We Want a Rock

My wife and I got to pondering the metaphorical underpinnings to They Might Be Giants' ninth track on Flood the other night. Admittedly, we were both weak from illness and consuming breakfast for dinner yet again. In that state such a quixotic task seemed reasonable.

"Everybody wants a rock to tie a piece of string around." The instrumentation is upbeat— a peppy accordion with a polka-meets-hoe-down feel— but there's a sinister undertone to the lyrics. Consider: everybody wants man's first weapon (a rock) to disguise with something soft (the string) and big prosthetic foreheads to cover up their 'real' heads which, I imagine, are under threat of being bashed in by rocks with strings around them. Furthermore, someone in town wants to burn down the playhouse belonging to those who want rocks to wind string around, and the playhouse owners are encouraged to crawl into a crib for safety. Since everyone wants a rock to wind string around it is safe to presume that the arsonist is merely jealous of those who've managed to purchase both rocks and strings. Needless to say, the world seems dark and inhospitable to everyone so long as they all desire the same destructive force.

The song is steeped with imagery from childhood: cribs, play houses, masks, and yes, the aforementioned rocks and strings. It's impossible to refute that rocks could have been the first toys to our earliest ancestors, and strings have a long history as play thing for children of many different ages. So perhaps We Want a Rock is simply an examination of the hurtful pranks and punishments that children can inflict on one another as they flesh out their own sense of right and wrong. Perhaps.

"Where was I? I forgot the point that I was making. . ." It strikes me that the wrapped rock could simply be a catalyst toward a greater understanding of the universe. Akin to drilling a hole in your forehead. I can't overlook that only a few songs later on Flood the following lines are sung during 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.
He should have opted for the bashing and freed himself when he had the opportunity.

1 comment:

Amy Louise Skorheim said...

And let's not forget "Minimum Wage," a song that perfectly encapsulates all the demoralizing drudgery of wage-slavery in two words, one sound effect, and ten seconds of awesome.