How Amanda Palmer Killed Amanda Palmer
(Or, Amber’s longest post in the history of this blog)
Note: now updated for 2012! Newest information and links at the end…
I have to wonder, as I settle in to blog for the last time about an artist whose work I used to enjoy, if her solo album and its accompanying video visualettes and photo book were a reflection of her mission post-The Dresden Dolls: namely, to destroy the woman and artist she was, and replace her with a new (but not improved) version. It seems fitting that she does not, per se, ask us who killed Amanda Palmer, but almost states it, as in, “she who killed Amanda Palmer.”
Either way, I come to the same conclusion: Amanda Palmer, as we knew her (or, as she portrayed herself, perhaps) is officially dead. And in her place is someone I can no longer respect.
I remember when I first heard Amanda’s work, back in 2004. My best friend urged me to try a new band, pointing me to several demos available for free on their website. As she is seldom wrong about music, I strolled over to the site of a band called The Dresden Dolls and downloaded Girl Anachronism and Half Jack. Girl A. seemed like a cool title, so I spun it first.
On first listen, it was too off the wall, too out there… and yet, I hit repeat. By the fifth listen, I was in love with the song. It was as if someone had managed to capture my own manic rantings about my endless battle with mood disorders and the varied reasons I desperately tried to explain it with to music composed by a deranged circus. It was awesome.
I purchased their album at their second Toronto concert ever, a copy on their original self-created label, 8 ft. I was absolutely enthralled by their live show, marvelling at the phenomenal chemistry between Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione. It was downright frightening, how in sync they were on stage. The notion of punk cabaret itself was refreshing for my musical palatte, and became a staple in the rotation.
Most of all, I admired Amanda’s frank and unapologetic approach to topics normally considered taboo. From sex to self-injury, Amanda bared all, unabashedly and earnestly, with her tongue planted firmly in cheek as she playfully knocked even herself down. It reminded me of my own propensity to self-deprecate to deflect the ongoing struggle to simply exist in my skin and just be. I also enjoyed the band’s genuine appreciation of their fans. Both times I met Amanda at Dolls shows, she was sincere, interested and engaged in the experience. She enjoyed it, and that made that sense of an intimate understanding, a shared world similar to Jungian Psychology, more probable. Her regular blogging and posting on the Shadowbox (a fan forum since the days of old) was also admirable, far beyond the call of duty.
As the band split apart, with Amanda concentrating on her first solo album, I felt a sense of sadness, but ultimately knew that Amanda would continue to wow us with her wit and wordplay. To support her efforts, well aware that she was going broke in the process of recording due to knowing several musicians, I jumped at the chance to preorder the album, snagging the highest tier of package, $100 US I simply did not have, but found anyway. The album arrived, and was her strongest work as a whole to date. I enthused about it to anyone who gave me a moment’s time. I played it endlessly. I referenced it as a writing soundtrack for several works posted online, encouraging my readers to check her out.
And then, things began to take a sour turn.
I won’t detail the pre-order fiasco that resulted in my waiting over a year for the complete list of promised items (several not arriving as promised) again; I covered it in a previous blog entry. But things took a decided downturn at that moment. Even as Amanda herself confessed in a blog posting that friends had cautioned her about her suddenly prolific webcam auctions and bragging about the money made (in the midst of endless travelling and endlessly disappointing those who supported the album at its start-up, like myself), she justified herself. You see, anyone with a problem was not a visionary, as she was. Amanda took to skewing the true issues people had with the scenario (auctioning her fiance, Neil Gaiman’s daughter on a date with two strangers, was just… creepy*); traveling the globe but then seemingly begging for back-owed rent seemed tasteless and irresponsible) and made it a manifesto on how artists were entitled to “put out their hats for donations.” While I don’t disagree with this concept at all, and firmly prefer to pay artists as directly as possible for their art, if I have to skip travel to see family in Europe to make rent, why should an artist be different?
