AMANDA PALMER: From Harvard Square busker to international phenom

From Harvard Square busker to international crowdsourcing phenomenon, Amanda Palmer launches a new creative project after writing a best-selling book.

Here’s an exclusive interview with Amanda Palmer who started her ride to fame as a busker in Harvard Square. Palmer was the Eight Foot Woman covered in white who stood upon a stool in front of Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square. While performing in the square, she often found herself in the company of Greg Daugherty, a regular vendor of Spare Change News.

Based on reports, she felt a definite connection to him.

She later created a two-person band called The Dresden Dolls, consisting of herself and Brian Viglione, and they won the act of the year award at the Boston Music Awards nine years ago. Palmer then created a cabaret that played successfully all over Europe and in various cities in the United States.

Naturally, a woman driven by natural amphetamines would meet others on the road. She met Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman, a graphic novel that won the Hugo Award. They hit it off and married. Now, they’re adjusting to living both together and apart due to their dynamic careers.

Currently, Palmer is collecting funds on a website called Patreon and has already reached her funding goal. As the money comes in, she’s using it to develop various art projects.

Spare Change News gives you, raw and real, the amazing Amanda F#@%&G Palmer.

Q: The difference between a writer and a stage performer is that writers work without immediate feedback from the public. Was writing your book more difficult than performing on stage?

There was a definite feeling of loneliness while writing the book, because I’m usually so hungry for community around me while I work. The immediate feedback, the after show hang, the applause, the feeling of being connected and together while I work. Sitting at a table was a bit dreary. I mostly mitigated it by working, often, with my twitter feed open on my phone right beside me, and using my Twitter followers as a human thesaurus instead of going to Google. I tweeted a lot of “What’s that word for when….” and I spent a good amount of time on Facebook asking deeper questions about the book’s content. That kept things connected for me. Editing was a bitch, though. That was just pure loneliness. I barreled through and knew that I would get to the end at some point and never have to do it again. I don’t know how writers do it.

Q: How does it feel to be releasing Bigger On the Inside with Zöe Keating on cello? What’s the story behind the song?

Ugh. It’s a song I wrote after a long dry spell. It ties together a lot of things that were happening—the internet hate, the feelings of being misunderstood and the feeling of getting the giant perspective because I was spending too many days at the bedside of my two friends with cancer. All my petty problems seemed so ridiculous. Zöe was dealing with her husband’s cancer battle at the same time and she’s one of my favorite musicians to collaborate with. When I knew the song needed strings, asking her was a no-brainer. Her husband died about a week before the song came out. Life, art and life. They just don’t stop being poetic at you.amanda-palmer-650

Q: Tell the readers of Spare Change News a little about what shaped your life, particularly your high school mentor

My mentor, Anthony, who I write about quite a bit in the book, really shaped me as a teenager. He introduced me to meditation, yoga, Buddhism, the idea of being mindful and present. He never bosses me around, he’d open my mind to ideas and I’d follow the ones that intrigued me. It’s the thing I remember now most when I’m trying to mentor people. You simply can’t tell them what to do. You can only open doors and wonder if they’ll walk through them.

Q: If, suddenly, the civilization around you was devastated by a storm or a major act of terror, and you and your loved ones became homeless, what do you think you would do? It’s your scenario.

I think I’d strip my brain down to its survival mechanism and I’d work very hard to build a community with whoever was around me. I’d try to use everything I’ve learned about connection and face the situation thinking: OK, first of all, what can I offer here, what can I do to help? I have this theory that when you lead with that thought, the net often appears, if you know what I mean.

Q: Performing and writing—tell us more about your feelings regarding them.

I perform in my head when I write. I never write thinking that my material will be for other people. I really only write for my voice and that can feel limiting. That’s something I’d love to experiment with. I’m so impressed by Prince and Sia and the Nashville songwriters who just crank out hit after hit for other singers.

Q: What would you tell someone, a man, a woman, who wishes to pursue a career in the arts, whether it be performance art or writing?

I’d tell them to busk. Honestly. It’s my top career advice to anyone wanting a life on the stage.

Q: Do you believe in karma—that what goes around comes around?

I definitely believe that everything you do has an effect on you and circles back. It’s just logical. You can’t escape your own lies and delusions. You have to face the music at some point. I love the game of trying to become as honest as humanly possible with myself and those around me. Not brutal, just honest. It’s a daily challenge.

Q: Any other advice for other women who are looking to forge a place in the art world?

Yes. Ignore the haters, pull other women up and keep working. We’ll get there eventually.

Q: How does your partner, Neil Gaiman, help you with your art? We realize that you had already carved out a significant role for yourself before Neil arrived.

We feed off each other, in a really beautiful way. We critique and edit each other, and we inspire each other, usually indirectly. We both have rather private art lives … we don’t sit at the dinner table chatting about our plot and novel and song lyric ideas. But we do encourage the other to take risks and stay away from the distractions of life, like doing constant email and social networking when we should be working. It’s an uphill battle and it’s nice to have a partner to clonk you on the head.10479043_905766306112381_7372840619005122382_n

Q: How did your time as a busker on the street shape you and your art?

Oh my god, in so many ways I wrote a book about it. Mostly I learned that people like helping, but they need to be invited to help.

Q: There was an intense backlash regarding your Tsarnaev poem. Do you feel that it would have been different if you had been a man or if Neil had written the poem?

Who knows. Those things are so complicated, but yes, I think people have a special love of hating on and tearing down women, and it’s sad. The only solution is to continue making art, continue working, continue writing. Otherwise, the hate seeps in and sticks.

Q: Tell the readers of Spare Change News a little about what has been extremely significant in shaping your life.

The more I’ve navigated years and years of life and career and love and relationships, the more I’ve realized that money and success are only useful up to a very shallow point.

Once you have the basics covered, there’s very little happiness that money can buy you. I think it’s really important to keep the highest value on connection, where the real goods are. Friendships, loves, connections, whether they’re sexual, or subtle, or silent, or life-long … this is the stuff of life. It’s infuriating because so much corporate advertising is drilling this cheesy point into our heads: credit card companies are telling us that time with our children is priceless, coke is telling us to live authentically and make time for our old people and shampoo ads are telling us not to care what anyone thinks of our hair—OWN IT, BITCH!

And it’s no wonder everybody’s so goddamn confused. It’s almost as if being authentic has become a vortex where you can’t even do it without feeling self-conscious. But there is a way out, once you block out all that noise and get clear within yourself and see past the motives of people trying to make a buck. There really are no rules, there really is a high value on true human connection and there really is no reason you should give one shit about spending a half hour on your hair if you don’t want to.

I’d rather spend that time in bed reading or cuddling another human being.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve learned via social media that Palmer is expecting. Gaiman shot a photo of Palmer cradling her stomach. “Guess what? I’m pregnant,” she tweeted, adding that she’s due in September. Congrats to Amanda and Neil!

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

Top