Interpretations:We Want A Rock

From This Might Be A Wiki

The "If I were a carpenter" part is almost definitely a reference to the 1966 Bobby Darin album If I Were a Carpenter.

We have, from the lyricists' own lips, in an interview "Sleeping Giants? Never," in the Houston Chronical March 5, 2008:

"Uh, there's a little bit of stream of consciousness to writing that one. This sounds really abstract, but in order to begin wrapping a piece of string around itself, you need something to start with. Like a rock. I guess you can make a ball of string starting from nothing if you just make a tiny loop at the end of the string. But it seems theoretically impossible. It's a metaphor for getting started."

So, it's a metaphor for getting started. --Christina 19:40, 6 March 2008 (UTC)

That's really cool. I like how at the beginning, it's as if the narrator is floating around in a nebula waiting for something to start this process - because in order for anything to move, it needs some stimulus. "Where was I? I forgot. I said if I was smart, that I would save up..." Thus the chain (string?) can begin. Though the prosthetic forehead mention is still confusing. ~ magbatz 03:30, 15 May 2008 (UTC)

I feel it would be obvious that this song is about the Cold War.

The two things that people "want" - a rock to wind a string around, and a prosthetic foreheads - are truly bizarre. While the narrator acts like the reasons why these things should be wanted is obvious when really they are not.

Then a massive threat - someone who wants to destroy all the... meaningless... things everyone likes. Now here comes the hook of my interpretation: someone wants to destroy the rocks/foreheads, yet supposedly everyone wants them. Thus the paradox between the "Free World" claiming that communist nations' peoples all wanted capitalism, while claiming that communists wanted to destroy capitalism. This works both ways, with communists saying capitalists want communism and whatnot.

The infant reference is also about how both sides of the conflict treated their citizens with a patronizing paternal attitude, talking down to them.

Finally, the "hammering on my piglet" remark is ingenious. Piglet is a character from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh series, and a perfect example of art and literature becoming commercialized beyond recognition. Of course this must be a Piglet piggy bank.

Other minor metaphorical references: the hammer of the hammer and sickle, the fact that ancient currency was rocks tied upon strings, etc.

The point is I WIN

I think that it is a song about being forced to grow up, as a child you are able to be happy with simple pleasures like tieing a piece of string around a rock, or putting something silly on your head, but as you grow older, things are changed and you are no longer able to keep your silly little playthings. -FOXhound

I think this song is about jealousy. The narrator saves up for a piece of string and a rock to tie the string around. Other people have string, but they aren't smart enough to think to buy a rock. They get jealous and act like babies ("Throw the crib door wide/let the people crawl inside") - Juttman

It's about throwing a bear hang. Up in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota you have to hang your food so the black bears don't get at it. You tie the rope around a rock and throw it over the tree branch you want. You have to find a rock with lots of good angles so the rope doesn't fall off. Hence, the rock to tie a string around. --erika

The "anonymous" guy who said "I thought this song was a play on "We want "To" Rock" made something click in my mind- If anyone here knows the history of Rock and Roll, they know that the parents of the white kids didn't want the kids listening to "black" music because black people were "inferior" and everything- so, basically, we want TO rock, we want A rock? my theory is basically the same as everyone else's, only sort of flipped. Instead of them wanting it, but the play-house-burn-downers (if you will; or just "The Man")not wanting them to have it; The Man doesn't want them to have it so they want it. Anonymous numbah whatever it is by now.

This one is simple. It's about needing love (awwwwwwww). But its true. Everbody wants love. the "crib" analogy is saying that all adults are really baby's needing love. And they try to hurt people and "burn the playhouse down" - and they want to stop the one;s who want love - but deep inside, "everybody wants a rock to wind a piece of string around." - sappy but true

Yeah, I thought that this was a play on the ambiguity of "we wanna rock" as a statement. I bet the idea for the song stemmed from that idea, wanting things with very little purpose. --Ed

I thought this song was a play on "We Want To Rock". However, I can't explain the "prosthetic foreheads" and "crib". --anonymous

