Amanda and I are getting halved-heart best friend charm necklaces and weaving each other friendship bracelets with coloured string as I type this.
I was first introduced to Amanda Palmer as the female half of the punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls about seven years ago. It was her voice that intrigued me. The first song I heard was Coin-Operated Boy. Oh, fucking relatable music. A boy I fancied (who at the time I thought fancied me as well, whom I no longer even talk to) sent me a link. After which I got my hands on their albums, The Dresden Dolls & A is for Accident, which was all that was out at the time. I listened to these obsessively, repetitively, and pretty much daily—her lyrics spoke to me in a very real way. My favorite songs were Good Day, The Perfect Fit, Truce—and then Glass Slipper and Thirty Whacks (really glad they’re re-mastering A is for Accident).
At the same point that I was listening to them this excessively curiosity got the better of me and I googled. I wanted to know what they looked like, who they were—where this music that mattered so much to me came from. This is when I really realized my affinity with Amanda Palmer. We’re the same age and we grew up with a lot of the same music, and in the same sub-culture. Like, I think this cover of The Ghost in You is fantastic:
But it’s not just the proximity in age and music that makes me feel connected to her. Even though we grew up on opposite coasts she reminds me of everything I’ve lost, forgotten and loved. She’s someone I would be friends with. Her sense of humor actually reminds me of my best friend from high school who wore ripped up tights and dyed her hair with me. And yes, back when I was deathrock or goth or whatever, I also drew on my eyebrows. We carried lunch boxes as purses, wore striped tights, and had spontaneous picnics with our friends in abandoned places or on street medians. And I, yes shy as hell me, was more outgoing, possibly fearless. I read my poems—which were sometimes over the top, sometimes disgusting, and often silly/funny at coffee shops all over the city. I was even on the cover of the arts & entertainment guide in our local newspaper, The Press Enterprise. I remember a time I went into a bed store and acted out a scene from The Exorcist for christ’s sake. If Amanda and I were friends (and if we grew up in the same place I’m sure we would be) we would have trampled together through fountains on Main street, drinking Strawberry Hill in the bushes before punk shows at Spankey’s Café. But, we didn’t grow up in the same town (I doubt she even knows where the hell Riverside, Ca is) but, I feel a connection. I find myself caring about her, rooting for her, and even proud of her.
So in May of 2008 when The Dresden Dolls played at the Wiltern in Los Angeles I finally got to see them live. After I got off work, Deirdre and I drove in from Buena Park (where we were living at the time) to LA and met up with my friends Tonya and Janine, who were separately and also big fans. Now this was Dee’s first live show, she was 12 at the time (jesus I can’t believe she’s turning 15 in ten days—and all the shows she’s seen since—numerous house shows in Seattle, and over the summer she saw Comadre in San Diego w/my friend Nathan) and Amanda and Brian gave her the most perfect first show any mother could hope for their kid to attend. They played Pink Floyd’s In The Flesh, an assortment of Doll’s songs, The Beastie Boys’ Fight for your Right to Party (which Brian sang and Amanda played the drums on), but the song that really blew me away that night was The Gardener, which you can see a fragment of from that night here:
They were fucking fantastic, I was blown away. Deirdre was blown away. And to add to things they played with Smoosh as their opening band. They are from Seattle (Deirdre’s favorite place in the universe) and they were around her age. Awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to live music for my kid. I’ve never been a fan of big shows, the only big concert I’ve ever been to was Depeche Mode and that was by chance because a friend of mine had an extra ticket. I don’t like the impersonal nature and distance of the big show. The Wiltern is not too big. I saw Nick Cave there a few years earlier. But this show, this Dresden Dolls show—at the time became my favorite live show of my life. I’m not fucking kidding. They were fun, funny, personable, amazing, accessible and just fucking brilliant. Some day I will thank them personally.
This tour was when they just put out No, Virginia. And yes, I had picked up both Virginia albums, my favorite songs included My Alcoholic Friends, First Orgasm, Sing (god I fucking love this song), Night Reconnaissance, The Gardener, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You get it. I love them. I love Amanda.
I’m ashamed to admit that when she also put out her first solo cd, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, I sort of ignored it. What I mean is, it wasn’t the same, and I didn’t really give it a go. I hoped this wasn’t the end of the dolls, but I didn’t know much about them personally and had all my own life-living, and was in the process of moving to Seattle, so it was placed on the back burner of my brain. Sadly it wasn’t until 2010 that the buzz of Evelyn Evelyn pushed me into listening to a few tracks, I immediately fell in love with Ampersand. Then came Astronaut, then Oasis and Runs in the Family. The videos for this disc were incredible. How had I overlooked such a fantastic album? So I picked it up, and then Evelyn Evelyn when it was released. And bought tickets to catch them at the Showbox in Seattle.
