#99 – “What Is Everyone Staring At?” (????)


A.S.: For as much as I love this song, I can really understand why it’s remained unreleased.

L.K.: Well, it’s probably because it later was released, albeit with a completely new set of lyrics and a missing segment of music!
A.S.: Or rather, I guess I can understand why Linnell rewrote the lyrics, or chopped that chunk of melody out. As much as I love the whole thing, I could maybe understand why Linnell wouldn’t. “I love the way you laugh at my failure of a life” really just… isn’t a good line.
L.K.: I am not a fan of the lyrics to this, unlike many people online, which is why initially I couldn’t understand why this song got so much more praise than “Sleepwalkers”, the song it later became. But that extra section of music! I guess I just enjoy the more complex song structure of this original version, despite its bad lyrics.
A.S.: It’s a really awkward section musically because it modulates from E major to some kind of weird Bb major/Eb major thing that is just an odd key change, either a tritone or half-step down, so again I could maybe understand why Linnell wasn’t that into it in the long run. But I think it sounds fantastic. What it ended up getting replaced with in “Sleepwalkers” is far less interesting.
L.K.: I mean, “Sleepwalkers” is also a little too musically sedate in comparison too; the rock section isn’t nearly long enough.
A.S.: “Sleepwalkers” is interesting in its own right but we’ll get to that later (also, bass clarinet). But speaking of clarinets, the clarinet solo in “WIESA?” is a really gorgeous touch too.
[Coffee break.]
A.S.: Sorry, I’m having trouble recollecting my thoughts, although it might also be the Minor Threat I’m blasting right now. 420 DUUUUUUUDES. SMOKUM BOWLS RIGHT UP. SLURP SLURP.
L.K.: Celebrate with all the most drugless music. Least-stoned band ever.
A.S.: Anyway, back to “WIESA?”
L.K.: Yes! Speaking of drugless music. There is one thing about this song that really bugs me, aside from the lyrics, and that’s that one reallllllly held-out note. God, that just drives me up a wall every time I hear it. I’m really glad that got cut, at least.
A.S.: Really?
L.K.: Yeah. It drives me nuts. Well, also that whole chunk of the lyrics it’s in too. Those are particularly bad. HAVE I GOT SOMETHING ON MY FACE / SHOULD I RUB MY HAND ON THE SIDE OF MY MOUTH / DID I FORGET TO WASH SOMEWHERE
A.S.: Huh.  I’ve never had much a problem with that. I will say, I’m very curious as to when this was written, because I wonder if it was still in the age of lots of anti-love songs.
L.K.: Hmm, well when was this first included on a bootleg?
A.S.: Can’t find any sort of date attached to it.
L.K.: We can at least place a date we KNOW it was written before…
A.S.: But we can assume it was before 2002, so definitely before they got particularly soft on the love songs. So, one thing I can say in defense of the lyrics – if Linnell is really trying to convey awkwardness of young love or whatever, then he might be doing it too well.
L.K.: Yeah. TMBG love songs, rare as they are, work better in a more uh, oblique sort of context.
A.S.: But I guess they don’t always need to be oblique – here was a very honest and sincere stab at something so upfront that it’s uncomfortably upfront.
L.K.: They work better in vagueness than they do in actually talking about people in love.
A.S.: Well, unless those people are Dan and Lisa.
L.K.: Well yeah, but that was a wedding gift. And even that isn’t really that much a story of the couple so much as it is some incredibly generic advice.
A.S.: True. So I don’t know if what we perceive as the lyrics’ shortcomings here are intentional or not.
L.K.: But yeah, there’s just something weirdly discomforting about them nevertheless, which I think JL wisely realized and scrapped.
A.S.: Like a lot of things in TMBG-world, it’s very grey.
L.K.: How the lyrical subject matter changed from love to child zombies is something I’ll never understand though.
A.S.: No, but I’m glad they used that melody for something, because holy mother of god. Another Linnell classic in E major, a key that he seems particularly comfortable in, and which we’ll return to plenty of times in the future. E major, G major – those are Linnell’s places.
L.K.: Hmm… does Flans have any?
A.S.: He has a couple, but not as many as Linnell.
L.K.: He seems to have much less method to his madness.
A.S.: Oh you mean keys. Yeah, Flans is all over the map key-wise.
L.K.: Oh, yeah, I was talking about keys. I still have no idea how people decide what key to put things in, other than it has to be something people are physically capable of singing or playing.
A.S.: Yeah, as someone who has begun writing and recording songs, I just try to keep it varied, but I can’t speak on others’ behalf obviously. Hey, let’s end this thing with a question – what do you prefer, “What Is Everyone Staring At?” or “Sleepwalkers”?
L.K.: Uhh… hmm. To be honest, I feel like there was probably a better song sitting in this than was fully expressed in either of those two recordings.
A.S.: That’s fair.  I prefer “What Is Everyone Staring At?” in the long run, lyrics aside.  You can hear how huge it’s supposed to sound even through the tinny phone transfer.  I can only hope someday we hear it as Linnell did.
L.K.: I think people have been asking John Flansburgh that online for months, if not years, and I think it’s just another one of those things that we’re never going to hear.
A.S.: Yeah.  I don’t think any fan is ever going to accept no for an answer, for this song especially.  Quite rightly a fan favorite, all criticisms aside.
L.K.: I still think it’s overrated.
A.S.: How about you, dear reader?

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