But they are different, in Amanda’s eyes, increasingly so as of late. Artists are above the basic rules of taste, tact and decorum, so long as the artist feels they are being expressive and bold. Amanda’s ranting on why she wasn’t afraid to take money from people, simply for being, well, Amanda Fucking Palmer, was tweeted, with Amanda enthusiastically pushing for retweets. Amanda wanted the whole world to pat her on the back for her ‘original’ and ‘genius’ notions… which many punk indie artists have been employing for years before her.
Amanda became the attention-seeker, screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” And it worked. Except I, and several other fans I know, unfollowed her, bored with her antics and wanting to avoid tarnishing the music’s beauty.
Even in person, something shifted with Amanda: my last meeting with her felt more like a chance for her to indoctrinate me with her philosophy on record labels, rather than allowing me to thank her for the music during a difficult time in my life. She was too busy espousing her clever views with the Danger Ensemble to actually pause and truly greet anyone.
Another preorder began, this time for album-inspired fragrances from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. You can take a guess at how backed up and screwed that became. Fool me once… Needless to say, I didn’t bother, and am glad for it.
In the last year, however, the most disturbing trend has been Amanda’s propensity to say or do things to garner attention – any attention, even if it involves piggy-backing off of others. Whether it’s constantly reminding us of her relationship with renowned author Neil Gaiman, conveniently tweeting about love as Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor was leaving Twitter over his short engagement with his now-wife (of course noting that she’d been talking about it with him at a show right at the peak of the media and blogging frenzy), or bashing Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber right when both were trending topics, just to garner focus on her… Well, you do the math. I cannot count the number of cycles lately where:
- Amanda says something or does something that goes way too far
- Media frenzy ensues, with rabid fans defending her every move, while more critical ones start to back away
- Amanda declares that she, “didn’t mean it like that” or “people are too sensitive and I’m sorry they are sensitive” and resumes regularly scheduled @-replies to Neil.
- Amanda laughs off negative attention and criticism with poorly supported arguments or the equivalent of an internet troll’s casual flip-off posting when he’s lost, and pats herself on the back for being innovative, as usual.
Unlike Amanda, I will defend my thesis (that she has become addicted to attention). Here are but a few of the recent cases:
The Golden Globes Red Carpet (And Subsequent Auction Of Program)
Coraline, a fantastic movie based on a fantastic book by Neil Gaiman, was up for Golden Globe action this year. Neil, not unexpectedly, brought his girlfriend to the red carpet. Not unexpectedly, Amanda took the chance to have herself photographed ‘dead’ upon it. Also not shocking was her choice of a flapper-style dress; it’s well within her character and was actually sorta pretty, armpit hair and all (I’ve always given Amanda kudos for sticking to her guns and not shaving, and the backlash fans dished to Roadrunner Records when they implied she was fat was epic).
Where things begin to get fame-whorish (contrary to Amanda’s ‘protesting too much’) is when she decided to:
a) try and promote her Australian tour via force to media types who are being paid to get photos of the stars at the event, lest their bosses bitchslap them for missing a great shot;
b) strip off her knickers and also change dresses on the carpet (um, wtf?);
c) pat herself on the back for not having seen anything nominated aside from Coraline, nor recognizing any celebrities there; and
d) blatantly auctioning off their program, in which they began crossing out categories out of boredom to see how many were left, because no award aside from Neil’s potential one mattered, of course.
It all just screamed of being above them all, being superior, which is a shame, since she essentially paints every actor and talent there with the same brush, ignoring people like Corey Monteith of Glee, who’s come from a life of juvenile delinquency and dropping out of school to stardom (he’s extremely humble and funny).
If this was her attempt at upstaging Courtney Love’s make-up throwing antics and their ilk, it backfired, as far as I’m concerned. At least Doctors Without Borders saw $500 from the sale of the program.
Evelyn Evelyn and The Child Porn Fiasco, Starring The Oh-So-Histrionic Disabled Feminists
For those unaware of Amanda’s latest musical endeavour, she and collaborator Jason Webley have released an album under the moniker Evelyn Evelyn, who were represented as a pair of conjoined twins, rescued from the socially awkward lives of circus performance and child exploitation and pornography (no, really; that was a very key part of the backstory, including heroic Amanda and Jason saving the day by helping ‘the twins’ seek legal action). Now, anyone with half a clue can figure out pretty quickly that the twins do not exist, just as surely as Chris Gaines is Garth Brooks, or that the bands Prozzak and The Gorillaz are not really walking/talking/singing cartoons.
