What does Pencil Rain mean?

They Might Be Giants: Pencil Rain Meaning

Tagged: War | Accordion [suggest]
Album cover for Pencil Rain album cover

Pencil Rain Lyrics

The possible dream
Finale of seem
The moment that some call eternal that some call insane
Now helmets on each head awaiting the first lead
The pageant is named the pencil rain
The infantry stands
And holds out its hands
The marshal's...

  1. anonymous
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    Mar 18th 2019 !⃝

    Those who, like They Might Be Giants, lived through the nuclear war scare of the early 1980's know very well what this song is about. And ni, it is not about toy soldiers or test taking, no matter how fun those interpretations are.

  2. anonymous
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    Apr 20th 2012 !⃝

    I think this song refers to an air attack. Pencil here refers to missiles. Missiles are shaped like pencils, with their pointed tips.

  3. anonymous
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    Dec 14th 2009 !⃝

    I like the ideas about the actual pencils and toy army men. That would be typical TMBG double-meaning stuff. But there's definitely a shout out to Jimi Hendrix's 1983/Merman anti-war song with the words; "So battered and torn" and "giant pencil and lipstick-tube shaped things" in it too.

  4. anonymous
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    Jun 12th 2007 !⃝

    It has been suggested that Pencil Rain describes the military encroachment by the United States on Native American lands. An image of a battle is painted from the perspective of the U.S.

    The pencil rain is an image of arrows raining from the sky onto the U.S. Troops. This fits the line, "The thunderous clatter of splintering wood and lives that are claimed," which tells of arrows striking soldiers. In this case the reference to "number two" would have a double meaning: The #2 pencil, and that the soldiers are looking out for "you." That is to say, these soldiers believed that they were defending the American people from whom they believed to be savages.

    The flaw in this interpretation is that it seems inconsistent with the view TMBG has regarding the so-called Indian Wars. Another of their songs, "Piece of Dirt" can be interpreted as a diatribe by Native Americans, forced onto small reservations. Perhaps the band could see the conquest of Native American lands sympathetically through the soldiers' eyes as well.

  5. tiggstah
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    Apr 24th 2007 !⃝

    It is a song about little green plastic army men and pencils, probably a little kid playing army. Representing the real thing of course, the waiting for the start of the war. The first shot, maybe the famous "shot heard round the world."

    I just thought pencil = lead : bullet. but, no, he actually means pencils. It's a kid playing army throwing pencils like bullets and missiles. What made this clear to me is:

    The marshal's binoculars focus and skyward they train
    They're searching the yonder blue
    They look out for number two

    I always just thought number two was the next best army, but no. number 2 pencils. Duh I feel like an idiot.

  6. Asherael
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    Feb 6th 2007 !⃝

    This song is about taking the SAT. Students lined up, each with a pencil, being watched as if through binoculars for cheating, then commencing to fill in little circles with a furious desparation, some will fall and some will go to college.

  7. anonymous
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    Dec 1st 2006 !⃝

    I think the literal interpretation is throwing pencils at a bunch of little green army men to knock them over.
    "The moment that some call eternal that some call insane"
    - a grown man constantly playing army is probably crazy.
    "The infantry stands And holds out its hands"
    - the army figures are stiff and don't move.

    However, as a metaphor for war, it's devastating. The soldiers wait helplessly to be slaughtered by overwhelming forces. I mean, they can't even defend themselves against pencils falling from the sky:
    "The thunderous clatter of splintering wood and lives that are claimed"

    "And none who have witnessed all
    Can think of a nobler cause than
    perishing in the pencil rain"

    This is clearly a satire on the glorification of war. NOBLE CAUSE?! They're dying for nothing!

  8. anonymous
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    Jul 27th 2006 !⃝

    I think this is one of the more straightforward songs by TMBG. The verses describe the image of a battlefield, with the only real symbol being the pencil. The graphite core of a pencil is commonly called "lead," and a "rain of lead" is a common expression for the onslaught of bullets in an infantry fight. So put simply, it's about combat. It may be about specific historical time period, as "field marshall" and the raised hand could refer to a position and hand signals common in warfare prior to and during the american civil war. The exception to this being that helmets were not seen during this era, so it's most likely just a description of combat in general.

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