Punk in pub­lic

Singer Amanda Palmer

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin

Whether or not she means to be, singer Amanda Palmer is con­tro­ver­sial. In 2013, Buz­zfeed hand­ily sum­ma­rized the out­rage against her to date in a post en­ti­tled “7 Times Amanda Palmer Pissed Peo­ple Off.” The an­tipa­thy to­ward her runs so deep that a con­cert re­viewer in the U.K. once ac­cused her of “gaz­ing and coo­ing” too ador­ingly at her hus­band, best­selling fan­tasy au­thor Neil Gaiman, in pub­lic, in a way that had the po­ten­tial to dampen the fem­i­nist im­pulses of her fans.

Palmer spent the early aughts as a mem­ber of t he Dres­den Dolls, a duo whose mu­sic she has de­scribed as “Brechtian punk cabaret.” She was em­braced as a fem­i­nist poster girl for her strong, in- your- face per­for­mance style and dis­re­gard of con­ven­tional gen­der roles. When she went solo, she caused a stir by singing un­ex­pect­edly boppy songs about rape and abor­tion on 2008’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer. A Kick­starter cam­paign to fund the record­ing and re­lease of 2012’s Theatre Is Evil, with her band, the Grand Theft Or­ches­tra, gen­er­ated more than a mil­lion dol­lars from fans — but crit­ics didn’t ap­prove of an es­tab­lished mu­si­cian ask­ing for money in the first place and then den­i­grated how she han­dled the money when she re­leased a list of ex­penses. (She turned the ex­pe­ri­ence into a suc­cess­ful TED talk and 2014 book, The Art Of Ask­ing, or How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Let Peo­ple Help.) Still, a ru­mor per­sists in the nooks and cran­nies of the in­ter­net that the Kick­starter funds were se­cretly given to the Church of Scien­tol­ogy — be­cause her hus­band grew up in the oft- dis­par­aged re­li­gion.

In con­ver­sa­tion with Pasatiempo, Palmer said that as an artist who takes cre­ative risks, what­ever she does is up for crit­i­cism. Like many peo­ple who be­come fa­mous, her ego seems able to with­stand be­ing picked apart by strangers on the web, though she ac­knowl­edges the ire can be ex­haust­ing. Af­ter she and Ja­son We­b­ley, her fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor, played a set of con­joined twins for a con­cept al­bum called Eve­lyn Eve­lyn in 2010, the pro­ject re­ceived a not-un­war­ranted neg­a­tive re­ac­tion from por­tions of the dis­abil­ity com­mu­nity. (Palmer apol­o­gized and ad­dressed spe­cific crit­i­cisms on her blog.) Af­ter the 2013 bomb­ing at the Bos­ton Marathon, she posted a poem on her blog that ex­pressed em­pa­thy and sym­pa­thy for one of the bombers, Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, sen­ti­ments many read­ers found so un­ac­cept­able that the web­site Gawker de­clared it “the worst poem of all

time.” It’s not, but such head­lines ex­em­plify Palmer’s sta­tus as “the most hated woman on the in­ter­net” — a moniker that comes from the head­line of an ar­ti­cle for InTh­e­seTimes.com.

Bot­tom line: Palmer doesn’t do what she’s told. She re­fuses to ad­here to the strict lin­guis­tic and ide­o­log­i­cal re­quire­ments pop­u­larly em­braced by swaths of the on­line fem­i­nist and so­cial-jus­tice com­men­tariat. Her full stage name in­cludes a pro­fan­ity

Pasatiempo can’t even print. If that doesn’t amuse you, then it’s pos­si­ble Palmer isn’t your cup of tea. What is of­ten lost in all the ran­cor is whether or not Palmer makes mu­sic worth lis­ten­ing to. Fans around the world con­nect to her deeply psy­cho­log­i­cal, ir­rev­er­ent, per­sonal, and emo­tion­ally di­rect lyrics, set against a catchy punk-pop- or­ches­tral hy­brid that can also in­clude Palmer on the ukulele. Palmer, joined by We­b­ley, plays the open­ing night of Meow Wolf’s House of Eter­nal Re­turn on Fri­dayy, March 18. In ad­vance of the con­cert, Palmer chat­ted with

Pasatiempo about the in­ter­ac­tive art of Meow Wolf, ex­ist­ing in the pub­lic eye as a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure, and life with a new baby.

Pasatiempo: How did you get in­volve ed with Meow Wolf?

Amanda Palmer: We de­cided to spend a lit­tlel time [in Santa Fe] over the win­ter be­cau­use Neil needed to get some writ­ing donee, and he sent me an ar­ti­cle about what Ge­orge [R.R. Martin] has been up to. Ge­orge has been Neil’s friend for many, many years, back when they were just dorky writer dudes at con­fer­ences. My fa­vorite thing in the world is in­ter­ac­tive the­ater that doesn’t rely on a stage, so when I read that ar­ti­cle, it to­tally blew my dress up. I emailed Ge­orge, who was nice enough to show me around the un­der­tak­ing and in­tro­duce me to Vince [Kad­lubek, co-founder and CEO of Meow Wolf]. A cou­ple hours later I was ask­ing about thet open­ing, and Vince told me they wanted to get somme mu­si­cians, and I vol­un­teered.

