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Tell Me Guys, Why DOES the Sun Shine?

2004-07-17 - 10:45 a.m.

Before I begin, I highly recommend the latest entries from Narami and Newgyptian. And just so you know, if Newgyptian had a Sex and the City-esque urban family, I was definitely Samantha Jones.

So, back to me.

As I believe I mentioned in my last rock'n'roll entry (by that I mean "entry on rock music"--I like to think every entry is ROCK'N'ROLL!!!), I recently received an e-mail asking that I post the Ten Bands That Changed My Life on my Friendster page. It was easy to remember my big three--Tori, Dar, and Ani--and the current favorites--Ginger Leigh, The Decemberists--but I tried to take myself way back in time, back before I even had a car, which was the real catalyst of my musical awakening, to remember what bands really gave me an entry into the world of rock.

Then it hit me. The band that came before all others. The band that followed the sound of Broadway showtunes and Baroque symphonies to the door of a kid on the verge of his teen years and opened that door, so the kid could step out into the light that would included everything from Led Zeppelin to Outkast, from The Velvet Underground to Bjork, from Janis Joplin to Franz Ferdinand.

I am not the only one who cites this band as their first love. I have met many people over time who can and will sing along with excessive energy whenever I play one of their CDs. They will share stories of the first person who introduced them to this band, or the first time they heard one of their songs. And all these people share one thing in common with me, besides the love of the band, although the love of the band is part and parcel of our commonality.

We are all big, huge, hopeless nerds, dorks one and all.

The band, of course, is They Might Be Giants. I spent last evening with Shkbob at Stubb's listening to them play, and my legs are still sore from jumping up and down like a five year old on amphetamines to "Birdhouse in Your Soul," "The Guitar," "Dr. Worm," "Twisting," "Ana Ng," "Cyclops Rock," "New York City," and, most of all, "Why Does the Sun Shine?"

You have to understand that Shkbob and I had been hoping to hear even ONE of those songs. I hadn't even dared to hope that we would hear "New York City." And on that final encore, when I heard the first few bars of the song that we had both agreed in the car would be the be all and end all, I nearly exploded, and only survived by channeling the energy into a joyful scream: "THE SUN IS A MASS OF INCANDESCENT GAS!!! A GIGANTIC NUCLEAR FURNACE!!! WHERE HYDROGEN IS BUILT INTO HELIUM AT A TEMPERATURE OF MILLIONS OF DEGREES!!!"

There are no words, really.

I was actually introduced to They Might Be Giants by Tiny Toon Adventures. I take comfort in the fact that I was not the only one. Tiny Toons decided to do their own version of MTV one day, and their first two songs were "Istanbul" and "Particle Man." When I saw those shows in the basement of our house in DC, I was hooked. "Flood" became the first CD I ever bought for myself. I still have it. I lost the lyrics sheets, but I have the CD.

In seventh grade, I had a very cool math teacher named Meg Trinnamen. She was only 23, and was therefore quite a bit more fun than most of the other teachers. It was on a bus going to a field trip that I discovered that Ms. Trinnamen was also a They Might Be Giants fan. Suddenly, she had gone from being "cool for a teacher" to being absolutely cool, and the best part was that anyone else on the bus, had they known what we were talking about, would have seen this as clear evidence of nerdiness (of course, talking to a teacher is already proof of nerdiness, but that's beside the point). For us, though, it was a moment of connection.

I found out something else about Ms. Trinnamen that trip. I found out she was tone deaf. But as Shkbob herself would say, tone deaf people are cool, too.

They Might Be Giants eventually gave way to the likes of The Cranberries and Oasis and many other bands who took my fancy in middle and high school, but as my tastes ranged through pop, punk, folk, rock, and that most elusive of genres, "alternative," I kept a special place in my heart for They Might Be Giants. Recently, when their Greatest Hits album came out, I remembered, like I never had before, how much I loved them.

The thing is, though, that it isn't just them that I love. It's the people who love them. See, They Might Be Giants is the kind of band that will never be truly "cool," like, say, The Strokes were cool a couple of years ago, or the way The Velvet Underground will always be cool without even trying. There is no suffering or rage or ennui in their music. They have absolutely no edge. All they have is weirdness, and a sense of humor, and a lot of fun at their shows. I've known some very cool people who love They Might Be Giants, but they don't like them because they're a cool band. They like them for their weird selves.

See, this is hard to put into words. I guess what I'm trying to say is that when I find out someone likes They Might Be Giants, I feel like there's at least a part of them that's a dorky kid inside, something unpretentious that's happy to have found something that absolutely appeals to him or her or hir in modern music. I feel this way strongly enough to make liking They Might Be Giants a criterion for whoever I go out with from here on in, and I don't even make liking Tori Amos a must-have. I can live with someone who doesn't get all misty eyed when I play "Cooling" or "Here in My Head" on the stereo.

I don't think I can live with someone who doesn't sing along to "Your Racist Friend."

So here's a toast to the wonderful guys who have brought so many nerds so much joy over the years. Oh, and I also recommend checking out Corn Mo, their opening act. Imagine the love child of Meat Loaf and Sam Kinison playing the accordion, and you have Corn Mo.

And if you ever wonder just how many Earths can fit inside the sun, I have a song that will help you remember.

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