David Bowie’s new album comes out on March 12 here, but he put it up on iTunes last night so we may listen to it in its entirety before it comes out. I estimate I’ll listen to it at least four times before I get my physical copy. The title of my blog comes from the first song on the record. Bless you Bowie.
But I actually wanted to talk about Amanda Palmer. For those of you who don’t know who Ms. Palmer is, she is a musician not subscribed to any major record label. She became famous in her band The Dresden Dolls with fellow cabaret punk Brian Viglione, and the two of them spent their early years floating around Boston and wherever anyone would have them, playing their oddly intoxicating combination of playful vaudeville piano and flirtatious drumming.
Amanda broke out on her own, making a solo record with Roadrunner Records in 2008. The album did pretty well, but her record label wasn’t pleased with her image. They thought she looked “fat” in her video “Leeds United” because she exposed her stomach.
LOOK AT THE FAT. GROSS.
Last year, she raised almost $1.2 million on Kickstarter for her self-produced album “Theatre is Evil”, which became the highest grossing music Kickstarter in history.
The reason I’m talking about Ms. Palmer is because a few days ago she gave a TED talk about the kindness of her fans.
“I think we have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is ‘how do we MAKE people pay for music?’ What if we started asking ‘how do we LET people pay for music?'”
I am not a cynic. I am not a pessimist. I’m probably an optimist when it comes down to it. But I doubt I could have had the optimism and faith Amanda had when trusting her fans and friends to carry her through the bullshit of the music industry. In her TED talk, she discusses how she was a street performer, making money as the “8 foot bride”, and she would make meaningful connections with people simply through eye contact and handing them flowers. She said it was the perfect preparation for becoming a musician.
I have seen the Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer six times, and it will be seven soon, as I created and help crowdsource the Amanda Palmer house party for Chicago, with the help of two lovely people I met on Twitter, Siouxzi and Dave.
My relationship with Amanda.
I saw the Dolls for the first time at Lollapalooza 2006, after being turned on to them by a group of theatre kids whom I frequently hung out with in garages while we smoked clove cigarettes and they drank colorful vodka. I was 17/18, so I wasn’t quite brave enough to drink myself.
We all hustled over to Lolla and saw them perform after a band called Calexico (who I will be seeing in June.)
In 2007, The Dresden Dolls were on tour with the True Colors show, which promoted gender and sexual equality. My friend Luke and I wanted to be part of their cabaret, so we volunteered to dress entirely in white and have people walking by paint us with rainbows. So here we were, 19 and 17, not quite sure of what to do. But we had a great reaction from the crowd, who joyfully put their hands in paper plates of paint and rubbed themselves all over us (tastefully! It was a classy show.) We got backstage passes and were blessed to see the entire show and meet people like Margaret Cho and Cyndi Lauper (who is still one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She hung out with us voluntarily and talked to us about life and Chicago and art.)
If anyone thinks that Amanda is exaggerating about her love for her fans, she’s not. She’s a beautiful artist who takes as much time as needed to make connections with everyone who wants to connect with her.
Luke and I were both insanely awkward and confused with our lives, and we would often dress like Amanda and Brian and walk around our upper-middle class surburb.
It was an odd feeling. I felt normal.
Look at my awesome Myspace selfie.
In 2008, with the help of my friends Frank and Rob (music studio owner and professional photographer respectively), I was given a media pass for Amanda’s first big solo tour and once again connected with her.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Amanda. A friend of mine owns a music studio in Palatine, and in 2009, I was able to come and watch her record a cover of “Strange Behavior” for Steel Train’s female-artist accompaniment to their self-titled album.
I’m a huge photographer, and I honestly think I was more excited about being able to take pictures in a non-concert setting than I was hanging out with Amanda, at first. I had met her before, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be like that in a more intimate setting. Sure, she was loving in public, but celebrities are supposed to be that way for the camera.
So here are some of the photos I took:
The last photo is of Mat Devine of Kill Hannah, a pretty amazing Chicago band. He was in the area and is friends with Amanda, so he stopped by to lend a hand and provide some vocals for the end of the song.
For the first few hours, I was silent. I stayed out of the way and sheepishly clicked my camera a few times. Then, of her own accord, Amanda started involving me. “Come hang,” she said between takes, laid out on the floor with her laptop and iPhone. Even then, she was on Twitter every chance she got, asking her fans for advice and connecting with them through kind words and sweet jokes.
She was showing me photos of her and Regina Spektor on tour that no one else had seen, and I was helping her find a good route to O’Hare from where she was staying. It was honestly like hanging out with a friend you may not have seen for some time but was still very dear to you.
I ended up doing her webcast that night. She let everyone into the studio through her laptop, showing her fans what it’s like to record a song and how much work it really takes. We took breaks and made skits using granola bars and small metal statues of fish and aliens. We were all in tears, laughing so hard at her and Mat doing bits of comedy on the track. The end of the song has a moment in which someone says “wake up, wake up”, and she and Mat went back and forth saying things like “Hey. I stole your spoons. Wake up, I want to give them back.” It may not sound as funny now, but she’d been recording nonstop for 12 hours.
At the end of the night, she gave me a huge hug and told me she’d had a wonderful time with me. I believed her and I felt the same way.
Hahaha I look so fucking eager.
After the work was over, she and Mat were headed back to the city to get a late dinner and talk about life. I wanted nothing more than to go with them and continue the conversation, but I was too embarrassed to ask. I would definitely ask now.
Amanda is a celebrity in her own right, there’s no question about that. But I think the difference between other celebrities and Amanda is the connection she makes with people. Later this spring, as I mentioned, we’ll be hosting a house party for her (which, with the help Siouxzi and Dave, will have 50 attendants), in which we can ask her any questions, hug her as much as we like, and build an even deeper connection with an artist we love.
I will ask her if she remembers the day we spent together in the studio. I bet she will.
This blog is not as articulate as I would have hoped, but I think it gets my point across: Amanda has been a big part of my life, and, even though she may not remember me perfectly, I bet she knows the impact she had on me that day.
So thank you Amanda. And I’ll see you soon.