March 29, 2009

NT's greatest hits, No. 10 (of 34)

So this time, I'm dropping the idea of picking these songs from my list of all-time favorites at random. Rules are made to be broken, bitch! Here we go…

"Don't Let's Start" by They Might Be Giants
Yesterday, I was among the entertainment at a bachelor party; an hour of custom quiz as part of a day of festivities. The evening's climactic event was an outing to (Le)Poisson Rouge in the Village to see They Might Be Giants in concert, and my payment was an extra ticket to the show*. Good deal. This was not the first time I saw TMBG live—No. 7, by my rough estimate—but it was the first in probably ten years. I'm not all that into them now, but I loved the two Johns in high school and college, which is extremely unsurprising. This is a band that by all rights, has no business still having a career 25 years after they formed. Lucky for them, geeks like me have conquered the world.

My favorite They Might Be Giants song—sadly omitted from last night's playlist (and no, Katie, they didn't do "Minimum Wage" either)—is "Don't Let Start," one of their first singles. I will not write another word (except these) before showing you the outstanding video:

This is another one of those videos that is perfectly attuned to its song—the rollicking interplay of guitar and keyboard, the jerky stop-start rhythm, the ridiculous randomness. I've written before about how I tend to be drawn to rock & roll with just the slightest avant-garde bent, and I think They Might Be Giants is the apotheosis of that idea: They were your typical NYC music nerds who synthesized whacked-out art music into hooky pop songs, Sonic Youth but catchier and a lot less intimidating. It's no wonder they now make their bread and butter as kid-rockers, considering that most current children's entertainment is predicated on the concept of weird for weirdness' sake.

"Don't Let's Start" was a tremendously influential song in my rock & roll development, like so many other tunes on this list. I first saw this video—first heard of the band—in January 1988, when I saw it as part of a Dr. Demento–hosted MTV countdown of "The Most Demented Videos of All Time." (No. 1 was this, which seems about right.) This was one of the initial things that clued me in to the existence of pop music out of the mainstream, a richer, more intriguing, and just plain smarter world of rock & roll beyond the pabulum pumped out by bar mitzvah DJs. Eight months later I discovered classic rock and developed a rock snob disdain for nearly anything made after 1979, but I always kept a place in my heart—for much of high school, the most honored place—for They Might Be Giants, who always seemed to have something fascinating and fun to offer.

Who's doing that now? Fascinating, okay—lots of rock bands now are continually trying new things. But very few are remotely as fun as TMBG was in its heyday.

*This is what we in the trivia business refer to as a lie, or at least a grossly misleading statement. I was indeed paid money for the trivia event; the concert was an excellent bonus. Moreover, the party had an in with the venue, so it didn't cost them anything to add my name to the list. But it sounds more interesting this way.

Earlier editions of NT's greatest hits:
"Suffragette City"
"My Name Is Jonas"
"Mr. Tambourine Man"
"Reelin' in the Years"
"Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover"
"OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"