The Hidden Meaning Behind, Underneath and in the Pocket of 'These Are Not My Pants'

These Are Not My Pants is the recurring anthem at the end of Five Iron Frenzy's (FIF) first EP, Quantity is Job 1. Labelled a 'rock opera' These Are Not My Pants is made up of eight tracks of vastly different genres, from rock to jazz to weird.

It's also a sly comment on American imperialism. I divulge.

The song's meaning, formed by an overarching narrative (hence the subtitle 'rock opera'), starts with a Latin song of love as the singer cries out, "Aieee... I love my pantalones". The singer, a citizen of South America, shows innocence in their song and their love for their pants, a symbol of freedom throughout the rock opera.

All is calm, all is nice.

Then the pianist comes into play and the second track [Piano] displays the American imperialist who is content with what he has, namely a big chunk of North America named the United States. Yet, upon spying the pants of the Latin singer, the pianist sings a song of want and states "man I wish I had those pants!", even though they admit that "those weren't (sic) my pants".

The song concludes with the pianist using their piano skills (piano skills here a symbol of 'democracy') to convince the wearer of the pants to come over "cause I (the pianist) love you". Whether this "you" is the innocent Latin wearer of the pants is not certain and the pianist could just as easily be saying that they love the pants. They are torn, much like the 'noble' imperialist who thinks they are doing the right thing by introducing 'democracy' to South America when in fact they are just furthering their own interests.

[The cover image for this post. A These Are Not My Pants version of the famous The Treachery of Images.]

The piano (democracy) is dropped in the next song [Country] for a guitar and a croning country voice. While dropping that, they have managed to pick up the pants, stealing them from the Latino owner and yet exclaiming that they don't know how they got here. Perhaps it was manifest destiny that caused the U.S. to prop up dictators in Latin American countries?

By [Rock] the singer has changed their tune, trying to reconcile with the former Latin wearer of the pants by trying to find their owner - "are these Bobby's, or Timmy's, or Billy's pants?" — with no success. Rock, a type of youthful rebellion, represents the response of America's younger generations to the imperialism forwarded by old white men. Their frustration at being unable to change much is shown by their 'guttural screams', as a lyric website describes a line of the song.

Their shown by their 'guttural screams'.

[Jazz] is a slight digression, commenting on America's internal history of slavery and racism whereas, compared to the Latin American who has had their metaphorical 'pants' (land/freedom) stolen from them, the African-American has been stolen from their pants (lands/freedoms). The singer admits, in a style of music that is synonymous with many famous African-American singers, that "I ain't wearing no pants". Like the Latino, the Jazz singer is without their pants.

The [Reggae] extension of the song calls for a "revolution of the pants", and is perhaps a look back at the Cuban revolutions led by Fidel Castro but really it is something which doesn't quite fit into this interpretation of the song. Okay, let's scrap that idea...

...And try again.

Like the Latino, the Jazz singer is without their pants.

These Are Not My Pants, labelled a 'rock opera' by its creators, Five Iron Frenzy, is a comment on fate and our struggles with it — do we accept it or not?

[Latin] is a singer who has accepted their fate ("I love my pantalones"). [Piano] is torn between love for a girl and accepting their fate, symbolised by the confusion as to whether they love the girl or the pants (fate). [Country] refuses the pants (fate) he has been given and is "filling up with fear/cause these are not my pants". [Rock] is in the same boat, albeit one that rocks, and is trying to push their pants (fate) onto someone else. [Jazz] has gone mad and is going without pants (fate)....

That interpretation broke down quicker than the last one.

Hmmm... Okay...

There are eight tracks in the These Are Not My Pants Rock Opera. The EP they are on was released on the Third of November 1998. November is the 11th month of the year. 11-3=8. 1998-1990=8. FIF really likes the number 8. Hold on... three 8s. Three corners to a triangle. That could only mean....

Pizza! Pizza slices come in triangles.

Three corners to a triangle. That could only mean....

So These Are Not My Pants is FIF's convoluted way of telling us that they like to have their pizza sliced into eight pieces. Maybe. Well. Yeah nah.

Perhaps a famous and entirely unrelated essay called Against Interpretation could shine light on the issue.

Written by Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation forwards the argument that interpreting a piece of art does more harm than good. Sontag compares the act and result of interpretation to be like the careless excavation of an artifact (get it? 'art'-ifact?). The artifact is understood but the act of sourcing meaning from it damages it.

The act of sourcing meaning from an artwork damages it.

Sontag's main concern is that we have become so keen on 'interpreting' things, drawing content from it, that the form of the work becomes secondary. That the meanings and metaphors we draw from a text become more important than the text itself, giving us a "shadow world of meanings" rather than the actual thingamajig itself.

So I am sorry, but what I've done in this essay is ruin These Are Not My Pants. I've detracted from the sensory, crazy experience of listening to the rock opera by excavating the lyrics for material, just to make a point about what not to do.

What not to do is this: draw meaning (content) from every pore of an artist's words, brush strokes, montages, beats etc. If we do that then the art work is no longer the words, brush strokes, montages and beats but what they mean.

Sontag is trying to get at the core of what art is about: the artwork itself.

Next time you read a book or look at a picture or watch a film or listen to a song, don't get bogged down trying to understand and interpret it, enjoy it.


Sidenote: I love when autocorrect corrects the word thingamajig for me.

A good quote from Sontag: "Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted and proceeds from there".

Photo of my Week

Where I post an image that sums up an aspect of my week.

This image was actually made over a week ago at Yealering. This lake pretty well marks the start of the Avon River and is a fair bit fuller after the rains of the previous months. We visited it before those rains and suffice to say it's a lot nicer now.

Perhaps this image doesn't sum up an aspect of my week as I would like it too, but I can do that in a few words. I turned 22 last Saturday (hence the lack of a weekly blog post). I've just arrived back in Perth for the start of the university semester, leaving Narrogin behind and very keen to begin my honours project.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to read an essay on selfies.

Joel Gibson

Read more posts by this author.

Perth, Western Australia


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