#82 – “Vestibule” (2006)

Cast Your Pod To The Wind

A.S.: This one is definitely a product of Else-era TMBG.  Just this dark, dense production informing the song.

L.K.: Yeah, there’s this sort of indefinable electronic crunchiness to the sonics that fits in with the sound of a lot of stuff they did during that era. I’m not sure about how well the sound of the music fits with the lyrical content of the song though…

A.S.: For as close as this may get to an “industrial” sound as TMBG ever reached, the lyrics have absolutely no sort of reference point – just about a guy stuck in a hallway while Arlen Specter waits for him.

L.K.: Is the narrator trapped in the vestibule of his own house? Why doesn’t he have a key? Is he trapped in somebody else’s house? Did Arlen Specter take him there by car? Why? “I am the germ collector?” What does any of this even mean? I feel like this is one of those songs where Linnell would defend the lyrics as being straightforward, whereas everybody else would still have no idea what was actually going on in the song. I mean yeah, I guess all the lyrics make sense in terms of describing events, they just don’t make sense in terms of describing a situation that makes any sense at all whatsoever. (And why Arlen Specter of all people?)

A.S.: Yeah, I’ve never really paid much attention to these lyrics, but they are certainly unlike… really anything else out there.  Just the details of this one little episode, but leaving enough details out to tell a complete story. On a technical note, I’m very fond of the rhyme scheme in the chorus: “Yell in vents/intelligence/skeleton’s”.  It’s not an exact rhyme, but it certainly works well enough.  As for why Arlen Specter is in the song, well I know you found some evidence of their respect for the guy.

L.K.: Oh yes I did, in a 2008 interview I dug up (the whole thing is really worth a read, by the way):

PHAWKER: If you were writing it today, who would you match up Particle Man against?

JL: I think Arlen Specter maybe would be a good opponent. He’s powerful, but he’s got weaknesses. Is he susceptible?

PHAWKER: He had cancer — come on.

Both Johns: He survived.

JL: He totally survived. He survived cancer, and he may have survived Triangle Man.

The Johns seem to have weird ongoing obsessions with certain figures in popular culture, and Arlen Specter appears to be one of them, although I can’t quite fathom why. Maybe they admire/are fascinated by his tendencies towards individualistic political views rather than blind obedience to his party–at the time this song was written, Specter was officially a moderate Republican, but he became a Democrat not too much later.

A.S.: I think perhaps this falls under their idea of a political song, which they almost never do.  Instead of “Born In The U.S.A.” or “Rockin’ In The Free World” or whatever, we get songs about long-dead presidents or senators waiting in cars.  Which I’m fine with.  Also, I wonder if, like Mayor Dinkins, Senator Specter has heard this song (although I really, really doubt it.)

L.K.:  It’s really weird because if you go back to their really, really old interviews (i.e. their appearance on the Frank O’Toole show on WFMU, where they referred to “The Famous Polka” as “The Robert Bork Must Die Polka”) they actually do occasionally refer to themselves as a political band, which is odd in that very few of their songs are even remotely political by any standards. For as much as Flansburgh is continually pissing off Republicans and/or Libertarians on Facebook and Twitter with his “pinko” politics, compared to most other bands, their music is pretty apolitical except in the vaguest possible ways.

A.S.: I guess they’re a political band in that they’re not a political band.  That circular thing that they’re pretty fond of doing.  This song qualifies for that.  I’d also just quickly like to note that personally, I’m pretty surprised that I’d never paid much attention to the lyrics of this one, especially since Mr. Specter and I share a same phonetic last name.  It’s almost like Linnell is singing about me!  Sort of.

L.K.: You just have to change around some of the letters in your first name and then you’re all set! No need to become a Super-President!

“Vestibule” at TMBW.


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