"a rock to wind a sting around" would imply a yo-yo. componded with the fact that the yo-yo was originally a weapon everyone would want one as a method of self-defense. - empallin

I think the reason why the purpose for having a rock or prosthetic forehead is not readily apparent is because there isn't one. They are just examples of stupid things that, for some reason, catch on. Even arson will not stop the masses, who are mesmerized like babies. --another anonymous

I second the first and second anonymites. This is a genre parody song, like "I'm Def". ... Actually, having heard it a few more times on random play, I think maybe it is further than just parodying fads; it is parodying things that "everybody wants". Let the people into your little crib, because someone wants to take their prosthetic foreheads away. How crazy is that? Everybody wants prosthetic foreheads! What a lunatic! --ThirdAnonymous

Ah, by the way, in case you're as dense as I am, "if I were a carpenter I'd hammer on my piglet, I'd collect the seven dollars" refers to breaking open a piggy bank to buy the forehead. --ThirdAnonymous

As another dedicated anonymous TMBG fan, I think the "prosthetic forehead" refers to a hat. A really popular faddish hat, mind you. --Fourth anonymite

Me? I thought 'rocks and string' was a suicide reference. You know, tie yourself to a rock and throw it in the river as a weight. Prosthetic foreheads - call me a geek, but that made me think of Star Trek and their propensity to give a human a prosthetic forehead and call them an alien. --The Fifth Anonymite

When I lived in Hawaii there was lots of news about Sumo wrestling and it turns out there's a height restriction that shorter wrestlers would overcome by getting head implants to make them taller. Not quite prosthetic, but the only other explanation I can come up with for "prosthetic forehead" besides a hat or nonsense. -- scragz

I've always seen this song as people's desire to own things. The pleasure that we take in acquisition for its own sake. We believe that a new car or yo-yo or plastic surgery will make us into happier people. I was recently listening to this on my brand-new MP3 player and unfortunately the irony was not lost on me. --Heinz Kiosk

My belief is that this is a reference to how in various schools across the country, some event will precipitate a fad of all the kids bringing yo-yos or wearing baseball caps to school, causing a severe backlash from the administration and goofy zero-tolerance rules like "bring a yo-yo to school and get suspended for a week." (Of course, when this album came out in 1990, yo-yos and baseball caps were about the extent of the behavioral problems which most schools had to deal with...) --fluffy

Heinz K has come the closest to my interpretation - I, with several other people I know, reached the conclusion that this song is about religion. Everybody wants a rock (a solid foundation, faith for example) to wind a piece of string (their own insecurites) around, thus anchoring themselves more firmly to earth. The song is obviously portraying these people in a negative light, treating them as small children who, when a crib is flung open, crawl INside, rather than out, as would most actual babies. The 'Someone in this town' is some outside menace to religion, either Atheism, Reason, or some other religion, but 'everybody' (ie, all the people of the original religion, who see themselves as the only true people, thus excluding others from everybody) is strong in their faith, and won't let the invader in. The forheads bit, is, in my opinion, a comment on how religion lets people feel justified even when doing completely ridiculous things, because everyone is doing it, and under the sanction of god no less. The forheads section may also refer to the disguising nature of religion, covering people's true selves with a veneer of righteousness. --- Personman

This song, to me at least, is talking about conformity. Everybody wants to be like everybody else. You guys have bad grammar.-thegooddoctor

++ I always thought it was about people (possibly young people) who want frivolous, silly things because they are popular (for no good reason). "They" wanting to stop them from having them could be parents who realize the silliness of these materials. -D

Could it possibly be about how humans can be so easily amused by the most mundane things? Winding a piece of string around a rock sounds like a thing I'd do if I had both objects and was completely bored. And, I know from experience that wearing a prosthetic forehead can be a very exciting experience. So much that other people I've run into want to wear the forehead on their real head. -Groucho Marx

WHAT? anyway when ever i hear this song i think of Linnell with a giant forehead.

