Boat of Car
A really big car or a regular sized boat?
Another lyric that I’ve been singing incorrectly.
“Can you sing bass?”
Another fine and embarrassing example of a song lyric that I had wrong for decades. “Boat of Car” by They Might Be Giants begins with the lyric, “Daddy’ll sing bass” in a very bassy vocal a ’la Johnny Cash. In fact, I have learned for the first time today that this line is a sample from Johnny Cash’s song “Daddy Sang Bass.”
Look, I’m embarrassed. Do I have to be familiar with all the facts of every TMBG song in order to be considered a true fan? I don’t think that is a fair bar to hold anyone to. I call myself a Johnny Cash fan and I’ve only heard maybe 5 of his songs and Daddy Sang Bass ain’t one of them.
Musically, this song is a banger for me.
Can you think of any songs that have a particular instrument or effect that just scratches an itch in your brain that you never knew was there? Almost every sound in this song does it for me. The synths in the beginning, the low bassy horn, and the short scratchy string instrument. I believe there is an even much more recent cover of this song by an artist named, “Recepter” that I enjoy a lot. That artist could be one person or an entire band; I have no idea. I can unfortunately report this song that they didn’t originate is all I have heard from them - but nice job!
Lyrically, this song is true horror.
Aside from the Johnny Cash samples, the lyrics in Boat of Car are brief. Brief, but bleak.
I took my boat for a car.
I took that car for a ride.
This man has is demonstrating that he has a hard time distinguishing a boat and a car. Easily mistaking one for the other. In this case, he thinks he has mistaken his boat for a car and decided to take that car for a ride. Maybe into the water? In which case he’d be in the water with a boat. Sounds like a good time and it worked out great. Unless. . .
What if, the man did not mistake his boat for a car? What if he really was just looking at his car? This would mean that he could have driven the car into deep water. What if he wasn’t alone in that?
I was trying to get somewhere
but now I’m following
the traces of your fingernails
that run along the windshield
on the boat of car
A passenger who has come along for a joy ride. Unbeknownst to this unnamed person, their driving buddy thinks their car is a boat and they have now plunged into a body of deep, dark, cold water.
Traces of fingernails running along the windshield paint a horrific image of a person trapped. Gripped with the soul crushing dread of the drowning they are about to experience, this passenger has resorted to clawing their way through a glass windshield. A futile and painful attempt at reaching safety that leaves behind bits of yourself to no reward.
What is this passenger’s friend doing now that the car will no longer drive? He’s just watching the panic overtake this other person. Maybe listening to a cassette track of Johnny Cash before the electronics fail.
“Daddy’ll sing bass.”
The passenger is crying, screaming for help and trying to scratch their way to freedom.
“Daddy’ll sing bass”
But the driver, who was trying to get somewhere, is just following the traces of their fingernails that run along the windshield.
“Daddy’ll sing bass”
Until it all comes to an end.
Tell me what YOU think.
I have never read up on other interpretations of this song. This is what I’m hearing take place when I listen to Boat of Car and it’s as disturbing as it is grim. Learning the “true” meaning may rob me of this haunting interpretation that I have. Tell me what you think is happening in this song. Am I way off?
Are there any songs whose lyrics you realized late in life that you were way off? Please share with us so my humiliation is it alone.
Let’s wrap this up.
Boat of Car is another TMBG classic that I hate to skip and love to sing. The dark and ambiguous lyrics coupled with those unique sounds hit every sensory need in my body when I hear it. Next week, I’ll be writing about Absolutely Bills Mood with all the rubber lined rooms and lighthouses that come along with it.
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