Around this same time I had heard of Amanda’s engagement to Neil Gaiman. Whoa. I don’t know these kids personally and I never never follow the love lives of people I don’t know. But, I grew up with Sandman. My kid has grown up reading Neil Gaiman books. Signal to Noise is one of my favorite books of all time. I am very fucking familiar with the art that both these people make. And all I could think is—what a brilliant couple.
So in another May, now two years later, I saw Amanda Palmer perform live once again. This time Deirdre stayed home. Her friend was visiting from California and they wanted to run around Seattle with their friends, and also I don’t think Dee cares for Evelyn Evelyn. She likes Jason, she likes Amanda, but not them as these conjoined twins. But, I do, so I went. I’ve already written about this show before when I wrote about Jason Webley. It was fucking awesome. Amanda even sang a song for the girl who was sitting next to me’s birthday. There was a lot of wind, rain, beer and awesome this evening.
Then later in 2010 The Dresden Dolls announced a reunion tour. By this time I had moved back to California and there were no Ca dates. And my friend Bizz, who I had brought to the Evelyn Evelyn show in Seattle, had never seen the dolls live before, and she needed to. So, I scanned the tour and saw that they were playing in New Orleans, a city I had always wanted to visit, a city Bizz and I had planned to move away to when we turned eighteen, but when she was sixteen she got pregnant and that dream never came to fruition, and then years drifted her and I apart, and then back together (that’s how it is in this town I grew up in). And Jason Webley was opening this show. The decision was easy enough. So in November 2010 we headed to New Orleans. Jason added a show on Thursday night at the Allways Lounge, which is a really amazing place. This show was sort of a celebration of Neil Gaiman’s 50th birthday. At different points during the evening I found myself next to Neil and then Amanda. I didn’t talk to either of them (my thirties have made me shy). But being that close to them two nights in a row I could tell how nice and accessible they both are. I thanked Jason Webley on the way out, and we made our way back to the hotel.
The next night The Dresden Dolls played at Tipitinas in the Garden District. The venue wasn’t as great as the Wiltern (where I was able to sit higher up at a table and see even though I’m short). There was no fucking way for Bizz and me to see. There were some mean girls, and the whole show was watched on a television screen, which I could have done from home. So that sucked, and that’s not their fault. But it wasn’t the same or as good as the show I saw in LA two years previously. What changed? The dynamic between Brian and Amanda seemed, just, different. I mean, they were good, they were really fucking good. And this show was early on their tour, and I’ve watched other shows on this tour online and they were all fantastic. But this show, the one I went to, was like they had not yet warmed back up to each other. Now I don’t know anything about their relationship or history. What I do know is they’ve made some damn good music together.
And then last night I read Neil Gaiman’s article in Spin about The Dresden Dolls, and I thought, yes!—that is the dolls I remember. So when they added the San Diego date I was very tempted to drag Bizz along and go. And Deirdre wanted to go so bad. But a worry hit me that these shows seem to be bigger, more crowded, and not quite the personal shows I really enjoy going to. And I passed because it all would cost too much, and I was worried. But I regret not going. You always regret the things you don’t do, that’s so true. It sounded like these last two Ca shows were pretty amazing. But, I’ve never seen her by herself. And now I’m really craving it.
And then last week she releases this incredible hilarious and clever video for Map of Tasmania. And I love her more than ever.
Today she released Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, which I bought and downloaded this morning. You choose your price. You can buy it for under a dollar, or whatever you can afford or think it’s worth, here.
I’ve been listening to it all morning. It opens with Makin’ Whoopie, which she’s been playing live a lot lately. Neil Gaiman introduces her, and the whole album is all live. Then there’s Australia, which I really love. Followed by Vegemite (the black death), a playful song about some really nasty brown spread that her husband likes (reminds me of how I feel about mayonnaise). Then comes Map of Tasmania, a fun silly song about pubic hair liberation. In My Mind is a song about who she thought she would be now and features Brian Viglione (I think we all think about this, that weird idealized idea of who you’ll become and then years later you’re still you and then finally you accept yourself). Next is Bad Wine and Lemon Cake, which is a duet (I have a big big love for duets). New Zealand comes next, which is about menstruation, the beauty standard, how pretty it is there—in New Zealand, and other things. Then comes On an Unknown Beach. We’re Happy Little Vegemites is silly Vegemite song sung by the audience. Then there’s Doctor Oz, which might be my favorite song on the album. Formidable Marinade follows. And then the album ends with one of my favorite Nick Cave songs, The Ship Song. I am a fucking huge Nick Cave fan, so naturally I was so very reluctant to listen to a cover of this. No one tops Nick Cave and I was worried a lot, but as usual Amanda Palmer carries the song with her strong beautiful voice and I’m right there, in the song—totally fucking okay with a cover of a Nick Cave song. It would be a wet dream for me if these two could get together for a duet. Seriously. This is a really lovely, fun, funny, clever, awesome album. Thank you again Amanda.