The first Amanda Palmer song I ever heard was at Cat’s house. We were watching music videos on Youtube, and she turned to me and said,
“Have you ever heard of Amanda Palmer? Oh you’ll love her.”
And she played me this song.
The lights go on, spelling out one word: “Amanda”. This woman swaggers forward. She’s wearing a business suit, but the shirt hangs open, and underneath she’s wearing nothing but a bra. In one hand, she carries a martini. With the other, she grabs the mike, and it starts.
The song itself is a combination of piano beating and lyrics belted out in a style that grips me by the spine, even now. The video itself is a mixture of the comical, the spectacular, and the bizarre, and throughout it all, this astounding presence. This woman, radiating a confidence, even ego, that I was used to only seeing from men, centre stage, standing in a spotlight, taking up as much space as she damn well felt like without even a hint of apology.
There’s a picture of Amanda. In a pair of high-heeled Mary Janes, sunglasses, a t-shirt, black panties, and nothing else, she’s standing with her feet wide apart, her hands on her hips, in a hero’s pose. I grew up being taught that women must be modest. Sexy and alluring, yes, but never open about their own sexuality, never in charge. They must instead hide their bodies and allow men’s gaze to decide when and what to show. I also grew up with the impression that only women with one particular body type were “allowed” to show that body off. But in this picture, Amanda stands in broad daylight, her legs white, her thighs glorious, her attitude unapologetically confident. Her t-shirt says “Lick my legs”. I don’t remember where I first saw this picture. I just remember I’d never seen anything like it.
It would be a long time before I could understand exactly why Amanda was so striking to me, a long time before I could comprehend the inherent feminism behind her entire existence. All I knew, as she swooped into my life and took up permanent residence in a portion of my soul, was that I loved this woman.
My early twenties were tricky. I had gone from the expectation of living my life as a good, Christian wife and mother to realizing I couldn’t take an entire lifetime’s worth of a loveless marriage and hopelessly dishonest life to trying to figure out who the hell I even was. I was going through a spiritual crisis, raised to believe in God the way most believe in gravity, yet never able to have actual faith. I would work out that I was, indeed, an atheist. I had been raised conservative and I would become more and more liberal until my heart started bleeding. I was raised to sneer at and scorn feminists and I would become not only feminist myself, but loudly, unapologetically, and vocally so.
Through it all, I had Amanda.
Amanda was loud. She shouted. She took up space. She wore crazy clothes and beat her piano. But, more to the point, she was unapologetically, loudly and unhesitatingly truthful. Her lyrics speak about everything from abortion to pubic hair with a frankness and cheerful honesty that has never stopped being an inspiration to me. There was never once an “I’m sorry to bring this up”, never an embarrassed hint at “ladies issues”. When so many women are taught and encouraged to be endlessly diplomatic, apologetic, quiet, inoffensive, and silent about anything that might cause discomfort and embarrassment, Amanda seemed to have decided that comforting dishonesty just wasn’t for her. Her bravery and openness is astounding, but it’s the naturalness of it all that got to me. A lot of women give off an impression that they’re constantly waiting for permission – permission to speak, permission to feel, permission to think. Amanda has never felt like she feels the need to ask for or wait for permission. She just is.
Of course, Amanda does feel embarrassment sometimes. She certainly feels insecurity. She grapples with imposter syndrome. She second guesses and doubts herself. She worries what people will think. But again, I know this, because she’s honest about it.
In the social media age, there’s this thing where a lot of us are trying to give off a very particular persona. We want to hide our pain, our mistakes, our lack of confidence, and the uglier side of our lives. You get these Instagram feeds where everything is perfect and all life is a glamorous holiday all the time. A lot of celebrities, in particular, will almost never show anything that might make them vulnerable. Their pain. Their mistakes. Their self-doubt. The unforgivable fact that they’re human beings. So when I read Amanda’s book, ‘The Art of Asking’, I was unsurprised but still blown away by the frankness, openness, and honesty, as she lets us straight into her life, shows us the bits that hurt, the mistakes that have been made, the lessons that have been learned.
Amanda gets called “narcissistic” a lot, largely, I suspect, for the unforgivable crime of being a woman who gets attention. But I have constantly found her to be quite the opposite. She’s an inspiration, and an icon. A rock star, and an artist.
But the most fundamentally wonderful about her is the way that she’s unapologetically, openly, vulnerably, and without ever trying to lie about it or hide it, human.
It’s nothing short of revolutionary.
Amanda is performing in Joburg on the Friday 23 February at The Fox Junction (presented by Bassline live). Tickets are available from Ticketpro.
I went to her Cape Town show and can thoroughly recommend it. She’s a phenomenal performer – if you love Amanda, or piano, or even just a great show, it’s not something you’re going to want to miss.
I also got to interview Amanda for W24. Read it here.