That aside, it isn’t the persona aspect of the project that draws criticism, nor the topics of abuse per se. Amanda has never shied away from topics most avoid, including a discussion of abortion with a dark humour (Oasis), loosely based off her own experiences; in fact, I strongly defended Oasis as a legitimate work of art and satire of today’s teenager. It’s the creation of the twins, and projecting the worst possible backstory onto them, that left a bad taste in my mouth. And even this, I could have let slide as art – until Amanda began to respond to the backlash (Jason Webley, on the other hand, seems reflective and at least understanding of how one might take offense).
You see, Amanda blogged many, many words, but very few say, “I’m sorry,” in any genuine way. Rather, it begins sounding genuine and quickly segues into how PMSing Amanda is, or how horribly misunderstood she is, or how none of her magic friends in three years have been offended by the backstory, so she really can’t understand why there’s so much drama, or how dissenters made Neil sadfaced at her, which makes Amanda displeased.
What Amanda doesn’t truly do is address the very valid points raised by the author of this blog (a fan of Amanda’s work, and therefore, not slanted against her from moment one). One key criticism I would have enjoyed an actual response to was this quote:
The stereotypes about disability here are pretty well-worn: according to this (fictional) backstory, the twins were “discovered by” and need “help” from two abled individuals, Palmer and Webley, to realize their musical potential. Add to this their “inspiring” origin story — which is fodder for a graphic novel tie-in — and you’ve got yourself one hell of a three-ring circus of disability stereotypes.
And therein lies a shame, as far as I’m concerned: Amanda historically has challenged stereotypes, turning them on their heads through the stories of her songs (see: Runs In The Family, Oasis). With Evelyn Evelyn, she and Jason have lost an opportunity, copping out essentially to settle for media attention strictly borne of sensationalism. What’s even better is she goes on to have a laugh about how the big bad disabled feminists crucified her, “oh ho ho! So be careful what you say, guys! *wink*”. It also doesn’t help that during this performance, Amanda can’t stop laughing at their own cleverness (skip to 2:10).
(And yes, she tweeted about the mess, and in a way that was dismissive…. Only to backtrack and be like, “Tee hee! 140 characters and all.”)
Lady Gaga’s Product Placement Is Only Ironic If You Donate To The KKK. Fact!
Wowsa… This one was where I literally started selling off my Amanda Palmer items, and have not listened to a note of her music since (which is an oddity for me to the nth degree, since she’s pretty fucking staple according to my last.fm statistics). Let’s see if I can break this down.
Lady Gaga was trending, due to the release of her Telephone video with Beyonce. For the record, the video is tedious, and the song is a flaming pile of shit compared to Bad Romance, and should never have seen light of day. Justin Bieber was also trending, because apparently, the twelve year-olds and pervy grannies who used to be Clay-mates (Clay Aiken fans of age, don’tcha know) have taken over Twitter. It being a day ending in “y”, Amanda was tweeting, offering up her opinion on the product placement in particular within the Telephone video.
Now, my good friend Suze would likely have a tremendous amount to say on Lady Gaga and her wink-wink approach to post-modernism and pop culture being her subject of critique, so I’ll leave it to her to one day address. That said, suffice it to say that countless people were arguing, as Suze would, that Lady Gaga’s numerous (and unpaid) product placements were a form of irony, in her continuing mission to hold up a mirror to our society. Amanda, however, finds both artists to be sell-outs, and apparently has a very different definition of irony than Websters:
ironic product placement is only ok if you take no money & beyond that give all the income to something ironic. like the Klan.
(See here for a deliciously apt and scathing criticism, including a screencap of said Tweet)
I don’t even have words. Irony is apparently not being paid to pimp Wonderbread, but paying the KKK instead, so that they might continue their spree of hatred and violence. Whee! Amanda then went on to create a hash tag for #HausofBieber, encouraging fans to mock him and post outrageous comments regarding the tween with the terrible tunes.