"Prosthetic foreheads" may refer the masks from children's Halloween costumes. Halloween costumes, sold in drug stores at the time, came with a thin plastic mask of a character's face. For some reason, most of these masks had very high "hairlines" and as a result, the plastic foreheads dominated half of the design. (would keep with the childhood/toy theme)

I interpret this song as being about the desire of society to limit liberty. The two things that "everybody wants" in this song are "a rock to wind a piece of string around" and "prosthetic foreheads on their real heads", which I see as symbols of weapons and personal expression, respectively. In the song we see people wanting to "burn the playhouse down", an example of society attempting to regulate artistic expression.

But I think the final clue for me is "throw the crib door wide, let the people crawl inside". In working to create rules in society against weapons, against certain forms of expression, we create systems in which we attempt to protect ourselves, like infants. The people are throwing their own crib doors wide, crawling, not as free adults, but as children of a system they created, into the prison-like symbol of a crib.


This song is about sex.

-- anonymous

About the prosthetic foreheads: it was sort of a running joke on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" that every alien race they encountered was just like humans (for budget reasons) except they had some kind of ridges or bumps on their foreheads, (so they would look obviously "alien"). Those bumps and ridges were done by means of gluing rubber appliances to the actors' faces; thus, prosthetic foreheads on their real heads.

-- anonymous

I think this song is about freedom of expression. Like the Fifth Anonymite, the prosthetic foreheads made me think of Star Trek--namely, Star Trek conventions at which many people dress in costume. Our culture has quite a lot of scorn for geekiness, so there would be a lot of people wanting to stop the ones with prosthetic foreheads on their heads.


I think that far from being nonsense, and like (in my humble opinion) a lot of other TMBG songs, this song's lyrics were specifically written to defy interpretation. Every interpretation thus far has one line that just won't mesh. --Sir Gimp of Baath

I think it's the opposite of society today: We want large, complicated things, but they only want a rock to tie a string around: something even a baby could do. --The Mu

I think that rhe rock, the string, and the prosthetic forheads represent all things people like to do, that are not alowed, in some places or any(drugs, rock music, skateboarding) and the person who is trying to burn the playhouse down is the government. The crib is somewere hidden where people can do things that they want to do without being pushed around. Funny song- drworm 818/ if you want to talk about TMBG on IM be my guest.

A prosthetic forehead would be useful for someone who doesn't really want to think. --Nehushtan 17:38, 6 Mar 2006 (CST)

I thought large foreheads represented intelligence, hence wanting to artifically augment one's forehead. Generally, I do think this song is about bandwagon-jumping, and then the backlash that often results. It kind of makes me think of the music man too, in terms of the backlash against the young folks who just want to be able to have a good time at the pool hall. -E

I see this song as everybody wants the necessities (could be love, represented by a rock and a string), but everybody wants, well, what people would sometimes call wants. Wants and needs. The needs are the rock and string, could be love, as stated before, but eveyrbody wants those dang fake forheads too, 'cause they're something everybody has. The end. =) --Lemita 18:29, 9 Apr 2006 (CDT)

I think this song is about people who make up fads. This guy is making up all these things that people think are cool. But, there's this one person who thinks it's annoying and/or stupid and wants to stop it. (I know I'm probably repeating someone else's so...)- Monkiepeople99

I think Personman has a good point, but allow me to suggest my own ambiguous claim- just roll with it. I actually have 2 theories, so here they are:

1. Like Personman said, a rock represents something solid and reliable (he used the example of faith). The string represents just the opposite- mankind's emotions and insecurities. People wrap their insecurities around their "rocks", which just happen to be their material possessions. Everyone clings to their belongings, because they make people happy about what they have (the things you own end up owning you, and if you dont understand what im saying, watch Fight Club). So we have these possessions, which Linnell calls 'rocks' to stress their meaninglessness in life. The crib represents the prisons that people make for themselves by relying on material goods- they're slaves to what they own. Someone (be it a TMBG Tyler Durden) wants to burn the playhouse down (a lot like blowing up credit card buildings) to set people free from their obsession.

