again with Adam on a video for “Don’t Let’s Start,” a song with a wonderfully upbeat tempo but dismal and gloomy lyrics - “No one in the world ever gets what they want/And that is beautiful/Everybody dies frustrated and sad/And that is beautiful” (Direct From Brooklyn). With a budget of $5000, the black and white, jerky, almost spastic, sped-up video was the first indie video to go into the regular rotation on MTV. Sue Drew, former employee of Elektra records, said on their MTV exposure: “I think people were absolutely stunned, because here was a band that seemed to be coming from nowhere and had no relation to anything else that was going on musically” (Schnack).

1988 saw the release of They Might Be Giants’ second album, Lincoln. Containing eighteen songs ranging in style from blues to salsa, Lincoln sold well, spending nineteen weeks on “The Billboard 200” chart. One of the singles from the album, “Ana Ng”, became the band’s first charting single, peaking at #11 on “Billboard Modern Rock Tracks” (Lincoln). They Might Be Giants made three music videos for the album, “Ana Ng,” “Purple Toupee,” and “They’ll Need a Crane.”

The video for “Ana Ng” was one of the band’s most popular videos. The song’s narrator laments over the fact that he and his soul mate, Ana Ng, will never meet. Again, the melody is upbeat with profound, depressing lyrics. “Everything sticks like a broken record/Everything sticks until it goes away/And the truth is we don’t know anything” (Direct From Brooklyn). Filmed at fireman training grounds in New York, the video has a strange, really serious, almost military air about it. The Johns and Adam Bernstein decided not to use lip synch in the video; in its place is very stiff synchronized dancing.

Much of They Might Be Giants’ subject matter during their early years was very dark and dismal. TMBG’s manager, Jamie Kitman, summed up their complex lyrical style: “They’re funny, but they’re sad” (Schnack). Flansburgh has noted that their early songs were downers. “There’s a pretty relentless thread in the text of our songs, especially in the first fifteen years of our songwriting that’s pretty relentlessly, you know, kind of earth-shatteringly dower” (Schnack). For the most part, the lyrics of their songs take a back seat, in matters of importance, to the music. Sometimes the Johns, especially Linnell, add words almost as an afterthought, and for them, usually lyrics do not hold deep meaning. When asked about the significance of his lyrics, Linnell says that they are what they are. “People get everything, and the things they think they don’t get don’t exist” (Schnack).

In 1989, the band signed with a major label, Elektra Records. The following year, Flood, their third and best selling album of all time, was released. The album went gold in December of 1993. The record contains three of the songs for which They Might Be Giants are best known, “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Particle Man,” and their cover version of The Four Lads song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” After Flood, They Might Be Giants’ popularity was at its peak. They were frequent guests on many television programs in the US and in the UK, including Top of the Pops, 120 Minutes, Late Night with David Letterman, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (Television Appearances).

“Birdhouse in Your Soul” is the band’s highest-charting single of all time, in the US as well as in the UK. It reached #3 on the US Modern Rock Tracks Chart and #6 on the UK Singles Chart (Flood). The song is sung from the point of view of a nightlight. It has a beautiful melody and circular, slightly cryptic lyrics such as “I’m your only friend/I’m not your only friend/But I’m a little glowing friend/But really I’m not actually your friend/But I am” (Schnack). The video for the song was filmed at New York County’s Surrogate Courthouse. The song has an anthemic quality to it, and the music video reflects that, with extras wearing placards saying “Stop rock video”, boldly marching in a kind of protest around John Flansburgh and John Linnell, who are on a platform in the middle of a large, ornate room (Direct From Brooklyn).

The songs “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man” were made into animated music videos for Steven Spielberg Presents Tiny Toon Adventures. For many fans, this was their first exposure to They Might Be Giants. John Flansburgh has said that it was strange to him that so many people became fans through the videos because he and John had absolutely nothing to do with their production. Linnell says, “It was the easiest video we ever did” (Direct From Brooklyn).

In 1992, They Might Be Giants released their fourth studio album, Apollo 18. The album, presumably because of its few spacey songs, drew the attention of NASA, who had declared 1992 International Space Year. They Might Be Giants were selected to be “Musical Ambassadors.” The Johns did not know exactly what their role was supposed to be. John Linnell related his uncertainty in an interview with Joab Jackson: “We don't have a super clear idea of what it is we're supposed to be saying about it. … We're supposed to be included on lists of events happening in connection with International Space Year. In other words, on a particular month they'll say in some town there's this lecture about space telescopes and then there's this They Might Be Giants concert. It does seem kind of weird—disconnected to us.” When Flans was asked about what being Musical Ambassadors meant, he replied, “It doesn’t mean anything, actually. We’re like the musical equivalent of Tang” (Guiste).

The album was, on the whole, darker both lyrically and musically that their past efforts. The Johns employed more of an electronic sound than previous records. One of the unique features of the album were the last twenty-one tracks, all short songs, collectively known as “Fingertips.” Typically no more than fifteen or twenty seconds long, they were designed to utilize the shuffle mode on most CD players, being interspersed throughout the album. Two music videos were made from this album - “The Statue Got Me High” and “Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight).”

