Ep. 51 – They Might Be Giants “Synopsis For Latecomers” (2021) + They Might Be Giants (1971 Film)

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In this episode, Carl King examines They Might Be Giants “Synopsis For Latecomers” (2021) + They Might Be Giants THE FILM (1971)

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Episode 51! They Might Be Giants.


Commander Johnny Thrust Album!



They Might Be Giants / Synopsis For Newcomers

Welcome To Nightvale (Podcast)

John Linnell Talks “Birdhouse In Your Soul”

Red Hot Chili Peppers “Can’t Stop” (TUBA)

Anil Seth: Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality

Apocalypse Later / Harold Camping Documentary

I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where EVERY WEEK, we learn about music, filmmaking, and the other creative arts. If you like this podcast, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month. 

Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode.

Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media. Now let’s get this episode Beginned! 

Carl King The Human Updates

Two quick Carl King The Human Updates. 1 – I am recording a new LYRIC and VOCAL-ORIENTED Carl King album, very much in the style of the songs from Sir Millard Mulch “How To Sell…” 

So far I have posted two rough song demos inside my Patreon. The titles of those first 2 songs are “The Robot Is Here To Destroy Us” and “Everyone Is Stupid But Me.” A third song demo will go up in another couple of weeks, so head over to Patreon to hear them. 

2 – Several years ago I released an album called Grand Architects of the Universe. My friend Nils Rurack, who appeared as a voice actor on that record, just released a sort of SEQUEL to it. HIS album is called Commander Johnny Thrust’s Saving The Galaxy Tour: One Planet At A Time, Please! 

I contributed some character voice acting as well as the cover art layout. You can get the album on his BandCamp page, and I will put a link to it in the show notes.

Commander Johnny Thrust Album!

So now, let’s move on to this week’s Analytical Musical Analysis of the Week. 


This week’s Analytical Musical Analysis of the Week is: They Might Be Giants “Synopsis For Latecomers.” And that’s from their 2021 album called BOOK. I am very excited about this song both musically and lyrically. And It might even by my favorite they might be giants song of all time! 

They Might Be Giants / Synopsis For Newcomers


So let’s start by talking about those Lyrics. Remember how “Birdhouse In Your Soul” was written from the point of view of a nightlight? That’s unusual, isn’t it?

Well, this one seems to be written from the point of view of… maybe… a police chief giving a press conference, following a recent puzzling catastrophe. The details mentioned are surreal, and it reminds me of a podcast called Welcome To Nightvale.

If you like surreal stories and humor, along the lines of They Might Be Giants and Douglas Adams, I recommend giving Welcome To Nightvale a listen. I will put a link to it in the show notes. 

Welcome To Nightvale (Podcast)

Now Back to the song. Some of the lyrical moments that jumped out at me as brilliant are: No 1 – The lyrics that say “Sound of gathering and shuffling of notes.” This is similar to the text you’d see in a screenplay. It’s more of a “sound effect direction” rather than dialogue. Or it could be a sound effects caption on TV. But here, it is sung as if it IS dialogue. 

2 – The line “If you’d only be patient.” Because The singing stops, and this is followed by a few of measures of drums — as we wait for more vocals. And it’s as if the police chief is collecting himself for a moment. 

3 – “Who ate the babies, who ate the babies?” This is such a striking line, they further showcased it by not only repeating it twice, but putting it in its own sub-verse over only drums and bass. That’s a sure way to draw attention to a lyric. Get everything else out of its way, and repeat it. 

4 – After the bridge, the police chief ends his statement. And John Linnell sings the gibberish words: “Doodly-Doodly-Doodly-Doo.” Now why is this happening? We don’t know yet. But it’s FUNNY, in my own totally subjective opinion. 


Regarding the music, let’s talk about the big picture. What do we know about it? I believe the most abstract measurements of a song are the Tempo and the Length. I’ve found that When scoring music for film, those are the easiest places to start. How fast is it, and how long does it need to be? 

Frank Zappa said something about this in The Real Frank Zappa Book, in the section: “Let’s All Be Composers.” Steps 2, 3, and 4 are as follows: “Start a piece at some time, cause something to happen over a period of time, and end the piece at some time.” 

