If you seek proof of the theory of evolution, consider They Might Be Giants. Over the course of three decades, the duo of John Linnell and John Flansburgh learned how to adapt and thrive in an increasingly hostile musical environment. TMBG diversified early and often, from its Dial-A-Song project and TV theme songs (Malcolm In The Middle) to podcasts and, more recently, a string of successful children’s albums, books and DVDs. TMBG’s latest children’s album, Here Comes Science, is a fun and surprisingly educational foray into the world of elements, planets, photosynthesis, electric cars and, yes, evolution. The duo is guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with Linnell.
Linnell: I’m pretty sure I remember the Singer Building, or maybe it evokes a whole set of sense memories from my early childhood in New York City. It was demolished in the ’60s along with many other ornate relics from a pre-bauhaus vision of urban architecture to make room for the minimalist steel-and-glass skyscrapers that are themselves becoming a little quaint. The Singer Building looked like a fancy Victorian pile that had been fed the cake that Alice ate in Wonderland. The whole structure was grotesquely huge, and like Alice’s neck after she ate the cake, the tower was especially distended looking. To me, it is something more than beautiful. I get a little scared when I look at pictures of it. I can’t say I’m exactly nostalgic for the period that produced this monstrosity. I get the feeling that the fat cats who were building and running New York in those days had even less sympathy for the common man than they do now. The early-20th-century skyscrapers were more terrifyingly heavy, and the excessive wedding-cake ornamentation was mind blowing rather than pretty. It seems fitting that bits of terracotta sometimes fall off aging towers and hit people on the head. Architecturally, the Singer Building represents an evolutionary dead end, before the skyscraper was freed from any sense of human scale and assumed the soaring geometry that it still has, even in its current fashion for playful textures and undulating shapes. By the end of its life, the building must have seemed like a brobdingnagian haunted house, completely out of step with the times and, fatally, an unpleasant reminder of the fussy past. Like the grand and decrepit old Penn Station, it had to go, but unlike the train station, I don’t think it was mourned. Even so, the cold, dead fingers of this long departed New Yorker still reach out to me from beyond the grave, seize me by the heart, kill me.