They Might Be Giants at Walter Reed

From the liner notes for the 1997 They Might Be Giants album Then: The Earlier Years:

“The germ for Weep Day was the hyphenated reference to a song on the back of a Bob Dylan record jacket which read “Mr. Tambo-urine Man.” Flansburgh drew disturbing likenesses of both Mr. Tambo and Urine Man and Linnell dreamed up their antithetical relationship and set it to music.”

Another example of TMBG’s keen insight into national affairs. Here we are, years later, and we have our own real-life Urine Man, Army Surgeon General Kevin C. Kiley MD.

Who is this man and what is his destiny? Let’s ask TMBG.


I never went to the tropical island
Though everybody said they saw me there
And it wasn’t me you punched a hole in
At the West German protest march
Simultaneous events don’t happen
We are isolated temporally
And a part is never called a whole thing
Though it bothers it to know it’s so
Every man is made of two opinions
Every woman has a second half
And it’s samba time for Tambo and
Weep day for Urine Man
I didn’t write the words you hear me singing
I didn’t sing the line before this one
You were not the one I was addressing
That person took a train to Africa
Where he met the consulate from Belgium
Who is now a hermit in a cave
Who is pitching for the Oakland Raiders
Striking out the batter she became

Well, one thing is for sure, it is certainly Weep Day for Urine Man. But what does the rest of the song mean?

The singer of this song seems obsessed with denial of responsibility, just like the entirety of the Bush administration.  They have been placed in charge of a government but every time they are called upon to actually, you know, govern, they insist it is not their responsibility.  It happened in Afghanistan, it happened in Iraq, it happenedat Abu Ghraib, it happened in New Orleans and now it’s happening at Walter Reed.  The precedent is set by the Denier-in-Chief and everyone under him follows suit, from Cheney to Rumsfeld to Brown to Kiley — “Oh, wait, you mean I’m actually supposed to do the job I’m getting paid to do?  But why can’t the people I’m supposed to be watching out for watch out for themselves?  What does everyone want from me?!”

The singer’s denials go from insistence that he wasn’t where you say he was in the first verse to an intricate chain of hysterical, nonsensical refutations.  We see the same thing happening within the Bush administration as official after official gets that deer-in-the-headlights look — “What?  You’re saying that outing a CIA operative is treason?!  Really?  Who knew?” — and twists his statements into escalating pretzels of hysterical, nonsensical verbiage.

“And a part is never called a whole thing, though it bothers it to know it’s so” — this is obviously a reference to the recent Republican domination of the political landscape.  In our case, a part was the whole thing, any Republican was able to do any damn thing he pleased with no fear of punishment, why not?  We are the government, who’s going to stop us?  And yet we now see that it did bother them, on some level, to know that they were not the whole — otherwise, they wouldn’t have made their attempts to remove all opposition to their policies, like replacing federal prosecutors and wiretapping law-abiding American citizens (and I’m guessing Gonzales will be looked at next after this).  The entire Bush presidency, in fact, could be seen as an illustration of this line, the presidency knowing it’s only a part of the federal government, yet yearning to be the whole of the federal government.

The real question then becomes, where is Mr. Tambo?  It’s samba time for him, where is he?  Is he even a he?  Is he Patrick Fitzgerald?  Barack Obama?  Hillary Clinton?
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7 Responses to “They Might Be Giants at Walter Reed”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    Mr. Tambo had to go undercover. Slightly.

  2. urbaniak says:

    Prior to his death in 1993 one could find Mr. Tambo by taking a train to Africa, where he spent a lifetme fighting oppression, indifference and the enemies of democracy.

  3. Decode what the Johns say and you will comprehend the universe, m’friend.

    Of course, now you’ve not only got me humming this, you’ve ruined it for me forever by associating it with the Faust Gump and his rotten 8 years. Well . . . maybe just a little ruined.

  4. leborcham says:

    I was listening to “THEN” today ironically….it fries me that this used to be known as THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS and LINCOLN, two of the greatest albums of all times…and now it is just “THEN.” Northing’s gonna make me change my clothes.

    • Todd says:

      I once wrote a letter to them saying that I thought Lincoln was the best second album since This Year’s Model, which was the best second album since The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which was the best second album since Elvis. They sent me something back, a sticker I think.