This is one of those ideas that might seem silly or SIMPLISTIC, but it’s actually profound and useful. So let’s look at it from that perspective. 

The tempo for “Synopsis For Latecomers” the is 120 beats per minute, which could be called the most NORMAL of all tempos. It’s the standard tempo that Cubase opens with, and it’s perfect for MARCHING. 

As far as the duration, this song is 2 minutes, 25 seconds. I looked this up, and that is much shorter than the average Taylor Swift song. And almost a full minute shorter than their highest charting song, “Birdhouse In Your Soul.” 

While we’re on the topic of song length, Here’s some They Might Be Giants trivia: Did you know the song “Particle Man” is UNDER 2 minutes long? From what I understand, during the recording of FLOOD, They Might Be Giants were challenged by their producer to make their songs longer. There’s a good interview with John Linnell about this and I will put a link to it in the show notes. 

John Linnell Talks “Birdhouse In Your Soul”

Now let’s get into what everyone fell asleep for, the actual MUSICAL NOTES. 


In the verse, we have a bass riff. And I don’t mean bass guitar necessarily, I mean the bass voice, which is the lowest voice in traditional 4 part harmony. But in a rock band that is typically played by the bass guitar. Or sometimes a tuba. 

If you think I’m joking, there’s an entertaining version of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song where the guitar and bass are replaced by Tuba through a distortion pedal. Really, you should give it a listening. I will put a link in the show notes. 

Red Hot Chili Peppers “Can’t Stop” (TUBA)

Back to our Analytical Song Analysis:The verse riff, played here on bass guitar, is a 3 MEASURE E minor diatonic riff with the notes:

E – A – G – C

B – C – B – C

D – B

You might notice the only note missing from that E natural minor riff would be F#, but that doesn’t matter AT ALL. It’s just something to observe when constructing a melody. Did you use all the notes in the key? Do you NEED to? I doubt anyone’s first question when hearing this song is, where’s the F#? 

Those 3 measures repeat 3 TIMES, to add up to what is the VERSE. Making a total of 9 measures. And that is true of what I consider the Intro Verse, the Main Verse 1, and Main Verse 2. Each of them are 9 MEASURES in length. 


Now let’s talk about the VOCAL MELODY in the Verse. We know that the bass line is firmly in E natural minor. And what makes this part special is the MELODY placed on top of it. The notes John Linnell sings are  “MAJORIFYING” the chords, by singing major thirds over those bass notes. He’s creating major chords where they would not normally exist in the key. 

An example is when he sings a G# in Measure 4 of the verse with the words “Very Simple (Explanation)” over the E bass note. And again at the end of the phrase, another G# with the word “Patient” which is that same major third over that E. And this is striking because not only is G# not in the key of E minor, E MAJOR is not in the key of E minor. 

The Majorifyication of a chord creates that otherworldly sound you hear in the music of Cardiacs, Devin Townsend, Nirvana, and all over my music. An easy way to do that? Write a song that follows minor third root movements, but use ONLY major chords.

If you’re in the key of C, throw in a major chord rooted on one of the black keys, and you will get that sound. For instance, in the key of C major, try Eb major. Or F# major. 

Before we move on to the chorus: There’s a variation of the Verse, which you could call a Sub-Verse. And it’s only 6 measures long. The guitars and keyboards drop out, so there’s only bass and drums, and it highlights the phrase “Who ate the babies?” And now we know variation is a good thing in music.


Moving onto the Chorus. We’ll break it into two phrases. Phrase 1 begins on A major. Which in relation to the key of E minor would be a IV chord. And coming from E minor, A major is a good place to modulate to, because it’s closely related to the previous key. Meaning, there aren’t a lot of changes in the sharps and flats. 

In this case, E minor has 1 Sharp, and the key of A major has 3. However, we COULD temporarily think of that verse key as being in E major, since that’s the final chord. And moving from E major which has 4 sharps to A major with 3 sharps — that’s a very close relationship and a SUPER common modulation. 

You could also think of that E major as the V chord of A, making it a secondary dominant. Either way, this is all very common chord progression stuff. 

