Saturday, 13 July 2013

Bigger On The Inside

The Daily Mail makes me ashamed to be British. The fact that it is so popular in my country makes me feel somehow associated with it, and that makes me feel dirty. And not in a fun way. But not for the obvious reasons. The bigotry, the quack pseudoscience, the gossipy approach to ‘news’ and the shameless right wing propaganda all irk me, but in a harmless-old-fart sort of way. In the same way that most people’s grannies are a little bit racist, I don’t really care that the Daily Mail is a bit shit. I generally assumed that the people who are affected by it are the people who are dumb enough to read it, that they inflict it upon themselves, that if they really choose to believe that divorce causes cancer then that’s up to them. They’re most likely the same people who will choose how many lottery tickets to buy based on the horoscopes in the back of gossip magazines. Generally, I’ve been happy to let them go ignorantly on and to wait patiently for natural selection to take its course. As long as I don’t read it, I reasoned, it won’t get to me. And, on the odd occasion I want to vent about the stupidity of the world with a big fat facepalm, I accept total responsibility for looking at anything written by Samantha Brick.

What I actually did on my birthday.
But there is one thing that does disgust me – the personal attacks. In general, I think it’s despicable that a respected newspaper would be so childish about anything, but there a particular one that gets to me on a personal level. This one. (As much as I loathe publicising this drivel, I think it's only fair you know where I'm coming from.)

Earlier on this year, my trusty Google machine informed me that Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra would be playing at the Camden Roundhouse on my 20th birthday. With no celebrations yet planned, I lost my proverbial shit. I was then promptly and politely informed that, with very good and somewhat heartbreaking reason, that part of the tour had been postponed. Instead, I got drunk with my friends on my birthday and ate pizza and watched films and suppressed the little fangirl that had come prancing out of me when she had seen the chance to party with Amanda Fucking Palmer.

The show was rescheduled for July 12th. In what I hoped was very much the AFP spirit (and on the back of some kind person offering me cupcakes), I decided I would take biscuits. For anyone unfamiliar with Amanda Palmer, she has a huge Twitter following and she makes a genuine effort to make her followers feel like they are part of a community. This tweet from just before the show, for instance, encouraging her fans to talk to each other is a perfect example. I promised her that I would speak to all of the strangers – and what better ice breaker than an offer of biscuits?

So I arrived with a carrier bag full of biscuits and walked from the box office to the end of the queue and offered them out to everyone waiting. It was indeed a great ice breaker. My friend and I got talking to loads of cool people. Random compliments flew. People standing near each other started chatting after discovering a shared passion for ginger nuts. A girl from France was delighted that she had got a chance to try a chocolate Digestive. Some people were genuinely hungry. Some people just really fancied a custard cream. Some people hugged us. More promised to find us inside and hug us there. Some did.

AFP with her loving fans.

From the start, the night was incredible. Having both attended and staffed such performances, I expected to have to punch my way to the stage and stand in an awkward crush for an hour and a half before the warm up act kicked off. 

But, of course, AFP does things her own way. A better way.

Ten minutes after the time the doors were officially opened, an astonished ring stood on the floor of the Roundhouse around the first warm up act, who were already playing when we arrived. They were fantastic. They were energetic and colourful and exciting – just like everything else. And one of them gave me a hug. I suspect that more of them would have, but I only asked one of them before I went off to tell a fantastically dressed man that I loved his face.

Over the next hour, I was introduced to some incredible musicians. AFP appeared on the balcony and, without microphone or amplification, accompanied the entire audience singing ‘Creep’ on her ukulele. She came onstage to introduce us to each one of her warm up acts – that is, her special guests. She told us where she had found them and why she wanted us to hear them. They were all incredible.

When at last Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra took their places, the crowd as one screamed and clapped and stamped and jumped. In the first song, AFP waded out into the audience, letting us all paw at her, stroke her, touch her, hug her, dance with her as she cut through us. Mad rushes to brush her with fingertips swept the smaller people – myself included – along in her wake. Propelled away from my friends, I ended up right at the front. For a moment, I was face to face with her while she waited for two security guys to haul her back onto stage. The whole time she had been tugged at, she had not missed a single note. Her voice was perfect the whole time. She had no problem cutting through people when she wanted to get back to the stage. She was powerful; in those moments, she was flawless.

