Foals in winter coats
White girls of the north
File past one five and one
They are the fabled lambs of Sunday ham
The EHS norm

And they could float above the grass
In circles if they tried
A latent power I know they hide
To keep some hope alive
That a girl like I could ever try
Could ever try

So we just skirt the hallway sides
A phantom and a fly
Follow the lines and wonder why
There's no connection

A week of rolling eyes
And cheap shots from the trite
And we're off to Nemarca's porch again
Another afternoon of the goat-head tunes
And pilfered booze

We wander through her mama's house
The milk from a window lights
Family portrait circa '95
This is that foreign land with the sprayed-on tans
And it all feels fine
Be it silk or slime

So when they tap our Monday heads
To zombie-walk in our stead
This town seems hardly worth the time
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme
Too far along in our climb
Stepping over what now towers to the sky
With no connection

So when they tap our Sunday heads
To zombie-walk in our stead
This town seems hardly worth our time
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme
Too far along in our crime
Stepping over what now towers to the sky
With no connection


Lyrics submitted by heyheyhey111, edited by Gryphoning, augustgw


Phantom Limb song meanings
Add your thoughts

153 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +9
    General CommentUm, its about two lesbian girls dealing with small town life. I think the shins are even quoted somewhere stating that.
    They have to keep it quiet because the town/fellow students don't understand.
    But they feel they are above it, "This town seems hardly worth our time."

    I think this ones being released on the single because it is the only song that doesnt fit in with the plot of the album. I dunno though, maybe ask the shins.
    ladybug87on November 06, 2006   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI think this song is about how teenagers just want to get out of whatever town they grew up in. They are sure that there is something better for them out there somewhere. Their hometown is the place where the singer first discovered girls, booze, and rock music, but he still feels no connection to it because he is sure that something bigger is waiting out there.
    I especially like the line, "So when they tap our Sunday heads/to zombie-walk in our stead." He's saying when they graduate and move on another generation will come and do the same things they did.
    chillsboroon July 12, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General Comment[ This poem is about two school girls overcoming rejection and indifference in the small town in which they live. They go along with the flow, but in their minds they rise above the people around them and will soon leave the town behind. James Mercer has stated it to be about his own personal experience of exclusion retold through the plight of two lesbians, but of course, there is nothing in the poem to limit it to that particular case. ]

    Foals in winter coats, [ young girls trying to insulate themselves from the harsh numbness of the people around them ]
    White girls of the north, [ in some New England town ]
    File past one, five, and one [ lonely individuals, or small cliques, but no meaningful friendships ]
    They are the fabled lambs, [ sacrifices ]
    Of Sunday ham, [ of the church tradition ]
    The EHS norm. [ and the high school order ]

    And they could float above the grass,
    In circles if they tried, [ they have great potential in their abilities far beyond the ordinary people around them ]
    A latent power I know they hide, [ to keep from being different ]
    To keep some hope alive,
    That a girl like I could ever try,
    Could ever try. [ but this power still gives them hope to reach beyond the limitations of their town ]

    So we just skirt the hallway sides, [ they accept they have no place with the rest ]
    A phantom and a fly, [ one friend is invisible, the other, insignificant ]
    Follow the lines and wonder why [ comply with the set social order ]
    There's no connection. [ but question it's lack of humanity ]

    A week of rolling eyes,
    And cheap shots from the tribe, [ small-minded and petty rejection by their peers ]

    And we're off to Nemarca's porch again,
    Another afternoon with the Goat Head tunes,
    And pilfered booze. [ meet up with a friend, listen to Rolling Stones, and drink alcohol; this means (1) there is no acting as parent to stop them (2) the parent probably uses alcohol as a refuse, both reinforce that Nemarca doesn't get love and support from home, and so she is a natural friend for the other two rejects ]

    We wandered through her mama's house, [ the father has left or died ]
    The milk from the window lights, [ lonely, unkept house ]
    Family portrait circa '95, [ back when the family used to be whole ]
    This is that foreign land, [ foreign because they aren't accepted by the natives ]
    With the sprayed-on tans, [ fake conformity to society's standards ]
    And it all feels fine,
    Be it silk or slime, [ but everything gives the appearance of being ok, whether it is or isn't ]