The only irony I know of involving the KKK is detailed in this graphic, photo-laden response to Amanda Palmer, in which the writer notes that after a successful lawsuit, the Southern Poverty Law Centre performs anti-racist work with the money it won from the KKK. Not being paid for your art, or donating to racists, is not ironic.
(By the way, you can only be paid for your art by webcam auctioning your fiance’s daughter and various items, often double-selling them by poorly-organized mistake. In another acclaimed singer’s apartment, where you’re staying for free on another continent. Lady Gaga’s bad.)
Amanda of course then tweets to show we just don’t get her! Because that’s always the trouble, these days. We misunderstand her art! Us simpletons are just not on her level anymore. In fact, in releasing a free song in celebration of finally being dropped by Roadrunner Records (entitled ‘Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help your black ass?’ – no, REALLY), she comments:
before any of you get up in arms about the title (peoples gettin’ mighty sensitive lately) please know:
the title is a reference to a lyric in a song called “fuck tha police” by a band called Niggaz With Attitude. look it up.
Or maybe you’re just crossing ridiculous lines lately?
The saddest thing is, as I conclude this reflection on why I am no longer a supporter of Amanda Palmer, is that Amanda is blatantly Bipolar. As in, Bipolar I with possibly rapid cycling and mixed episodes. She obviously needs support and help, but of course, no one in her circle of praise will make her seek it out. In reading this recent blog, I am struck by how painfully similar it is to the highs and lows documented by Marya Hornbacher in Madness: A Bipolar Life (amazing memoir, by the way, and as unapologetically honest as her previous book, Wasted). But even if she is stark-raving manic and delusional, I can’t excuse her persistent narcissism and refusal to own her actions, contrary to her insistence that she does, indeed, take responsibility. I look at my punk manifesto t-shirt from the long-lost Dolls days, and realize that Amanda is becoming exactly what the shirt condemns.
Now that is ironic.
I finally know who killed Amanda Palmer: Amanda did it, with the Twitter, on the internets. Can we open the Clue envelope now please, and move on to other artists?
Update September 2012: I have a bit more to say about Amanda’s more recent actions, including links to further misbehaviour that has been found anti-woman, transphobic and just plain ridiculous (suicide is a funny thing to fake to torment an individual struggling with addiction…. who later committed suicide… and you then used a recording of him on your album?). Clickety-clack here and scroll to the last bulleted item, or check out the latest links below, recounting more recent failings. I also stand by my bipolarity musings, not as a means of celebrity diagnosis due to pop culture understanding, but as a bipolar woman who has a degree in Psychology. For what it’s worth.
More Links To Blogs I Can Sympathize With *Dead Links Removed September 2012*
- Jezebel is over Amanda Palmer; Amanda tweets with glee that the blog nailed her an interview, thus missing everyone’s point entirely.
- A really calm and sensible rundown on Evelyn Evelyn, and why this does not fall under the same umbrella as South Park, and the general disappointment with the concept.
- Hipster racism is still racism.
- Another thoughtful criticism of Evelyn Evelyn, and mindless fandom.
- Why Amanda is a special snowflake aka the meaner version of this entry.
- New! A bang-on analysis of transphobic elements in Palmer’s work (some of which didn’t click with me before, so kudos)
- New! More on the ableist nonsense Evelyn Evelyn begat.
- New! Video included here; Amanda recounts how she cruelly faked suicide to punish her boyfriend for not reigning in his addiction and associated behaviours to her liking. By the way, he killed himself later on.
- New! Amanda Palmer’s “rape” of Katy Perry and how it enables rape culture.
- New! An interesting critique from the Vulture, wherein we consider why Amanda feels entitled to stick her hat out, yet seems upset people dare to criticize.
*Gaiman claims (August 2012) that the funds acquired for Holly were not, as blogged, profits Amanda enjoyed but were donated to a charity of Holly’s choosing. I truly hope that is the case