For love or money

Should I become Amanda Fucking Palmer's 650,248th Twitter follower? The number will probably have increased by the time I post this. She calls herself that, in case you don't know. She even signs things "afp."

I've never been a fan. I had left Boston long before the Dresden Dolls came on the scene, and when I heard them, their indie cabaret pop wasn't really my cup of Earl Grey. We (Lisa's Hotcakes) did take our cover of the Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost in You" from a live performance by the Dresden Dolls rather than from the Furs (we re-electrified it). Occasionally, I would see videos from her solo career, which I liked better, but not as well as all the other stuff I listened to. I thought the video for "Map of Tasmania" was more silly than provocative.

And then I heard about her raising an astounding $1.2 million dollars on Kickstarter to produce her new album (on her own record label), followed by her call for local "professional-ish" musicians to rehearse and then play a couple of songs at each stop on the tour, to be paid in beer, hugs, and something else (not money). Union musicians went crazy, and a lot of other people felt that after having raised over a million dollars, the least she could do is pay for extra string and horn players.

While I was looking for details, trying to figure out how I felt about all this, I came upon the first release from the well-funded album Theatre Is Evil by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, a song and video called "Want It Back."

It's fucking incredible:

First, the song. There are only four chords, a pattern that repeats through the whole song, but there's louder, softer, more space, less space. It doesn't sound like the same pattern over and over. In a couple spots, you can hear Palmer smiling and giggling ever so slightly as she sings, clearly having a ton of fun.

The song seems to have both a refrain and a chorus. The refrain is brilliant:
Doesn't matter if you want it back,
You've given it away, you've given it away
It doesn't matter if you want it back,
You've given it away away away away away away
Like all lyrics, they actually sound much more brilliant when sung than when read.

And then there's a sort of coda:
I will let you go if you would let some
I will let you go if you would let somebody
I will let you go if you would let somebody love you
I will let you go if you would let somebody love you like
I will let you go if you would let somebody love you like I do.
Like I do, like I do.
I love that.

And then there is the video. Wow. The lyrics also work better when they're written in stop-motion animation all over everything—Palmer's naked body, the bed, a book, other people, the walls. It's really engaging. And then the end with the heart coming out of blackness, which fits so well with that coda. If you haven't watched it, you should. My description can't do it justice.

I'm still not an Amanda Fucking Palmer fan. I'll have to listen to more of the album. I suppose I might become one, but her cult following really seems to be an actual cult. I mean, fans (orignially short for "fanatics") can be kind of weird anyway, but at least some of these people seem to worship her. I worship neither deities nor human beings. But I definitely love that song.

I say it's a mainstream breakout waiting to happen. I don't know if she has any real marketing behind her. She seems to disdain it. But she periodically gets herself free publicity by doing something controversial. This latest series of events might cause the breakthrough. Probably a lot more people have at least heard her name by this point, even if they hate her.

I don't hate her. The musicians' union is for people who play professional gigs. Those musicians might actually have a degree from Berklee College of Music (most people seem to drop out). They have training, serious chops, and they should be paid for what they do.

Rock and roll has always been a completely different world. Rock bands play free gigs. If you're lucky, you get a cut of the door (we've actually been paid some for two out of four gigs, so I consider us pretty lucky). Or maybe you make enough to cover expenses. If you continue to do well, your cut of the door gets bigger, and eventually you play for a guarantee. But you're not going to get rich. Pop stars get rich. The day of fabulously wealthy rock bands is gone. Success means you can keep your head above water without having to do anything (that you don't want) except make music.

Amanda Palmer makes art of all kinds. She tends to do some things for little or no money. She raised plenty for her album, but tours cost a lot. She is not rich. The union musicians have a point, but I don't think it really applies here. This is about fans who willingly go to rehearsal, show up for the gig, and are happy with their hugs and beer. And there will still be all the regular gigs for the pros. That's just the kind of career she has.

If I ever get into a similar situation (doubtful), I might approach things differently. But from here, I totally understand about playing just because you love to play. And if any of the musicians I admire asked me to sit in for a night, I wouldn't even care if they gave me beer. But a hug would be nice.

650,318 followers. Increased by 70 since I started writing this post. And none of them are me. Yet.

1 comment:

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