Linnell and Flansburgh had been pressured by Elektra since Flood to expand to a full band and get backing musicians. At first, they were wary of the idea, not wanting to sell out. John Flansburgh said, “And I think our natural response was, you know, just leave us alone, because what do you know…‘What do you know about how to be a success in rock?’ Here we are, barely successful at all…” (Schnack). Some of their faithful, most hardcore fans actually boycotted shows, telling people not to go see them because they’d gotten a backing band. The Johns finally agreed after Apollo 18 and were joined by Kurt Hoffman, Tony Maimone, and Jon Feinberg. They embarked on the “Don't Tread On The Cut-Up Snake World Tour” in 1992, playing over fifty shows.

John Henry, the band’s fifth studio album, was released in 1994. Their first album utilizing a full band, the record is much more horn- and guitar-laden than previous records. Though John Henry spent only 4 weeks on the “Billboard 200”, it reached, at its peak, #64, higher than any of their earlier records (John Henry). There was a music video made for the song “Snail Shell.” The album’s title references the man vs. machine legend of John Henry, referring to the band’s recent switch to “man” (human drummer) from “machine” (drum machine). With twenty songs and nearly an hour’s worth of music, John Henry is TMBG’s longest studio record. The album determined the band’s new, full sound while keeping all the lyrical and musical quirks for which TMBG had become known.

In 1996, the band released the album Factory Showroom. The album only had thirteen tracks, but the individual songs were longer than on previous records. It was their second album with a full band, utilizing the talents of Brian Doherty on the drums, Eric Schermerhorn on lead guitar, and Graham Maby on bass. The album spent two weeks on the “Billboard 200,” peaking at #89 (Factory Showroom). They Might Be Giants left Elektra Entertainment after the release of Factory Showroom and joined Restless Records.

Severe Tire Damage, a live album, was released in 1998. Three of its tracks were studio tracks. The band made one of the studio songs, “Doctor Worm,” into a music video that was directed by John Flansburgh. The album contained seven hidden tracks, each one of them about the film series Planet of the Apes.

They Might Be Giants partnered with eMusic, an online subscription music site, to release the full-length studio album Long Tall Weekend exclusively online. The band was the first major artist to release a full-length album exclusively online, and, as a result, They Might Be Giants were the most downloaded artist on the internet in 1999 and also in 2000 (Schnack). In 2001, they collaborated with eMusic again with TMBG Unlimited, a service in which users could subscribe to monthly albums of live tracks and rarities from the band. TMBG Unlimited lasted until January of 2002 (TMBG Unlimited).

In 2000, They Might Be Giants provided the theme song to the television show Malcolm in the Middle, entitled “Boss of Me,” and written by Flansburgh who called it “a thirty second song I couldn’t finish for a year” (Boss Of Me). The song won the Giants their first Grammy award. They Might Be Giants also wrote and performed all the incidental music for the first two seasons of the show.

TMBG has written and performed theme music for many television shows. The band performs the theme for the fake news program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as well as writing all the incidental music for the show. Their song “Dr. Evil” was in the film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The Johns also made music for the following television shows: Resident Life, The Oblongs, Brave New World, Life 360, America’s Most Wanted, Higglytown Heroes, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. More recently, They Might Be Giants wrote over fifteen songs for Dunkin’ Donuts commercials. The band has also contributed songs to numerous movie soundtracks. They also wrote and performed the theme and score for the upcoming Neil Gaiman film Coraline. They Might Be Giants was the subject of the 2003 documentary Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, directed by AJ Schnack.

The band released their eighth album, Mink Car, in 2001. The album’s songs were recorded from 1999 to 2001 in many different studios and had many different producers and guest artists. Because of this, the album is widely viewed as TMBG’s most disjointed.

No!, released in 2002, marked the beginning of They Might Be Giants’ foray into children’s music. The style of the music was consistent with their adult work; the lyrics were made more kid-friendly. John Linnell wittily noted that “Usually on a TMBG record, there’s at least one song that invokes death. Instead of that, there’s a lot of songs about going to sleep” (Quotes). The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard “Top Kid Audio Chart” (No!). It stayed on the chart for eleven weeks. The success of No! led the band to create more children’s music. The Johns released the book and CD set Bed, Bed, Bed in 2003. The same year, a compilation of the band’s music videos, entitled Direct from Brooklyn, was released on DVD.

Clock Radio, a Macromedia Flash-based music streaming application, was released on tmbg.com in 2003. 2004 saw the opening of They Might Be Giants’ online store, one of the first artist-owned internet stores. It also saw the release of the band’s tenth studio album, The Spine. In stark contrast to No!, The Spine is much more “adult” that most of their previous adult records, with darker subject matter and grown-up lyrics. The band collaborated with Mike and Matt Champan, animators of the popular Flash cartoon site homestarrunner.com, to make a video for the song “Experimental Film.” The video drew in many new fans, and the band and the Chapmans filmed several videos, called “Puppet Jams,” with a puppet version of the site’s main character, Homestar.