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra.

She told us stories about being at Glastonbury, about meeting Liam Gallagher from Oasis, about being exposed to English swear words. The music was amazing. The gorgeous Chad Raines threw himself to the front of the stage, leaning over the audience so that we could reach to stroke his sweaty back while he riffed – even dripping with hours of exertion, he had the fluffiest curly hair (I know, I touched it). He and the delicious Jherek Bischoff danced together as they performed, hugging and sharing guitars and creating a miniature show within the show of their adorable bromance. AFP had her special guests back on to perform, to duet with her, to dance with the band.

She sent her band off for a break and performed for us with just a ukulele. She performed a new song about being strong when all the world is going to shit around you. It was perhaps the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard written for the ukulele. About half way through, tears started to stream down her face. She did not miss a note; she did not stumble over a single syllable. She just kept singing and playing perfectly through until the end as tears dripped onto her chest. Seeing her cry broke my heat. I managed to hold my own until the end of the song, when I thought I would be safe. 

But then she played ‘The Bed Song’, another beautifully sad, sadly beautiful song. 

And I broke down. I bit my knuckles until a woman in front of me hugged me. The people behind me found my friend and dragged her to the front so that she could hug me too. I wanted to hug Amanda Palmer. I think we all did.

She just got on with the performance.

Towards the end, AFP played us a brand new song, exclusive to the night, one that she said maybe she would never play again, one that we should upload and share. It was a gift. It was a direct response to the judgmental article about her Glastonbury performance in the Daily Mail – that had not even tried to critique her music or her performance – that she had finished writing only an hour before the show had begun. It was bright, bouncy and funny. She proudly and properly used one of the new British swear words she had learnt. Half way through, she flung off her kimono and finished the song completely, comfortably nude. It was fantastic and I adored it – I have already described it on more than one occasion as my favourite thing that has ever happened. 

And meant it.

(Enjoy that video while it lasts; YouTube will take it down for the nudity sooner or later. Dicks.)

But at the same time I hate that it had to happen. I hate that someone had to make AFP feel so objectified, so bad about one little accident, to make it seem like it eclipsed all the effort she had put into putting on an incredible show. It is horrible for anyone to say such a thing about anyone, but to do it in a public and respected forum and to try to pass it off as ‘news’. And about someone who does no one any harm ever, who spreads only joy. It was hurtful and unnecessary. “Boob glimpsed briefly” is not news. It is definitely not a review.

And if people think it is, then maybe someone needs to start reviewing the reviewers.

I don’t mind if the Daily Mail and its writers and readers don’t like AFP. That’s totally up to them. In fact, if AFP were the kind of performer that the Daily Mail approved of, I probably wouldn’t care for her all that much. Simply put, I don’t trust them to have particularly good taste. 

But they don’t need to be dicks about it. They’re supposed to be professionals. And I have never known a professional anything to fail more monumentally.

Fangirl though I may be, I am under no illusions that Amanda Palmer is perfect. She's human. But I do think that she is a wonderful role model and a great person to look up to. I wish I had her wit and energy, her bravery and creativity, her perseverance and dedication. I wish I could connect with people the way she does, could make people feel special like she does. I wish I had her strength, her courage, her joy. I wish I could pull a Neil Gaiman (but frankly, she has earned him – and he her). Through her music, her writing, her talks and, I think most importantly, her behaviour, she has taught me a hell of a lot about life and what it is to be a good person. She has taught me that the most important thing to be is myself. She has taught me that if you don't like the way things are done, you can go out and do them your own, better way, and if you're on the right track then you'll get the support you need. She makes me want to work harder at everything I do. She makes me think it can be worthwhile to do what I love.

She makes me want to buy biscuits for total strangers just to see them smile – and she makes me actually do it, too.

I love you, too.

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