Chess Piece Face
Wait a minute, Rabid Child's friend?!
In which we meet a face made of chess pieces
Yeah, Yeah, Happy New Year, etc. Let’s keep this thing moving - time is an illusion.
Chess Piece Face is the first time I encountered continuity and world-building lore in music. That I’m aware of anyway. I have no idea exactly how old I was when I first heard Chess Piece Face by They Might Be Giants but it was during the infancy of my fandom. It's directly in correlation with me hearing this entire Pink Album for the first time.
Rabid Child Calls: The Plot Thickens
Rabid Child is another TMBG song that I have written about and in that song, we learn that Chess Piece Face and The Big Duluth call Rabid Child everyday. Also, we learn that “hammer down” and “rabbit ears” are the only words they know (in trucker CB lingo presumably.)
Now, several tracks later, we’re hearing about Chess Piece Face again!? What does it mean? Who exactly IS Chess Piece Face?? I remember pondering this question with my best friend and coming up with basically zero conclusions. We tore through the liner notes and lyrics, wondering if there were other clues throughout the album that connected the dots. We came up short. The mystery made this song even more alluring than the opposing Shepard Tone synths that kick it off.
The song itself is posing a similar question in the very first lyric:
What’s gonna happen to Chess Piece Face?
To Google or Not to Google: The Interpretation Dilemma
Searching out interpretations online for songs in order to glean their meaning is something I normally avoid. I let my emotions while listening guide me to their meanings. Whatever a song means to you when you listen to it, is true for you. For Chess Piece Face, I’m actually excited to dive in and see what I can learn. Why did the Johns do this?
Plot Twist! The Song's Actually Sad
Flansburgh told an interviewer1 that the song was inspired by a co-worker who had Proteus Syndrome (elephant man disease). Flans shared that he often wondered what it was like to live life with that syndrome, knowing that “everything he does is defined by his appearance.” He shared that Chess Piece Face is “the closest thing to a sincere, sad song on the album.”
Schrodinger's Song: It's Complicated
This forever changes how I hear this song now in a very heavy way. What I’ve always taken to believe is a silly song meant to tie in with Rabid Child in some strange way, turns out to be a song about a disfiguring disease. Forget what I said earlier about songs whatever a song means to you when you listen to it, is true for you. Sometimes, learning a song’s intended meaning changes your experience permanently. The song is like Schrodinger’s cat if the box that the cat is in belonged to Pandora.
The ever-evolving chessboard of music interpretation
Did 'Chess Piece Face' ever play mind games with you too? How do you feel about this song?
What's your 'Chess Piece Face' moment? You know, a song you thought was intriguing but turned out to be as deeper and more real than you could have conjured on your own?
Join the journey! Subscribe & share:
Not a subscriber yet? Dive deeper into the world of Kiss Me, Son of Blog by subscribing for free today. You can also pledge a future paid subscription.
Let’s build a little empire out of some crazy garbage.
Love what you read? Share it with friends and earn exclusive rewards! Learn more about our referral program here:
Explore more: Succulents and Cactuses
Enjoyed this post? Check out my other newsletter Succulents and Cactuses about the art of anxiety and overthinking.