Our only home is bone.
My oldest kid is just about 25 years old, has a legitimate music education, and greatly enjoys They Might Be Giants. Am I the one who introduced him to the band through bedtime singing, constant exposure, and DVDs? Of course. This is why I was surprised when he told me that he does not care for the song Cowtown. In fact, he said he doesn’t like it all.
Apparently, while falling asleep at night as a young boy, my son would have his music playlist going (either a Pandora channel or a cd I mixed for him) and as he was drifting into the REM land, Cowtown would play and it scared the shit out of him. How can a song that starts with a smooth airy woodwind instill fear into a child’s heart?
Let’s build a little empire out of some crazy garbage. I would love to have your support.
A childhood horror song.
It’s likely the break between the chorus and the next verse. It is full of mouth harps, heavy grungy guitar, and a sort of shouting/alarming sound that I could only describe as the sound you hear in Gremlins when a gremlin gets in a swimming pool.
Ok, so maybe this has the potential to terrify little kids. It’s still a banger.
I’ve debated whether to share one of the clips I have of my half-hearted attempt to play this song on an acoustic guitar in front of my apartment security wall camera. I just rewatched it for the first time in 5 years and no, I will not be sharing this piece of cringe media anywhere on the World Wide Web.
My experience with Cowtown falls very far outside the Heredity end of the terror spectrum. It’s so simple and comforting that once I hear the opening notes from that clarinet, I’m relaxed and excited for this uplifting musical journey. Shortly after the clarinets, a marching band-esqueue snare comes in and it’s time for some Cowtown action, Baby.
The Origin and Essence of Cowtown
In a 2015 interview with WGMU, John Flansuburgh shared that Cowtown is essentially the very first They Might Be Giants song. Something they began working on together in the super early days. Unlike a lot of their songs, this track is light on the existential dread or depression - if any at all. Which might be why my brain relaxes as soon as it plays.
As a youth, my best friend and I would enjoy singing any number of songs out loud but replace certain nouns in the lyrics with the word “butt.” Think of The Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” and try to guess which noun we would have replaced. Admittedly, this is something I have enjoyed to this very day given the right circumstances. That circumstance is me being awake and listening to music.
We did not dare soil the sacred songs of They Might Be Giants with such nonsense. The Beatles? Sure, why not. No, TMBG had one singular song that we changed an entire lyric by simply adding an “r” to the word “bone.”
We yearn to swim for home
But our only home is boner
How sleepless is the egg
Knowing that which throws the stone
Foresees the boner, the boner
Our only home is boner
Our only home is boner
I can’t explain it and I won’t apologize. For me, this is the peak of joy in my heart. When I explained this habit(?) to my wife, she laughed and adopted this quirk as one of her own. My best friend’s wife, however - not AS MUCH of a fan. Fair.
As I’m typing the above words, I’m thinking about that lyric differently than I have before. When I take away the “boner,” that is.
“We yearn to swim for him but our only home is bone.”
Could this be saying that we all have a desire to feel at home, like we belong, and can finally let out a sigh and relax? Like we would when we arrive home after a long ass day? But the only home we have is our body. Our bones. To go home, truly go home for us, means that we die. We become nothing more than bone. I might have to rethink my “lack of existential dread” remark from earlier.
If that is the case, and the Johns have laid a tiny trap of the contemplation of mortality in this song, they would be acknowledging it aptly by instead opting to visit a cow friend who lives beneath the ocean in a little underwater settlement known as Cowtown.
As I reflect on the unexpected layers of 'Cowtown' and its unique place in my life, it makes me wonder about the diverse connections others have with music. So, I'd love to hear from you:
Is there a song that holds a peculiar or surprising significance in your life? Maybe a tune that scared you as a kid? Share your stories in the comments below.
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