2. The song is about society and how easily people are influenced by those around them. Note: the title is "Everybody WANTS a rock" but how sure are we that everybody NEEDS a rock? rocks and strings are meaningless pieces of junk, but everyone's winding their string around their rocks, so naturally, the narrator wants to do it too. He even thinks hes being smart by saving up for string and a rock, but he's only following the crowd. The crib is any figurative cage that all the people crawl inside. Someone with common sense wants to break everyone free from their conformist ways, "but everybody wants a rock to wind a piece of string around". in other words, its pointless to try having people think for themselves. they'll just keep winding string around rocks 'cuz all the cool kids are doing it. Let's not even get started on the stupid prostetic foreheads they're all wearing.

-Mike (blueshotgun017)

P.S.- I don't know if anyone said this yet, but i thought of something that agrees with Personman's religion theory. The opening line to the 2nd verse is "if i were a carpenter...". Now, who from a famous religion was a carpenter? Answer: Jesus.

I think this song is from a socially liberal or possibly even a libertarian perspective (the difference being issues such as gun control and casinos and such). In my opinion "everyone" conformed or not, are the good guys. And I saw the rock as two random things that we all should have a right to do, but authority says we cant, often without a reason, or with unsound reasons to back it up. For example my school recently banned wearing anything over your head (with the exception of religious gear but including hoods) but we all wanted to wear prosthetic foreheads on our real heads. On a bigger (and more contriversial issue) there is gay marriage, now obviously not everyone wants to have a gay marriage, but everyone in that particular group waiting to get married does (my advice to you is find a church (there are ones out there) that will spiritually bond you, that will make you unnoficially married and the economic benifits shouldn't be the focus anyhow) but authority along with sodomy laws keeps the playhouse burnt down. In Summary, I think this song is about unreasonable authority.

Oh, sorry if I offended anyone by bringing up gay marriage.--Fasterthanyou 05:53, 14 September 2006 (UTC)

I refer you to I Should Be Allowed To Think. Shii 00:02, 5 October 2006 (UTC)

I think it's about how people tend to conform to things so easily, no matter how silly [rock to wind a peice of string aound]. Then there are also people who do not conform [the people who try to burn the playhouse down]. Basically, the narrator is a mindless person, shepereded by the people who sorround him, and conforms to what they want. We can assume that this man just wants to fit in because he is considered a 'social outcast' without these things. Therefore, he goes to great lenghts to get these things. Because of this, he also hates people who do not try to conform, and urge other people to stop conforming, thinking that this would cast him out again. -Zero R. 12:56, 21 October 2006 (UTC)

I mostly agree with the interpretation above, and some others who said similar things. I feel that the rock and the prosthetic foreheads are meant to generically represent silly, useless objects (or interests) that are viewed as interesting only because everyone wants or has one.

Though the speaker is a firm believer in the virtues of rocks and prosthetic foreheads, the song itself is meant to convey a sardonic view of these things. Thus, the lines about the crib, etc., are meant to paint the rock/forehead enthusiasts as being silly and childish.

The playhouse-burning entity represents a reasonable, perceptive person, who is just trying to point out that the rock/forehead business is silly. Unfortunately, the speaker and his comrades are so deeply entrenched in their rock/forehead obsession that they view this person as hostile and threatening.

On a side note, I'm kind of amused by the line "but everybody wants [etc.]," as spoken immediately after the discussion of the playhouse-burning man. I view it as the speaker's incredulous response--"what?! But everyone wants these things!" --Keriostar 23:29, 13 June 2007 (UTC)

Well, I never looked much into it, it's usually (to me) just a song about people wanting prosthetic foreheads, rocks, string, and all that good stuff. When I look at it interpretively, it's about people wanting pointless things, and thus everyone else wants them, and only one person in the town knows that it's stupid and pointless. I don't know about why he burns the playhouse down, though.-Salioshy

You know, I always thought this song was just poking fun at the Twisted Sister song 'I Wanna Rock' by being more literal and less egocentric with 'We Want A Rock'. The idea, to me, was making fun of the fact that 'Wanna Rock' can be interpreted as either wanting a rock or wanting to rock and wanting a rock is very bizarre, as is wanting string and prosthetic foreheads.


