Amanda Palmermusician who's late of the Dresden Dolls, Internet inspiration and firebrand and, now, mothernever dreamed of touring in the chaotic aftermath of a Donald Trump victory.
Palmer's Nov. 13 Thalia Hall show was a bittersweet cocktail of anger and sorrow. She paid tribute to the recently deceased Leonard Cohenwhose songs she covered with her father, Jack, earlier in the yearby having her audience deliver trinkets for Cohen to the stage. Her husband, fantasy author Neil Gaiman, read Cohen's "Democracy" aloud, narrated by Palmer's sepulchral piano. With singer Whitney Moses, Palmer covered Regina Spektor's guttural, defiant "Uh-Merica."
Yet moments of Palmer's trademark candor and occasional sweetness surfaced through the rage. In "A Mother's Confession," written about adapting to life with her infant son, Ash, Palmer copped to accidentally shoplifting Chap Stick while at Safeway with the newborn. And her song "Machete," a tribute to her dead best friend, Anthony, had both Palmer and the audience overcome with emotion at its climax.
Palmer is unique for her desire to connect with and marshal her fans to actionmany support the musician on the crowdfunding platform Patreonand her relationship with them was on display throughout the night. "You got this!" someone yelled during "Machete," and Palmer took her head out of her hands and played on.
Windy City Times was fortunate to talk with Palmer before the show ( Ash slumbering in the background ) about her reaction to the election, self-care, and her identity as a female artist.
Windy City Times: How does it make you feel that people look to you for guidance?
Amanda Palmer: Less lonely. I mean, I know that I don't have any big complicated answers. But I know as a performer and a human being who has navigated a lot of miles and years how important it is to not feel alone.
This election was so isolating. Like, you walk down the street and you wonder, "Oh, my God: Are my neighbors not who I thought they were? Is my country not what I thought it was? Am I not actually supported by this big, beautiful thing?" And that's so fucking frightening for so many people to just feel like all of a sudden, you are cosmically alone, or in a far smaller minority than you thought you were.
Even if I can't change a policy or proffer up even a modest solution for climate change or immigration, I know I can get people in a room and remind us all that we're not fucking alonewhich, was always kind of my job to begin with, and I'm just so glad this happened while I was on tour instead of Six months ago. Six months ago, I was off. I was in a bedroom with a baby doing diapers and towels. So I'm gladsilver liningthat this happened while I was out on the road and I could clutch everyone's arms. On the third flip side, I now have a baby, and it's terrifying looking at him knowing that he's going to be in an America possibly ruled by a fascist demagogue. That makes me feel like I've failed him.
WCT: How are you taking care of yourself?
AP: Not really very well. I am trying to forge a very wise balance between work life, mother life, life with Neilall the lives. Being a touring musician is hard to begin with, and I've lived on the road for like 15 years, so that balance is already an impossible tightrope. And then someone throws a baby in your arms. And you're like, holy shit, I'm still on this tightrope, and now everything at stake is a little heavier.
I'm trying to really reckon with my own self-judgment about what I "should" be doing. Because, clearly, there's a higher wisdom about how I can be spending my time and energy. And having a baby just fast-tracks that wisdom, because you do realize there's so many ways to burn out, and if you don't take care of yourself, you're fucked. As a workaholic, I've always had a hard time finding that balance. So in a way, the kid's been a gift, because he has forced me to put my work down and just go take a walk in the woods, because I take that walk in the woods with him. And in this beautiful sort of symbiosis, taking care of him sort of feels like taking care of myself. Because I needed that fucking walk in the wood but would never give it to me.
WCT: Do you think your queer identity gets forgotten, and do you care?
AP: I don't care very much, and I think that might be the key. I have never really deployed my bi-ness, queerness, whatever-you-want-to-call-it-ness, as a upfront flag. There may have been times where I could have deployed it to my advantage and I chose not to.
With the Dresden Dolls, people were very tempted to put us in the goth box, and I actively fought against being stuck in any box. I didn't want to wind up being known as the goth band or the queer chick, or anything. I just so, so passionately wanted to be taken at face value. And you know, sometimes I question the wisdom on that. There's times that I think that it was possibly a little bit fearful. Because I just didn't want to have to explain myself or have difficult conversations with people.
It's fucking hard to be a female musician. People want to categorize you before they want to discuss anything else. Looking back at my whole career, most journalists would get to the music question last, if at all. And that always bothered me, that because I was a woman, and because I was emotionally available, people wanted to talk to me about everything but songwriting and performing, and the piano, and the material. And I don't do the journalists any favors by really being excited about all of those topics. I love talking about sex, and marriage, and the internet,and crowdfunding and money and transparency. I have a very hard time being Morrissey. I can't keep you on my agenda.
But, yeah, I always figured being bisexual was par for the course if you're a fucking maximalist weirdo like me and you want to lick every wall and eat every food and fuck every person. That's always been me. I haven't changed. Open-mindedness transcends silos. If you're an open-minded artist, chances are you're going to be an open-minded sexual creature. If you can be creative about one thing, you can be creative about another.
WCT: Given that we're in this climate, how do you keep holding onto unconditional love?
AP: I think, intellectually, we might believe that it is going to be harder to love, to transcend whatever's happening. But if you do a little bit of mental jiu jitsu, it's actually going to be easier. The same way there are no atheists in foxholes, you cannot be alive and compassionate in America right now and not be wanting to reach your hands out to your neighbors.
I have been wanting to hug people in airports, because it's so important to me that hate and racism and fear not take over. And if not me, and if not you, and if not these people, then who the fuck is going to do it? And so I actually think that it's an inspiring moment. Because, all of a sudden, the stakes just blew up. And if everyone committed to love and compassion doesn't stand up and make their voice heard right now, this country's going to go in a very frightening direction.
WCT: How would you suggest that individual people contribute?
AP: This is not the time to not be politically active. And that means more than just checking boxes and signing things on the internet. I, like a lot of people, took for granted that Clinton was going to get into office and I was cavalierly planning my tour and my year, and time off with the baby in the spring, and I am going to fucking rip up my plans and make a new one. And I am going to make a plan that is going to involve a lot more political activism. Because if I don't, I will never be able to live with myself. This is the moment to just take some time out of your life and do something concrete. Especially if you feel guilty that you didn't do enough to get Clinton into office, which is a common feelingjust get off your ass and do something.
And I think it's also very important that people not be afraid to speak openly on the internet about their political feelings, with the guarantee that you're going to be disagreed with, that you're going to be yelled at, belittled, told to shut up, told that this is not the time and the place, told that the election is over. And this is the time to not shut up. This is the time to make your feelings very heard. One of the most ripe and beautiful eras of art and dissident satire and cabaret was in pre-Nazi Germany, in the Weimar era. And for a good reason. Because when the crush comes from above, the surge comes from below. If you are young and queer, this is the time to get fucking crazy. This is the time to be unabashedly unafraid in the face of people walking through the streets right now thinking that they can yell faggot at you because Donald Trump is in office. This is the time to wave your freak flag very high.