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they call me doctor worm
good morning, how are you, i'm doctor worm
I’m interested in things: this week, a poem by Ellen Bass; a quick look into They Might Be Giants’ Dial-a-Song; my new favorite songs from diveliner, Kelela, ABRA, and Fight Bite.
the world has need of you
by Ellen Bass
everything here seems to need us —Rilke I can hardly imagine it as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient prayer of my arms swinging in counterpoint to my feet. Here I am, suspended between the sidewalk and twilight, the sky dimming so fast it seems alive. What if you felt the invisible tug between you and everything? A boy on a bicycle rides by, his white shirt open, flaring behind him like wings. It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much and too little. Does the breeze need us? The cliffs? The gulls? If you’ve managed to do one good thing, the ocean doesn’t care. But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth, the earth, ever so slightly, fell toward the apple as well.
For those unaware: They Might Be Giants (TMBG) are a pair of Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) who came up during the DIY scene of the 80s. Chances are you’ve heard their songs, whether intentionally or not, between “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and the Malcolm in the Middle theme song. Their name originates from a Don Quixote line in which windmills are mistaken for evil giants.
Absurdist, unique, cartoonish and joyfully childlike at their core, the pair originally from Massachusetts later reunited in Brooklyn. The first song (they think that) they ever recorded was a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Don’t Worry Kyoko, Mama’s Only Looking For A Hand In The Snow.” They were 15 years old.
In the early- to mid-eighties, TMBG gigged around New York City, performing just the two of them, their instruments, a drum machine, and backing track. They leaned into their differences; onstage, they donned costumes and in music videos they danced with large cutouts of a man they admitted to only identifying later on.
cutouts of William Allen White, from the 1987 music video for“Don’t Let’s Start”
At some point in the mid-eighties, Flansburgh broke his wrist in a biking accident. The duo’s Brooklyn apartment was broken into, their equipment stolen, and they stopped performing for a time. Laid up and beat down, kept from performing, TMBG invented Dial-a-Song. They recorded their songs on an answering machine, and as long as you had a working phone line, all you had to do was dial in to hear unreleased songs, demos in the works, and parody advertisement skits.
It could only take one caller at a time. Some songs heard to this day have never been released.
At first, the number was a 212 number, since real ones know the 718 area code didn’t exist until 1984. And back then, the call was charged accordingly, so the band advertised that the number was “free when you call from work.”
TMBG advertised Dial-a-Song in the Village Voice, but for fear of being penalized, didn’t include their name. (This later changed after the success of the service.)
Sadly, the original Dial-a-Song died a long, drawn-out death after multiple malfunctions and technical issues through the early 2000s. Even after a brief try at applying the system online, and another adaptation attempt by an external television company, the truth was clear: Dial-a-Song could only exist perfectly in the past.
The service was eventually reactivated, and during 2018, the band released music and videos on a near-weekly basis. Today, the band coordinates with radio stations, advertising on their website that “if you are a terrestrial radio DJ and want to be part of the experiment in human happiness that is Dial-A-Song” — just pick up the phone. For a subscription price, you can have the songs sent right to you.
But from any phone, anywhere, They Might Be Giants can be reached at (844) 387-6962.
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