Amanda Palmer | Cedar Cultural Center | Sunday, November 16
Ask and you shall receive. Getting the answer you want is another story, but what Amanda Palmer implores us to do is just ask.
Whether it's requesting a tissue or a tampon (this is literally how the first line of the book plays out), a place to stay or a loan, a minute of a stranger's time or a lifetime with the one you love -- there is always vulnerability in the art of asking for something. There is a selfishness in asking -- even if it's something you don't directly benefit from -- whatever it is means something to you. Herein, Palmer asks everyone to jump headlong into the great unknown no matter what.
"So many things boil down to fear and what it makes us do," Palmer told us in a candid phone conversation about her new book, The Art of Asking. "So I wasn't surprised to follow the breadcrumbs all the way back to the house of fear, where it often leads."
Palmer surmises that the fear one has in asking for something as benign as a Band-Aid or big as a kidney comes from our separation from other people, the idea that one might be undeserving, un-needing, or failing in his or her life simply because they have looked for help.
Palmer's philosophy is reminiscent of passages from the Bible... and a little bit like that scene from Donnie Darko showing the spectrum of life doesn't depend on good or evil -- everything is motivated by love and fear. Palmer lives this philosophy to the fullest extent, without ulterior motives. She writes that asking for something isn't what paralyzes a person; it's "the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection... the fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one."
In February 2013, Palmer ascended the lofty TED Talk stage, stepped atop a crate, and held a fragile daisy in her hand. From that meager pedestal, she ignited a revolution.
Palmer's story begins simply enough -- a few years out of college she found herself unsatisfied with the idea of a nine-to-five. She took three milk crates, a pair of sturdy Docs, a bouquet of hand-picked flowers, and a thrifted wedding dress out to Harvard Square. There, Palmer rose above the masses as the Eight-Foot Bride.
Palmer gave out flowers to people that stopped to drop some change (and sometimes even $20) into her hat, and that was how she made her living. Eventually, she traded the gown for her keyboard, teaming up with Brian Viglione to play in their rowdy punk cabaret group, the Dresden Dolls, full time. Palmer eventually went solo and after some drama with her record label, she turned to her fans for monetary help, just as she had turned to them for emotional and artistic support throughout her career.
As of late, Palmer has been reviled among masses of the internet horde for her audacity to Kickstart an album free from a label. (She asked for $100,000 and ultimately received $1,192,793 -- the biggest music crowdfunding campaign to date.) Then she asked talented musicians to join her onstage during the Theater Is Evil tour for little more than hugs and beer as she had done for years. After a certain amount of online outcry, Palmer did compensate her onstage collaborators monetarily.
Eventually, the powers that be at TED asked Palmer to give a talk about asking. Her speech is a very truncated version of her experiences... Meanwhile, her book The Art of Asking brings just about everything she wished to say on that stage to readers in unabridged form.
"There were two or three big scenes that i badly wanted to wrap into the ted talk and there simply wasn't the time to do them justice," Palmer explains. "One was my relationship with Neil and my own fears in my marriage, and one was my best friend getting cancer and forcing me into a new way of being as I canceled my tour... and finally let myself -- allowed myself to take help from my husband. Another was my brief career in stripping, which I really wanted to put into the TED Talk, but I didn't have time to do it justice. I really saw a connection between all of these things."
When asked if she was ultimately able to fit everything she wanted into the book, Palmer notes that 70,000 words were still left on the cutting room floor. "I did manage to touch on every large scene that I had to lop out of the TED Talk," she says.
Throughout The Art of Asking, Palmer writes with a candid, stream-of-conscious style voice that draws readers in word by word, each story getting more entrancing than the next. She describes meeting her neighbor Anthony when she was a child hungry for a good snowball fight... and readers see that relationship grow into a mentorship and eventually the best friendships of Palmer's life as the book progresses. She talks about life in Boston's Cloud City, a Utopian artists' commune that lives up to its name through the kinds of whimsical people that step through the threshold.
"I didn't know what form the book was going to take when I sat down to write, and I didn't write an outline," Palmer explains. Instead, she wrote on note cards -- about 150 -- about various stories, people, and events that had lead her to where she was just over a year ago.
"I woke up everyday, went to yoga, had two cups of coffee, and then wrote 5,000 words," Palmer says of her impulsive writing style. "I didn't write them in any particular order. I just took a note card off the wall and wrote this anecdote about the Eight-Foot Bride, wrote this story about Neil, wrote this story about crowdfunding."[page] Of the photos and lyrics that weave their way throughout The Art of Asking, Palmer says "When i started to notice there were going to be these breaths, I thought that it would be great to punctuate these stories with photographs as I did in the TED Talk."
At first, Palmer didn't plan on spotlighting photos in her talk, but eventually realized the truth of that old chestnut: A picture says a thousand words (and saves precious minutes of speech on TED's stage). "I realized the power in photographs and relaying a story," she says.
Palmer also illuminates intimate moments and details of her life with husband Neil Gaiman -- the prolific, story-telling cult icon growing more popular by the day. Previously undisclosed besides sometimes-coy mentions in interviews and their joint AMA, Palmer gives her readers a pillow-side view of their relationship -- even at emotional, panic, and fear-filled moments (i.e. pre-wedding jitters... and when debating whether to accept monetary help from her husband or to raise funds on her own).
Part of the problem with accepting help lies with the Fraud Police -- Palmer's name for the inner voices that feed on one's insecurities. She has mentioned them on her blog and social media before, and they make an appearance in The Art of Asking as well.
"They're still in there," Palmer says of the Fraud Police these days."It never totally goes away. It becomes way quieter. I've learned at this point where the knobs are to turn them down practically to zero." Despite deafening the sound of haters -- both inside and out -- that doesn't mean she has ever felt complacent with her work.
During our talk, Palmer emphasizes how grateful she is for the people that have seen or heard her art -- whether they were financially disadvantaged and trading coins for attention from the Eight Foot Bride or if they were teenage Dresden Dolls fans who'd travelled hundreds of miles.
"I have had moments of gratitude that practically overwhelmed me," Palmer admits. "Kids with very little hope in their lives and no money would scrape together enough to drive 13 hours to see us play a two-hour show in a shitty club. It just hammered me into a constant sense of gratitude for the people who wanted to somehow show or explain to me that the music meant something."
Palmer speaks from the heart when talking about her fans -- partially because she's been in their position herself. "I have felt it the other way around," she says. "The bands that changed me, and the music that changed me as a teenager... It was like there was nothing I wouldn't have done to express my gratitude to the people that gave me that music."
Palmer reminisces about the times she and Viglione connected with their fans after Dresden Dolls shows, talking with them, signing autographs, and taking photos. "As I look back and try to imagine what my relationship with the fans would be now," Palmer explains. "Had I just gone onstage and played and then hopped back on the bus or hopped in a cab to go back to a hotel instead of talking to everybody, I don't know if I'd be the same person."
Ultimately, Palmer's book isn't for the people who poo-pooed her Kickstarter, or that TED Talk that has amassed six million views so far -- it's for the people who need an extra push to assert themselves and realize that their art and their requests are always valid.
"I think when you are an artist and anybody approaches you to give you their money, time, and attention in exchange for what you have tried to offer..." Palmer says. "It's an incredibly powerful feeling to feel like what you have to offer is of any value to anybody. It is especially overwhelming when you feel like somebody who has very little to give still wants to give it to you."
Amanda Palmer will be speaking this Sunday, November 16 at the Cedar Cultural Center about her new book The Art of Asking. SOLD OUT.
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