Song Of The Day 4/14/2015: They Might Be Giants – “Metal Detector”

You Pick the Artist III: Andras Jones gave me They Might Be Giants, arguably this blog’s industry MVP’s, since my 2011 interview with John Linnell remains the most-viewed page in this little cribsheet's history. It was a really good interview. It’s typical of how I hope most interviews go. Light-hearted, nice banter, cognizant of their reputation yet in search of something about TMBG not yet covered. Goddamn, that was a good interview. Almost as good as the one I did with Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves, in which he said they were getting really open-minded because they’d taken on a British member.

Anyway, one thing I brought up with John was the subtext of TMBG songs, beneath the apparent puns, scientific jargon and crowd-pleasing retro-futurism. I remember hearing “Ana Ng” on San Francisco radio thinking it sounded like Armed Forces, but I grew to love it because it displayed such subtle poignancy. I mean, come on – “I don’t want the world, I just want your half”? That’s heart-skip material right there. And most of the rest of my favorite TMBG songs – “Kiss Me, Son of God” perhaps notwithstanding (and even there you could draw sad-sack-Napoleon inferences) – contained that kind of very gentle heart not too far beneath the surface. “They’ll Need a Crane” from Lincoln; “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and “Dead” from Flood; “Canajoharie” from Join Us; even the superficially embittered “I Palindrome I” from Apollo 18.

For some reason, “Metal Detector” from Factory Showroom – the Johns’ most underrated album – fits into that tradition with me. I think this comes from my appreciation of a Steve Martin bit (at the 13:00 mark of this track) about feeling sympathy for post-Watergate Richard Nixon: “I don’t like to talk about Nixon… I feel sorry for him. I know I shouldn’t ‘cause he did wrong… I just have this image of him, walking along the beach in San Clemente, all by himself… big ol’ shorts on… with a metal detector…”

In fact – and I did not know this until I looked it up literally seconds ago – John Flansburgh from TMBG apparently went on the record in an interview with “Vin Scelsa” in 1996 that “Metal Detector” leaves it up in the air as to whether or not Richard Nixon is like, a cool guy or not. It basically just says: Nixon’s the one. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the Steve Martin bit had something to do with this.

Well, I’m just gonna have to double-down on “Metal Detector” now. And start teaching an Evergreen class on They Might Be Giants. Don’t worry Johns, I’m not gonna go through your garbage like they did with Bob Dylan.

Thanks, Andras, who I’m sure is relishing the moment of synchronicity this song just brought up.

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