The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help” was written in 2014 by Amanda Palmer, quickly becoming a verified New York Times best seller, after her TED Talk in 2013 had gone viral. What preceded this was Amanda’s Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund her 2012 album Theatre Is Evil. She broke all paradigms on Kickstarter, was the first to bring in over a million dollars, far above her stated goal, remaining the top-funded original music project on the platform to this day and making her an instant overnight sensation after many years of hard work as an artist/singer/songwriter/piano player/living statue/barista/solo artist/Dresden Doll.
The Kickstarter had also made her an instant target for internet trolls, haters, mud slingers, slackers, beggars and thieves. She was mercilessly vilified for raising money to fund her work while she was simultaneously married to writer Neil Gaiman, a very successful best selling sci fi and fantasy writer with dozens of novels to his name, not to mention the hit movie Coraline and the recent smash TV series American Gods.
After the book, which addressed how to ask for help, be it cash or a tampon or crashing on the apartment floor of a fan who had attended the show that night, Palmer signed on with the then-unknown crowdfunding platform Patreon. Now, Palmer’s audience could pay her directly – or not – for single releases, live recordings, music videos, and other media. The sky was truly the limit; she no longer had to go through what she called the “Pop Machine, which tries to deliver bullshit cookie-cutter connections with artists. People are too smart for that. They understand when something is real and when something is just a product.”
Speaking of real, may I draw your attention to Palmer’s latest work, which was posted this morning on the internet to her patrons, and the world at large: a short film called “Mother.” Follow the link, there, see it and hear it, read about it and look at the images, and the world will then either make a whole lot more sense, or you’ll be outraged and horrified. For me, it was the former. No surprise there, but I’ve been choking with the same emotions that apparently brought this film to life since the beginning of the most recent presidential campaign.
I have spoken to Amanda Palmer many times since I first saw her play live in 2008 in New York City’s Webster Hall, her first solo tour, where her performance literally made me so awestruck I couldn’t speak from the beginning of the show to the end. She walked through the crowd and perched on the barstool next to my friend and I to sing “Creep” on ukulele. And then – as we sat there in shock and felt the concert ebb and flow over us after it concluded – Palmer came out and met her fans, spent about an hour with people who patiently waited to give her a gift or a hug or get an autograph, or just touch her hand and look into her eyes. I wasn’t expecting that, but it made perfect sense. She has always given herself without reservation to her audience; from those very first days as a living statue in Cambridge’s Harvard Square.
I asked Amanda how being mother to her and Neil’s son, Ash, now two years old, has informed her art and her work. Especially in this video, which is a direct homage to Pink Floyd’s Mother, and takes as an overarching theme the effect that the current state of the world has on our children. “It’s so interesting, I gave birth both to my Patreon and my baby right around the same time. And I can’t imagine how I would have made ends meet any other way.”
“I’m so used to be being a workaholic and scrambling around and leaking money on all sorts of projects that just aren’t built to be ‘monetized.’ So instead of trying to figure out how to ‘monetize’ my art, I basically decided to ‘de-monetize’ my art and ask my fans to just pay for my existence. And they love the art and they trust the artist, so they stepped up.” She paused. “I don’t take those people for granted….the 11,000 people supporting my Patreon (whether it’s for $1 or $100) are all real, flesh human beings, many of whom I’ve chatted with on the internet, many of whom I’ve met in person. There isn’t a magical fantasy audience out there. It starts with a group of friends and expands outwards.”
She went on to say, “The biggest change has actually come in the last few months as I’ve started doing this one-flash-song-per-month project. It’s brought everything in my life together: I’m writing more than I used to now that I’ve put a gun to my head. I’m able to put out constant content on the Patreon which is keeping me and my office and staff afloat, and I’m finding it easier and easier to break free of the ‘media,’ who seriously seem to be allergic to me. I couldn’t believe that between a publicist in the UK and a massive publicist in the US I couldn’t find a high-caliber outlet for this new video. But more and more I realize that my own media channels are growing stronger and stronger, and I can now go off-grid, make the art that I want, and trust in the fans to be my media outlet."
Watch “Mother,” and judge for yourself, but my thought is that the present state of our country has affected women far more deeply than men, maybe especially if they have children who could grow up in a world that we may not even recognize given the way things are going at the moment. Did Amanda agree with me on this, as a mother herself? She spoke thoughtfully, “I don’t know. I spent so long being ambivalent about having a child that I’m even more of an advocate for childless women than I used to be, because I’ve now lived both sides and feel even more strongly that a woman’s choice has to be fiercely, fiercely protected.”
“And you’re right: the women of this country - and the globe, all of us - are suffering terribly under the weight of centuries of a broken system. But we are all one: the women suffer, the men suffer, the children suffer. That’s sort of what the video tries to point to: the system is broken. You can’t expect these men who were brought up in a world of fear and scarcity to know how to fucking love themselves, or us, or each other. They’re ill-equipped. We need fundamental change, a world currency based in compassion, to get at the root of all of this systemic bullshit.”
How, then, do we eschew the malaise that comes from the current administration, admittedly the focus of Palmer’s new video? In a few months will we be living like the women in The Handmaid’s Tale, or will we be passengers on the train in Snowpiercer, or will we be volunteering as tribute in The Hunger Games? What’s the answer? Is there one? Do we need to strive to make creative work every day as an antidote to this mass depression, the silent scream that resonates in the very heart of the American zeitgeist?
“I don’t know if it has to be ‘art,’ “ said Amanda. “I think our ideas of creativity and art, as a society, are so warped. The way we think that artists are special. The way we drill creativity out of kids from a very early age….Back in the day: everybody sang, everybody created, everybody danced. So I think it’s more like this: everyone needs to be given creative dominion and artistic license over their own lives. How they live. Who they love. How they approach life. Life is a creative act in itself, and we’ve gotten so conditioned to believe that our cultural mandates are real that we forget that.”
Watch the video and feel whatever it makes you feel, it’s all valid, whether you love or hate it. This woman has a thick skin – she can take it – and she’s not afraid of the haters. Know also that Mother was a passion project conceived of by Palmer with director Jordan Rathus, cinematographer Saro Varjabedian, choreographer Coco Karol, and fellow mother-musicians Zoe Keating, Melissa Auf der Mar. In other words, the film was birthed by an entire group of women, some mothers and some not, who gave it life along with the support of Amanda’s Patreon family.
Palmer also tapped long-time friend/composer Jherek Bischoff to join her vision and supply a bittersweet and poignant string quartet arrangement of Pink Floyd’s Mother. Keating stands in on cello for David Gilmour’s searing guitar solo. She explain that the lyrics to Mother had haunted her during the inauguration. “There’s a surge in female power right now. Trump and co. can prattle on about how they’re going to build a big, beautiful wall, but the mothers of this nation have a different agenda. We don’t want our children to grow up in a world of fear, separation, and scarcity.”
The new song, released today, is the physical B-side of the 7-inch vinyl pressing of In Harm’s Way, a song recently penned and produced by Palmer in response to the world’s growing refugee crisis. Palmer performs a one-off show tomorrow night November 16 at London’s Union Chapel with a grand piano, a local string quartet, and special guest arranger/conductor Jherek Bischoff. Though the show is sold out, it will be webcast live for free on amandapalmer.net.
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