Monday, January 18, 2010

Who Needs Love When There's Southern Comfort?: The Irony and Ecstasy of Amanda Palmer

There aren't many women in music that I actually like. I've always been worried that that makes me secretly sexist or a traitor to my own race. It's no secret that I consider myself a feminist and I have for quite some time. Blame being raised by a progressive thinking mom who I often heard rant about the injustices of the world when you have a pair of jugs from the time I was approximately three years old and on. I was taught that my vagina is no reason to be an idiot and, as I reached adolescence, I did the proper reading to back that up. (Yep, I was one of those girls in ninth grade who carried around a copy of The Beauty Myth.) I don't believe women are superior, on a whole, to men, I believe they're equal. It's morals (or lack thereof) that makes one person better than another, in my opinion, but that's a whole different can of worms and all of us here at Boil It First know how easily I get sidetracked.

Speaking of "sidetracked", to get back on point, if you were to go through my massive iTunes library, you would find an approximate ratio of one female musician for every fifteen males. What it comes down to is the fact that the artists I relate to, lyrically, are men and the voices that appeal to me are in a lower register. It just sounds good to me. There are female artists I've grown fond of over the years: I used to rock the album Haunted by Poe back in high school and I had an intense, burning love affair with Cat Power back before she went honky tonk and regurgitated the same exact story, word for word, of her sobriety in the press (The fact that it sounded so rehearsed made me doubt her sincerity and just feel put-off, to be honest). But in the recent years, no female musician has affected me half as much as that Will Sheff fellow.

That being said, I believe former Dresden Doll, current Neil Gaiman muse Amanda Palmer deserves your respect. All your respect.

The strange thing about Amanda Palmer (Or Amanda "Fucking" Palmer as she likes to be called) is that I never quite took a shine to her until I heard her song "Oasis". I liked the Dresden Dolls- I mean, after hearing "Coin Operated Boy" and "Girl Anachronism", how could I not? And her lyrics always seemed to relate to my life surprisingly but to be honest, I just never paid that much attention to her, whether it be with the Dolls or without. In my defense, I do tend to listen to a shit ton of music (It's sort of what I do for a living) so occasionally, a gem will fall by the wayside. Or maybe I was lying about that whole "underlying sense of sexism" thing and, when The Dresden Dolls 2003 album came out, the "Token Chick in Amber's Music Library" slot was already filled by Emily Haines and her crew in Metric.

It ends up, however, that Palmer's a woman after my own heart. Sure, she is wordy and smart and quite the looker but the reasons I was destined to love Palmer can be divided into two points, neither of which, interestingly enough, have anything to do with her music.

1 - The lady's got great taste. Last year, Palmer directed a high school play based on Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea album. I adore Neutral Milk Hotel and have been saying for years that any friend of Jeff Mangum is a friend of mine.

2 - After the release of her solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, Palmer partnered with future fiancee Neil Gaiman to make one of the most disturbing coffee table books of all time, also titled Who Killed Amanda Palmer? The book featured pictures of Palmer dead in various places and states of undress, with brief stories courtesy of the Coraline scribe saying just how poor, deceased Palmer ended up meeting her fate. I love disturbing coffee table books and when it comes to artistic pictures of naked ladies, the more dead they look, the better. Like I said, me and this Amanda Palmer gal? We're destined to be bffs.

Of course, none of this would mean a dang thing if it wasn't for the fact that the lady behind the Neutral Milk Hotel love and the necrophiliac's dream picture book was a sort of incredible musician.

What Palmer specializes in has been referred to, at various times, as "punk cabaret", "goth pop", and "theatrical indie". Perhaps the most apt comparison one could make would be "Imagine a goth-slash-punk version of Tori Amos... Who sucks less and writes better lyrics." Heck, Palmer's even got longtime Amos cohort Gaiman on her side (and in her bed) now! But whereas Amos goes for dreamy atmosphere and half-developed lyrics that don't make sense, Palmer is a tour de force of feminism who pulls no punches, writing songs about sex (both consensual and not), violence, drinking, and the way relationships affect your sense of self worth. Does the girl have issues? Yep! But I wouldn't have it any other way.

For a prime example of Palmer's fuck-up-ed-ness, look no further than the autobiographical song "Oasis", an upbeat and jaunty piano tune that paints the following picture:

A young Amanda Palmer drinks a bit too much at a high school party. She goes to lie down but a boy's waiting for her and Palmer's raped. This results in the worst thing that could possibly happen to a girl who's been raped, particularly such a young one: She gets pregnant. Naturally, she aborts the fetus. There are protesters galore outside the clinic and after the procedure, Palmer finds out her best friend, Melissa Mahoney (who had once been molested) told everyone about Palmer's abortion and that she was a crackwhore. By the two minute mark, Palmer's been raped, aborted her fetus, and lost her best friend. Yet somehow, "Oasis" managed to be one of the catchiest and happy sounding (Musically, at least) songs of 2008.

I do wonder how much of my burgeoning love for Palmer is because of the fact that I relate intensely to her sentiments. She, naturally, isn't the only female lyricist who "speaks to me" but the difference between Palmer and, say, Emily Haines (One of only two other ladies whose lyrics I relate to to this extent) is that Haines' songs make me want to get all dolled up to go out but, at the last minute, balk on leaving the house and instead chose to lay under my covers and wallow at what a self-deprecating mess I am. Amanda Palmer, however, makes me happy to be me.

Listening to her, be it The Dresden Dolls' Yes, Virginia... or Palmer's own Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, gives me a strange boost of self-confidence. Maybe it was the "rebellyon" staged by her and her fans when her record company refused to promote her video based upon her "unconventionally large" stomach. (Honestly, look to the left. Who can blame the douchey fucks over at Roadrunner Records? Amanda's a whale! Keep that covered up, girl!) Or maybe it's the fact that she writes bluntly yet flirtatiously about exactly what it is that she'd like to do with the boys around her (Punch them? Fuck them? It's all the same, sometimes) and as much as she occasionally likes these boys, she never needs them. Palmer never needs anyone other than herself. A truism for my life and perhaps my whole generation of disaffected, apathetic, hip young ladies can be found in Palmer's "Leeds United" with the wonderful refrain of "Who needs love when there's Southern Comfort?" I'll drink to that, indeed!

The most wonderful fact about Palmer is that she's never one to shy away from the more unsettling facts about her life. What it really boils down to is the following and this is exactly why I've taken such a shine to the Doll: Sure, I'm messed up but so is Amanda "Fucking" Palmer. And if she's okay with being a fucked up spitfire with a violent streak and a penchant for corpses, well then I'm okay with being a fucked up spitfire with a violent streak and a penchant for corpses.

Amber Valentine is the girl behind The Hot Half Life and the Features Editor of TRACER Magazine. She's currently losing an epic battle with insomnia but is happy that her sleeplessness has resulted in an onslaught of blogs for Boil It First.