March 20, 2009

They Might Be Making It Up: Fact-Checking The Kid's First Album


As part of a behavior modification training exercise, my wife recently presented the kid with a her very first CD: They Might Be Giants' first kid-oriented album, "No!" released in 2002. The kid was thrilled. She had obviously never heard of "buying music" before, or of having it hard-coded on an "object" that required a "player"; music had always just flowed forth from a computer or a set of iPod headphones--and she got even more excited when we told her she could listen to her "album" in the car.

Now we listen to "the album" all the time. Which has prompted a whole slew of questions, which I will endeavor to answer here for future reference, sorted by track:

  • Track 1, "Fibber Island": John Flansburg is quoted in the They Might Be Wiki as saying that Fibber Island is right next to Nantucket, "but a lot less expensive." I think this is a fib.
  • Track 2, "Four of Two": There is indeed a clock on the corner of 5th Avenue & 22nd Street, right above the Restoration Hardware [see Google Streetview above]. It is not clear whether it still reads 1:56. But if John is, in fact, sleeping under the clock until we arrive at a futuristic world of flying cars and gigantic metal bugs, he is nowhere to be seen in that photo, which, judging from the movies playing around the corner, was taken in the summer of 2007.
  • Track 3, "Robot Parade": Yes, robots are real. No, they do not obey what the children say; this is a lie perpetuated by the robots. They want to enslave us. Never let your guard down.
  • Track 4, "No!": Yes, no does mean no, a thousand times no. But you obviously know that, and that's why you're asking 1,001 times for everything.
  • Track 5, "Where Do They Make Balloons?": At the largest balloon manufacturer in the world, Pioneer Balloon Company, Wichita, Kansas.
  • Track 6, "In the Middle, In the Middle": No, they mean don't you cross the street in the middle of the block. And in New York it should be, "Don't cross the avenue in the middle of the block." The streets are fine.
  • Track 7, "Violin": No idea.
  • Track 8, "John Lee Supertaster": Yes there are supertasters. Up to 25% of the population may fall into the supertaster category, which seems a little broad to me. Yes, John Lee is real and--holy crap!!--he's one of the co-creators of Wonder Showzen, the drummer for Muckaferguson, and a member of the PFFR artist collective! One degree of separation, people!
  • Track 9, "The Edison Museum": Not independently owned and operated; it's a National Park Service property. Not a mausoleum; Edison and his wife are buried on the property, but not inside. But whaddya know, it actually is not open to the public. The Park Service closed the Edison National Historic Site in 2002 for major construction and renovation, and as of today, it is still closed. Edison's home is open, but no one's singing about that. The Black Maria is a replica built in 1954 of the 1892 original. It was Edison's first Kinetoscope studio, and it rotates to allow the open roof to track the sun for the best light.
  • Track 10, "The House At The Top Of the Tree": No idea.
  • Track 11, "Clap Your Hands": No facts.
  • Track 12, "I Am Not Your Broom": Huxley was righter than he knew. John is Ford and we are the broom.
  • Track 13, "Wake Up Call": See 12 above.
  • Track 14, "I Am A Grocery Bag": Baby formula? Why do TMBG hate children?
  • Track 15, "Lazyhead and Sleepybones": No questions.
  • Track 16, "Bed Bed Bed": Thanks to the law of diminishing returns, staying up twenty seconds more is actually more fun than staying up twenty minutes.
  • Track 17, "Sleepwalkers": Somnambulism is more common in children than adults, with a 3-15% incidence rate. According to, "it is best to try and gently lead the child back to their bed, where they will frequently continue their sleep." Also, it is "imperative" that they remain in a safe environment, which means, at the very least, getting them off the streets.
They Might Be Giants' No! Enhanced CD version, $14 [amazon]


The House at the Top of the Tree is about potato chips. 'nuff said.

The thing you can learn from TMBG...

I had friends in high school who were able to answer an entire American History AP exam question because TMBG have a song about James K. Polk and his presidency. Now my kids and I know a lot about conifer trees and my 3 1/2 year old keeps asking for a "spork" (both from the ABCs album).

When No! wears thin, check out the BNL kids album Snacktime. If for no other reason than explaining that C really is for Czar.

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