"We've sold out and we're already a big, big success," John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants told me the other day when he called me up, eager to divulge the latest details of the duo's master plan for world domination. The day They Might Be Giants sells out is the day Wham! covers "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo."
Perhaps some explanation is in order. They Might Be Giants are Flansburgh and Linnell, the two Johns (this confuses some journalists; in one article in a paper which will remain nameless, it was revealed that "John" wrote their epic "Youth Culture Killed My Dog." Their soundman is named Bill Krauss, which makes everyone's life easier. Krauss plays the pre-recorded rhythm tracks at their live gigs while Flansburgh strums a fake Fender and Linnell wraps himself around an...accordion. Sometimes they come onstage wearing these big paper mache hands that they wave around for no discernible purpose. Their songs have titles like "Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes,""The Day Phil Ochs and Marvin Gaye Got Married," and "Cowtown." Bits of wisdom that can be gleaned from their repertoire include: "Alienation is for the rich/and me, I'm feeling poorer every day,""Go find a man to fill my shoes/the left one's old and the right one's new." They are not a comedy band.They are not cute. As they say in the song, "You'll Miss Me," their "genius walks."
HISTORY: Flansburgh and Linnell went to high school together somewhere in Massachusetts, keeping to themselves (together) and fomenting the strange, unique ideas that would someday be used to stake their claim to supposed Giantdom. Flansburgh went on to college at Antioch, that Ohio hotbed of free love and 60s radicalism, where Flansburgh met Krauss, who he hated. He decided to make life miserable for Krauss by enlisting him in the Giant crusade when he reunited with Linnell to form the band.
Playing around the Lower East Side makes a lot of people think you're some kind of arteest or something, and indeed,They Might Be Giants have been called a "performance art duo" in print. They take it all in stride, knowing that their world is not such a somber place. Their brand of surrealist pop is the perfect tonic for folks who are fed up with pompous revivalists reverently recycling riffs that retain only the emptiest part of their appeal, i.e.,nostalgic. The Giants shock purists by putting pop--every kind, from C & W to hip-hop--through the mill of their perhaps insular imaginations with much deftness and very little in the way of the good old fashioned "respect." Which is as it should be, e.g., the Trevor Horn-like flourishes on "Hope You Don't Become a Robot" (impressive because you know that this band doesn't have access to a Fairlight!) are even funnier than the real thing. Their sharp parodic sense is not smirkingly condescending, but just downright strange, taking them beyond the realm of nyah-nyahing and into the world of...Giantdom.
They have impressed luminaries as wide-ranging as Robert Christgau and "Entertainment Tonight's" Dixie Whatley, and they've recorded an LP that several major minor labels have expressed some kind of interest in. I've heard it, and it's swell, and it's opening cut "She Was a Hotel Detective," rocks out convincingly enough to hook pop kneejerkers in nicely. The rest of the record veers off in millions of different directions, which may alienate those whose sensibilities aren't tuned to the Giant wavelength (I suspect that this may be a genetic problem).
And how can you find out if you are? Well, why not call their Dial-A-Song service? Just call (718)387-6962 and you'll hear an unavoidably tinny (it is an answering machine after all) recording of a Giants song. New one every week. The tape also gives info on live dates, which are all must sees, if of course, you pass the test.
So, now do you understand why They Might Be Giants won't sell out? It's because they'll never have to. The world will come to them, first in dribs and drabs, and then with such unalloyed enthusiasm in the face of their unimpeachable authority that even They will be taken aback. But only momentarily.