Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amanda Palmer: Musician, Nude Model, Scientologist, D#*$hebag

Amanda "No Respect For Musicians" Palmer
I realize that there is a lot going on: the Middle East is in flames, our Presidential election is coming down to the wire, the economy is sputtering, magazines are publishing nude photos of British royalty....let's talk about something important.

I was recently made aware of the Amanda Palmer phenomenon. For those of you who haven't been paying attention to important cultural matters, Amanda Palmer is someone who I suppose, much like Lady Gaga, started as a musician and ended up as an attention whore. A brief bio of Palmer: born in 1976 in New York, she grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. She was part of a duo called the Dresden Dolls, and according to Wikipedia, she is sometimes known as "Amanda Fucking Palmer". I guess her parents had a sense of humor. Here's a sample Dresden Dolls song:
Palmer decided to strike out on her own with "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" in 2008. I checked out some of it on much as I could stand. (While I was listening to the sample below, my 2 and 1/2 year old son Liam ran into the room and said,"Daddy, STOP THAT! That was very scary...." Out of the mouths of babes.....)
For reasons I will explain in a moment, I would consider giving Palmer's music a chance, in order to figure out why I loathe it so much. I admit, I am a recovering jazz snob, but I like and have always liked a lot of different kinds of music. What I've heard so far, combined with these silly videos, seems like novelty music which takes itself too seriously. It's like Cyndi Lauper on crack...except that Cyndi Lauper is actually a decent songwriter.

I wish that I could say my only issue with Palmer is that her "music" seems like it's nothing more than sensationalism with a beat( and not a particularly great beat at that.). She released an album last year called "Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under" (Wow, hilarious double meaning, as in not merely how we refer to Australia as "down under", but also as in oral sex! Comic genius! How did she think of that? What, are we in 10th grade?) Again, maybe I'm just out of touch with what passes for "music" today, but I think what's sad about Palmer's music is that it's "edgy" without any sense of class or being clever. Lenny Bruce went to jail for obscenity: the difference is he was a great comedian, widely regarded as one of the greats in the medium. He made it possible for those who followed him to use "honest" language in the name of their art. Palmer seems as though she's only attempting to shock us without any artistic merit. This is kind of like the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity. (Warning: this video doesn't actually show genitalia, but a sort of "representation" of genitalia. It's pretty juvenile. You could just skip it....)
Now, I am fully aware that Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, King Oliver, and go down the list of jazz, R&B, rock, Hip Hop, and country artists, and the like, who have make sexual innuendos in their songs(some more explicit than others, and as a concept, I'm not against it). This is nothing new. It's just that it seems to have become less about the music and more about the "controversy" as time goes on. It's not enough to be sexually suggestive; these days one must be sexually blatant, basically appearing nude (which Palmer does in another video) or having multiple gratuitous crotch shots. Elvis was controversial for his pelvic gyrations. These days, Elvis would  have to expose himself in order to get any "exposure" at all!

Palmer got more of the attention she so clearly craves from her Kickstarter campaign. Palmer had set out to raise 100,000 dollars from the popular crowd funding site. Apparently, her fans went completely overboard and gave her 1.2 MILLION dollars. No musician has raised more. As much as I don't love her music, I think that the idea of Kickstarter is great for indie musicians. I myself have donated to Kickstarter projects, and I'll probably do one myself at some point next year. However, there is some whisperings about whether Palmer was truly "crowd funded" or perhaps "Scientology-funded" (Palmer is married to Neil Gaiman, who is the son of David Gaiman, who was HEAD of the U.K. branch of Scientology.)I don't have any proof other than comments I've seen on the internet. But the idea that all of that money came from Scientology wouldn't surprise me.

But this still isn't my problem with Palmer. I would be willing to forgive her mediocrity, her obscenity, her Scientology, if she would pay her musicians. That's right, after getting 1.2 MILLION dollars from fans, she had the nerve to issue an open call for musicians to join her on tour FOR NO PAY. Or as she puts it:

we said we'd do it, and we're DOING IT! the GRAND THIEVING IS UNDERWAY.
we're looking for professional-ish horns and strings for EVERY CITY to hop up on stage with us for a couple of tunes.

the deal:
you'd need to show up for a quickie rehearsal (the parts are pretty simple) in the afternoon, then come back around for the show!
we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make.
CHAD is going to be in charge of sorting the horns, JHEREK is going to be in charge of gathering the strings, and they'll also be CONDUCTING you on stage.
you need to know how to ACTUALLY, REALLY PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT! lessons in fifth grade do not count, so please include in your email some proof of that (a link to you playing on a real stage would be great, or a resume will do. just don't LIE…you'll be embarrassed if you show up for rehearsal and everyone's looking at you wondering why you can't actually play the trombone.)
we've had a blast putting people together this past summer….COME JOIN THE FUCKING ORCHESTRA.
it's almost as good as the circus.
After getting 1.2 MILLION dollars, Palmer didn't want to pay 35,000 dollars for trained musicians. There is really no excuse for this( Isn't that a tax write-off? Who the hell is her accountant?). Obviously, the internet lit up with comments from angry musicians. Here's how Palmer justified her position to the New York Times:

"If you could see the enthusiasm of these people, the argument would become invalid. They're all incredibly happy to be here … If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where's the problem?"  

