by Keidra Chaney
S. Alexander Reed and Phillip Sandifer are cultural scholars and childhood friends who share an appreciation of the band They Might Be Giants. Together they explore the cultural significance of their 1990 album “Flood”, both within the music world but also as a mainstay of 90’s geek culture. Unlike other 33 1/3 books that delve deep into the songwriting process and production of each track, “Flood” instead explores the personal and cultural influences that made the album what it was, and in turn how the album became a soundtrack of sorts for adolescent nerds of the time. But while the album Flood is the focus of the book, the entire TMBG discography is referenced here, down to the song lyrics from Apollo 18, Factory Showroom, and other albums that serve as the book section titles.
Fans of They Might Be Giants will appreciate the details of the John’s pre-Brooklyn history and influences, though hardcore fans probably know quite a bit of this stuff. The story of Jimmy McIntire, the “Third Giant,” a close high school friend of John Flansburgh and John Linnell and a primary musical influenced for them both. Fans who connect strongly to the band’s geek thread might find the penultimate chapter on geek culture especially interesting. (Though I found the brief detour into con culture, filking and slash fiction to stretch the connection a bit far.) Non-fans who just love music and music writing will appreciate the description and detail of the Johns musical process, both on a lyrical and production level.The book, while establishing TMBG’s connection to nerd culture, also nails home the fact that they are very much a rock band.
I very much appreciated this. Like the authors of the book, I discovered They Might Be Giants as a middle schooler (though I didn’t really get deeply into them until later – I was knee deep in metal at the time) Also like the authors of the book, I was a nerdy middle schooler and mostly connected with other nerds about my TMBG. However, like They Might Be Giants themselves, I never really saw them as a nerd band, and to a a certain extent I resented the “nerd rock” label for them. I tend to bristle when fans and critics put them in the same category as, say, MC Frontalot (not that I have a problem with him). But I felt the label as the “nerdy band with the drum machine” limited them, marginalized them, gave critics an excuse to not take them seriously as a band.
I have no clue if the Johns are as vehement about this as I am, but it’s always bugged me, so this moment of swagger from John Flansburgh made me let out a little cheer when I read it:
“These days the idea of using a drum machine might seem so much smaller than life, but in the 1980’s we didn’t feel like it made us “un-rock” we felt like we were more rock. Like we weren’t constrained by some 1965 notion of being a combo. We could go around Saturn and come back in a song and your band can’t”
Summary: A tribute to They Might Be Giants with equal parts brains and heart. A fun quick read for fans of the band and general music nerds. The geek culture chapter may be of interest for fan studies scholars.