Song of the Day: “I Palindrome I”

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For today’s Song of the Day, we’ll be going back in time to the early nineties. This may not be the most popular time period to grab a song from, but the nineties weren’t all bad. It was the era of Nirvana, NWA, Biggie Smalls, and Tupac. But it was also an era for avant-garde aesthetics and the post-punk underground, which is where our song today comes from.

“I Palindrome I” was written by They Might Be Giants, who you might recognize from their contribution of the Malcolm in the Middle theme song, “Boss of Me”. Over their career, which started in the ’80’s, They Might Be Giants gained popularity on college campuses throughout the nation. When they signed to a major label in the ’90’s, they became one of the more popular alternative rock bands of their time.

I Palindrome I

“I Palindrome I” is the second song on They Might Be Giants’ fourth studio album, “Apollo 18”. The song follows a story told in the first person, of a son waiting for his mother to die so that he can claim his inheritance.

“Someday mother will die and I’ll get the money / Mom leans down and says, “My sentiments exactly, / You son of a bitch” / I palindrome I (I palindrome I).

It may be helpful to clarify exactly what a palindrome is before moving forward, for those who are unaware. A palindrome is a word, sentence, or phrase that reads the same backwards as it does forwards (i.e. “I Palindrome I”). While the song itself isn’t a complete palindrome, there are many to be found within its lines.

The longest palindrome in “I Palindrome I” comes at the refrain. This entire section is a palindrome, and also fits in with the narrative of the song. The only pieces you have to ignore are the quotation marks. But other than that, this is a good example of a perfect palindrome.

“‘Son I am able,’ she said ‘though you scare me.’ / ‘Watch,’ said I / ‘Beloved,’ I said ‘watch me scare you though.’ said she, / ‘Able am I, Son.'”

More Palindromes More

The other palindromes you can find in “I Palindrome I” are all squeezed in through the background vocals. Some are longer, like “Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age”, while others, like in the chorus, are a simple, “man o’ nam”. While these make less sense than the others, they make up for it by harmonizing nicely.

The full chorus of the song goes like this:

“I palindrome I (I palindrome I) / I palindrome I (I palindrome I) / And I am a snake head eating (snake head) / The head on the opposite side (snake head) / I palindrome I (manonam) / I palindrome I (manonam)”.

As far as the conclusion to our narrative goes, it ends with the first-person narrator as a father. In the back of our minds, we can connect the dots and see that he’ll wind up suffering the same fate as his mother.

“See the spring of the grandfather clock unwinding / (Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age) / See the hands of my offspring making windmills / (Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age) / Dad palindrome Dad / I Palindrome I”.

I mostly like this song for its clever use of palindromes (if you hadn’t noticed), but it’s also quite catchy and interesting musically as well. That’s one of the things I love most about They Might Be Giants. They make interesting songs full of interesting ideas, and still manage to make them catchy and musically pleasing. So go check this one out. It may be weird, but at least it’s the good kind of weird.

 

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