A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
[This entry is supplemented with excerpts from recent Amanda Palmer blog posts.]
I’ve been seeing a lot of Amanda Palmer recently. I’ve known of the Dresden Dolls for years. They/Amanda Palmer are/is Alyssa’s favorite group/musician. But up until the start of this trip, I had never consciously heard her music. When I left home my first stop was Seattle for Jason Webley’s final show. Who should appear onstage but Amanda Palmer who had done some previous collaboration with Webley, and her husband, Neil Gaiman. What a strange start to the trip.
In Tasmania my timing lined up such that I arrived in Hobart just as the MONA FOMA festival was going on. And who was headlining Thursday? Why that would be the Dresden Dolls. They then played as part of a Violent Femmes supergroup the following night (some videos I took of that are here), a ninja gig at the MONA Market the following afternoon, and rounded it out with a set at the afterparty to close out the festival. I even got a kiss from AFP documented in photo form. You can see it here, along with some other pictures from the weekend.
Then I arrive back in Melbourne only to get news that Amanda is going to be playing various gigs around town, some discussions, and doing a 5 night residency at the Northcote Social Club.
So AFP is becoming this strange motif in my life. And last night, Valentine’s Day, I got to talk to her about it. Palmer played a ninja gig on a tram. About 20 fans got on a tram with her during rush hour (announced 30 minutes prior) and rode up to a bar to the soundtrack of a ukulele. And at the bar we met up with another 30 or so people and all surprised her with her husband’s Valentine’s present to her: we approached her one by one, told her that we had a message from Neil, and kissed her. You could see it in her eyes, as the bottom lids started to amass a bit of moisture, that she was happy. Sad at the distance perhaps, but happy to be so loved. And I got to, aside from passing on Neil’s message and a chocolate rose, explain to her what role she was playing in my life and the synchronicity of it all.
So here is the weird thing about all this: I’ve become a fan boy… sort of. Maybe more of a groupie? I’m not sure exactly what the right term for it would be. But AFP is playing a large role in my life right now. I’ve seen her play live six times now. Front row for two, second row for one, on a tram, from backstage. I’ve talked to her. She has crowd surfed on me. I follow her on twitter. I’ve been reading her blogs. I have tickets to six more shows, and plan on hitting two additional ones without tickets. I’m following her. (For what it is worth, she keeps appearing where I am, so I think she is kind of following me too.) I’m going out of my way to follow her. And through all of this, I still haven’t heard the Dresden Dolls albums or her solo work. I know the songs I know because I’ve seen them played live enough times or because they are covers. And I like the music but I don’t know it well enough to follow a tour the way I have done for 2 Skinnee J’s and Local H.
There is something much more to this all. Something beyond the music.
There is the angle that Amanda Palmer is the favorite musician of someone very important to me. Perhaps by seeing her perform enough I will better understand Alyssa better. Maybe there is also an aspect of seeing it on behalf of a friend, knowing that they would want to be there if they could. Maybe it is knowing that I’ll have a story to tell and an audience of at least one who wants to listen.
There is the angle that the energy and community off-stage is just as huge as that on-stage. The fans are fantastic, friendly and open. They like you because you like what they like. A mutual interest is a conversation starter and everyone has something of value to add to the equation. I’ve met some really fantastic people at APF/DD shows, including last night where I got to share dinner and beers with a couple that I am certain to see again. This is something that doesn’t hold true across all bands, or even most bands. Dresden Dolls / Amanda Palmer shows so far have – with only one exception – been filled with all manner of people happy to talk to you and looking out for your experience just the same as their own.
“…a space where the outsider is the insider, where the unusual is celebrated instead of judged and mocked, where we crush fear and worship at the altar of Get Your Freak On. all the shit of life, the pain, the sorrow, the loves lost, the health issues, the relationship problems, the jobs lost, the friends and families dying before our very eyes, we don’t come to this holy place to FORGET about it.
on the contrary, we come to celebrate, to yell at the top of our lungs about it, scream-share it, throw the burden on the ground and dance around it….finding solace there among our brethren.”
“… we’ve collectively created a space where something like that can happen. this really is a special fucking things we have, it’s a collective of people who really trust each other. i see it again and again at the shows….people take care of each other JUST BECAUSE they’re THERE, and they’re dolls/amanda palmer fans, and there’s a moral code of honesty and sharing and awesomeness.”
There is the angle that Palmer is an energetic musician, and that is part of it.
I started reading her blog because of the Violent Femmes show. I wanted to get the back story of why and how and post-game analysis. It might even serve to supplement my travel journals. From there I started to read the other entries and I found myself reading the words of someone who is on a grand adventure.
