The Palindromes & Semordnilap of The Grateful Dead - Part 5

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Sat, 06/15/2024 - 12:00pm to 2:00pm
'There and back again'


Back in January 2022 I launched another multi-part special, again combining my love of literary concepts and Grateful Dead music.  This time, I'm highlighting some of the many palindrome and semordnilap song sequences performed by the band in concert.  Part 2, introducing the semordnilaps, was in July 2022; part 3 featuring the second palindromes show was in October, 2022.  Last year I only produced one of these, Part 4 in April being the second semordnilap show.

I'm particularly excited to share not only my final Pigpen palindrome, but other single-singer sequences.

Palindromes are sequences, most often words (including names), phrases, verse/s, or sentences, that read exactly the same forward and backward.  Think 'mom,' 'dad,' or 'tot.'  Yet there are also numerical and musical palindromes.

A semordnilap ('palindromes' spelled in reverse) is a word, phrase, or sentence that reads differently forward and backward.  Think 'live' and 'evil,' 'stressed' and 'desserts,' 'diaper' and 'repaid.'  Most integers with at least two digits are a numerical semordnilap.

To apply these literary phenomena to the setlists of The Grateful Dead, I could use the idea of palindromes in a straightforward way.  However, I needed to take a bit of license with semordnilap and adapt it.

I easily found myriad palindrome sequences in Grateful Dead shows.  This is their simplest form:  'Song A > Song B > Song A'.  Having five songs in the sequence is easy enough to do (and they did a few times).

To appropriately choose a semordnilap sequence from the Dead's live work required establishing some minimal criteria; because very nearly EVERY Grateful Dead show was a semordnilap.

So the first criterion is that a semordnilap sequence must close within one concert.  On its face this could seem silly, but I'm certain there are dozens of times when a song 'closed' at a later show.  I saw two.

The last criterion, and my adaptation, is that the semordnilap must be a sandwich, i.e. book-ended by the same song.  Here's a simple example:  'Song A > Song B > Song C > Song A'.  Often there was a Song D, E, F, or even G before returning to Song A. 

Some examples include drums, or drums and space.  If 'drums' fits in a palindrome, that works, otherwise it's a semordnilap.  Anything with 'drums' and 'space' is automatically a semordnilap.

I've got about 50 examples of each, clearly an undercount on both sides, and I won't be able to play everything during the series.

Beyond referencing the nonsense word 'Aoxomoxoa,' there's scant discussion about The Grateful Dead and palindromes, but I did find this gem >> The Playin' palindromes.

And despite earlier promises to (of course) have the structure of the entire special be a palindrome, that has sadly fallen apart mostly due to multiple pre-emptions and other hard scheduled plans I had for broadcasts.  But the music still rocks.

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