"Hammer on my piglet" isn't that obtuse. It refers to pig iron, which carpenters use.

-A professional carpenter (With a prosthetic forehead)

The quote now on the main page of this song, "This sounds really abstract, but in order to begin wrapping a piece of string around itself, you need something to start with." agrees with the interpretation I had when I first listened to this song.

People want something to give meaning. Everything abstract must have a foundation, a beginning, but it's usually the case that the foundation is fabricated, and that the true essence of the world is that you need a rock to tie a string around itself, a string cannot be tied about itself alone.

This is an amusing interpretation, because I think it mocks interpretation. Everyone here has some complicated political/religious issue tied into a ridiculous story, and though these ideas have grounding (like a rock is natural and real), they're just attaching meaning to something which has none on its own.

This interpretation works if you consider the first lyrics "I was making a point... but I forgot it," -- the speaker probably realizes his point is irrelevant because he may as well buy a rock and tie a string around it.

Of course this is merely an interpretation too.


Franz Kafka wrote a (very) short story entitled Bachelor's Ill Luck. It's about imagining one's self as a bachelor later in life, and how depressing it would be. He then concludes with the line:

"That is how it will be, except in real life, both today and later, one will stand there with a palpable body and a real head, a real forehead, that is, for smiting on with one's hand."

Basically saying that actually living such a situation is much worse than only imagining it, perhaps to cast a light onto mankind's shortsightedness or perhaps to cast a light on mankind's lack of empathy, stating that some are living with such a curse today.

Maybe everybody wants prosthetic foreheads to protect their real heads from the smiting of their hands?

Maybe rather than try to live life properly, people would prefer to not think about it, but save themselves from the terror of regret?

Maybe Linnell never read this story and it's entirely coincidental?

I would say the answers to the previous questions are: no, no, and yes. But hopefully it draws a parallel between Linnell and Kafka. Two brilliant minds that cast light on the darker elements of man with a filter of the absurd.


I see this song as following along with the story Alfred tells Bruce in The Dark Knight about the man who stole the rubies and were just throwing them away because he wanted to watch the world burn.

Relating to this song, the prosthetic foreheads and the rocks to wind a string around are nice things and things that everyone wants (money, nice houses, etc.) and the people wanting to burn the playhouse and foreheads down are those who aren't content with others being happy, so they have to ruin it for everyone.

My friend told me her church camp would make them find a rock from the forest and wind string around it as a reminder to keep God in their thoughts. They were supposed to carry the rock around with them wherever they went. When I interpret the song with religion in mind, I see the prosthetic forehead as being a Pope hat.

I think it's about Americans & all the useless shit we buy & our craving for new gadgets. I think the song is making fun of it.

I saw the rock as a sort of allusion to Perseus and the minotaur, i.e., he needed a rock to tie his string around, for to not get lost in the labyrinth, and that 'everybody wants a rock' is referring to some anchor point so that they won't get lost in the 'labyrinth' of life.

I always interpret this song about those people who, inexplicably, want to stop kids from being kids ("Someone in this town/is trying to burn the playhouse down") and, in a larger sense, want to shame adults for having fun in any silly, undignified manner ("They want to stop the ones who want/ A rock to wind a string around") arbitrarily determined to be immature or inappropriate for a grown-up. Kids can entertain themselves with anything--a refrigerator box, or a rock with a piece of string around it. But most adults (i.e., "everybody") secretly still enjoy some of the simple pleasures they enjoyed as children, or might still enjoy them if they would only give themselves the chance. With the "playhouse" of childhood unselfconsciousness forbidden, the song's narrator invites people to "crawl inside" (like an infant, but also implying a secret visit) to the "crib" where they can be as playful and joyful as they want without being judged.

