On Amanda Palmer

The Queen of Asking taught me how to share.

Dear Daily Mail
It has come to my recent attention
That my recent appearance at Glastonbury festivals kindly received a mention
I was doing a number of things on that stage up to and including singing songs
(like you do…)
But you chose to ignore that and instead you published a feature review
of my boob.

– Amanda Palmer, “Dear Daily Mail”

These were the first words I heard Amanda Palmer say.  Or, well, sing.  In a kimono while playing a keyboard.  My husband, an avid Neil Gaiman fan, and I were talking about feminist topics (like you do), and he remembered the writer’s wife was, as Palmer described herself in her own book, “an unshaven feminist.”  He pulled out his phone and showed me her performance (VERY NSFW LINK) of the song above, a response (obviously) to the Daily Mail’s sexist review of her recent concert.  I watched her fearlessly and joyfully put her finger directly on the problem.  In her own words, because basically no one could say it better, their “focus on debasing women’s appearances devolves our species of humans.”

At first, thanks to some deep programming regarding “how women should act,” I found her a little intimidating.  She was—quite literally—unshaven, incredibly “open kimono” about her emotions, and unwilling to shy away from any issue.  A perfect storm of exactly the sort of traits I’d spent years shoving into the deepest, darkest corners of my self.

But I just couldn’t look away.

I followed her on social media.  She was always sharing quirky artistic projects and her opinions about life.  I honestly forgot she was a musician until she posted a video of a project funded by her Patreon (basically a website where artists can engage in continuous crowdfunding for their work).  It was a book drive in front of the New York Public Library.  Then pregnant with her son Ash, she stripped naked and had her entire body painted, half as a bronze statue and half as a skinless, pregnant female body.  She stood completely still atop a tower of boxes in front of the library steps, holding a sword and a ukulele. 

Her song “Smile” blasted over the timelapse footage of the day (also pretty NSFW). 

Smile, smile
Your teeth are broke
And it’s all right
They’ll break the best of you
They’ll break the best of you
It makes you beautiful

I was captivated by her voice.  By her words.

Thus began a lot of furious iTunes downloading and, ultimately, becoming a patron on her Patreon. 

It’s been over two years since I first pledged to support her artistic journey, and being so connected to an artist and the work they produce has been both moving and thrilling.  Her open-source creative process has encouraged me to open up and let my own creative juices flow.  I’d say her influence is at least partly responsible for this blog.

There are a lot of articles out there about her fight to leave her record label, her enormously successful Kickstarter campaign to fund her first label-free album, her TED Talk, and her book, The Art of Asking. 

I want to share a more personal experience with you.

A few months ago, I found out Amanda would be doing a show in New Orleans.  This would be the closest she’s ever come to where I live, but it would still require a six hour drive or an expensive plane ticket.  I told my husband in a wistful, “if only” sort of voice.  His response?

“Let’s go!”

I was floored.  I asked if he was sure.

In a very Amanda-like spirit, he said, “Just buy the tickets.  We’ll make it happen.”

And we did.

It’s sort of ironic, considering I went to college a few hours away, but I’d never been to New Orleans before.  It probably didn’t help that Hurricane Katrina hit almost two weeks to the day after I started Freshman year.  The subsequent recovery efforts made a pleasure trip a little daunting. 

I also wasn’t much of a partier in college.  Who am I kidding?  My idea of a great Friday night was box macaroni and cheese on my dorm room futon watching Sex and the City reruns. 

Not exactly the makings of a “Quarterican.”

Anyway, we chose to road-trip because it was cheaper.

A side note about New Orleans itself:

This city has seen a LOT of darkness and a LOT of death, and you can feel it in the atmosphere.  As we drove across Lake Pontchartrain, I felt heavier and heavier. 

The city has bounced back remarkably from the massive destruction of Katrina—the signs of rebuilding are everywhere—but a place’s personality changes in the wake of such tragedy.  And Katrina was by no means the first tragedy in New Orleans.  All signs point to the fact that the Mississippi Delta is at best indifferent about the people who choose to live there—and at worst out-right hostile.

The French Quarter is both the oldest section of town, and by far the creepiest.  I’m being entirely serious when I say the cemeteries are the least haunted part of town.  (Perhaps the rituals and acts of respect performed over and over clear the air there.)  The atmosphere strengthened the idea that I was going on a pilgrimage.  Because every pilgrimage involves walking through the darkness.  Pilgrimage isn’t easy.  The struggle is the point.

I guess I didn’t exactly struggle while eating beignets and drinking chicory coffee.  But you know what I mean.

I had to walk through the darkness to get my moment of light.

For whatever reason, I had to go through the pain of loneliness and voicelessness before I found confidence in my creative self.  Not quite the boundless confidence of Amanda Palmer, but I’m working on it.

The concert itself was in an old venue with standing room only.  I expected to be intimidated by the crowd.  All sorts of people have come to Amanda Palmer in a lot of different ways.  Some have been following her since her days with the Dresden Dolls.  Some found her during her solo career.  Some came to her through her book or TED Talk.  I expected awkwardness, and I expected to feel like I didn’t fit in.  (Never mind being an introvert in a writhing crowd is always uncomfortable.)

I didn’t feel any of those things.  I felt welcome.  Everyone was so chill.  It was like walking into a church.  Everyone knew why they were there.  There was an atmosphere of friendship and respect.  No pretension.  We were all a part of one living, breathing organism held together by a spark of creativity. 

When Amanda came out on stage, rather than feel starstruck or overwhelmed, I felt…calm.  I felt like she was a long-distance friend I’d kept up with over Facebook for a few years, and I was finally getting to see her in person again.  And it just so happened she was doing this gig in a bar in New Orleans. 

The show was beautifully disorganized.  Spontaneous ukulele requests were taken.  Amanda told us about some projects she’d been working on in town.  She told us she’d been feeling down lately.  She brought out birthday cake for her friend and opening act, Zoe Boekbinder, and fed it to everyone on stage.

At one point, during a particularly moving song near the end of the concert, a young woman standing beside me started weeping.  Another, possibly kind of drunk, woman in front of me had been dancing and emoting in various ways throughout the concert, and when she noticed the crying woman, she turned around and wrapped her up in her arms and danced and cried with her through the rest of the song.

I couldn’t help thinking, that’s exactly what Amanda would do.

And that’s possibly the most amazing thing about the phenomenon that is Amanda Palmer.  Something you don’t hear about in the articles about crowdfunding or TED Talks. 

It’s the culture she creates through her work and through her tenacious desire to keep the creative process as closely connected to them as possible.  She mentions in her book that there are three types of creative people: artists who love collecting experiences for use in their creative work, artists who love connecting the dots of those experiences, and artists who love sharing the results.

Amanda Palmer loves to share.

It’s this complete lack of selfishness that permeates her work and her fandom.  She’s stated that her life philosophy is radical empathy (see the video she created covering the Pink Floyd song, “Mother”), and when that’s what she’s sending out into the world, how could the environment around her—the people watching and listening to her—not be changed? 

I think we could all take a page from her book.

Stop thinking about the bottom line and share.  Share as if you’ll never run out. 

And watch the world change.

 

– Ceridwen

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