Chasing those secnalubma
I think we're all familiar with the term "ambulance chaser" (a form of barratry). Well, in most places, such a practice is illegal. Here we have a shady lawyer who has figured out that rather than chasing the ambulances, he will have them come to him--the major caveat being, he has to be injured himself. It's also possible that he has met a dreamy EMT lady, who he can only work up the nerve to propose to when he's being carted off after yet another injurious incident. And even then he's hella awkward with his proposal, noting that they can use her electric knife together. Ahh, sweet romance. --MisterMe (talk) 09:55, 18 May 2015 (EDT)
This is one of those songs that seems to be relatively straightforward (pun intended) on the surface: it details a few situations which ended in the arrival of an ambulance, and the chorus, if you can call it that, describes in rather dramatic fashion the lights, sirens, and smartly outfitted EMTs. "ECNALUBMA" represents the backwards-printed identifier on the front of the ambulance, but to me it also - when pronounced phonetically - sounds a little like some Mayan god or something, which might account for "Behold, the great one comes."
I really love this song (and others like it) because it seems to hint at deeper meaning. The whole section re: cutting off his nose to spite his face, including "Marry me and be my wife," for example. This gives the song some mysterious weight, and I love that I get to guess at how it all fits together.
18.104.22.168 12:24, 24 May 2015 (EDT)
I may be reaching here, but the reference to "a day of impulsive fun" leads me to assume the song is about an important event. Combine that with the electric knife in question and many other pieces of evidence become apparent. The speaker has a nose and knows what to do, so perhaps he is being obliged to do something which he finds offensive, but is necessary, as per tradition. The assumption, then, is that he is being asked to carve the turkey (possibly the "great one" everyone is bowing for), and in doing so, he ends up injuring his hand, hence the need for the "ECNALUBMA."
Spite mistaken as "A Noble Sacrifice"
The "Electric Parade" the song refers to is the misdiagnosed nobility of those who "sacrifice" for others. Like Kim Jong Un's inherited empire, his ancestor is seen as noble in his generosity for what he did for his people-- but truly, he's decided to horde all the power under the veil of deserving it for his sacrifice.
Similarly, the singer of this song treats the bride-to-be as if she's lucky to be with such a "noble" sacrificial lamb. In a way, the singer uses it to control the situation under the pretense that his actions deserve to be lauded, like a reverse form of self-pity.
In this delusion, the person cutting off their nose to spite their face may actually be revered as a "Great leader" when really this type of self-injury should call an ambulance. The bride is imprisoned by assuming this misperceived "glory" of the selfish sacrificer.
For example--in the last verse, did the singer get so frustrated with the window that they smashed their hand through it? Or are they having such difficulty that such a simple thing could break their 'poor widdle hand' ? Both variances spell the same to me: that the ambulance being called for a noble sacrifice may just be the need for glory an unnecessary martyr prompts. Unless we're so unlucky that this despot's sacrifice deserves our continued suffering.
The narrator switches back and forth between a particular flawed individual (in the verses) and the way others perceive him (in the chorus). The verses give us three vignettes of the way this person acts. He is someone who is always anticipating disaster, and bemoaning that same disaster. ("I knew that this would happen./Why does this always happen?") He is someone who is willing to cut off his nose to spite his face, as the saying goes, and tries to get those around him to do the same. ("Marry me and be my wife/Be by my side in the electric parade.") When he has an issue with a mundane task, he tries to rally attention to himself. It's not because he needs help -- he got the window open -- but rather because that gives him the opportunity to complain, and become the focus of everyone again.
In other words, he is a drama queen, a martyr, someone who enjoys being the one to whom everything bad happens, and who cannot stand it if everyone is not paying attention to him, and pitying him.
That brings us to the chorus, which is the commentary of the people in his life who are not taken in by his drama and "crazy-making." Through the use of imagery that combines a royal procession with an ambulance -- that is, a way of reacting to an emergency -- we see that this man's friends and acquaintances are making fun of him for his dramatic tendencies.
Most of the songs on Phone Power are about psychological disorders.. "Shape Shifter" is about the Fregoli delusion, "Say Nice Things About Detroit" about severe social awkwardness, "Apophenia" about, well, apophenia. That makes the meaning of ECNALUBMA pretty obvious one you think about it: it's about someone suffering from Munchhausen Syndrome.
The protagonist of the song isn't just singing about ambulances -- he sees them as something to be fervently desired. The tell is in the chorus, with its comparison of an ambulance to the chariot of a king or potentate. "He comes, he comes, bow down, bow down, and lower your eyes," he sings, "Behold, the great one comes!"
As he's borne to the hospital in the ambulance, he's truly happy, because he's the center of attention. Men in fancy uniforms attend to his needs, while the citizenry scatter in his wake, making way and standing aside as he comes -- the grand marshal of the electric parade. And all it took was self-mutilation. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mrfeek (talk • contribs) 03:11, June 23, 2016
- Good observation! Based on your interpretation I'm going to guess that his attempt to open the ambulance window (resulting in a broken window and hand) was motivated by a desire to wave to the bowing crowds, the way a queen would wave to her subjects from an open car. And "Why does this always happen?" would mean that this is not the first time he's maimed himself to play out his delusion. --Nehushtan (talk) 18:44, 26 September 2019 (EDT)
The narrator in this song holds some extreme reverence for ambulances. So much so that he's willing to cause harm to himself and others just so he could witness one. Perhaps he sees them as some sort of deity? Or maybe it's just a childlike fascination of them. I find the latter more amusing.
Backwards video interpretation
The song's title is written backwards. Naturally this calls to mind the way the word is written on the front of real ambulances (actually in mirror lettering) so that other drivers will see AMBULANCE in their own rear-view mirrors. But the narrator's motivation is another type of backwardness: he's hurting himself so that he can attract a response - the reverse of a healthy mindset, which is to avoid suffering.
I think this is the key to understanding the brilliant video. The man experiences the progress of the ambulance as an "electric parade", a celebration instead of a tragedy - so the parade footage is shown in reverse, upside down, mirrored, distorted. It's like the old sayings "you've got the cart before the horse" and "the tail is wagging the dog".
Short clips are spliced in with the parade footage, some of which are drawn from Disneyland "adventures" - slithering underwater creatures, dangerous hippos & crocodiles, barren rocky terrains, menacing shrines, flames & explosions, and brawling men. These images seem to signal burbling disturbances in the man's psyche, buried & unacknowledged. The last of these extra clips is a toddler whose reversed crawling appears to represent regression and stunted development. Inside the grown man is an attention-starved child, lost and confused.
A couple of things in the video seem carefully timed to correspond to the lyrics. A splatter of liquid splotches appears just as Linnell is singing the word "nose". (The other overlaid spreading and dripping liquids also make me think of blood.) And we see the pageant winner ("Our Little Miss") waving upon each repetition of "The Great One Comes!" --Nehushtan (talk) 23:49, 4 January 2021 (EST)