Pasa: What kind of show will you play with Ja­son We­b­ley?

Palmer: Ja­son We­b­ley and I have been col­lab­o­ra­tors and friends for 15 years now — he was ac­tu­ally the guy who in­tro­duced me to Neil. Meow Wolf has this won­der­ful lit­tle per­for­mance space that has a tra­di­tional stage and au­di­ence set up, but I can’t imag­ine that Ja­son and I won’t take some ad­van­tage of the unique­ness of the [in­stal­la­tion] and do some­thing weird. Ja­son and I are known for nei­ther of us ever do­ing the same thing twice, so I imag­ine some­thing unique will most likely hap­pen.

Pasa: Do you think you’re con­tro­ver­sial??

Palmer: I kind of hate an­swer­ing that ques­tion, be­cause I al­ways feel like con­tro­versy is about other peo­ple. I never do any thing hop­ing that con­tro­versy is go­ing to land in my lap. When it does, it’s usu­ally a prod­uct of the fact that I don’t do things us­ing the av­er­age rules. That tends to piss peo­ple off or make them afraid or up­set. I learned to not mind when I piss peo­ple off, and I’ve learned to ask the right ques­tion, which isn’t “What did I do wrong” but “What did I do right,” be­cause usu­ally when I’m piss­ing peo­ple off, it’s a sign I’m head­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

Pasa: What about you makes peo­ple so an­gry?

Palmer: It should maybe go with­out say­ing that in the cul­ture at large nowa­days, peo­ple may like strong women, but they want their strong women to fit a very par­tic­u­lar mold — and watch it when you step out of line. It doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re me or Bey­oncé. It’s a dan­ger­ous play­ing field. I think our job as women en­ter­tain­ers or pub­lic fig­ures is to ac­cept that it’s go­ing to re­main true un­til it’s not, but to refuse to be si­lenced just be­cause we’re not get­ting things ex­actly right, or be­cause we’re not the per­fect fem­i­nist, or we’re not the per­fect role model. There’s truly no pleas­ing ev­ery­body. The only thing you can do is make your­self happy and hope that the right peo­ple will see you and find you.

Pasa: Where is the space for artis­tic risk in the cur­rent cli­mate, whichh tends to politi­cize what it doesn’t like?

Palmer: You could say that all art is political or that ev­ery­thing is art, even an­gel fig­urines sold in a gas sta­tion. I think it be­comes very silly to take your­self too se­ri­ously, whether you’re the au­di­ence or the cre­ator. Who has time to waste spend­ing their life crit­i­ciz­ing art for not be­ing political enough or for be­ing too political?

Pas sa: Si nce be­com­ing a mother in Septem­ber, what has changed most in yy­our life?

Palmer: I have to con­sult with my hus­band a lot more. I can­not just leave thet house and leave the baby on the flo oor with­out telling some­one.

Pas a: Some peo­ple say t hat when you be­com me a par­ent, your en­tire out­look on love ch hanges. Has that hap­pened to you?

Palmer: Not at all. I still haven’t had the mo­ment where I look down at the child and my head ex­plodes. In fact, it’s weirdly the op­po­site. I look down a at him, and it just feels like the most won­der­ful, mun­dane thing that this kid now by my side. One of the things I’ve found as a new par­ent is that you con­front all of th­ese clichés about hav­ing chil­dren. Some of them you find ab­so­lutely ap­ply to you — or you don’t, and you won­der if a) there’s some­thing wrong with you or b) ev­ery­body wa s ly­ing. But in all se­ri­ous­ness, it may have some­thing to do with the fact that I’m a much h older mother. I’m thirty-nine. I think if I’d had a kid at twenty-two it would have blown my brain open. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of love in 39 years. This one is cer­tainly unique; there’s noth­ing like this. But I would be ly­ing if I said that it t’s to­tally changed my out­look on love. My out­look on love is the same — and ever ex­pand­ing.

I CAN’T IMAG­INE THAT JA­SON AND I WON’T TAKE SOME AD­VAN­TAGE OF THE UNIQUE­NESS OF THE [IN­STAL­LA­TION] AND DO SOME­THING WEIRD. JA­SON AND I ARE KNOWN FOR NEI­THER OF US EVER DO­ING THE SAME THING TWICE, SO I IMAG­INE SOME­THING UNIQUE WILL MOST LIKELY HAP­PEN.

— AMANDA PALMER

de­tail ls

▼ Amanda Paalmer and Ja­son We­b­ley in con­cert ▼ 9 p.m. Fri­day, MarchM 18 ▼ Meow Wolf Art Com­plex,C 1352 Ru­fina Cir­cle; www.me­ow­wollf.com ▼ Sold out

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