All words: Travis Andrews — All photos: Jenny Greenley
As I sit here, staring at the tattoos, the severe haircuts, the most dazzling array of torn black pants I’ve ever seen, I know I don’t belong here. I’m a straight white boy wearing chambray shirt, worn jeans and Rivers Cuomo glasses. I’ve had a blond girl turn my head, and I care passionately about football and craft beers and The Wire. When/If I get married, I will try to model my marriage after Coach and Mrs. Taylor’s in Friday Night Lights. Basically, I’m a pretty typical American boy.
So, the fact that I’m at a show fronted by a former stripper turned alt-cabaret rock duo turned theatrical solo artist is seeming to surprise everyone around me. Because this is Amanda Palmer. She’s an icon to some. Well, many, if this show is any indication. She’s an icon of female power, but she has a band of all men. Always has.
To be honest, I have no clue how her albums began to fall among my Hold Steady and Nationals cuts. I found the Dresden Dolls in college, probably from a free CD sent to our newspaper, and I fell in love. The one time I saw the Dolls was at 3 a.m. on a farm in Manchester, Tennessee. I was the only one there who stuck to beer and whisky. I don’t fit in, but I’m a fan.
I’m just like Amanda Palmer.
She’s an amazingly talented musician. But more than that, she’s the most interesting character literature has never seen. Had it, she’d be the best. Not Hamlet, not Don Gately, not Dumbledore. Because, more than anyone else, she lives in a private hell made public and seemingly hates herself for doing so.
Everything about her is a walking contradiction.
Take the fact that half of her songs seem to be about the evils of technology, yet her stage show involves a projector hooked up to a drum kit that cycles through photos sent in by fans via email and social media. She’s sung a million songs against marriage, then married novelist Neil Gaiman in New Orleans. And he’s not the little boy-toy, one would imagine, that she’s always sung about. She’s got a great stage presence but she’s pretty terrible at banter. She’s so theatrical — take a look at these photos — but if someone were to write a biography about her, I’d venture to say it’d be pretty boring. At least now. Because these theatrical songs are about everyday life.
And therein lies her contradiction. She can do all sorts of tricks like have audience members write down something bad that happened to them in their bedroom and then she can read those to the crowd, she can have a band all clad in white, she can switch instruments with her band during “Missing You” and lit on fire for “Girl, Anacronysm.” But if you listen closely, she’s singing about the same shit that everyone goes through.
And that’s where I always connected with her. She might be an icon for strong women, but she’s just a person like anyone else. She’s confused about what she cares about, what she wants, what life is. She hates what she uses; she goes against her own dictums. So? Who the hell doesn’t? Whoever doesn’t will hate Amanda Palmer. For everyone else, here’s a private heart not just on a sleeve but smeared all over the front of a shirt.
Now enjoy these photos in all their heart-pounding theatrical goodness: