Amanda Palmer Does Not Assimilate

Photos courtesy of Big Hassle Media.

Amanda Palmer has been outspoken and fierce since her musical career began in the early 2000s, first with Brian Viglione in the Dresden Dolls, and recently in a solo career that has seen her travel the world. Her critically acclaimed 2012 album Theatre is Evil came out of her groundbreaking Kickstarter, and was followed by a NY Times bestselling book, 2014’s The Art of Asking.

Her newest album, There Will Be No Intermission, is a fearless conversation between the artist and the audience. She addresses life in a way that is startlingly relatable. Family estrangement, abortion, miscarriage, parenting anxieties…these are only a few of the life-changing events that are tackled in this album.

There is a realization that hits you in your forties that there really is no intermission. There is no break between the heartache and joy that life brings you. You finally understand that the point of life is to become your most authentic self and that doing that is painful and raw. The only other option is to put your head down and assimilate.

Amanda Palmer does not assimilate.

We spoke about her new album and the accompanying art book. The cover of the album has already been banned on Instagram, prompting her fans to recreate the image of Amanda standing nude at sunset, wielding a sword above her head.

The Arts STL: A lot of the images in the book are reminiscent of a tarot deck. The Magician, the Queen of Swords, the Chariot. Are these images tarot related?

Amanda Palmer: It’s not as if we went into the photo shoot with an idea of what it would look like. It was just a point in the shoot where I decided to jump up here with a sword. But every woman knows what it means to jump up naked on a pedestal with a sword in their hand. It’s a universal symbol of our powerfulness, and giving no fucks. Archetypes are archetypes for a fucking reason. It’s not an accident that we feel the way we feel when women are standing in powerful positions. Look at Justice, look at Wonder Woman. Those poses aren’t accidents. None of those photos were plotted out, but I also live in this culture of signifiers where holding a sword over your head means something no matter who you are.

The lyrics in this album are really significant.  In “The Ride,” you say

“Everyone’s too scared to open their eyes up

But everyone’s too scared to close them

Everyone’s frightened they don’t know what’s coming

But everyone’s frightened of knowing”

Who is everyone?

Everyone. Everyone EVERY everyone. I was talking to another journalist from the Italian Rolling Stone and she said how there is still that tragedy in Italy where feminists are seen as man-haters, and we went on a tangent about that for a while…I mean everyone. There is no way to exclude anyone from everyone. You can’t be selectively compassionate or empathetic. It doesn’t work that way.

That’s almost revolutionary right now. Especially with right wing Christians squaring off against LGBTQ folks…

Which is pretty fucking funny? Because Jesus said… I mean, that’s your guy! He said it a lot! Not just those people or some people, but everyone!

Most of my questions are around these amazing songs—is that okay?

Oh my god, that’s all I want to talk about.

In “The Thing about Things,” this story about your grandfather’s ring being more of a connection to you than your relationship with him:

‘Cos the thing about things is that they can start meaning things

Nobody actually said

And if you’re not allowed to love people alive

Then you learn how to love people dead

Is that a true story? Do you find that your life is punctuated by objects that bring back a memory or a moment?

Everything is true. Everything is real. My relationship with objects is my relationship with attachment. I’ve been trying to chip away at my attachment to attachment… for a long time. It’s ever evolving. In my stage show, I talk about what I didn’t used to think I was allowed to write about. As a teenager, as a young songwriter in my twenties. How the stories and the ghosts and people and memories in my past haven’t gone anywhere. They’re still kicking around.

The thing that makes that song so poignant to me is that I kicked it around for 20 years before it finally spilled out in the form that it did, this metaphor that came and punched me in the face. There’s something so tragic in music, particularly where female songwriters are considered—you know, considered, period—when they are young and hot and in their twenties and thirties, and yet the mastery of songwriting is something that you continually work on. You’re also like any architect or surgeon or sculptor. You actually get better at it. Which is so ironic considering who gets considered? We should work on the assumption that all of us—Bjork, Tori Amos, me, Ani DiFranco, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift—everyone is getting better at their job of songwriting. It’s absolutely a myth that there’s some heyday at 25 and that you capture lightning in a bottle and that’s your moment to be a songwriter. I’m getting so much better at this as a craft. I’m getting better at knowing what works, and sitting down in front of a group of a thousand people and saying something and instantly connecting. It helps when you have an audience that’s willing to go anywhere with you, who give less and less fucks about the scene and the system and who has to say what about your work.

This reminds me of Hannah Gadsby…“There’s no way that a 17-year-old could be in her prime.”

YES. I saw her show in London. It was amazing.

The fact that your two works are coming together at the same time—with #MeToo and Time’s Up and women’s anger and ferocity—it doesn’t feel like an accident.

No—it’s not an accident. My ass was kicked as I sat there and watched Hannah Gadsby perform that show for 200 people. I was so shaken to my core to be reminded that there are no rules, that you’re allowed to dance in and out of the role of being an “acceptable entertainer” and then literally bust out the fourth wall and tell people the truth. You can do fucking anything.

Honestly, I don’t know if I hadn’t seen Hannah’s show if I would have tried to approach this album and this tour the way I did. She gave me a kind of permission. This is what women are doing for each other all the time now. Our biggest political weapon is our mouths. Our stories. Our truths. Our shamelessness in sharing that truth.

Our biggest political weapon is our mouths. Our stories. Our truths. Our shamelessness in sharing that truth.

I talk in my show about Nick Cave. Not a woman, but an incredibly generous and insightful songwriter, who also really upped the bar. I’m looking at what he did with his last album and book and tour. It was just a reminder as artists, performers, and writers, our job is to speak truth to the darkest parts of life. It can be very frightening and exhausting to do it. You also run the immediate risk of being called narcissistic and egotistical. Once you break through all of that, you come into the fullness of your power as an artist of any gender.

You use the word vulnerable, and I think that that’s the key. Vulnerability is turning to armor instead of a weakness. Being vulnerable and authentic makes it harder for people to knock you down.

Yeah—and the truth is the truth, man. You can’t really argue with it. No one can tell me that I don’t feel the way I feel about abortion and miscarriage. The truth is the truth. Given what’s going on in politics and the world right now, this is our weapon. This is our first line of defense. The truth, and being very unafraid to deliver the truth.

I found the Judy Blume song really moving. I think we had so much more fear around being a woman than girls do now.

As a 13-year-old girl reading those books. I didn’t recognize that as the truth. I thought it was just teenage fiction. Then you find out the books were banned. I just took their availability for granted living in a liberal town in Massachusetts. The older I get and the more I move through the world and also the more I see frightening conservatives trying to control the agenda, the more urgency I feel around making sure the truth stays out front.

There is a weirdness about this generation in that they’re really bold in certain areas, and in others there is a lot of pressure and a lot of shame. I look at what my mother didn’t teach me. We were not equipped [with the same things] back in the ‘80s. I find myself thinking that it’s great that women my age can get into my record. These songs aren’t necessarily going to speak to 14 and 15-year olds. I’m going to a literary festival for teenagers just to talk about this kind of stuff. Just to remind them that if they’re writers they can write about anything.

I’m bringing my teenager to your concert, not because it’s her kind of music necessarily, but the message that you share is so important. You’re someone she can look up to.

Yes—there’s music and there is a message there, too. The message is the most important part. | Melissa Cynova

You can see Amanda Palmer in St. Louis at the Pageant (6161 Delmar Blvd.) on May 31, 2019. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit thepageant.com.

 

Tour Dates

05.10.19                              Warfield Theatre                                             San Francisco, CA

05.11.19                               Theatre at Ace Hotel                                      Los Angeles, CA

05.17.19                               Cobb Energy Centre                                       Atlanta, GA

05.18.19                               Ryman Auditorium                                         Nashville, TN

05.30.19                               The Pageant                                                       St. Louis, MO

05.31.19                               Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland       Kansas City, MO

06.01.19                               Paramount Theatre                                        Denver, CO

06.06.19                               The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts             Vancouver, BC Canada

06.07.19                               Paramount Theatre                                        Seattle, WA

06.08.19                               Crystal Ballroom                                              Portland, OR

06.09.19                               Crystal Ballroom                                              Portland, OR

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