Friday, June 16, 2017

TMBG: Postcards from the edge (UPDATED!)

John Linnell and John Flansburgh of TMBG before they became ubiquitous.

TMBG's debut album from 1986.
This will seem completely ridiculous to anyone in 2017, but it used to be kind of difficult to get information about your favorite bands. Like, really difficult. Especially if your musical tastes were even slightly outside the mainstream. In the mid-1980s, for instance, my favorite band in the whole wide world was They Might Be Giants (TMBG), the pioneering New York nerd rock combo originally consisting of John Linnell and John Flansburgh. (The group's lineup would ultimately grow as its sound evolved.) At the time, apart from reviews of the group's albums, the press paid little to no attention to this band. TMBG wasn't serious enough for Rolling Stone -- a publication then in the thrall of earnest, message-driven bands like U2 and R.E.M. -- and not quite cool enough for, say, Spin. (Though the latter did publish a few fleeting features about the group. Thanks, Spin.)

That would all have been okay, but there wasn't really any internet to speak of back then either. By the early-to-mid-1990s, there were some primitive Usenet newsgroups, and TMBG fans used to congregate there somewhat. But in 1986? Zilch. Nothing. Diddly squat. You had to rely on newspapers, magazines, and television for your information. If those outlets didn't choose to cover They Might Be Giants, you were out of luck.

And so, oddball bands had to get the word out themselves using the slowest, most unreliable medium known to man: the United States mail. I can proudly say I was on TMBG's first-ever mailing list, eventually known as the TMBG Info Club. I was even proud that my fan club number, #36, was so low. From the mid-1980s to roughly the late-'90s, when the internet finally supplanted the postal system, I regularly received newsletters, postcards, and catalogs from the group. For some reason, I saved pretty much all of it, probably thinking that it might one day be used in a book about the history of They Might Be Giants. Now that information about TMBG is plentiful on the internet, however, I don't think my humble little collection has much historical relevance. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hasn't exactly been beating down my door.

Nevertheless, I'd like to share at least a few postcards from my rather vast collection of TMBG-related ephemera. Enjoy.

Ad for the "Hotel Detective" single and video. (1988)

"Ana Ng" inspired this whimsical card. (1988)

Promotion for "Santa's Beard" from Lincoln. (1988)

Promo for "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." Note the mention of 1-800-Dial MTV. (1990)

Naturally, Apollo 18 got its own postcard. (1992)

"The Statue Got Me High" was the lead single from Apollo 18. (1992)

A new album meant a new tour. Note the expanding lineup. (1992)

Promoting the Back To Skull EP. (1994)

TMBG was the first major act to record for eMusic. (1999)

Long Tall Weekend was TMBG's groundbreaking digital-only album. (1999)

One of the last TMBG postcards was this one for Working Undercover For The Man. (2000)

And, seriously, if you're ever doing that book about the history of They Might Be Giants, drop me a line. I have so much more of this junk. Not just postcards but all kinds of stuff. Remember when you could buy an official TMBG fez for $20? Good times. Wish I'd bought one.