In 2005, They Might Be Giants released their second children’s album, Here Come the ABCs on the Disney Sound label. The music was accompanied by videos and released on DVD as well as CD. The DVD was a huge commercial success and quickly went gold. Amazon.com named the album the 13th best album of 2005 and the year’s best children’s album.

During their tour in 2004, the Johns decided to write and then play a song about each venue they played at. The band released the results of its Venue Songs project as a CD/DVD set in 2005. The DVD contains music videos for eleven of the songs and is narrated by author and Daily Show resident expert John Hodgman.

At the end of 2005, the They Might Be Giants podcast was born. Consisting of live, rare, and unreleased tracks, the podcast became one of iTunes’ most downloaded podcasts. It has continued on a sometimes-weekly, mostly-monthly basis. As of March 29th, there have been thirty podcasts released, each of them being, on average, twenty minutes in length. The podcast has been seen by many fans as a new, up-to-date replacement for TMBG’s Dial-a-Song service.

They Might Be Giants’ twelfth studio album, The Else, was released in May 2005 on iTunes, in July on CD, and in September on vinyl. Prior to The Else, their last album released in record form was 1990’s Flood. The first edition of the CD came with a bonus disc of podcast songs. The Else also has the distinctions of being the first They Might Be Giants studio album in which every song is over two minutes in length, and the first not to have any accordion. Four animated music videos of the album’s songs were released online. The album’s songs are more aggressive in tone that some of their other work. When asked about this, Linnell replied, “John called it our least cuddly record. Maybe that’s a response to having done two records at once. We also recorded another kids album. Maybe we siphoned the friendlier music to the kids album, and the adult stuff is unalloyed adult material” (Dansby).

Promoting the release of Here Come the 123s, a follow-up to Here Come the ABCs, They Might Be Giants started a video podcast entitled “Friday Night Family Podcast” in late 2007. The podcast consists of music videos from the album and Here Come the ABCs, introduced by puppet versions of the Johns, voiced and puppeteered by themselves. As of the end of March, there have been fourteen episodes. Here Come the 123s was released in early 2008 and enjoyed similar success to the ABCs.

John and John are currently touring with their full band, consisting of Marty Beller on the drums, Dan Miller on guitar, and Danny Weinkauf on bass. They are also presently working on a children’s science album and another adult album.

They Might Be Giants, though once written off as a novelty act, have found a strong foothold in the mainstream music scene. Their innovative use of technology, groundbreaking achievements, longevity, and memorable, unique songs have enabled them to leave an indelible mark on the pages of music’s history.

Works Cited

“Boss Of Me” 29 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/Boss_Of_Me

Dansby, Andrew. “Sleeping Giants? Never.” Houston Chronicle. 29 Mar. 2008 http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/music/5594602.html

“Dial-A-Song.” 9 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/Dial-A-Song

Direct From Brooklyn. They Might Be Giants. 2003. DVD. TMB Productions, 2003.

Dougherty, Steve. "They Might Be Giants, who, on the other hand, might just be hot rock and roll nerds from Brooklyn." People Weekly 29.n24 (June 20, 1988): 67(2). General OneFile. Gale. Cleveland Public Library - CLEVNET. 8 Mar. 2008 http://find.galegroup.com.ezproxy2.cpl.org/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS

“Factory Showroom.” 29 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/Factory_Showroom

Farber, Jim. “They Might Be Giants.” 9 Mar. 2008 http://rollingstone.com/ Path: Artists; T; They Might Be Giants; Album Reviews; They Might Be Giants.

“Flood.” 9 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/Flood

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns. Dir. AJ Schnack. 2003. DVD. Bonfire Films of America, 2002.

Guiste, Averil. “Giants shoot for the stars on current tour.” Detroit Free Press June 1992. 9 Mar. 2008 http://www.web.archive.org/web/20021204094608/icicle.iblameyou.com/regular/920625detroit.html

Jackson, Joab. “How They Might Be Giants Became the House Band for NASA.” May 1992. 9 Mar. 2008 http://www.joabj.com/Music/9205TheyMightBeGiants.html

“John Henry.” 10 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/John_Henry

“Lincoln.” 9 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/Lincoln

“No!” 29 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/No%21

“Quotes” 29 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/Quotes

Small, Michael. "They might be giants." People Weekly 25 (June 30, 1986): 24(2). General OneFile. Gale. Cleveland Public Library - CLEVNET. 9 Mar. 2008 http://find.galegroup.com.ezproxy2.cpl.org/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS

“Television Appearances.” 10 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/Television_Appearances

“They Might Be Giants interview.” Throwrug #6 (1992). 9 Mar. 2008 http://www.fullmetaljackal.com/throwrug/i-theymightbegiants.html

“TMBG Unlimited” 29 Mar 2008 http://www.tmbw.net/wiki/TMBG_Unlimited

Weiskopf, Mike. “Early Years Handbook.” 1996. 4 Mar. 2008 http://www.tmbg.org/bandinfo/early-years/

No comments:

Post a Comment

say a thing say something say it say it right now