I remember the first time I heard They Might Be Giants. I was sixteen-ish, I think, visiting my friend Pete at his farm. There was a deck being built, I believe. It could be that I was there to help build it. But probably not.
My memory feeds me details about the past reluctantly, in a sort of staccato impressionist smear. It’s hard to pin down details.
At any rate, there was a deck being built, and I was there, and Pete was there, and my friend John was there, and John was playing TMBG’s eponymous first album.
It bewitched me. I’d never heard anything like it. Granted, my range was pretty limited back then: I grew up on a steady diet of 80’s pop music. But even from that blinkered perspective I could tell this was something special. Quirky melodies married to quirkier lyrics that weren’t just strange but mysteriously strange, and silly and clever and fun.
I’m not sure if I heard Don’t Let’s Start — the fourth track on their first album — that day, but its lyrics have been burned in my mind for the last 35 years:
When you are alone, you are the cat, you are the phone
You are an animal
The words I’m singing now
Mean nothing more than ‘meow’ to an animal
Wake up, smell the cat food in your bank account
But don’t try to stop the tail that wags the hound
I don’t know what this means. Why does it make me so happy? I don’t know that either. That’s the mystery of TMBG.
Anyway, they’re still around, still making music, still touring. A few years ago they reissued their music video for Don’t Let’s Start. It’s as delightful today as it was in 1986.