Considering it was a hit way back in 1990, until this week I never knew what “Birdhouse In Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants was all about.
That didn’t stop me enjoying the record. It had a idiosyncratic, indie feel to it along with a quirky video, perfect for MTV. So I haven’t spent 30 years consumed with a sense of frustration from not knowing what They Might Be Giants were singing about. Quite frankly there are plenty of other records from around that time I still don’t fully understand either, and that doesn’t stop me humming them when they come on the radio and putting a smile on my face, even on the toughest of days.
Just by chance this week I read an article about They Might Be Giant’s biggest hit to date — a UK Number Six — and everything clicked into place. What had previously been a jumble of lyrics… where I understood the meaning of every individual word they used without ever understanding the totality of the song…fell into place.
It turns out “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is about a nightlight…you know, the sort of dim lamp you put in a young child’s bedroom to help them get off to sleep if they’re afraid of the dark.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have picked up the hints. Maybe I was enjoying the MTV video too much back in the early 90s to pay as much attention to the lyrics as I should done, but They Might Be Giants hardly made it easy…
I’m your only friend
I’m not your only friend
But I’m a little glowing friend
But really I’m not actually your friend
After that somewhat confusing opening, I suspect my brain just shifted into neutral and I stopped listening to the details from that point on. Back then there was a lot of weird stuff about, I probably just assumed it was another “one of those”.
In my defence, as a Brit I wouldn’t have picked up on some of the hints The Might Be Giants gave, which might have contributed to my confusion. They use the word “outlet” to mean what we might call a plug or a socket over here, whereas outlet is a term a Brit is more likely to use to describe the pipe taking the finished product from a sewage processing plant to the sea. It’s not a term we typically use to refer to something hooked into the electricity grid.