by Jenny Wrenn, contributing writer
Today marks the birthday of one of our favorite force-of-nature rockers, Amanda MacKinnon Gaiman Palmer (a.k.a Amanda “F*cking” Palmer). Born in New York City in 1976 and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, this multi-talented musician and Queen-of-All-Social-Media burst onto the alternative music scene back in the early 2000s as the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist/composer of the groundbreaking Brechtian punk cabaret duo, The Dresden Dolls. Known for their dramatic cabaret makeup, dynamic live performances, and dedicated fan base, Palmer and partner Brian Viglione developed their core audience performing smaller, fan-focused shows that resembled performance art and encouraged audience participation. As their popularity and profile grew, the Dolls held their own at large scale festivals like South By Southwest, Bonnaroo, Britain’s Reading and Leeds Fesitvals, Lollapalooza, and Radio City Music Hall. Flamboyantly theatrical, comically dark, and deeply intimate, their music was also featured in original musical theater productions like The Clockwork Waltz and The Onion Cellar. Together, Palmer and Viglione are often credited with laying the groundwork for the U.S.’s punk cabaret movement.
However, some of you may not realize that Palmer – who now performs and tours primarily as a solo act accompanied by her band, The Grand Theft Orchestra – actually honed her performance chops prior to the Dolls by busking as a living statue known as “The Eight Foot Bride” on the city streets of Boston’s Harvard Square. She used this unique experience as a street performer as the basis for “The Art of Asking,” the highly engaging and thought-provoking talk she delivered at the annual TED conference in 2013. Addressing the success of her record-breaking million-dollar Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Theatre is Evil, her latest album (she only asked for $100k), Palmer explains the deep sense of interpersonal connection with her fans that fueled it, and lays out her philosophy regarding the relationship that exists between artist and fan. It’s worth your time, even if you might not agree with her:
Not one to ever shy away from the issues that are currently changing the face of the ever-evolving music industry, Palmer has openly encouraged fans to file-share when it comes to her music and to pay her what they can: “The media asked, ’Amanda, the music industry’s tanking, and you encourage piracy; how did you make all these people pay for music?’ And the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I connected with them. And when you connect with them, people want to help you.”
Palmer is an artist who walks this “connectivity” talk on a daily basis: she’s the unofficial Queen of Twitter, often using it to solicit musicians for gigs, connect fans with one another, and share the details of her life, as well as voice her opinions on a variety of topics, including gender issues and the music industry. She’s also been known to use the power of social media to orchestrate free, last-minute and open-to-the-public “ninja gig” musical performances, and to send fans on special book and record scavenger hunts arranged with the help of her husband, author and man-of-all-trades-and-genres Neil Gaiman.
I had the opportunity to witness this unique brand of connectivity that Palmer creates with her audience first-hand when I saw her perform live at the State Theater in Virginia several years ago. It was the night I truly became an Amanda Palmer fan. Clad in her corset and punk petticoat, eyebrows arched and artfully applied, Palmer built a rapport with her audience over the course of the evening that was magical. At times brash and loud, banging out the chords to “Astronaut”;at times soft and vulnerable, mournfully singing the words of “The Point of it All”… I’d never seen a musical performance like it. Palmer successfully held everyone captive within her unique spell for those few hours, and none of us wanted to break it. A force of nature, indeed.
And speaking of magical — here’s a little treat for you in honor of AFP’s special day: the incredibly charming short film Statuesque, written and directed by Neil Gaiman in 2009 for Sky Television. This eight-minute film stars Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) and follows his relationship with a group of living statues — amongst them, our Birthday Girl. Happy Birthday, AFP!
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