"Whistling In The Dark" as written by and John S./flansburgh Linnell....
A woman came up to me and said
"I'd like to poison your mind
With wrong ideas that appeal to you
Though I am not unkind"
She looked at me, I looked at something
Written across her scalp
And these are the words that it faintly said
As I tried to call for help

There's only one thing that I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you,
Be what you're like,
Be like yourself,
And so I'm having a wonderful time
But I'd rather be whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
There's only one thing that I like
And that is whistling in the dark

A man came up to me and said
"I'd like to change your mind
By hitting it with a rock," he said,
"Though I am not unkind."
We laughed at his little joke
And then I happily walked away
And hit my head on the wall of the jail
Where the two of us live today.

There's only one thing that I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you,
Be what you're like,
Be like yourself,
And so I'm having a wonderful time
But I'd rather be whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
There's only one thing that I like
And that is whistling in the dark

There's only one thing that I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you,
Be what you're like,
Be like yourself,
And so I'm having a wonderful time
But I'd rather be whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling in the dark
Whistling, whistling
Whistling in the dark

Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)

Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)

Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)
Whistling (whistling), whistling (whistling)
Dark (dark), Dark (dark)


Lyrics submitted by Irrational

"Whistling In the Dark" as written by John Linnell John Flansburgh

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Whistling In The Dark song meanings
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14 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentI want to add one thing. In my previous post I don't develop the idea of "not knowing" adequately.

    The idea is (meetjoeblack hints at this) "being lost" as actually being more in touch reality than those who think they know what they're doing, and why. Each stanza explores a unique take on this. In some ways, this might be post-modern, though it's arguable that the best art thru the ages touches on this theme; e.g., the myth of Eris, Macbeth, Thurber's "Let Your Mind Alone," etc.
    razajacon March 01, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationArt means different things to different people.

    For me, I saw the man in the second stanza making fun of the words of the woman in the first. She is your usual person who values comfort over truth. She says, "I'd like to poison your mind, with wrong ideas that appeal to you though I am not unkind." She is compassionate, and would rather you feel good than know the truth.

    The man values truth over comfort. He says "I'd like to change your mind, by hitting it with a rock though I am not unkind." which is recognized as a joke in the next line. To him, giving someone false information, even if comfortable, is harmful. Like hitting someone with a rock.

    The sex differences are significant. I am sure they were intentional. Compassion-over-truth is a feminine trait; the reverse is a masculine trait. The authors' subtle sexism is evident in that the feminine attitude is regarded as laughable.

    There's a lot of meaning packed into these lyrics, that is lost on the casual listener. It's a great song.

    EverVigilanton January 30, 2011   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningIts funny, but I think this song means the exact opposite of what I used to think it meant. That's because I only really listened to the chorus. It sounds like the narrator is saying, "Be you, be what you're like, be like yourself" but he's not saying that. The words are actually being said by the woman in the first verse who wants to poison his mind with wrong ideas that appeal to him. She wants to comfort him but the narrator does not want to be comforted. In his mind at the beginning of the song, poison is a synonym for comfort. What she actually says verbatim is not known, the author is only telling us what was faintly written across her forehead... meaning that he could tell the underlying meaning of her words by her tone and expression. He then tried to call for help because he could see that he was about to get some awful advice that would ensnare and poison his mind. But before he can get away, she has hypnotized him with the message in the chorus.
    She only knows how to do one thing well and you should do what you know how to do well. She's preaching self acceptance, but self acceptance can be a dangerous thing. She's resigned herself to thinking that she can only do what she is good at although we never get good at anything without first being bad at it. The only thing she knows how to be well is "be you, be what you're like, be like yourself". There's an important subtlty to her message. She didn't say, "Be yourself", she said, "Be like yourself". Don't change, be like you are right now. But "be yourself" is different because it offers the freedom to still be you but also to be a different and better you.
    The next part of the chorus, "And I'm having a wonderful time but I'd rather be whistling on the dark" implies that whatever she happens to be doing right at that second is enjoyable but it is also difficult, frightening, and challenging... three things that she doesn't like. Instead of challenging, she'd rather be living in an unchallenged narrow universe. Whistling in the dark, in this instance, is just accepting willful ignorance while shutting out all new ideas.
    In the second verse, the narrators mind has been poisoned and the man wants to change his mind by hitting him with a rock. Obviously, this is a metaphor for being challenged. The rock is a new concept or idea that could be shocking or unsettling, even though it is truthful. It is a hard reality and difficult to accept. He has already been poisoned by the woman in the first verse so he laughs off the suggestion by the man as a joke and walks away because he no longer wants to be challenged. As he walks away he hits on the wall of the jail. The expression, "Hitting your head against the wall" means doing the same thing over and over again without any change. The wall he's hitting his head against is in a jail in which he's locked himself because, like the woman in the first verse, he's imprisoned by ignorance. Now when the chorus is sung, it is the narrators voice. He has fully swallowed what the woman said and has no hope of escape or personal growth.
    So, while initially, this song sounds like it's comforting, it is actually a challenge to expand our minds and be open to new experiences before it's too late and we imprison ourselves in ignorance.
    UncleKurton August 18, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"There's only one thing
    that I know how to do well
    and I've often been told that you only can do
    what you know how to do well
    and that's be you,
    be what you're like,
    be like yourself"

    Probably one of my favorite lines ever...it's pretty much my motto...be true to yourself.
    geekiekon July 02, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI was informed by a member of an older generation that "whistling in the dark" means roughly not knowing what you're doing. I don't know if anybody else is aware of this, but it came as an interesting bit of news to me.
    windmills221bon April 28, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commentnot really news.

    it can also be an action you do when you are scared or have no idea what's going on. a sort of comfort mechanism.

    which is sort of related to what you said.
    scheisseon June 13, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYou're both right! It's a candy mint AND a breath mint!

    The one poster is correct: "Whistling in the dark" refers to not knowing what the hell you're doing. I think this song is a little koan-like. I mean, if you reject the standard mechanisms for establishing some kind of meaning in your life--becoming a jointer (first stanza), or even just being a regular guy who can give and take a joke (last)--you still have to address the existential question. Why are we here, and why is there No Exit?
    razajacon September 30, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAs is the genius of the two Johns, all of their songs are deep enough to see it just about any way you like. But to a casual listener the tragedy lies in them just passing the songs off as crazy lyrics for crazy sake. A problem found in a lot of things post modern.
    meetjoeblackon June 04, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn the John Waters film A Dirty Shame "whistling in the dark" is used as an epression for performing cunnilingus. Even though I seriously doubt that that is the meaning of the expression in this song it's pretty amusing to interpret it that way.
    Cosbynauton March 11, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"ignorance is bliss"
    Mr. Baconon April 06, 2007   Link

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