    So, when they tap our Monday heads, [ when the girls have to go back to school ]
    Two zombies walk in our stead, [ they follow the motions, but don't really accept any of it ]
    This town seems hardly worth the time, [ they don't value the people who don't value them ]
    And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme, [ they no longer accept what they're taught ]
    Too far along in our climb, [ either they're too far beyond the town in their personal growth to accept the old beliefs, or they are looking at how they will soon finish school and be free to go live better lives ]
    Stepping over what now towers to the sky, [ soon they will overcome the school/town/limitations ]
    With no connection.

    So, when they tap our Sunday heads, [ they make the same commentary about the religious aspect of the town ]
    Two zombies walk in our stead,
    This town seems hardly worth our time,
    And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
    Too far along in our climb,
    Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
    With no connection.
    sackofcatfoodon June 03, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Commentwutdahellz,

    Because you asked for feedback with regard to your "women in combat" thesis -- well, here it goes.


    wutdahellz said:

    i think this song has to do with women in the military and the trials and tribulations they face from people who believe they dont belong. i think it also has to do with our troops being over in the middle east and Mercer's discontent with the whole situation.

    elvisatemydonuts response:

    I think that music is subjective, and lyrics can mean different things to different people when filtered through their own experiences or unique world view. You seem to be very focused on women’s issues and the war on terror.

    I disagree with your military/war conclusions because if that was Mercer’s intent, he’d have written,“...girls of the West”, not the North. (If we were at war in Venezuela, “...girls of the North” would fit, but we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan where we are known as "The West").

    The main, (and most obvious), reason I’m sure you came up with incorrect assumptions about the song’s meaning, is because you started off basing your conclusions from incorrect lyrics.

    Examples:

    wutdahellz said:

    frozen in two coats-->metaphor for having two selves..being a woman and being an officer...and how its impossible to segregate the two.

    But with the correct lyric:

    frozen winter coats--> Well, there goes that metaphor of “two selves” (which in my opinion was a huuuge stretch anyway).

    wutdahellz said:

    fire past one fire the one-->guns.

    correct lyric:

    file past one five and one-->NOT guns.

    I will say this wutdahellz; You have a very fertile imagination!

    It’s much more likely that he is recalling his school days in England, (he spent part of his youth growing up in England), where “The North” is a common phrase referring to the working-class cities and/or the lower-middle class.

    But even though that is slightly more likely, it's still impossible to say what the true meaning of this song is without asking James himself, because each line is more ambiguous than the next and seems to have little to do with the previous lines.

    Perhaps this song was all a stream-of-consciousness effort where he drops the following huge hint that there is no actual cohesive meaning to this song, but only random thoughts:

    "Follow the lines and wonder why there's no connection."

    Of course, I may be wrong.
    ElvisAteMyDonutson December 22, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIn answer to shout-outoutout's comment:

    " did anyone think about the title?

    a 'phantom limb' is a sensation that people get when an arm,leg,ect. has been amputated, but they can still feel it.
    the person still thinks it's a working body part, even when it isn't there.
    but i don't know where that might fit in.

    maybe the song is about missing an old girlfriend he left behind, & he can still 'feel' her presence?"

    Okay, now all you have to do is think a little bit more.

    Phantom, meaning a ghost or something not there.

    Limb, meaning a projecting body part, such as an arm, a leg, as is most common usage of the term....OR....

    Okay, put those two together, so you have a limb that is not there. This song is about two lesbians who are not accepted because of their choice in engage in a same-sex relationship.

    Can you think of a limb that would be sorely missed in an ashamed, troubled lesbian relationship?


    IF the incredebly dim have not gotten it yet, it's a penis.

