They Might Be Giants: We Want A Rock Meaning
Song Released: 1990
We Want A Rock Lyrics
The point that I was making
I said if I was smart that I would
Save up for a piece of string
And a rock to wind the string around
Everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around
Everybody wants a rock
anonymous Sep 6th, 2007 9:12am report
This song is about the value of playfulness.
The rock to tie a piece of string around and the prosthetic foreheads embody the playfulness. Those who want to burn the playhouse down are trying to prevent playfulness, but everyone, including those who want to burn the playhouse down, in their heart of hearts wants to be playful.
The playhouse is a "play place" that is being threatened by those who dislike playfulness, and the crib is another play place that is a refuge. The imagery of helping the babies crawl from the playhouse to the crib depicts the babies as a community who understand the value of playfulness, which is being threatened by an outside force that does not understand or accept that playfulness.
The narrator specifically supports the value of playfulness in the lines "...if I was smart I would Save up for a piece of string..." and "If I were a carpenter ... I'd buy a big prosthetic forehead...". Furthermore, since it is clear that both this song and in general the work of They Might Be Giants embodies the playfulness this song encourages, it is likely that this is the intended interpretation of this song.
I also think this song might relate to religion, perhaps as some kind of mockery.
A lot of TMBG's stuff seems to be about delusional behavior, and my interpretation has always been that the playhouse is representative of organised religion, that the masses simply crawl inside the biblical 'crib',a false prop from which they can hide from real life. Those who are trying to burn the playhouse down represent the perceived attacks from other people on traditional religious practices, religions have always felt threatened in some way throughout the ages. These ancient practices are 'played out' without real value, like a school nativity, just going through the motions that a thousand people have done before without any real reflection on meaning.
Here we come to the fake foreheads- any Joe Shmo can spout some kind of religious musings on morality or life etc and sound profound merely because it is biblical, therefore apparently immune to criticism. But the tendency of religious representatives to evade really probing questions that seem to rock the boat shows that their insight is largely shallow, a fake prosthetic intellect that can replace the actual one that might lie beneath if only they used it.
And what is the rock and the string that they wind around it? A meaningless pastime that everybody feels obliged to desire, a going-through-the-motions of common religious practices to which there is no actual meaning.
I don't pretend to know if the Johns are theist or atheist, I think this song is merely poking fun at those who cling to tradition without real enquiry or reason, other than that everybody else seems to be doing it, because it is the 'right thing to do'.
anonymous Apr 15th, 2018 4:32pm report
It talks about the people.
anonymous Jan 30th, 2012 1:05pm report
World War Two:
The string refers to the thinning resistance against Nazi Germany on the European Mainland. They wanted a 'rock' (strong foundation) to 'tie the string around' (use as a rallying point). The rock refers to Soviet Russia or the U.S.
"Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around"
Throwing the crib doors wide refers to the concentration camps, with wide gates that seemed inviting. The Nazis let the people crawl inside the camps and the ovens. Someone in this town refers to the Nazis or specifically Hitler, who is -in a sense- trying to burn the playhouse down, destroy the livelihood of people and the world. Using the word 'burn' then refers to the previous line about the incineration chambers. Wanting to stop those wanting a 'rock' was Hitler trying to crush the failing European resistance.
"Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads
Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads"
This verse refers to the de-humanization of everyone in World War Two, people did not act like people, they wore "prosthetic foreheads"
"Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the foreheads down"
The post-Ww2 efforts to re-humanize the world and stop hate, trying to burn down the fake face of humanity, to get back to the real humans; the pre-ww2 humans.
The opening sentence about forgetting, represents how many people are already forgetting the horrors of the Holocaust,
some even deny that the event happened!
This is just my opinion and im only a middle-schooler so please dont hate, and post only constructive responses. Hating is bad, as we learned from World War Two.
anonymous Nov 9th, 2011 11:32pm report
I know what the lyrics mean, because I read an interview about it, but before I read that, I thought it meant:
Everyone wants a strong thing (or person) in their life to which to tether themselves, so that they can go out into the world and do whatever new/different/experimental/challenging things they can think of, knowing that they can always get back to a place that's safe at the end of the day. No matter how free and independent you are as a person, you still want a rock to wind a piece of string around.
anonymous Jun 23rd, 2011 6:55am report
I think that this song is directly telling the story of Jesus.
A prosthetic forehead is exactly what you need to protect yourself from a crown of thorns.
A rock to wind a string around is a reference to either some christian/jewish custom around the times, or a more direct analogy to a bible verse, or the idea of Christ being "a rock" that people must hold to. I'd love it someone knew this answer.
I'm not religious in that sense, so I don't think I'm projecting my own beliefs onto this.
anonymous May 18th, 2011 5:42am report
The album Flood is full of parody, and pastiche - a kind of 'white album' for its times...
In my opinion, this song was conceived as a kind of word-collage in the style of late 80s REM.
