They Might Be Giants Get Flashy in Los Angeles

Spinner, November 24, 2009
by John Linnell

We are frankly astonished at the volume and intensity of our crowds these past few weeks. According to TMBG's booking agent, these are grim times for touring rock bands. The numbers have been low low low for bands that normally sell out in our usual venues around the U.S., and this dire situation has been corroborated by promoters in each city. Yet for some incomprehensible reason we have enjoyed a string of sold-out shows up and down both coasts and across the Midwest. In addition, all of our crowds seem to be hopped up on some kind of wacky dust, and I'm speaking of the children as well as the adults. I'm pretty sure we haven't seen this level of hysteria in the past or I would remember.

All of this has provoked a great deal of chin-stroking and head-scratching amongst the band and crew. Are we the victims of some kind of cruel "flash mob" stunt in which people who don't really care about us are being paid or coerced into showing up with lyrics memorized and t-shirts printed? I've heard about that happening to other bands. And if this is not the case, what is it that we're doing right? My guess is that we are finally providing the one element that adults, teenagers and kids all crave -- and that is sock puppets. It's the only part of the current show that's substantially different from the decades of shows we've done in the past, and it is therefore the only logical explanation.

With apologies to our bass player Danny Weinkauf, shown here modeling the actual puppets we use in the show, I should point out that sock puppets make excellent photographic subjects, if only because they don't cry out in pain when they're shot at point blank range using old fashioned flashbulbs. The flash from a #25 press bulb is so bright and hot that a subject with normal vision like Danny will not be in the mood to pose for a second shot. I have such a flash attached to one of my current picture takers, the road-worthy Argus C3, a rectangular 35mm camera designed in the 1930s and essentially unchanged for decades. The shape of the C3, as well as its indestructibility, have earned it the nickname "The Brick." It might also make a good defensive weapon if your subject resents being blinded but can somehow still locate and try to kill you. (Think of Raymond Burr in 'Rear Window.')

I'm told that flashbulbs are still occasionally put to use by contemporary photographers who need to light enormous interior spaces, which electronic flash units can't fill -- places like caverns, or indeed places like the cavernous Royce Hall in Los Angeles, which is where we played last week. I took a picture of the room (below) before anyone, except our manager, was in the house, and he was either too far away to be injured by the flash or too distant to express his resentment.

Next week: Omnibus