”it was an absolute dream, i felt like i was living out my teenage fantasy for a full 45 minutes. i kept likening it to a hairbrush-microphone-on-the-bed dream come true: like i was playing a true-life-scale karaoke fantasy game.”
“i have a good feeling about it, but who the fuck knows: it feels like the first moment of sticking out your thumb when you decided to hitchhike A LONG DISTANCE. terrifying and exhilarating. no idea where this is going to take you, but you’re ready to jump.”
Amanda’s trip over here (you can read this all yourself over at http://blog.amandapalmer.net/ if you want) has resulted in her meeting musicians she respects, performing one of her favorite albums, performing with Richard O’Brien (creator of Rocky Horror), meeting and performing with Peter Jefferies (another of her idols / kindred spirits), and now rehearsing to record an album in Melbourne. She came over here for a tour and things lined up, one after another, the universe conspiring to make the trip every bit as glorious as it could possibly be. She is putting good vibes out there into the world, she is opening herself up to chance, and she is embracing every moment of what the world is giving back to her.
I’ve met a lot of people on my travels. There are those for whom everything is always going wrong. As a friend put it, “Some people just have to have someone to hate, life treats them like shit and it is never anything that they do.” There are those that live out of the guidebooks, seeing only the preapproved sights and eating only at guidebook approved restaurants. There are those who travel to live as they do back home, sitting on hostel beds for days at a time watching movies and shows on laptops. There are those that are out to do what they know in new places, getting pissed night after night at the nearby club or pub.
And then there are those who truly throw themselves to the world and see what happens. This is how I’ve been aiming to travel. Never refuse an invitation. Be open, be friendly, talk to people. Ask questions, ask suggestions, maybe even ask favors. Plan some things but leave plenty of time for things to just work out. Be adaptable. Be able to adjust sleep and eating schedules to fit around what is happening. Trust in people and have your faith rewarded. Learn what is interesting to do and go out and try it. Strange cuisines. Over the top bars. Random alleyways. Off-beat music. Green eggs and ham. Try it, try it, and you might find you really like it.
This approach to travel has given me a trip that has exceeded my expectations and I’m only a quarter of the way through. Ridiculous things have happened, great stories have been lived, and things have fallen into place far more than would reasonably be expected. And this seems to be Amanda’s approach as well. As a person, she seems positive and energetic. She is a bit of a show-stealer, she could teach university courses on self-promotion, and she feels no compunction about asking the universe (or her followers on twitter) for assistance.
“it was in that moment that i realized how much weird normalcy i’ve found in my constant, virtual crowdsurfing via the internet. i literally take for granted the fact that i survive on the road through these little 140-character invitations….invitations to enjoy life in all its various shapes and sizes, from food to accommodation to museum visits to ninja gigs to beers to spare guitars, it just makes obvious sense to me. someone invites: you go. you need: you ask.
it’s gotten to the point where i feel like nothing is unobtainable. if we don’t have it: we twitter for it. and it appears.
this is how i live now.”
She is a genuine person so these things work for her. People feel no hesitation in housing her, loaning her equipment, giving her access to their connections, and in general looking out for her. And in return she gives them gratitude, happy memories, and access. The whole system seems to work. Everyone wins. Everyone walks out ahead.
This is the lifestyle I’m working my way towards. I had plenty of help in life back home, and so far here I’ve been getting some pretty fantastic assistance as well. But I want to build it up even more. I want to build a global network of connections looking out for me the way AFP has done. I want the disarming smile and confidence and joie de vivre that instantly convinces people that they want to help me out. I want to tweet that I’m looking for a place to crash and have options.
To travel the world indefinitely one needs either money or charm in endless supply. Since I wasn’t born into an estate, the latter is more likely. Honestly, I think the latter is more fun and impressive too. That is the strongest allure of Amanda Palmer, probably the biggest reason I keep going to show after show, following her life. She has that charm. Here I am, jobless, homeless, in a city I don’t live in, and I still want to help her somehow. I could learn a lot from her.
And through it all, there is this aspect of looking up to a celebrity who has something mastered that you want to learn, while at the same time watching them be in your shoes. She is living out her dreams, meeting her idols, playing the music she loved growing up with the people that wrote it. She is figuring out who she is and what she wants. She is going through the learning experiences just the same as I am. And reading the words of someone going through the same thing reassures me that life is a teacher for everyone, and that everyone can learn. You can find your answers. I can find myself.
“then i left. i drove back to my crashpad in the middle of rural new zealand nowhere, with my brights on…feeling a sort of feeling i’d never felt before.
different than playing with heroes, different from meeting mentors, different from being acknowledged.
…..i’m doing what i’m supposed to do, and maybe for the first time i feel like i’m doing it right.”