Three Might Be Duende

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song name Three Might Be Duende
artist They Might Be Giants
releases Join Us
year 2011
first played September 24, 2010 (4 known performances)
run time 2:25
sung by John Flansburgh, David Driver, and Michael Cerveris


  • John Flansburgh on the meaning of this song, in response to a Tumblr question on December 3, 2017:[1]
I would usually just say it’s a character song, but since you asked… I just listened to the song again and read the analysis section on the wiki (something I would normally avoid for fear of my mind exploding) but I would say it’s pretty much tuned in to the idea of a song. The song kind of revolved around the familiar phrases like “two is better than one” and “three is a magic number” and first hearing about the word duende. I can’t say am positive I understand the definition completely, but as it was explained to me, to many it means something beyond “charisma” or “allure” (which is the dictionary definition) but something more along the lines of the spirit or spark that inhabits performance or creative work. So it’s really kind of a dream lyric–the unlikely characters roll in to becoming some kind creative team together. The final, fourth character is essentially the grim reaper. He dismantles everything and takes apart all efforts, including whatever great things the other three might make.

The lyric is really overstuffed with images and some pretty kooky wordplay and I wouldn’t expect anyone to really take it in fully. There aren’t a lot of clues as to the intention behind it, but I am proud of just how vivid it is and that level of density was really the appeal of it.
  • A duende is a mythological creature that lends its name to a Spanish concept of emotion in art. The word "duende" has often been called the most difficult word to translate from Spanish.[2]
  • In June of 2010, over a year before Join Us was released, the band released a 13-second YouTube clip of Flans, Linnell, Marty, Pat Dillett, Yuki Takahashi, and Greg Thompson working on this song (at that time referred to by the working title "Duende") in Pat's new recording studio.
  • When this song was performed live prior to its release on Join Us, in the first stanza the lyrics "Realness like this / Hard to dismiss / Three Might Be Duende, he insists" were used in place of "Orpheum act / Faustian pact / Three Might Be Duende, in fact". The lines "Fueled by their fire / Lost in their minds" were later replaced by "Forged by their past / First in their class".
  • At its first live performance, Flansburgh read his lyric sheet from inside a copy of journalist John Hersey's book Hiroshima, an account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Song Themes

Animals, Colors, Clothes, Dreams, Fire, Music, Mythology, Non-John Vocals, Numbers, Not In Common Time, Plans, Problems With Liner Notes, Religion, Supernatural, Rhymes, Self-Reference, Sleep, Spanish, Temperature


Current Rating

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Three Might Be Duende is currently ranked #394 out of 1010. (117 wikians have given it an average rating of 8.45)