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No matter how hard they try, they can't kill Amanda Palmer
By Steve Wildsmith
stevew@thedailytimes.com
Originally published: November 19. 2009 12:05PM
Last modified: November 19. 2009 12:37PM


It's one thing, given the right circumstances, if the boss calls you into his office to discuss his opinion of your weight.

Rockettes, Hooters waitresses, strippers -- such occupations, as unseemly as such a tactic might be, could require certain limitations when it comes to how much an employee tips the scales.

But a musician ... one with a flair for the theatrical, a penchant for pageantry and a love for the sensual ... well, that's another story entirely. Imagine, then, the shock of Amanda Palmer -- half of the "Brechtian punk cabaret" duo known as The Dresden Dolls -- when summoned to a meeting with her record label and being told that certain scenes in her latest video were too ... ahem ... revealing.

"The label (Roadrunner Records) said they wanted to change the 'Leeds United' video because they thought I was too fat," she told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview, laughing at the absurdity. "It was the poor A&R guy's job to tell me, and it was an endless litany -- 'We think you look fantastic, but there are certain moments when we think it's slightly possible that the position you're in is slightly less than possibly flattering ...' I said, 'Oh, you think I look fat in that shot.' 'No, no, no, that's not what it is.'

"I showed it to my friends, and they said, 'No, girl -- the label is on crack; you look super-sexy.' From there, the story could have come and gone in the night, but I told fans about it, and they came out in support of me."

After reporting the debacle on her blog, fans immediately took pictures of their stomachs, flooding the Roadrunner website with messages and eventually starting their own site (www.therebellyon.com). It's a sign of how loyal fans of Palmer can be, which is a necessary trait, given the fascinating, occasionally bizarre, often mind-bending journey upon which she takes them. She rose to fame as part of The Dresden Dolls, a group formed in 2000 by Palmer and Brian Viglione, designed to blend rock 'n' roll with makeup and clothing that pushed the cabaret/theater aesthetic and encouraged fans to get involved as well, making a Dresden Dolls show an interactive experience.

A 2004 self-titled debut album spawned a couple of minor college rock hits -- "Girl Anachronism" and "Coin-Operated Boy" -- and brought them to the attention of Trent Reznor, founder of Nine Inch Nails, who offered them an opening slot on his March 2005 tour. The album "Yes, Virginia," was released in 2006 -- a bombastic, record, it's grounded in a tapestry of mood music reminiscent of the score to silent films of the early 20th century, complete with tinkling piano, intermittent and jarring cymbal crashes and all manner of marches and romps overlaid with the pair's intense vocals.

In 2008, however, the Dolls began to wind down, and Palmer started looking ahead to a solo career.

"I want people to understand that I didn't run off to make my solo record because I was creatively unsatisfied with The Dresden Dolls," she said. "The reason Brian and I stopped working together when we did was just because we were burned out on being together. Creatively, we weren't having any differences; we were just driving each other up the wall playing together all of the time. I would love to play with Brian again. I think the strong suit of The Dresden Dolls was our live shows, and that's really the part I miss. Hopefully at some point we'll get back together just to play. I don't think we necessarily have to record to be The Dresden Dolls."

Taking her experience with the Dolls, Palmer released her solo album, "Who Killed Amanda Palmer," in September 2008. At first, she said, it was intended to be a small project, done quickly on virtually no budget. But then, as things in her world tend to do, it began to take on a life of its own.

"I didn't even have a title -- it was just a collection of stuff I was kicking around -- but then things started happening, one after another," she said. "I have this problem in my life of letting everything get gloriously out of control, and it usually works out, but sometimes it's a real ... pain in the ass."

Taking a cue from the character Laura Palmer on the old David Lynch TV series "Twin Peaks," Palmer found herself collaborating with writer Neil Gaiman, who has penned a number of thrillers such as "American Gods." At first, she wanted a simple book with just text and her photographs; Gaiman, however, supplied a plot and a mystery, and what started as a picture book became a companion piece to her CD.

With the controversy over the "Leeds United" video, as well as another brouhaha involving her song "Oasis," Palmer has remained in the spotlight. Regarding the latter -- an autobiographical song of rape and abortion in which the protagonist copes with her trauma with the help of music by Brit-pop band Oasis -- television outlets in the United Kingdom refused to air the video for it because, in their opinion, the upbeat nature of the song "made light" of the subject matter.

"I was like, you're kind of missing the point," she said. "What (angered) me is, if I had treated the subject with due reverence and sang the song as some heartfelt, minor-key ballad, that wouldn't have upset anyone. But it ended up causing a really interesting conversation, and I'm very glad it happened. It gave me something to think about and talk to my fans about -- when are you allowed to use humor?

"In the end, I wound up deciding that you need to use humor with everything, especially with the dark stuff. If you can't keep your sense of humor in the darkest, bleakest times, then you're really screwed. I came out of that situation more enlightened, for sure.

"But things like that happen to me all of the time, anyway," she added. "I like it, though. It's one of my favorite parts of the job."