Now, in this CHORUS, the first 3 chords are:

A Major – F Major – D Major. That’s a descending sequence of major chords whose root notes outline a D minor arpeggio. And remember, all 3 are major chords, which creates that otherworldly “majorified” sound we like.

Then we have an Am going to a D major. Now notice the chorus started with A MAJOR, but he is instead making it this one A MINOR. And that Am to D major is what I always think of as a Dorian sound. 

Then under the lyrics “Covered in Snakes” we have Bb major to G major. Two major chords whose roots are a minor third apart. See how this is all just formula, to get the result you want? 

At the end of this phrase he uses a B major which sounds like a major mediant, or upper case roman numberal 3 chord. And it’s acting as a dominant chord leading to E minor at the start of Phrase 2. 

And in Phrase 2, it goes:

Em (so we’re back to our home base of E minor) and then – C Major – A Major

And that C major to A major is another one of those “two major chords whose roots are a minor third apart.” 

Then we have:

Em – A Major

Which is another of those “Dorian” sounds. 

Followed by B Major under the word “Monument” and that acts as a V chord leading back to E minor for the verse. 

E – F# – G –  A –  B – C –  D

i – iid – III  – iv – v – VI – VII


After much Doodly-Dooing, there’s a guitar solo. I don’t know who played it, but it emphasizes tense notes. It’s over that E Verse Bass Riff. And It’s often hitting D#, which is the the Major 7 or leading tone in relation to E. Which creates that minor major 7 sound we know from Mr. Bungle’s Travolta and Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho. 

And it’s not the first time They Might Be Giants has used that sound, because I think the minor major 7 is used as the last chord in ISTANBUL!

But notice that the whole time, the guitar solo avoids resolving to an E note on strong beats — instead it is highlighting tension notes. The bass voice continues playing that verse riff with the minor 7, which is D. While the guitar hits D# repeatedly. It also emphasizes A# which would be the b5 over E. 

They Might Be Giants are a big big big influence on my music, and they’re one of the first bands I ever actually liked when their album Lincoln came out. Even my wife noticed the similarity to my music, when I was listening to this song in the car. And I am honestly doing my best to apply what I learn from them, to my new Carl King album. 

And now, let’s move on to this week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week. 


This week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week is THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, the FILM, from 1971. That’s right, exactly 50 years before “Synopsis for Latecomers.” 

Directored by Anthony Harvey and Screenwritted by James Goldman, who is actually the older brother of WILLIAM GOLDMAN! And starring by George C. Scott, who played the role of General “Buck” Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” 

I always assumed this was a far more obscure and artsy black and white movie. Isn’t it scary, how our brains jump to conclusions? We have assumptions, or fragments… and our imaginations fill in the rest. 

And it’s so common we don’t even know it’s happening. Consider how many things we’re all WRONG about on a daily basis. According to Neuroscientist Anil Seth, this is actually how we perceive EVERYTHING around us — that’s we are all living in a controlled hallucination. 

Anil Seth: Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality

It turns out MY hallucination about this film was inaccurate. They Might Be Giants is actually a comedy from the early 70s. And it’s coincidentally about a man who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes. In his imaginary adventure, his psychiatric doctor and romantic interest is named Dr. Watson. And Holmes leads her and others on a quest to confront his nemesis, the evil Professor Moriarty. 


Let’s talk about the dialogue and acting. Since this was adapted from a theatrical play, there’s a LOT of talking. Most scenes are 2 people saying words at each other. 

Because of this, the director was smart to work in lots of “space” and “object” work. Also called Staging or Blocking. That’s where actors will change position, walk around the room, and occupy themselves with activities. And that keeps a long scene from being too static. 

The problem is, Our attention will tune out if the characters don’t MOVE. Even if that movement is getting up from the couch for a moment to get a drink, or moving to a chair. You might notice that characters will swap positions from right to left throughout a scene.

That’s almost always worked out in advance — because it’s far too complex to move a film crew and their gear around a room spontaneously to follow an actor’s whims. 

Also, about the dialoguie… I want to point out there’s at least one line that would be unacceptable today, and that is when Holmes says to Watson: “I know how girls are. No means yes.” And she replies: “When I say No I mean NO.” So that’s the SECOND of Carl King’s favorite bands kind of referenced in this film. 


