Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nobody knows, particle man

Ooh, nice. Here's a Rolling Stone piece about They Might Be Giants and their breakthrough album, Flood.

Track by Track Guide to the Geek-Chic Breakthrough
Issued the first week of 1990, Flood was a landmark release in the evolution from college rock (the awkward handle for music like R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü that dominated university radio stations in the 1980s) to the alternative movement that defined much of the 1990s. Flood is still a hallmark in geek chic's rise, too: the Giants' two previous LPs proved a skinny guy with an accordion and a partner in crime wearing black-plastic glasses could rock a party.
The article is worth a read if you're interested in the technical details of how the band created its sound. Or if, like me, you've spent the last almost-20 years wondering about some of those lyrics.

One early morning when I was a senior in college, an urgent question kept me awake: What did the characters in "Particle Man" represent? Particle Man himself obviously stood for the downtrodden, but what about the benevolent Universe Man? Why did Triangle Man hate Particle Man? Why was Triangle Man called that?

This went on for a while until well-modulated, calm voice interrupted my thoughts. Maybe the song doesn't mean ANYTHING, it said. Thus reassured, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Turns out I probably wasn't that far off.


Jannie Funster said...

Like many songs -- no real meaning, just interesting as heck.

DeppityBob said...

I find it hard to accept some of what they say, even though this puts me in the much-hated position of "My interpretation is right despite what the artist says!" The video for "Birdhouse in Your Soul" made it pretty obvious it is an anti-TV song (as if the lyrics didn't already), and I think there's a lot more to their songs than just nonsense. Some of them have specific imagery, and some of them, like "They Might Be Giants," seems to warn us about not thoroughly checking out our leaders: "We can't be quiet 'cuz they might be giants/And what are we gonna do unless they are?" The Johns are much smarter than they want to let on, I think.

cinderkeys said...

Jannie: There are so many different categories of songs that don't totally make sense. :)

Dep: Funny, I immediately thought of you when I read the thing about "They Might Be Giants" because I remember you opining about the song. In fact, I sort of adopted your interpretation; it came to mind a lot during the election. (And seriously, what ARE we gonna do unless they are?)

Now I've looked up the lyrics to TMBG, and I find that either interpretation works. It's entirely possible that they intended to create something silly, but opened the door to profundity without realizing it. And it doesn't matter so much if they don't realize it.

Unknown said...

I suspect the same thing as DeppityBob. I think it would be kind of uncool for the Johns to analyze their own songs for us, so they don't.

That doesn't mean that I stand behind my original interpretation of Particle Man: various incarnations of God. But it works on some levels if you stretch it this way and that.