Arts Desk

They Might Be Giants, Considered

In which the author wonders whether art for kids is art at all.

Children's music is like child pornography: Both serve the same purpose as their adult counterparts, but an adult's interest in either is unacceptable. Why, then, have They Might Be Giants made the children's book/DVD Kids Go and, in this last decade, redefined themselves as post-Sesame Street songwriters?

Don't underestimate TMBG. Unlike other artists who dabble in kiddie kompositions, the Johns Flansburgh and Linnell are not burnouts. Though not as cool as Interpol or Animal Collective, this nerdcore duo penned a number of college rock anthems in the final decades of the 20th century, including "Don't Let's Start," "Your Racist Friend", and "Birdhouse in Your Soul." These songs were good. These songs are good. They succeed as art in the adult world.

"Kids Go," a call for children to "move like a monkey," also succeeds as art—lesser art in the Playskool kingdom of children's music. Like Christian rock or "politically-conscious" hip-hop, children's music is a farm league from which players rarely advance to the majors.

After all, "Kids Go," like the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," is a song. However, the Fab Four's composition redefined the process of recording rock music and revolutionized post-1966 pop's aesthetics, content, and mission. A song about monkeys can't compete, as art, with a proto-jungle beat, backwards guitars, and mystical lyrics about Zen and death.

While Flood isn't Revolver, at least it's in the same league. "Kids Go" is less than "Tomorrow Never Knows." Where "Tomorrow Never Knows" transcends, the monkeys of "Kids Go" peel bananas, and not in a cool, heroin-chic, Velvet Underground kind of way.

Come on, TMBG: get out of the sandbox ghetto.

But, really, what is the blogosphere if not a kind of readin' 'n' writin' romper room? You (the reader) just read this post when you could have been reading the New York Times, or the New Yorker, or The Idiot, or Infinite Jest. I (Justin Moyer, the journalist) could have worked on my unfinished novel instead of thinking so hard about They Might Be Giants for the past hour. Why have I sacrificed my novel to blog for the Washington City Paper? Is it the money? Is it the glory (oh, that seductive, elusive, bloggy Arts Desk glory)? Is it the amiable companionship of the friendly, if exclusive, folks at the Washington City Paper itself?

The ultimate question isn't why They Might Be Giants does what they do, but why you (the reader) do what you do, and I (Justin Moyer, the journalist) do what I do. Why do we do what we do? Tomorrow never knows...

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • TomHandy

    Umm, what the hell is the point you are trying to make? I've read this multiple times but I can't figure it out. A TMBG kids album isn't on par with Revolver? No shit. It's lesser art than "Tomorrow Never Knows" - who cares? Your postscript seems to hint that maybe you're making some larger point about you have wasted your time and the reader's time, but seriously, wtf.

  • Nikki

    ...Dr Awkward Palindrome Dr Awkward...

  • Michelle

    1) I'm confused, what is your point?

    2) You talk like TMBG is no longer making music "for adults" at all. This is incorrect.

    3) Politically conscious hip-hop is some of the highest quality hip-hop there is, and the "majors" consists of the crap the major labels have decided is "in" and have pumped out sound-alikes of for years. The rest of the genres represented in the Top 40 are the same, for the most part. The majors does not equal quality.

    4) Comparing "Kids Go" with "Tomorrow Never Knows" is going to reflect poorly on TMBG because "Kids Go" is one of TMBG's weaker songs overall, not because it is a kids song.

    5) TMBG has never tried to be The Beatles, they have always tried to be TMBG. Take another listen to "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and much of their other kids material and then tell me they're not working in the same aesthetic with their specifically kid-friendly material.