December 01, 2004

Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)

When writing about a documentary, do you write about the subject matter, or do you write about the film? In this case, I had heard of They Might Be Giants for years, yet I knew very little about the band, and had heard none of their music. This actually inspired me to watch this doc, because I wanted to see how I would react to a video biography of a band that I was completely unfamiliar with.

The film is fascinating. The band is pretty cool too.

For the uninitiated, They Might Be Giants was started by two guys named John in Lincoln, Massachussetts (if I understood correctly) and they moved to New York as the punk thing was starting to fade. They seemed to have been inspired by punk, but their music is not punk. I can't really say what it is, beyond that it is unique.

Since my only exposure to the music of They Might be Giants is through this film, I don't feel comfortable trying to describe it too much. I feel that should be left to their fans. Their approach is certainly different. I can't claim to have a real keen desire to soak up all their albums, nor do I lust for a ticket to a They Might be Giants show. Now, if they were to show up here in Lawrence, I would probably go, for reasons similar to those that inspired us to see The Cowboy Junkies earlier this year. Curiosity. And I desire for a unique and memorable experience. (Not because I loved the band.)

For the first part of their career, the band (I think I've stated the band name enough for search engine placement) consisted of the two Johns and their backup tape machine. They didn't hire a group of musicians to accompany them until several years after their genesis.

A really memorable part of the film for me was the part about the "dial a song" phone line they had in New York. They would advertise the phone number on the back page of The Village Voice, and every day they would record a different song on the line's answering machine. So those who wanted to could call in every day and hear a new and different TMBG song.

Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) is mostly about the two personalities that came together in this band. At one point they are compared to Lennon and McCartney. They're definitely not on that level, but they're definitely interesting. When the two are interviewed together during the film, they are outside in cushioned living room chairs with the NYC skyline in the background. Cool.

The film is quirky like TMBG's music seems to be. The intro features former Illinois Senator Paul Simon. He uses the context of Abe Lincoln's fourth debate with Stephen Douglas to describe the origins of TMBG.

Yeah, if you're up for a weird but fun experience, see this film, or see a TMBG show.

Posted by Wayne at December 1, 2004 10:02 PM
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