Youd think sharing a band with a guy for nearly 30 years would cement the foundation of your relationship. Of course, when your band happens to be Brooklyns often-silly and offbeat, usually sweet and affecting They Might Be Giants, you cant take each others words too seriously.
I think if somebody wanted to turn us against each other, they could probably plant some weird seeds, John Linnell said. How do you break up a band? I guess you tell one guy the other guys holding you back. If somebody could convince both of us that was true, wed probably be at each others throats.
The idea is absurd, but so is the idea that songs about famous Belgian painters, the 11th president of the United States and the physical makeup of the sun wouldnt just be considered listenable, but beloved cult tunes, even used in schools as learning aids.
The latter phenomenon sparked TMBGs second generation, who first heard their songs in elementary classrooms or on the animated Tiny Toon Adventures, where Istanbul (Not Constantinople) and Particle Man both appeared after debuting on the groups 1990 quirk classic, Flood.
Now both fathers in their early 50s, Linnell and John Flansburgh also appealed to children directly by recording a trio of full-lengths between 2005 and 2009 with titles like Here Come the ABCs.
Now that were fully aware of it, we should probably just set up a recruiting center to figure out how to get them in kindergarten, Linnell said.
While amused by schoolteachers repurposing of TMBG tracks, Linnell sounds downright perplexed when people try to value them as high art. Theres a scene in the 2003 documentary Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) wherein people read their lyrics as if they were poetry.
It was such a weird experience of our own work, he said. I dont know what to say beyond it. Maybe its because the attitude they have when theyre reading it is so serious and thats not the way I feel about what we do.
With songs that wriggle their way into listeners hearts, TMBG has inspired bizarre fan art. It speaks to the endearment of their songwriting, which, with all its idiosyncrasies, also appeals to the unusual.
There are these realist portraits of me and John, and those are the most fucked-up looking of all, he said. They really mess around with our self-image. Seeing yourselves drawn that way really makes you want to go lie down in a dark room with a washcloth on your head. Theyre heartfelt, but theyre sort of wrong.
Read more about John Linnell at OKSee, Gazette's music blog.
Photo by Shervin Lainez