Paramount Theater, Austin – April 14. Doors 7p, Show 8p.
“If you’re not allowed to love people alive, then you learn how to love people dead.” – The Thing about Things, AFP
I left work and walked north on Congress. I wore a blue dress with pink polka dots. A woman at the burger bar called to me, “I love the dots!” “Thank you,” I called back, utterly surprised at this new burger bar, and at not being invisible. I am still getting used to the fact that people can see me. I don’t think I understood that until much later than most – maybe when I was twenty-eight? I knew the optics and the physics and the biology of them seeing me, but that’s not the same as SEEING. It’s SEEING Amanda Palmer means when she says, in her TED Talk, “I see you.” That’s more than just light waves, perhaps it’s a side effect of the enigma that is wave-particle duality. As I walked down the street on the night of the concert, evening sunlight brightened my path in an exact replica of my anticipation. I was going to meet a writing friend, T., who I hadn’t seen in almost two years, and we were going to see a woman with a controversial approach to making art. We were going to spend an evening with perhaps one of the most influential musician-philosophers of our generation: Amanda Palmer. At one of the smaller cross streets, I saw a woman wearing a great pair of boots. She had a confidence to her stance and there was something about her that seemed familiar. Her large sunglasses obscured her face, and as she passed me, I heard a rich, contralto voice say, “And the venue was…” I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I don’t know what the venue was, or where it was, or if the venue has been devoured by Cthulhu. What I do know is that the woman with the great boots was Amanda Palmer. I saw the artistic arabesque of her eyebrows behind the rim of her sunglasses. I had a moment where my step faltered, and I considered calling her name. Then I remembered that she has no idea who I am. And I remembered that T. was waiting for me and I kept going. I had a small moment of horror when it occurred to me that one of us, either Amanda or me, was headed the wrong way, and maybe it wasn’t her…
T and I stood in line for tickets, catching up on the last couple of years of life. A woman sat at a small table, typing poems for cash donations. We discussed rotary phones with our line-neighbors, and then we were inside the sumptuous and aged elegance of The Paramount. T treated us to plastic cups of wine (sauvignon blanc for her, chardonnay for me). We went to the second floor and stood at a balcony overlooking the lobby. We discussed the particular, agonizing decisions we face as women. We moved into the theater, talking there of times when the bruises from writing transmogrified into in to an inability to read. It is the worst kind of paralysis, to be a non-practicing writer who is unable to read. The Smiths played in the background, reminding me of college and the overweening rush of being young and not yet realizing I could be SEEN, or even that there were people who wanted to SEE me. I got us a second drink (more chardonnay for me, water for T), saying, “This will guarantee the show will start because I won’t be in my seat.” I was right, and entered the theater just as Amanda Palmer took the stage; I was her shadow, cast in a dark room.
Amanda didn’t say a word. She wore a gold dress that flowed like water over the curves of her pregnant body. Her feet were bare. She touched her keyboard lightly, and innocent notes floated out like heaven-bound souls. Then she raised raised up, Kundalini energy personified, before slamming her hands on the keys. A harsh, angry sound swept through the hall. The show went on like that, rolling waves of contrast flowing through the high-ceilinged, classically painted theater. Abortion, pubic hair, statutory rape, fear of how her art will change with motherhood, more abortion, several songs about the nature of love – all of these topics were channeled through Amanda, into songs, and received by open, hungry souls. There was transcendence. There is always transcendence when we are emotionally vulnerable and humble enough accept and follow our calling. Amanda Palmer incarnates her calling with a purity that is untouched the number of f-bombs she drops (a lot!). She is the archetype of the artist. She’s completely human, and completely supernatural – all at the same time. I can’t help but wonder what the world would look like if we were all brave enough to stop playing as if being our own shadow was enough.
Amanda is funny. The show was in Austin (still weird), so of course there was a lounge upstairs for cuddling – by professional, “non-rapey” cuddlers. At one point Amanda discussed that after the show there would be cupcakes, and the cuddlers would be back in their lounge. She said, “This is a nice night. Cupcakes and cuddling. The days of blow and hookers are in the past!”
My favorite part of the show was when Amanda answered questions from the audience. Someone asked if Amanda knew how she could stop being afraid to make eye contact with strangers. Amanda had the house lights brought up, and had us each pick someone sitting near us who we didn’t know. I smiled awkwardly at the slender girl sitting to my left. Amanda told us that now, we’d spend thirty seconds just looking at one another. Not laughing. Not making a joke of it, just really SEEING. My partner said, “I can do this all day. I’m in customer service.” I said, “I’m in software, Engineers don’t look at people!” Then, for half a minute, we looked each other in the eyes. Blinking. Smiling, but not laughing. Two strangers, who, for thirty seconds took the time to really SEE one another. She cried. It was incredibly overwhelming. There is something that resonates when you strip bare the act of looking, and it’s beyond words. In the silence, we saw it together. And, yes, at first it felt really, really strange. Overly intimate. But it was worth it. If more people took the time to SEE “strangers,” I think the world would be more loving, less cruel, and the horns of impatience would stop blaring at every crossroads. If one person following her dream can inspire one moment of transcendence and truth, maybe if all the millions and billions of us followed our dream, the world would become the welcoming, compassionate paradise it yearns to be.
May you find your inner Amanda Palmer.