“It’ll be us and 3 Inches of Blood!”, Amanda Palmer joked as she retells her story of being signed by Roadrunner Records early on in her career. “And Slipknot!”, interviewer Bob Lefsetz chimed in as he wanted to have some fun with his special guest. “Yeah, Slipknot” Palmer responded, as she then mentioned that Nickelback were on the label too. The audience at the guest ballroom at the Mariott Hotel near the Eaton center then gasped whilst giggling. “Someone’s got to put food on the table” Lefsetz responded, siding with Palmer’s joke. Yes, we all have to make ends meet and that is how Nickelback made their lives a little bit easier; perhaps it is worth remembering their song Rockstar that talks about living a wealthy life. There may be jokes, but people cling to their art if they are truly serious about their craft no matter who they are. Amanda Palmer is an excellent example of this, as she sat on stage with renown critic Lefsetz. Today was a day where we got Palmer’s life story in an hour and we got Lefsetz’s curious enthusiasm through each question. Yes, we were lucky to have such a great duo on stage as they would work off one another and thus we were left with an inspirational, candid and entertaining interview.
Amanda Palmer is a large figure in music, as she had taken self promotion online by storm before it was even trendy to do so. Her former band The Dresden Dolls (a duo with drummer Brian Viglione) have a huge cult following that exists even until this day. She opened the interview with a risque but phenomenal story that told her every career decision in a nutshell, and it exposed why The Dresden Dolls was such a success. Being a former stripper, Palmer took much inspiration from acclaimed burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese. Von Teese, too, was a former stripper, but she brought something new to her club to try and break out of the mold and live the career she so desired to live. Instead of dressing sexily, Von Teese wore artistic outfits and sometimes wouldn’t even expose herself to the audience. “If there were fifty guys there, each one would pay one dollar to the other strippers”, Palmer said whilst further concluding “One man would pay Von Teese fifty dollars”. Her point was made. No matter what profession, we all want to be that worker that gets noticed as a true inspiration and talent and not just as someone doing their job.
Sometimes it’s hard to get noticed. Palmer worked as a human statue on the street before her music career took off, and she told us how worse performers got a lot of change given to them while she would be overlooked. In fact, this was not always the case, as sometimes she would get a lot of change for her work. The problem was that she wasn’t really noticed despite how fearful she was with her body and soul exposed for the entire public to see: Being overlooked was sadly even more humiliating. However, she played piano on the side and got noticed by Viglione instantly. He was that man with the fifty dollar note. They began to make music as The Dresden Dolls immediately. As they experienced being shunned by almost every label and having to deal with Roadrunner Records and their disagreements, The Dresden Dolls began to promote themselves to the world instead. With sites like Livejournal and Myspace, social media existed but not even on the level it is at now. Even Twitter was still young and small, and Palmer saw it as a blessing as hashtags used to actually advertise people with the top trending comments easily. Now, it’s almost impossible to get the top trending comment. Either way, it worked in Palmer’s favor as being a large icon on the internet.
Sadly, with fame comes infamy, and Palmer had to face being humiliated online and being a “Twitter meme” when rumors were going around that Palmer was greedy. What Palmer would do at live events is get musicians and artists to join her on stage. When people found out she wasn’t paying these artists while she made a million dollars off of a release, suddenly it was a joke to call Palmer stingy. “Do whatever you need to do to make this go away”, Palmer told herself as she had just released a new album and was on a tour with neither main event being talked about because of this misconceived controversy. “I wish I stuck to my guns” she said with regret, but she concluded that story with “You’ll do anything to make this go away”. Suddenly she was in the world of the people paying with one dollar bills again. She wasn’t seen as that talent that confused many and dazzled specific audiences anymore. She was seen as “an asshole”. That is until her TED talk that got millions of views online. The world was open to Palmer as a gifted speaker and a creative mind again.
It is this mind we got to see at CMW, and it was an absolute pleasure to witness. Palmer’s lightning quick responses, lacking any filler, told an incredible story and Lefsetz’s questions helped continue her story chronologically while opening interesting doors that exposed many skeletons that Palmer seemed fine revisiting, such as her sexuality, her troublesome days in high school and college and her various controversies. Palmer is someone clearly mature enough to show her burdens and her desires on her resume in bold. She concluded the interview with an incredibly darkly funny song played on the ukulele in a typically Palmer fashion. Her music has always been sinister and droll, and this was no exception. It was a song that discussed how musicians and music lovers would perhaps not go crazy if they were given ukuleles, and it is a song that joked about offensive topics like Lennon’s assassination and pipe bombs. Of course, if you don’t get the joke Palmer’s addressing by now, perhaps Palmer’s hard hitting personality will never resonate with you. She recited many lyrics written by fans at the end of her song with ease, and it felt special to witness such an exclusive and unpredictable performance.
“My life’s been hard”, she told everyone, and it’s no secret that someone unwilling to give into the mainstream has suffered a lot when it comes to getting her career off the ground. When asked what her future goals are, she jokingly said “I want to do all the things”. No kidding. She has an autobiography coming out possibly in November. Having heard much of her life’s tales today, I cannot be the only one eager to see even more stories in print and solely in her jarring words. She finished her speech before her solo number by saying that she doesn’t think: She just does things. She just acts upon opportunities. In the end, with so many that have judged her and the many that were confused by her and even by Dita Von Teese, thinking may not always be a necessary asset to welcoming change. Change should be embraced as a possibility and not as a threat. Actions shouldn’t always be judged but instead should be allowed to talk for themselves. If anyone knows about thinking too much and its negative affects, it’s Amanda Palmer. If anyone knows about allowing an echo to continue without sprinting to follow where it is carried, it’s Amanda Palmer. If anyone was more fitting of a new inspiration for someone wanting to be read and heard like myself, it’s Amanda Palmer, and I thoroughly recommend that any aspiring artists or creative thinkers should check out any interview or speech by her. Don’t think about it. Just do it. It may end up for the better like many of Palmer’s instinctive decisions that have catapulted her as a social media and music cult figurehead.