I was thinking some years ago of all the central, vital facts of human biology and psychology that were omitted entirely from most 19th century novels as a matter of course. I thought it would be interesting to write a novel in which something else, some other huge, central, tremendously important fact, was left out, or only alluded to with the most elliptical euphemisms. One idea I was toying with was a novel set in a world that humanity shares with another intelligent species which is taboo to mention, even though they live in the same cities, are vital for the functioning of society, etc. They wouldn’t be mentioned in the novel, so you would have to infer their existence from things in the novel that didn’t quite seem to make sense: from how the human society reported had been distorted around them.
I was vaguely thinking of having a go at this for NaNoWriMo this year, and it was in this spirit I watched Gigantic, a documentary about They Might Be Giants.
Pretty early in the documentary John and John leave their homes in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and take off for New York, where the rest of their story takes place. All the people interviewed seemed to me like New York sort of people. They sounded like New York people. They looked like New York people. Of course, I’ve never been there. The place where they were sitting to be interviewed was sitting in armchairs with water behind them, and a bit of New York skyline behind them.
There were occasional bits of footage from the time the documentary was made, showing TMBG on the Conan O’Brien show, and signing books in Lower Manhattan, and some of these had dates on the bottom ‘September 7th, 2001’; ‘Midnight, September 10th, 2001’. After they finished the book-signing in Lower Manhattan on September 10th, they went back to a bit where they were on stage; they did that song ‘Everyone’s your friend, in New York City', then they did that song ‘She’s an Angel’ with the line ‘If you’re following an angel, does that mean you have to throw your body off a building?’ Then they did some performance-arty stuff on stage talking about ‘negative space’ and taking instruments away from a song, and then notes away from the remaining guitar part, until nothing was left but the audience clicking their fingers along to it. Then, the end.
So, Gigantic is ostensibly about TMBG, but looked at another way it is really about September 11th, 2001. It is really a salute to a place, showing it at its brightest and best, as a place where people can realise their dreams, and create beautiful things, and change the world; and it has ended up being shaped around this huge, central, tremendously important event, which is never ever mentioned, but which colours the atmosphere of the whole film.