Stuck Singing "The Middle" With You

Jan 12, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 7:02 am

This one goes out to all you Jimmy Eat World superfans! We've rewritten their song "The Middle" to be about other things that are in the middle.

Heard on Luka Kain: Pikachu, Strike A Pose

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, we met our contestants Masoud and Justin. Our next game is for all of you Jimmy Eat World heads out there.


EISENBERG: It's a band. You know them. Let's check in with our contestants. Justin, so you decided to listen to 1,001 albums you must hear before you die based on a books on tape.

JUSTIN CORNELL: There was a book of that title. And that's just one guy's opinion, but it did go through and collect like popular music albums from the '50s until about 2005, when it was written. I used to have a job as a delivery driver delivering dry cleaning, and I started going through one. I wanted to learn more about pop music and I did. I didn't stay at the job, but I did stay with that list. And just a few months ago, after about seven years, I got through the last one.

EISENBERG: After seven years?

CORNELL: Well, I mean...

EISENBERG: I know it's not every day or - but you kept it going. Like, that's - yeah. Come on.


CORNELL: I've heard a lot of, you know, great music that I never would have heard before, a lot of stuff that, of course, was really popular and I already knew it - and some things that I'll never want to listen to again.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Fair enough. OK, what was a great discovery?

CORNELL: I think my favorite of - that I never would have listened to otherwise was a Paul Simon album called "Hearts And Bones," which - I mean, he's really famous. But it was a big flop back in the early '80s. And it's got a bunch of lost classics on there that are as good as anything else he ever recorded.

EISENBERG: That's a good one. Jonathan Coulton, respond.


COULTON: Correct.


EISENBERG: OK, good - good, good, good.

CORNELL: Thanks.

EISENBERG: Masoud, in college, you interned for a Democratic member of the House of Representatives.


EISENBERG: And you gave tours of the U.S. Capitol building, but you were allowed to embellish?

MORTAZAVI: So I gave tours to constituents that emailed us first. And so it was just, like, personal tours.


MORTAZAVI: And every now and then, you'd get people that are slightly bored with other tours that they've gone on. And so one time, I had a young couple. And they looked kind of tired for the day. And I looked kind of tired for the day. And I was like, all right. What can I do to make this tour a little bit better for you? They're like, can you make up ghost stories as we go on? And I was like, sure. You know, I'm an intern - I was an intern, so I aimed to please.

And as I was walking through, there's a bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Capitol that - his left ear is missing because the sculptor was sculpting the bust and he was assassinated. And so he didn't feel like it was appropriate to finish. And so he just commissioned that bust with the left ear missing. And I was like, and people have seen the ghost of Abraham Lincoln walking around looking for his left ear. And they're like, oh, my God. They're loving it. And so I just like embellished more as I went on. But like, I'll never forget that one.

EISENBERG: I like it. Let's go to your next game called Stuck Singing "The Middle" With You. Justin, you won the last game, so you win this, and you are in the final round. Masoud, you need to win this or you have to tour with blink-182.


COULTON: We rewrote the Jimmy Eat World song "The Middle," which, by the way, has a very racy music video that we did not mean to watch at work over and over again.


COULTON: And we changed the lyrics to make it about things that are in the middle. So ring in to answer. Here we go.

(Singing) Frank, you had a show on Fox. The genius brother always feels left out. They're all dumb but you.


COULTON: Masoud.

MORTAZAVI: "Malcolm In The Middle."

COULTON: "Malcolm In The Middle" - you got it.

EISENBERG: I loved that show. And I'd always look at the character of the dad and think, that guy should play like a meth dealer.


COULTON: Yeah - typecast.

(Singing) You get a drink or maybe use the can. The lights are flashing so you sit back down to catch Act II.


COULTON: Justin.

CORNELL: Intermission.

COULTON: Intermission is the answer.


COULTON: (Singing) It just takes some time to Catholic. And you sinned a little. Then you died. Now, you're waiting here until you're purified. You'll get into heaven, and you'll be all right, all right.


COULTON: Masoud.

MORTAZAVI: Purgatory.

COULTON: Purgatory is correct.


EISENBERG: Do you want to say your note?

COULTON: Oh, yeah. I would not have accepted limbo. That's totally different.

EISENBERG: Just so you know.

COULTON: Nice try - nice try, imaginary contestant.


COULTON: (Singing) Hair in an unbroken line. You know that Frida Kahlo look is hot. You look like Burt.


COULTON: Justin.

CORNELL: The unibrow.

COULTON: The unibrow.


COULTON: (Singing) A silent curse. And you can use your hand. The third digit standing tall and proud - some birds don't fly.


COULTON: Masoud.

MORTAZAVI: Flipping the bird or the middle finger?

COULTON: The middle finger - absolutely.


COULTON: You can't say middle finger on the radio.


EISENBERG: Some birds don't fly is so poetic.

COULTON: It is poetic. That's what you say when you're flipping somebody off.

EISENBERG: Hey, some birds don't fly...

COULTON: Some birds don't fly.


COULTON: (Singing) A line around the world - standing here, you're in the middle of the globe. Latitude's - latitude's a big zero. Temperature, temperature is warm all right, all right.


COULTON: Justin.

CORNELL: The equator.

COULTON: Yes, that's right, the equator.


COULTON: Here's your last clue.

(Singing) A note between the other keys - in piano lessons, put your thumb right here. It sounds like this. (Playing piano).


COULTON: Justin.

CORNELL: Middle C?

COULTON: Middle C, you got it.


COULTON: Just so you know, that's how good of a guitarist I am.


EISENBERG: Between your guitar, the piano key and the sound of ringing-in, that is called some textured audio right there.

COULTON: That's right. That's...

EISENBERG: That is an audio landscape we have created.

COULTON: That's right (laughter).


COULTON: Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our contestants do?

ART CHUNG: It was a close game, but congratulations, Justin. You won both games, and you're moving on to the final round.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.