He's keeping busy, yeah, he's bleeding stones
With his machinations and his palindromes
It was anything but hear the voice
Anything but hear the voice
It was anything but hear the voice that says that we're all basically alone

Poor Professor Pynchon had only good intentions when he
Put his Bunsen burners all away
And turning to a playground in a Petri dish
Where single cells would swing their fists at anything that looks like easy prey

In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say
We were all basically alone

And despite what all his studies had shown
That what's mistaken for closeness is just a case of mitosis
And why do some show no mercy while others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor, can you quantify?
He just wants to know the reason why
The reason why

Why do they congregate in groups of four,
Scatter like a billion spores and let the wind just carry them away?
How can kids be so mean?
Our famous doctor tried to glean as he went home at the end of the day

In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say
We were all basically alone

Despite what all his studies had shown
That what's mistaken for closeness is just a case of mitosis
Sure fatal doses of malcontent through osmosis
And why do some show no mercy while others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor, can you quantify
The reason why?


Lyrics submitted by emhass

Imitosis song meanings
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48 Comments

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  • +4
    General CommentI see the song quite differently than almost everybody here. Most people seem to think this song is about how "we are all basically alone" and how what we mistake for closeness, love, sex and all that is actually just a bunch of chemicals working together. I see the song as quite the opposite of that, though. Perhaps even a criticism of that kind of thinking. To me the song seems to deal with our inability to understand our lives and ourselves, and with how we are always pursuing these meanings through all the wrong methods.

    It reminds me of the lyrics to Rocket Man when he says:
    "And all this science I don't understand
    It's just my job five days a week
    A rocket man, a rocket man"

    Or Space Oddity with:
    "Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still
    And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
    Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
    Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there's something wrong"

    Space Oddity particularly is filled with a lot technical vocabulary that actually doesn't mean much. It just gives us this sense of how we create a whole different world that the world we live in, something completely disconnected to ourselves, and call it science and try to reduce our lives to something that we can understand while we don't even understand this very behavior and our very processes. Everybody seems to be kind of clueless. I don't think Andrew's word choices are random and there are certainly a lot of proposal ambiguities and puns, but in the end I don't think the meaning of the scientific terms matter as much as the overall meaning that we are all trying to find out "the reason why" with really futile and even silly efforts. And at the same time life goes on independently of all that, and our famous scientist has to go home in the end of the day and there are bullies all around and people are getting screwed and the scientist is doing his best to understand all this mess, but in the end it's beyond all meiosis and all this scientificism is just a crutch.
    whitetshirtguyon December 22, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentDo you think professor Pynchon is a reference to the author Thomas Pynchon? Also, I think the title "Imitosis" means it's a second verson of the song I. Its like a sequel, or the song "I" went through Mitosis, thus creating two versions... or IMITOSIS!
    FordAon February 25, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Commentnot certain, but based upon a blurb I read I think the Pynchon reference involves him writing in one of his books about how we're "all just a bunch of chemicals." goes along well with the nature of the song.
    jjsakonon December 24, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis is the first Andrew Bird song I heard. I love the way he writes.

    The message is a little unsettling, but makes sense. When you diagram everything down to a science, it always seems less beautiful and spectacular.
    unzipping_ghostson January 12, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think "inanity" got it pretty much right. Panda reefer's 'acid tab' idea was pretty ridiculous, but c'mon don't make vicious and melodramatic statements. Here's my take:

    The lyrics of Imitosis contain several metaphors and, in a way, explanations for "the reason why" humanity exists.
    First, the Creation is referred to with Doctor Pynchon (“God”) running this experiment with cells (separate egos), suggesting that the human experience is just a failed experiment. Thus, man (the bacteria) or perhaps Bird himself asks for “the reason why” the Doctor created him, why this experiment had to take place.

    “With his machinations and his palindromes
    It was anything but hear the voice
    Anything but hear the voice
    It was anything but hear the voice
    That says that we're all basically alone”

    This depicts man’s constant scurrying around, busying himself with games (from the narrow meaning of games, like palindromes, to the the big contraptions, machinations that are ultimately mere “games”) as a desperate attempt to flee that voice that tells him what he knows at some level is the truth, the fact that no matter what what connections he tries to make he ultimately cannot enter another consciousness, and is therefore “basically alone”.

    "And turning to a playground in a Petri dish
    Where single cells would swing their fists
    At anything that looks like easy prey
    In this nature show that rages every day
    How can kids be so mean
    Our famous doctor tried to glean"

    The scientist, a personification of God, and therefore not God himself but a mere owner of an ego, looks for answers in the petri dish, and the "bacteria" look up to the scientist for answers. There is an endless cycle of looking truth where it never existed. Ultimately, not much truth cannot penetrate an ego, the ego must disintegrate to experience truth.
    The swinging of the fists illustrates man’s ego, which is ultimately childlike (hence, playground). This weak, pathetic little ego aggressively fights to try to save itself from its inevitable destruction. Bird apparently views all of nature as this immature, raging group of separate egos who, although claiming to desire connection, really are out for only their own ego. Bird compares nature to a show, which is blown out of proportion and not truly “reality”.