Around that time, people were getting heavily into Stipe's (usually) indecipherable lyrics, and layering them with meaning. Most of them were cleverly strung together phrases that suggested a mood, or a 'feel' to the listener, but were difficult to pin down completely
I wonder if TMBG have just said to themselves here, 'let's write an REM song' - the instrumentation and the pseudo-'significant' wordplay suggest this to me.
'Everybody-wants-a-rock-to-wind-a-piece-of-string-around' would sound great in Stipe's voice circa 1990. It also, in the process, gently gets a rise out of anyone who took circa. 1990 REM a touch too seriously.
Whatever - it's a great song.
anonymous May 16th, 2011 5:23pm report
I have a different take..
The song is about how difficult it is to make a living in the music industry. The "crib door" is a door to a music venue. The people that want to burn the playhouse down are record execs and the like that will only sign pop artists. The $7 is again a reference to the difficulty of making a dollar in the industry.
The prosthetic forehead part is a reference to the stupid artists and acts that make it big because of low-brow execs (get it?).
In the end, TMBG just wants to rock--and make a living doing it...
anonymous May 16th, 2011 5:07pm report
Some interesting ideas here, but I think it is much simpler. "We want a rock" sounds like "We wanna rock". Meaning we want to rock out to music.
The "crib door" is the door to a music venue. The people who want to "burn the playhouse down" are people in the music industry that make it hard for new artists to break into the business. The $7 is a mention to how difficult it is to make money in the industry.
The part with the prosthetic forehead is a metaphor for pop music and the narrow mindedness that record companies have to new types of music.
anonymous May 11th, 2011 5:01pm report
'Throw the crib door wide/let the people crawl inside' may be a reference to the hand-gesture rhyme 'here's the church, here's the steeple/open the door and here are the people'.
anonymous Jul 2nd, 2010 7:10am report
Rock to wind a string around - Yo-Yo
Prosthetic Forehead on my real head - Baseball Cap
anonymous Jan 14th, 2010 1:05am report
Doesn't anyone remember the "pet rock" fad? Or been to a Star Trek convention? The whole point is that those who use their imagination to have pretend pets (these days it applies to kamagochi etc. as well) and who like to dress up and pretend to be Klingons or whatever are persecuted by those who dislike imagination and "want to burn the playhouse down". The ones who insist on 'realism' in TV shows and books and who decry anything out of the ordinary as 'escapism'. But everybody, really, is imaginative, even those who are nominally against it, even they are still putting on a 'front'.
TMBG are very playful in their songs. Look at the way they take serious subjects and present them in an upbeat way, they sing about divorce and racism and injustice in a cheerful manner.
anonymous Jan 9th, 2010 1:46pm report
My basic interpretation:
I think that this song is all about people wanting to own and display status symbols, such as owning property and displaying that you have higher education.
Having a rock to tie your piece of string around, imho, refers to owning property. Everyone wants to be able to say "I own this rock. This land is mine." Tying the string around the rock refers to claiming the property.
The big prosthetic forehead is about wanting to appear smarter, that you can buy this appearance of smartness by buying extra levels of education. We all know people who will flaunt that they are PhDs, right?
I agree about "hammering on the piglet" referring to breaking open a piggybank,
Throw the crib door wide refers to people being childish, and "someone in this town wants to burn their playhouse/foreheads down" refers to someone who is challenging or threatening the status quo.
anonymous Dec 12th, 2009 12:44pm report
I saw it as a metaphor for Marriage. The "Rock" would be a diamond, the "string" would be the band around the finger. If you look at the chorus:
"Throw the crib door wide,
let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Wanna burn the playhouse down"
Said "Crib" and "Playhouse" may be the church they'd be getting married in. People are regularly known to be crying at weddings, crying is normally associated with children. Burning it down, would then be wanting the wedding stopped.
anonymous Aug 14th, 2009 8:33am report
I dunno about the larger meanings, but it seems a couple of the allusions are to Kung Fu movies, here. The only time I've seen a "big prosthetic forehead" was in The Seven Samurai, and when I saw them burn the playhouse down in "Once Upon a Time in China" I really began to wonder. I dunno: any movie feature a weapon involving a rock tied around a string?
anonymous Mar 2nd, 2009 3:32am report
The only song TMBG seriously criticizes Religion is 'Kiss Me Son of God' any other song featuring a criticism of religion is only perceived.
'A string to tie to a rock' I see as 'Everyone wants to connect some meaning to the world'. Of course, this probably an interpretation that only works for me personally, as I have no idea where John got the idea to make the second refrain to be about prosthetic foreheads...
Either way, I don't think a religious interpretation is the right way to go about this, there simply isn't enough here to narrow it down to that conclusion. It's a song which is talking about something everybody wants to do, but someone is stopping them. Parallelisms of any kind can be drawn from such a brief description.
anonymous Jul 17th, 2007 7:35am report
"If I were a carpenter
I'd hammer on my piglet
I'd collect the seven dollars..."
Breaking open the piggy bank...
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