Think of your top five heroes (sorry, your mom’s my hero too but she doesn’t count)–people you admire from afar. Imagine that you wake up one workaday morning, and find that one of these people has invited you to a tea party. (albeit a tea party sans tea and finger sandwiches, in a warehouse in a barbed wire zone on the LA River.)
If I had to name my top heroes right now, the short list would include Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Sarah Vowell, Joss Whedon and Amanda Palmer. They’re not necessarily household names, but they’re all powerfully creative people who are not bound by any single genre or medium. They defy convention and definition and splash their creations all over this scene and into the next. And today Amanda Palmer performed an impromptu “secret show” in Los Angeles and invited us to attend via twitter.
This is how Jana and I found ourselves huddled in the cold wind next to an auto-wrecking shop in the heart of industrial LA with 50-some other twitterites and fans of Amanda. Fucking. Palmer. We were all one-day members of the plan-free cult. In the post-show interview, Amanda repeated the theme of “plan-free.” Did she have another solo album in the works? Probably, but she was “plan-free.” To a number of questions about her past, present and future, she sounded the refrain: “Plan-free, baby!” I’m over-simplifying things, but it seems that Amanda isn’t an architect of life so much as she’s a DiYer, working with whatever’s handy. Certainly today’s secret show was a manifestation of that credo. I was full of plans, but I had to give them up–to become plan-free for a day if I wanted to have the opportunity to meet Amanda. Was it worth it? Let’s dive in, shall we?
I wonder if this sort of intimate venue isn’t the optimal outlet for Amanda’s performances. It gave her just enough room to create genuine, momentary connections with her fans. I’ve been to many concerts over the years, but the generosity displayed in this show was singular: the pre-show camaraderie between fans, her fans willingness to give to her (from the sacrifices they made to make it to the show to the PB&J sandwich that @manakatie gave up to the famished singer) and Amanda’s generous gift of the show itself. We adored Amanda, and it seemed that she adored us in return. This artist who can command sold-out performances in the thousands used real-time social media to create an intimate gathering with an all request show and time at the end to give each fan a lingering hug. Would this magic be possible in 2000-seat concert hall?
Amanda spoke briefly and jokingly about how we as humans have developed to handle the concerns of the village, and not a world of villages. But the twitters and facebooks and myspaces of the world are designed to overcome our deficiencies in this area and to enhance the perceived intimacy we can experience within meta-village groupings. And this is definitely the sense that twitter gave us: it created a a burst of a community between AFP fans on twitter in LA and it gave us the sense that Amanda was speaking directly to each of us. She felt bad that *I* was shivering in the cold outside the venue! And *I* failed to bring her the tutu that she wanted!
What amazed me was that she needed 50 people to fill the venue, and while it was possible that anywhere from five to five hundred could have turned out, she came very close to the mark (maybe the high fifties/low sixties). I’m not sure how much of this was smart management of information, or just plain pure luck.
And not only were these folks hardcore AFP fans, they were hardcore about twitter and their iphones. At some point I saw that @amandapalmer had tweeted to her fans in line: “i feel your pain outside. we’re opening doors in just a second. hang tight.” I pointed this out to my neighbors in line, only to be met with blank looks. “Oh, we thought you had something new.” I looked back down at the post time, and said to them, “You’re right. That was so three minutes ago.”
The other fun thing about starting on twitter was that we could make connections with people from the online discussion. We recognized @andythecurefan who had tweeted “damn it amanda, this is confusing as to where it’s at, but the thrill is amazing. thank you. i will be wearing a Cure shirt.” And by Robert James Smith, he was and we mentioned it. I know this sounds goofy, but how often can you go to a concert and already have talking points for individuals standing in line?
I was in the middle of a conversation (a face to face one) with a fellow fan when I realized that I had already tweeted about her, offering my opinion that she had nailed the location in the midst of all the guessing. I was silly with excitement when I made the connection, saying, “You’re @read_a_book!”
Amanda came out and walked the line asking fans for clothes. She was trying to assemble an outfit for the show, but ended up wearing her standard touring uniform (which was beautiful–no complaints from the fans, except for the one fan who doesn’t want to see Amanda’s underthings, and that one fan is only a product of my imagination).
The set was short but was made entirely of requests from the crowd. I wish I could share how empowering this made us feel. I asked for my theme song, “Runs in the Family,” and got it. A nice young lady (who became twitter-famous for sharing her PB&J sandwich with Amanda) asked very sweetly in a moment of post-song silence for “Leeds United,” and Amanda obliged, saying something to the effect of “that was the most civilized request I’ve ever heard!” Just for fun, while struggling to choose between two requests, she started a mash-up (even calling it a mash-up), singing the lyrics of “Oasis” to the tune of “I Google You.”
About two songs in, I realized that I was so drunk on Amanda that I would’ve done just about anything she asked. “John, jump up on stage, strip naked and scare away my fans with a silly Monty Python song and dance” would’ve had me singing “SPAM SPAM SPAM” in the buff in a heartbeat. Fortunately for everyone’s sake it only lasted a few songs before dying down to standard fanboy levels, but I now understand a bit more about the meaning behind the words enthralled, bewitched and enraptured. Thank you, Ms. Palmer, for infusing my vocabulary with some life.
After the set on stage, we moved to a comfy couch section, where we all had graham crackers and milk and took a group nap. Well, almost. We sat in a circle around Amanda while she played an ode to her childhood (home) on the ukelele and went through an interview for CurrentTV’s After Ellen show, which should air in a couple of weeks. I’ll post a link when it does.
Amanda was a delight to listen to in conversation as well, which cannot be said of all rock stars. I don’t have time to go into the interview in much detail now, since after yesterday’s excursion I really really need to work long and hard today, but I finally got my answer to the connection between Guitar Hero/Dresden Dolls/Arthur “Killer” Kane of the New York Dolls (never expected to be able to ask Amanda the question in person!). Answer: there is none. Well, only the connection in my mind–I will still think of him when I hear the song.
After the show, I got a long, sweet hug from Amanda, and Jana got her prosthetic tattooed with AFP-Love. She said in her interview that her attitude towards her fans was, “come with all your weirdnesses and we’ll love you.” And she does. And this is one of the amazing things about her fan-base: we accept each other in all our weirdnesses.
So, to answer my earlier question, was it worth it? And is it worth my writing about it now? Here’s my take: the best things in life–the memorable experiences, the ones that make us feel alive and connected are the ones that involve risk. Yesterday, I felt alive and part of something larger than myself. I got to touch genius (literally and figuratively) and to be inspired by a true muse. How can you put a price on that?