    "And why do some show no mercy
    While others are painfully shy
    Tell me doctor can you quantify
    He just wants to know the reason why
    The reason why"
    Why do they congregate in groups of four
    Scatter like a billion spores
    And let the wind just carry them away

    Man is asking God (the Doctor) why individual egos (bacteria) can vary so much, yet still depend so much on one another’s approval; why people only latch onto something once they know it’s been approved by “billions” of people.

    In the song, “intuition” is the force beyond the ego that exists inside of every individual (although many egos muffle that voice) that reminds him of the absolute truth.

    "Despite what all his studies had shown
    That what's mistaken for closeness
    Is just a case of mitosis"

    A rather cynical view, stating that although mates think they are truly close, they are really just together to reproduce (hence, mitosis).

    Obviously “God” has an ego in perhaps as thick as man, since he is playing the role of a doctor. This illustrates that our personified God is not God in absolute, pure state, but just, though maybe greater, ego.

    "Sure fatal doses of malcontent through osmosis
    And why do some show no mercy
    While others are painfully shy
    Tell me doctor, can you quantify
    The reason why?"

    “Sure fatal doses of malcontent through osmosis” depicts the view that life is in essence a fatal disease, where a being gains an ego, grows attached to it in futility even as it brings it constant malcontent, and eventually the being is forced to shed that nasty ego.
    People want God to reveal them the truth, but ultimately, this being has an ego too, as they are communicating with Him in the language of those with egos, and the absolute God’s truth can only be absorbed through the shedding of the ego.

    Ultimate message Imitosis: People always ask “why?” and think God really knows the answers, when in actuality, God is just a "scientist" who is confounded by his failed experiment, who set humanity in place but lost control, letting the experiment run its course (Perhaps an allusion to Nietzsche, "God is dead"?). Also, people compared to bacteria, both which are fundamentally beings that are out for their own survival and to multiply and colonize different places, all to physically survive and to therefore protect the ego from its death.

    That's it for my imperfect analysis of the brilliant Andrew Bird's brilliant song Imitosis. Sorry it wasn't as eloquent as I could've made it but I figure that the poetry's up to Bird, and I just wanted to help get his message across.
    psychedelicsallyon July 03, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis is from a 2007 interview from "gothamist.com"
    gothamist.com/2007/05/16/…

    Imitosis is the full incarnation of a song on Weather Systems named simply "I". Is it true there were copyright issues that prevented the full version from appearing on Weather Systems?

    "Yeah, the version on Weather Systems is just something to bide my time while we worked that out. Musically that pizzicato pattern has just been so fertile for ideas over the past couple years. The song has been been morphing as I’ve been playing it live and I enjoy that feel so whether I got all the lyrics in there wasn’t that important."

    And what was the issue with the lyrics?

    "It was based on a childhood memory of a skit from Sesame Street where these men live inside a capital I and they come out and they polish the I and they sing this song, which goes, “We all live in a capital I”. Instead of saying “We’re all basically alone” I would say “We all live in a capital I”, which is basically saying the same thing. There’s no other resemblance to the original Sesame Street version melodically or – beyond those lyrics – anything. But we went to Sesame Street and we said, “Hey, we’ve got this song, it’s based on a childhood memory of this skit.” And they led us along for a while and said, "Talk to our publisher, blah blah blah." And it took several years for them to say, “We don’t want to do this.” So instead of getting angry I just stayed up all night and rewrote the lyrics."
    chimchamon December 17, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentHuh. I always heard it as "Poor Professor Pension," rather than Pynchon, but Pynchon does make sense, from what I gather in the comments here. For me, "Pension" carried with it a tone of poverty, aimlessness, a disconnect from society (if you're on a pension you no longer need to contribute to society to get paid), and the end of one's life/closeness of death, which I thought fit in well with the theme of the song.

    I haven't read Pynchon.
    thriggleon December 21, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentDefinitely something to do with Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, an epic of science and culture.

    The preface to Gravity's Rainbow is a quote by Wernher von Braun:
    "Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death."

    Pynchon has also written an essay called "Togetherness" about missile safety.

    It's hard to make a direct correlation between GR and this song, but there's got to be something there. We were all basically alone, despite what all the studies have shown.
    jxnarcoticzon January 20, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI adore this song... might have screwed up the lyrics in some parts but Bird tends to mutter...

    "what was mistaken for closeness was just a case for mitosis"... ran on loop all through Valentine's day this year, just for the fuckery of it.

    palindromes is definitely a reference to "Fake palindromes" off the previous record... i think. also "we're all basically alone" is a reference to "I" off weather systems.

    i think it's great that the lyrics are self-referential... although puzzling as usual.

    i love the idea of romantic love and intimacy as simply being an illusion of sorts, and the reference to science for proof.

    anyhow, point being any songwriter that mentions mitosis wins enormous points in my book.
    emhasson February 21, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song has so much character, i think it's so clever and unique and narrative. i think it's pretty blatant that it's about trying to measure intangible concepts through science, the way we analyze genetics and chemicals in the brain etc. it's kind of like the doctor is searching for proof of "love" (closeness) and finding only proof of biology (mitosis).

    by the way, this song is in a commercial. i can't remember what it was, but it was just musical parts of it. i think it was for oust or something unimportant.
    ciaosampintoon November 26, 2007   Link

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