by Angelica Cofer
Amanda Palmer is a musician, artist, writer, performer and public speaker. She published The Art of Asking in 2014 after presenting her widely successful Ted Talk under the same name. The speech goes behind the scenes of Amanda’s days as the 8-Foot Bride, where she performed as a busker, handing out flowers to passersby. I attended Amanda’s Union Chapel performance to see her, the person—not necessarily for her music. But witnessing this talented musician doing what she loves best—performing—was exceptionally magical.
Back in December 2015, I found The Art of Asking, Amanda’s book on human connection through art. And then I listened to it on audiobook three times in a row. She narrates, and her voice is full of heart, tender love, and wonder. She believes in what she is saying; she believes in compassion. She identifies that, at the end of the day, we all just want to be seen. Not just glanced at, or listened to, but really, truly seen—and vulnerably. Loving people, despite our differences—really, truly opening up to them—is how we go from stranger to neighbor to individual with hopes and loves and fears. A parade of humanity.
In The Art of Asking, Amanda tells the story of busking in Boston as the 8-Foot Bride. After graduating from Wesleyan College, she worked at an ice cream parlor before quickly realizing that she could make more money in a couple of hours by handing out flowers to strangers than she did working her six-hour shifts scooping sundaes. The bride became her full-time job. People often see busking as a form of begging, but Amanda describes it differently. There is a tangible exchange that occurs between the performer and the audience. Even if it’s as simple as handing over a flower.
Palmer has taken her value in genuine human connection, and applied it to all aspects of her life—most noticeably her art. If I’m coming across as a total fangirl right now, it’s because I am. She’s Amanda Fucking Palmer. And seeing her live, singing at an old gothic church in North London, among unique, conformity-bending individuals—it connected the dots for me. I love Amanda for who she is. I found her through her amazing book and stayed for her faith in human kind. I don’t know all her music, but that doesn’t matter, because I came to the show to see her. To see her perform. To make art. To make love.
Jherek Bischoff opened alongside a string quartet that accompanied both him and Amanda for the rest of the night. Jherek has worked closely with Amanda in the past; he’s arranged many of her songs and participated in many of her albums, including Theatre Is Evil as part of Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra. Basically, Bischoff a kick-ass composer. The quartet he and Amanda scraped together had only rehearsed together once the day before, and they sounded amazing.
After Jherek’s set, Amanda rocked up on stage and played some classics, such as “Ampersand” and “The Killing Type”, as well as a cover of “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie hits “Ashes to Ashes” and “Space Oddity.” Her husband, Neil Gaiman, joined in to sing a couple of songs, including “Pyscho”, a Leon Payne cover. She had volunteers assist by squeezing a squealing pig toy for her performance of “Missed Me” (a Dresden Dolls song). Towards the end of the evening, she played several songs she’s been working on—all funded by her patrons on Patreon, a website that allows fans to fund their favorite artists on a regular basis, instead of waiting for each “big thing” they put out, like, say, a fully-fledged album.
In many ways, Amanda Palmer is the cover girl for Patreon. For one thing, she talks about it all the time. In 2010, she divorced her record label, Roadrunner Records. This allowed her to deliver her music straight into her fans’ hands, while fearlessly asking for direct payment. In her blog post following the break up in 2010 she writes:
“[sic] as many of you know, i’ve been a very vocal advocate of artists being fearless in asking their audience and supporters for direct financial help.
i come from a background of grassroots theater and street performance, and i think that artists should feel no shame while passing the hat around once they’ve entertained a crowd of people.”
Using a middle man, such as a record label, literally gets in the way of this exchange. So it’s no wonder Amanda jumped on the Patreon train. It’s a tool that was basically made for her.
She, and anyone else who uses the website, can communicate directly with their fans. From blog posts, to secret updates, to direct messaging, it’s convenient and effective. Artists can share work with their followers, and provide treats or rewards to patrons for supporting them. How do I know all this? I’m a patron of course! I heard about Amanda’s show through a patron-wide email she sent, which directed me to a patron-only pre-sale. When I write it out, it sounds a bit exclusive. But it doesn’t feel that way. It’s more like getting invited to meet up with a good friend you haven’t seen in a while.
For me, Amanda’s show was about spending time with a close-to-heart hero. It was magical, intimate, but it also felt like I’d been there before, like I knew her, like this was how I’d always known it would be. She’s interactive. She engages the audience. She gets her husband on stage. She tells stories about her son. She divulges her present worries and fears (especially with the world going completely tits up and all that). It was fun, intense, and therapeutic. I cried throughout the entirety of “Machete,” a song about Amanda’s late best friend Anthony, his death, and how he’d kept a bunch of knives in his house despite living as a Buddhist.
Why does any of this matter? Because Amanda Palmer gets us feeling. She reminds us that we’re humans beings with beating hearts. Her song “In Harms Way”, which is all about her experience volunteering at a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, reminds us of why we all matter. That we’re all part of the same ride (yes, a reference to her last song of the set, “The Ride”). We are all here, so why not love, feel, breathe, care, connect? Even if it’s a world shared with Donald Trump—even then— “this whole thing doesn’t work unless we’re compassionate to everyone,” she says. And it’s true. Amanda’s genuine trust in this philosophy is what makes her so great. Her willingness to share and hold out a hand is what inspires my patronage, and it’s why I’ll follow her art and keep coming to her shows. But beyond that, it helps make my days a little bit brighter, and reminds me to smile, and to be kind.
Angelica is a writer, filmmaker, and poet. She shares book reviews and lifestyle videos on her YouTube channel. You can follow her here: www.youtube.com/mercurycalling