First release: John Henry, 1994
(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)
There is a pattern, at least in my mind, in which the last song on many They Might Be Giants albums might be written as a farewell song, almost as if the band lived with the fear that each record might be their last. Lincoln closes with “Kiss Me, Son of God;” Flood with “Road Movie to Berlin;” and John Henry’s final song is this beauty.
From what I can tell there is not a single consistent interpretation of this song. Some argue it has something to do with the Grateful Dead; others think it’s a more general reflection on death. I suspect it’s one person singing to another whom he killed in a car wreck. It is, however, inarguably about death.
It’s also among their more clever songs. I don’t know how many times I listened to this song before I realized it was about a car accident at all. Once I did, it was like the lyrics opened up for me. TMBG are clever like that.
Bonus: From the 2002 documentary Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, here’s Michael McKean doing a spoken-word reading of the lyrics.