Jonathan Coulton

I like the nerdcore and all, but when it comes down to it I prefer the nerd rock. I was never really exposed to too much popular music as a kid. One summer I went to camp and heard a friend’s They Might Be Giants CD (Apollo 18), and I was sold. I somehow went years without actually hearing the songs again, but through all that time I never forgot the haunting melody to the Fingertips song that went “Please pass the milk please” and my all time favorite, “I’m having a heart attack.”

Well, I’ve found a new obsession. Jonathan Coulton is a one-man nerd brigade. For one thing, he’s embraced the Creative Commons copyright system, which speaks to the decidedly nerdy interest in intellectual property. He gives away many of his songs for free on his website, and the rest can still be listened to for free at the site.

But of course the real attraction is the songs. He writes about things that affect us all, such as the Mandelbrot Set, a Creepy Doll, and of course the secret dancing life of a New York NPR newscaster. (The fascination with inside jokes is typically nerdy. Mary Bucholtz might say this is a status play, that knowing something someone else doesn’t is the equivalent of flexing a muscle. That might true…but figuring out an inside joke in a couple of seconds with the Power of Google allows a recovery of slide projector cred.)

Anyway, he’s worth a listen. Check out Re: Your Brains, or Skullcrusher Mountain. How can you not like a song from a mad scientist to his would-be sweetheart that contains a verse like this?

I made this half-pony half-monkey monster to please you
But I get the feeling that you don’t like it
What’s with all the screaming?
You like monkeys, you like ponies
Maybe you don’t like monsters so much
Maybe I used too many monkeys
Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?


3 Responses to Jonathan Coulton

  1. Dana says:

    I dunno, Rick, I think you left out a key indicator of Jonathon Coulton’s hardcore nerd appeal. Anyone who has dedicated fans making music videos for his songs entirely in World of Warcraft has clearly taken it to a whole new level. The “Code Monkey” and “re: Your Brains” ones are excellent. The “Creepy Doll” one is, well, creepy.

  2. poetloverrebelspy says:

    What other bands could be considered nerd rock? Off the top of my head, I would add The Magnetic Fields to the list.

  3. rickheineman says:

    Perhaps Moxy Fruvous, Cake, the Decemberists, and Weird Al? And of course specifically nerdy groups like the Minibosses (who cover video game songs). I feel like for me the category is defined mostly by quirky and/or reference driven lyrics. As for style, these groups are all over the map, and even within these groups there’s a wide degree of variation. (They Might Be Giants, for example, has used a very wide variety of styles). In fact, a love of playing with genre is probably one of the hallmarks…Magnetic Fields certainly does that.

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