Speaking of music, the musical score is a 1970s sort of jazzy 7th chord tonality. In my own totally subjective opinion it doesn’t fit at all. If it were up to me, I’d make it more “period appropriate” — I’d use a chamber orchestra or string quartet to accompany Sherlock’s delusion. Because that’s what we would associate with an English mystery. 

Speaking of strings, I laughed out loud during the scene when Holmes grabbed his violin and played some dissonant, atonal material. I wish that were a longer scene. Or even multiple scenes. Holmes could have taken the violin with him throughout the adventure and played it at inappropriate times.  


Speaking of comedy, let’s talk about more of the comic moments. TWO of them stood out to me. The first is a scene at the Telephone company. A woman shows up IN PERSON to ask for an unlisted address. And the woman from the telephone company refuses to acknowledge her in person and pretends to be speaking to her on the phone. They go around and around. 

It’s an absurd, corporate, bureaucratic catch 22, where an employee is trying to follow the rules, no matter how bizarre the situation is. and reminds me a little bit of that scene at the party in Lost Highway. 

The second is when Holmes picks up a random newspaper and reads the headline: “Professor says we Strike at midnight!” And he assumes it’s a coded message sent from the villain, Professor Moriarty. But it’s actually news of a teacher’s strike at Columbia university. 


OK, most importantly. Let’s talk about the title of the film. The meaning of it is finally stated halfway through, when Sherlock and Watson are in a taxi. She says, “My god, you’re just like Don Quixote. You think everything is always something else.” To which he replies:

“Well, he had a point. Of course, he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That’s insane. But, thinking that they MIGHT be… Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat. But, what if it isn’t? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what THEY MIGHT BE, why, we’d all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.”

One of my favorite scenes, is when he begins to question his own identity. Our protagonist is struggling: is he the famous Sherlock Holmes or not? I had a similar problem in 2005. It drove me crazy: Do people believe I really am Sir Millard Mulch? Or am I just Carl King? Which one am I? Even *I* wasn’t sure. 

Now related to that, our protagonist is also kind of a cult leader, isn’t he? People find his out-of-touch personality charming and magnetic. By the end of the film, he attracts and leads a group of other eccentrics across the city, to confront his nemesis, Moriarty. 

But, every time he’s certain he’s found the answer, it’s a dead end. After a five minute montage of a whole crowd joining him, they end up wandering around a retro 50s GROCERY STORE and find NOTHING. 

This reminds me of End of the World prophets — which are similar to people who gamble on sketchy investments. They’re always sure they have the secret this time. It’s gonna be BIG. And every time, when they’re wrong, they say they misinterpreted it or miscalculated. But then they find the next clue and now they’re SURE they’ve got it. Or as Darth Vader once said: “There will be no one to stop us this time.”

It got me to thinking: maybe that’s what’s required to be a Cult Leader. For the controlled hallucination in their head to be highly inaccurate, even severely out of touch with reality. And pair that with a total commitment to that inaccurate hallucination. 

We all know that normal life is boring — So cult leaders excite people, turning their life an adventure. As Harold Camping’s own daughter said: “What’s more interesting than the end of the world?”

By the way, if you haven’t seen it, I was involved in the making of a documentary called Apocalypse Later, which followed Harold Camping as he counted down the days to the end of the world. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. 

Apocalypse Later / Harold Camping Documentary

Now In the final scene of the film, as Holmes and Watson are convinced they’ve FINALLY found Moriarty, I was on the edge of my seat. The camera stays ONY on THEIR FACES, staring in wonder and maybe fear, as SOMEONE approaches. It’s got to be him! Are they finally going to show Moriarty?! 

No. It cuts to black and we end up with a quote from a psychologist named Robert Valett: 

“The human heart can see what is hidden to the eyes, and the heart knows things that the mind does not begin to understand.”

Okay than. I will let everyone know. Anyway, They Might Be Giants was a cute movie, and since it finally explained the name of one of my favorite bands, so I gave it 5/5 stars on Letterboxd. 


OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts. 

And if you like it, support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.

And as always, special thank you to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for listening, and as I always say: “Excuse Me! Where are the backstage passes?”

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