Saturday, January 24, 2015

I see you, Amanda Palmer

I first started listening to Amanda Palmer in 2005 or so when my friend Dave put "Coin Operated Boy" on a mix CD. Thanks, Dave! I hated the song at first in favor of other tracks like "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys and Prince's "Raspberry Beret." But the more I listened, "Coin Operated Boy" made its way from worst to first in my mind. I bought The Dresden Dolls self-titled debut, saw Amanda Palmer at the Middle East with a dear friend, and have been hooked ever since.

I recently read Amanda's The Art of Asking and have been processing and internalizing its message.

Amanda Palmer is a polarizing figure. Exhibit A is her crowd funding adventures, which attracted both supporters and haters. She is brutally honest about inventing her business model as she goes and has truly pioneered the music crowd funding model. Exhibit B is her poem about accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In her first novel, Amanda shares her struggles with asking. She seems to resist most when asking people she loves, like her husband, acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman. To ask is to expose yourself to getting burned, to place yourself in a vulnerable position. She struggles with her self esteem and feels like she can't ask her husband for money, demonstrating the struggle that all of us face with our inner demon telling us that we are not good enough.

Amanda has been called shameless as a result of her actions, but in actuality I believe she is unashamed. She's true to herself and who she is, and lets the rest go. I admire how comfortable she is in her skin, and how much confidence and respect she exudes.

My portrait of Amanda at her 11/11/14 reading at Royale

One part of her book that surprised me was her treatment of her drummer Brian Viglione. Their band the Dresden Dolls took a very public hiatus when Brian commented on a video clip stating that the band was over. Yet Amanda skimmed over the drama and hurt feelings and had nothing but love for Brian. That kind of forgiveness shows her integrity and comfort with herself; she won't let something that someone did to her shake her core.

Amanda uses her fans as a springboard to help further to find her experience and journey in this life. She shares proudly the parts of the book that her fans contributed to. As a fan who has interacted with Amanda on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, it makes me feel so connected to her and this book. I enjoyed reading how Amanda allows her fans to experience her actions and emotions through in her songs on blender level one. 

This amazing artist somehow manages to combat the overwhelm of social media to connect at an individual level with her fans. As someone who now has social media marketing as part of her job description thanks to a recent reorg, I can attest how difficult an achievement that is. I am completely and wholly in awe of her ability to connect with dozens of friends and strangers daily without allowing the social frenzy to take over.

Amanda discloses her vulnerability by sharing the momentous events in her life such as a recent abortion. Her ability to share the great, the tragic, and the mundane equally just floors me. I only share shards of my complex self on this blog and I strive someday to have the confidence to disclose even a tenth of what Amanda shares about herself daily.

Amanda doesn't apologize because she is secure in herself, her body, her music. She asks for help as she creates and shapes her journey through life, one fan at a time. Palmer's fans see her, and she sees us. Thank you for seeing and teaching me, Amanda, through your songs, your writing, and your heart. We should all be so lucky to have found such a role model.

If you're new to Amanda Palmer, my current favorite song is Straight. My all-time favorite is Mandy Goes to Med School. My favorite songs fluctuate based on what's going on in my life. But Amanda's heartfelt, honest music routinely makes it to my shortlist of favorite artists ever (also included are They Might Be Giants, Ben Folds, Guster, Tori Amos, and Regina Spektor). To me, the theme that connects these seemingly disparate artists is their heartfelt, inspiring lyrics.

Thank you again, Amanda, for seeing me!

Edited to add: A condensed version of this blog appeared on Fresh Baked Cookies, the Papercuts JP blog (an independent local bookstore).


  1. Do you think you know more about Amanda after reading what she tells you about herself and people around her than someone who was intimately involved with her for years does? Perhaps that "something someone did" that you attribute to Brian was the last straw after dealing with someone completely narcissistic, controlling, and manipulative for so many years? In her book, Amanda also barely addresses her historical relationship with Brian, her so-called musical "soul mate," even though they were together as bandmates far longer in time and years than she's been with her current husband (with whom she doesn't live and isn't monagamous). So, is the book honest? Or, is it a carefully manipulated narrative that leaves you with the impression she's a balanced, loving, forgiving human being who can be your role model? You probably don't care though. That's the lovely result of fame for a narcissist like Amanda.

  2. I do think I know more about Amanda now. You can't get unfiltered access to someone's brain, so I appreciate and respect what she chose to share. If and when Brian ever writes a book, I'll read that with an open mind. Successful people always attract their share of critics, and I hope that one day my skin will be half as thick as Amanda's. And may I assume you think it's an insult to say that Amanda and Neil live separately and have an open relationship? To each their own. I view your comment as discriminatory. Good for them about being open about their true selves. If only more people could display such bravery in a judgmental world.

  3. I commented that Amanda is not monogamous and doesn't live with her husband because it relates to how little time she spends with her husband. I could care less (and have friends who have made the same choices, which I support). As I already said, in real time, Amanda has spent far more time with Brian, and yet this relationship is barely addressed in her book. Which is weird, and an obvious gap.

    Amanda is the queen of "hurt feelings and drama," yet you attribute the origina of this to Brian, who could not be a nicer human being. If you're going to buy her story, at least stop opining on the people who she left failing in her wake. Ironically, you comment on how shitty criticism is for Amanda, and yet you rip into Brian with some presumption about things he did. But I guess it doesn't matter because you don't "know" him, like you think you know Amanda? Of course Brian will never write a book because what he cares about is music, not fame.

    Watching the shit show that is Amanda Palmer's career, I have concluded that only a narcissist could desire fame, the way she does. It's been an interesting experience to watch, but it's too much when someone rips into someone with as much integrity as Brian Viglione. He's just trying to do his thing, which is make music as good as anyone can.

  4. Please know that when I stated "something someone did" I commented on the specific incident of Brian posting on a video that the band was over. I claim to know nothing about the full, complex nature of his relationship to Amanda. The individuals involved get to choose what they are willing to disclose. All we can hope for is to draw reasonable conclusions according to what we know and our instincts. I appreciate your perspective, and wish Brian a long and successful career and life.

  5. I'm glad to see that you changed your language around that incident, though you still imply that his action led to "hurt feelings and drama." I followed that link, and it appears Brian clearly and articulately stated that the band was finished in an interview. That seems pretty innocuous. I would have handled things a lot worse, if I had been in Brian's position.

    Please keep in mind that you're writing about real people on a public forum, real people who you don't know. Or worse, know from a book written by Amanda Palmer (that, as you admit, "skims over" one of the most intimate relationship in her life - yes, with Brian Viglione).

    One last thing: Brian was never "her drummer". Brian and Amanda founded the Dresden Dolls together. He contributed to the band's musicianship and image as much or more than Amanda did. The band never would have existed without Brian. Amanda certainly would never have attracted the attention of a record label without playing with a talent like Brian.