#48 – “Doctor Worm” (1998)

Severe Tire Damage
L.K.: I might be wrong here, but I think this is the first TMBG song that I heard when it was new. Severe Tire Damage was my first album, after all.
A.S.: I feel like I heard it on Kablam or something around the time that first aired, so I’d be inclined to agree with you, just in a different context.

L.K.: I actually really hated this song the first time I heard it though, which would’ve been when I saw the animated music video for it on Kablam! I thought the song was really stupid and I was really embarrassed about the fact that my dad wanted to watch it. I just wanted to change the channel and come back when the song was over.

A.S.: Yeah, the Kablam video isn’t very good. It’s a professional equivalent to the literal-interpretation fan videos.
L.K.: It wasn’t about the video though, it was about the song itself. Then again, I always grew up with sort of conflicting views on TMBG from my parents.
A.S.: What an odd statement. Can anyone else in the world relate?
L.K.: I was watching the band’s official, live-action video for the song once a couple of years later, and my mom just stared disgustedly at me and said “Is this supposed to be funny?” Anyway, despite whatever my feelings toward the song were as a ten-year-old, obviously I like it now. I actually worry about it possibly getting phased out of the setlist, since they’ve retired their confetti cannons.
A.S.: I dunno, I think it’s a huge enough song for the band and among fans that it’ll never go away.
L.K.: I mean, they mostly stopped playing “Older” and that was another confetti song, but on the other hand, they’ve started playing “James K. Polk” again, so I don’t know.
A.S.: “Older” isn’t “Doctor Worm” though.  This song is a bona-fide hit by TMBG standards.
L.K.: True, true. And I don’t think anybody would really miss “Older” anyway. Let’s talk about this song’s origins just because I want to bring up KISS again.
A.S.: Ah, yes.  How this quintessentially-TMBG pop song came from quintessentially cock-rock strutter “Calling Dr. Love” is interesting to note.

L.K.: I have to admit, I have never actually heard the song “Dr. Love”, outside of that Pepsi commercial. Or maybe it was Dr. Pepper, I forget.

A.S.: Growing up with classic rock radio, “Calling Dr. Love” was a pretty difficult song to escape. (Unfortunately, that isn’t P.S.O.K. on vocals for this one)
L.K.: I’ve heard the Johns bring up the KISS thing with regards to this song in multiple interviews, which seems so incredibly weird. Then again, TMBG has always had kind of a lifelong committment to mocking or deflating the most over-the-top aspects of “rock”.
A.S.: Which is exactly how “Dr. Love” became “Dr. Worm” – substituting “love” with anything else, and I guess “Worm” just stuck.
L.K.: I can totally see them sitting around on a bus making up ridiculous alternate lyrics. And rock really doesn’t get too much more over-the-top than KISS.
A.S.: Just last night, my Satan-worshipping roommate and I were substituting “Pumped Up Kicks” with things like “Fudged Up Squids” or whatever. Lyric substitution: it’s a fun thing to do.
L.K.: Just to make sure, the “Doctor” in this song’s title is spelled out, right? Not abbreviated?
A.S.: Yes. Speaking of my roommates, this is my librarian roommate’s favorite TMBG song.
L.K.: It’s a catchy song! And it’s not that weird either, other than the fact that it’s about a worm. Or not, I mean, who knows whether the narrator literally is an actual worm or not. The point is, he wants to be called one.
A.S.: As Linnell has said, it details the thought process of the sort of person who aspires to have a nickname or to be viewed differently by others and will do anything to make those views stick.
L.K.: Yeah, exactly.
A.S.: “…That’s all the song is really about, it’s about somebody who has a fantasy and nobody else will buy into it.” We all know people like that.
L.K.: I’m sorry, I’m just distracted again by thinking about what a great song this is live though. It really is great. It doesn’t need the confetti.
A.S.: Absolutely not.
L.K.: It’s one of the few remaining songs Linnell plays accordion on anymore. Dan on piano and backup vocals is always fun to watch.
A.S.: And just about anything that features Linnell on accordion is worth seeing live.
L.K.: Danny leaping up into the air at the bass solo is amazing. It’s just a really energetic song and the band usually seems to really get into it. It’s also great with a live horn section too, although I’ve only seen that in YouTube videos, never in person.

A.S.: Speaking of the horns, there’s that demo version of the song, which is interesting in terms of hearing the song’s development, although it does lose a lot without the horns.
L.K.: Oh yeah, the demo! Back in the days of Quicktime videos! This song is in such a ridiculous key though, why oh why did John Linnell write that song in the key it’s in?
A.S.: Why does anyone write any song in any key?
L.K.: I don’t know, but you’d think you would pick one that’s easier to think in/play in. I don’t want to play accordion in F#! (Is this another song that’s in a different key live? I forget…)
A.S.: Nope. It’s still in F#, as noted in that one video from the last Beachland performance where they note the following song’s key is F#, and I knowingly yell out “YEAH” because I’m a creep.
L.K.: Oh man, I remember that. That was amazing. And I mean, you were just the one who yelled “YEAH!”, but I was thinking it. Quietly. To myself.
A.S.: But anyway, in terms of the buttons on the left hand, the song’s chords aren’t that far apart.  They’re just in an awkward key. It’d be much more annoying for, say the horns, likely than on accordion.
L.K.: Yeah, but I think Linnell tends to rely more on the piano key side of the accordion, in which case, this would be annoying to play. Maybe he uses the buttons for this, I don’t know, I can never see his left hand. I always wind up at the opposite end of the stage from the side he usually stands on to play accordion.
A.S.: I’ve never paid close enough attention either.
L.K.: Yeah.
A.S.: This song also marks the last official video the Johns starred in until last year.
L.K.: Oh yeah, that’s true! I’m actually not a really big fan of the music video for this song though. Too much stupid animation.
A.S.: I don’t think there’s that much.
L.K.: Okay, there’s not that much, but what there is is really pointless and dumb. That section with the volcano and the spiders just should not exist. I say this as a person who ordinarily enjoys trippy crazy animation, but that part is just dumb. I do like all the weird little freeze-frame bonuses in the video though, even if it is kind of gimmicky, i.e. the labels on the medicine bottles.
A.S.: I’m very fond of the “President Drops”.
L.K.: Oh, and just if you’ve never experienced They Might Be Giants in marching band format, you should check out Cornell’s band doing “Doctor Worm”.
A.S.: Oh yeah, that Big Red Band knows what’s up.
L.K.: Kind of ironic given that I think John Flansburgh was the only person in several generations of his family to not go to Cornell. (That and the fact that this is John Linnell’s song anyway…)
A.S.: The only thing that would be cooler is if someone arranged Sparks’ “Get In The Swing” for college marching band.
L.K.: Now that would be impressive… but songs with tempo changes don’t make the best things to march to.
A.S.: It could work.
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