#7 – “32 Footsteps” (1986)

They Might Be Giants
L.K.: Another song whose meaning is completely unclear to me.
A.S.: Yeah, I suspect it’s the sort of song that doesn’t really have one.
L.K.: Also I really dig John Flansburgh’s harmonica playing on live versions of this song.
A.S.: Ah, okay, I wasn’t sure who that was on the harmonica.
L.K.: I’m not sure who it is on the recording, but it’s Flansburgh live.
A.S.: I thought it might have been Linnell because harmonicas are kinda similar to accordions, but as it were, lots of guitarists play the mouth harp
L.K.: Not really, I mean, one of them you put in your mouth.
A.S.: But in terms of pushing wind across reeds, a harmonica is much more similar to an accordion than a guitar.
L.K.: In terms of sound production, just not in terms of how it’s played.
A.S.: I mean, most people don’t play guitar with their mouths.
L.K.: I know people don’t play guitar with their mouths, jeez!
A.S.: I’m just thinking of really showy dudes who will solo and practically bite the strings. I believe Hendrix did it.
L.K.: You yourself prefaced the statement with “most people” though.
A.S.: Exactly. Anyway.
L.K.: Anyway, so this song. I love the incomplete countdown (countup?) at the end: “29, 30… 31.”
A.S.: According to the Then liner notes, the countup was one of the weird, spontaneous ideas that Flansburgh and Bill Krauss arrived at during all-nighters fueled by coffee.  I  really think it’s the crowning touch to the song. And the “NOOOOOO”s in the background are great too.
L.K.: Though those are apparently less spontaneous, as far as we know.
A.S.: Perhaps just a part in their wonderful obsession with negating things.
L.K.: Perhaps. Oh man, I just remembered that guy in Gigantic who claims to have lost his virginity to this song.
A.S.: Oh Lord.
L.K.: I don’t think I need to elaborate on how creepy that is to think about.
A.S.: It might make sense.
L.K.: Maybe he just meant his TMBG-listening virginity… I hope.
A.S.: Bing bang bingalong bay… ling lang lingalong lay…
L.K.: Oh god. Nothing is ever going to make this a sexy song. Also it’s very, very short.
A.S.: I tend to lump it in with a number of other songs on the first album of similar lengths, that kind of feel like half-songs in the vein of The Residents’ Commercial Album but are really totally developed. I put it in the same class as “Rabid Child,” “Boat of Car,” “Chess Piece Face.”
L.K.: Oh yeah. TMBG’s first album, strangely enough, has its own sort of internal coherency; it fits together better than most of their other albums.
A.S.: Oh absolutely, even though most of it is just stuff from the 1985 demo tape, including “32 Footsteps.”
L.K.: Except possibly The Spine, but that seems to be the only album with tracks that deliberately flow into one another. But all the strange, short little songs on the pink album really do fit together nicely between the longer songs.
A.S.: Yes, that’s something I’d like to see return to the fore.
L.K.: Are there any differences between the ’85 demo version of this track and the final version from the first album?
A.S.: Nope. Or rather, I really don’t think there are.
L.K.: Even the wiki lists them as being the same, so I guess they must be. A couple (i.e. “Puppet Head”) got mixed slightly differently between the demo and the final album, while a couple of others are more significantly different, but I think “32 Footsteps” was already in its final form by 1985.
A.S.: Yeah, I don’t hear any discernible difference. Also, I just watched the 1990 live performance on YouTube.  It sounds even better live; there’s a great energy kind of missing from the studio version, and the end gets a bit heavy, even.
L.K.: What, where it just devolves into screaming (as so many songs tend to)?
A.S.: Yes, and Flansburgh bouncing around during the “bing-bang-bingalong” part (another totally confusing part of the song) is wonderful too.
L.K.: I love the part where he throws the harmonica on the ground.
A.S.: Yeah, Flans is on fire for this one.
L.K.: It’s hard to find a song he doesn’t just bounce around continuously during in the 80s/90s. I need to watch everything from that show on YouTube again.

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