    Which, in my opinion, is one of the most cleverly coded titles in song history. Mercer is a birlliant, brilliant man.
    meg9502on February 06, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song has, by far, the funniest title of the Shins, although it is meant in a tragic way.
    heyheyhey111on October 21, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentits "a latent power I know they hide"
    orianon October 30, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThese are the correct lyrics:

    Frozen winter coats 
    White girls of the North 
    File past one five and one 
    They are the fabled lambs of Sunday ham 
    The ancient snow 

    And they can float above the grass in circles if they tried 
    A latent power I know they hide 

    To keep some hope alive that a girl like I could ever try 
    Could ever try 

    So we just skirt the hallway signs 
    A phantom and a fly 
    Follow the lines and wonder why 
    There's no connection 

    A week of rolling eyes and cheap shots from the tribe 
    And we're often in Marcus’ porch again 
    Another afternoon with the Goat Head tunes and pilfered booze 

    We wandered through your mama's house 
    And the milk from the window lights family portrait circa '95
    This is that foreign land of the sprayed on tans and it all feels fine 
    Be it silk or slime

    So when they tap our Monday heads to a zombie-walk in our stead
    This town seems hardly worth our time 

    And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme 
    Too far along in our climb
    Stepping over what now towers to the sky 
    With no connection 

    Oh whoa oh whoa oh 
    Oh whoa oh whoa oh 
    Oh whoa oh whoa oh 
    Oh whoa oh whoa oh 

    So when they tap our Sunday heads to a zombie-walk in our stead
    This town seems hardly worth our time 

    And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme 
    Too far along in our crime 
    Stepping over what now towers to the sky 
    With no connection 
    ElvisAteMyDonutson December 02, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentokay just the "official" lyrics nothing big here

    Foals in winter coats
    White girls of the north
    File past one five and one
    they are the fabled lambs of Sunday ham
    the EHS norm

    And they could float above the grass
    in circles if they tried
    a latent power i know they hide
    to keep some hope alive
    that a girl like i, could ever try
    could ever try

    So we just skirt the hallway sides
    a phantom and fly
    Follow the lines and wonder why
    there's no connection

    A week of rolling eyes
    and cheap shots from the trite
    and we're off to Nemarcas porch again
    another afternoon
    of the goat headtunes and pilfered booze
    we wander through her mamma's house
    the milk from the window lights
    family portrait circa '95

    this is that foreign land
    of the sprayed on tans
    and it all feels fine
    be it silk or slime

    So when they tap our monday heads
    two zombies walk in our stead
    this town seems hardly worth our time

    and we'll no longer memorize or rhyme
    too far along in our climb
    stepping over what now towers to the sky
    with no connection

    So when they tap our Sunday heads
    two zombies walk in our stead
    this town seems hardly worth our time

    and we'll no longer memorize or rhyme
    too far along in our crime
    stepping over what now towers to the sky
    with no connection
    surfwaxafghanion January 23, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"I think the lyrics purposely don't mean anything."

    I couldn't disagree more. It takes a while to sink in and process the lyrics, but once you do I think it's pretty clear that there's a story here. The line "there's no connection/with no connection" isn't supposed to be taken literally, it's meant to show emotional distance and isolation. "Phantom Limb" is an impressionistic first person description of the lives of a pair of teenagers (i.e. the phantom and the fly) who are completely removed from their peers (the foals in winter coats/white girls of the north/fabeled lambs). The first couple of verses describe how the two girls see their peers--the description shows how detached they feel. The rest of the song focuses on the two girls and gives lyrical snapshots from this period in their lives: being mocked (a week of rolling eyes/cheap shots from the trite), drinking and listening to music at one of their houses, looking at a family vacation photograph (family portrait circa '95/this is that foreign land/with the sprayed on tans etc). The chorus echoes the themes of detachment and social isolation present in the first few verses with lines like "two zombies walk in our stead" and "so we just skirt the hallway sides" etc.

    And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
    Too far along in our climb,
    Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
    With no connection.

    These last few lines show how far gone they are, there's no possibility of things being better/different--the only way for them to cope in such a hostile environment is through complete isolation. The song is very thorough and consistent in describing their situation, all of the images relate back to the main themes--I don't see how one could conclude that the lines are meaningless or random. I think if you've come to that conclusion you haven't been paying enough attention, you haven't sat with the song long enough to make sense of it.

    Good song, I like the imagery. And the title is clever in more ways than one.
    EnidCaulfieldon February 10, 2007   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain