NEW YORK -- Though mainstream radio has so far chosen to resist the songs of -They Might Be Giants, the biting lyrics and unique music of guitarist John Flansburgh and accordion player John Linnell have helped the two-man band build a substantial following. "Our songs are question marks," Linnell said. "We leave a lot more stuff hanging out than other bands." The music is simple, catchy and deceptively cheerful. almost be mistaken for a toothpaste commercial if it weren't for the lyrics: "He wants a shoehorn, the one with teeth. People should get beat up for stating their beliefs." And "Kiss Me, Son of God" would fit right into a glee club recital if someone could find a way around these words: "Now I laugh and make a fortune off the same ones that I tortured and the world screams, 'Kiss me, son of God.'"
"I think what's weird about our songs is that they work much more on a symbolic level than on a literal level," Flansburgh said. "I'm not trying to make it more poetic than it really is. We're not too concerned about being really explicit. I think it's better for a person listening."
Linnell and Flansburgh grew up in the suburbs of Boston and became friends in high school.
Linnell was the first to show interest in music, playing in high school bands, but Flansburgh would eventually catch the bug. "I did sort of tape stuff at my own home and started getting into the punk rock thing," Flansburgh said."Then a friend of mine gave me a guitar and said, 'Play this and you'll never be the same'"
"I'd been a keyboard player in other bands, but someone gave me this accordion and John and I started messing around with that," Linnell said. "I immediately took to it. We both have instruments where we can stand up and move around."
After graduating from high school, they went their separate ways, but reunited in 1981 when both moved to New York and ended up in the same apartment building. Before long, they were working on songs and did some home recordings.
But the two Johns, as they're sometimes called, decided to start performing and the response was encouraging enough for them to seek a recording contract.
"We were considerably farther off stream when we first started," Linnell said. "We had done a lot of tapes that weren't strictly music. Typical sort of high school experimentation. It's kind of still with us in a way."
They still didn't know what to call the group. After trying out different names, the two Johns were saved by yet another friend.
"He was a ventriloquist," Flansburgh recalled. "He had a list of names for his own performance and one of them was 'They Might Be Giants.' We just decided to rip his name off."
Their self-titled debut album came out at the end of 1986 to nearly unanimous critical acclaim and respectable sales of 100,000 copies.
"It was incredibly informal," Linnell said. "All we were doing was taking tapes we had made and remixing them." Both the first album and "Lincoln," their latest LP, were released by Bar-None Records, an independent label based in Hoboken, N.J. "Lincoln," consists of 18 short songs whose titles include "Purple Toupee" and "Snowball in Hell."
"I don't think we're particulary good at writing 10-minute, free improvisational songs," Flansburgh said. "What we do is really a normal art form. It's two minutes long and it's got to be catchy somehow. Once you're secure writing in that medium it seems sort of unlimited."
Even if They Might Be Giants has failed to rule the air waves, the two Johns are certainly kings of the telephone lines.
When Flansburgh and Linnell were living together in Brooklyn, Flansburgh came up with the idea of "Dial-a- Song." By phoning 1-718-387-6962, one can reach an answering machine that plays the latest They Might Be Giants song. There is no additional cost for the caller, nor does the duo collect a profit.