I'm with Dairhenian super in thinking of "Star Trek" fandom, though I have no idea if that were intentional on Johns' part. In particular, the 'Throw the crib door wide/Let the people crawl inside' triggers in my mind those parts that see all fandoms as regressive attempts to avoid adulthood (other parts disagree). The 'If I were a carpenter/I'd hammer on my piglet' might be an oblique reference to the song "If I Had a Hammer". Anon ibn-Ibid (talk) 06:49, 30 June 2014 (EDT)

I think it's definitely about consumerism but also about love. I think it's a bunch of fun metaphors used in different places to mean different things, but remain the same concrete object. So it's "Everyobody wants to rock" and "people are buying meaningless crap" and "everyone wants someone in their life to rely on" depending on where you are in the song. Playfairmoriarty

In the rock I see a starting point, like the stone in stone soup. The string you tie around it exercising human control over a part of the world. We don't know what we can do with it, but we can swing it and that's something more than we had before.

Throw the crib door wide, let the people crawl inside? I think the idea is of people in need of protection, of the fragility of art and the support it's granted by venues. There is an innocence in the idea of a "play house," where people are free to explore new modes of behavior without fear of coercion.

Someone in this town is trying to burn the playhouse down. I believe this concept is illustrated in this case, where the someone is named Frank Winstead

King David slew goliath with a rock he wound a string around. People who believe in God are in trouble, so we need shelter in the crib. Jewish priests wear prosthetic foreheads to show their devotion to God and his messengers, who had large heads.

I have always thought this song was about ideologies, beliefs and the way that these things can cause conflict. Blind adherence to any belief system often manifests as absurd behaviours. The song depicts two groups: one that wants a rock to tie a string around (an absurd behaviour); another that wants prosthetic foreheads to wear on their real heads (another absurd behaviour). Both of these practices could coexist - they aren't natural opposites. Yet, the two groups are constantly trying to tear "the playhouse" (the world) down. Their violent fight to practice their absurd behaviour is further exacerbated by two perceptions (common to ideological beliefs) that: 1) there's "some one" in the town trying to stop them from practicing their behaviour and 2) "everybody" wants to practice the behaviour. Yet, none of them seem to realise that if anybody is trying to stop their behaviour then it isn't possible that everybody wants to practice the behaviour. Consequently, through blind observance of their beliefs each group makes itself an enemy of the other group (literal, "othering").

The behaviours themselves mirror numerous practices in various belief systems though I doubt that they are literal references to any one practice or belief system in particular. For example, Indigenous American cultures would tie strings around various things and hang them in trees for some religious purposes. Numerous religious and spiritualist people wear amulets (literally, rocks with strings attached) with a belief in their efficacy or power. The Tefillin in Jewish religious observance is worn on the forehead much like a prosthetic forehead might be. I don't think the nature of the practice being described in the song is particularly significant; rather, the fact that these ridiculous practices have been imbued with the highest level of significance for the groups in the song is the important thing.

The authors voice in the song is quite clearly mocking the groups as infantile. Their world is a playhouse. Their revolution is throwing "the crib door wide" and letting the people "crawl inside" like babies. Yet, ultimately, like children they are fighting over things that really don't matter. -FG

A call for art and free thought[edit]

My guess is that everybody wants a few things and are threatened by one thing.

First, he wants to plan on his retirement where he can take his leisure and use his savings for a "piece of string and a rock to wind the string around". This is not some random activity to do in his free time. Rather, this is any artistic expression of something that takes time to do. The string and rock metaphor could be any type of creativity that he could afford in his retirement years. His advise is that if he were smart, he would save up for that. It may not be retirement, but creativity is certainly something he wants to save up for, so he doesn't need to rely on his 9 to 5 job.

Second, if he were a carpenter (i.e. no college), he'd break open his piggy bank and spend $70,000 on an education. However, he realizes that formal education is merely the echoing the thoughts (foreheads) of highly opinionated professors onto the brains (foreheads) of their 'tabla rasa' students. These are then nothing more than fake brains that you wear in front of people to impress them with how large your brain (forehead) is.

Lastly, there's a threat from someone who wants to 'burn the playhouse down'. That could mean that there are people who are trying to stop others from practicing personal expression through art (pro rocks and strings) and free thought (anti prosthetic foreheads). His solution is for like-minded people to open their homes (throw the crib door wide) and let creative people gather inside to express themselves. 12:33, 16 September 2020 (EDT)