I think if you looked at Palmer's music and tried to get a sense of her politics, you would think that she would be fiercely liberal: artistic, bisexual, a really rebellious radical chick. Unfortunately, her decision to con musicians into playing on her concerts for free smacks of the most greedy supply-side conservatism; make profit by getting others to work for you for as little as possible. (I wonder if Palmer actually has an MBA.) Palmer's own justification is akin to how slave owners in the 19th century south tried to excuse slavery. "These slaves are happy! Look at how they sing and dance!" Everybody's happy? Here is a quote from a historical archive from a former slave named John Palmer:

They say slaves are happy, because they laugh, and are merry. I myself and three or four others, have received two hundred lashes in the day, and had our feet in fetters; yet, at night, we would sing and dance, and make others laugh at the rattling of our chains. Happy men we must have been! We did it to keep down trouble, and to keep our hearts from being completely broken: that is as true as the gospel! Just look at it,-must not we have been very happy? Yet I have done it myself-I have cut capers in chains. 

Now, I realize that being a freelance musician and being a slave are obviously very different. However, Palmer is essentially asking musicians to be her slaves. for a night. It's adds insult to injury that not only does she want people to come and play for free, but that she insists that "you need to know how to ACTUALLY, REALLY PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT!". Yes, no pay, AND you better be able to do what we say, or risk humiliation. And the idea that TRAINED musicians would actually be happy to play for free is amazing. I'm willing to bet that even some musicians, who were angered by the idea of showing up for a rehearsal and working for nothing, probably thought that it might be a good career move or something that they could put on their resume. Maybe they hadn't had a gig in a long time and just wanted to play. Indeed, I admit that I do gigs for much less compensation than I should only because I love to play. (This is the plight of the musician. We work on a sliding scale. I've made thousands for one gig. I've also played gigs for a plate of food. Our scale is sliding......right into the abyss! Musicians, unless every gig you do is a union gig, will play for less than is proper just for the fun of it. How many times have you gotten this call: "Hey, I have a gig Friday night. It's not much bread, but it will be fun. Plus we get a half price dinner." Try that next time you need heart surgery: " Hey Doc, I need heart surgery. I can't pay you much, but it will be FUN! Plus, I'll pay for half of your dinner.")We aren't slaves, but sometimes it feels like musicians have little choice. And so we play and like John Palmer,  act as though we are happy.

Lord, I hope not......
Based on her music, I had a hard time calling Amanda Palmer a musician. Based on her treatment of other musicians, I really could not in good conscience accept her into the brotherhood. I think Palmer and others need to be called out as charlatans, slum lords, and slave drivers. Here is a link to a petition which I have signed. I urge you to sign it too. If Amanda Palmer has any shred of decency, she should pay her musicians. Indeed, her music has very little decency, so I won't hold my breath.


  1. She did a great cover of Radiohead's idioteque using mostly ukulele & piano, The rest of her music doesn't do it for me.

    Asking people to play for free doesn't make her a slave driver. It's just negotiating.

    1. "asking people to play for free doesn't make her a slave driver. It's just negotiating."

      No it's just insulting and greedy and just another reflection of how this business is going to hell.

  2. Right on, dude!!! This chick is playing everyone for total fools. I guess no one supporting her can..well, ADD very well.

    She is playing the Filmore in San Francisco (put on by Live Nation, THE most corporate music promoter there is)
    Capacity of the Filmore is listed at 1150.
    Face Value ticket price = $35.00.

    Pay out for that night for a full house: $40,250.

    Of course she is not getting all that, so lets say, she is as dumb as she sounds and she only nets 10k after everyone else gets paid. Yea, how can anyone POSSIBLY afford to throw $500 towards the string section when you pull down 10 grand for a show? This chick is LAME.

    There is a simple test to see if you are good at arithmetic or not:

    If you believe Amanda Palmer is telling the truth then you are probably not very good at math.

    Most of the venues she is playing are at least 500 seaters, and ticket prices are at least $20.00. She is pocketing plenty from all this, thank you very much. She just doesn't want to share. Which is different than her saying in the New York Times that she cannot afford to. Uh yea, she totally can. She just doesn't WANT to. At least cop to that. Two very different reasons. Oh yea, and her music suuhhhhhhhxxxxs. Really sucks.

  3. In Switch, Kickstarter Darling Amanda Palmer Will Now Pay Volunteer Musicians

  4. IF you think she's bad check this out:

    I think you know her guitar player!


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