i’m on a three-hour drive from duisburg to mannheim, about to play the very last show (Maifeld Derby Festival) of the edward/amanda "i can spin a rainbow" tour. the last months of performances in the states & europe/UK has been beautiful, strange, emotional, all the shitty current events merging in a perfect poetry with the songs we've been singing on stage….and most important, edward is really happy with the whole project from tip to tail, which is what i care about. fifteen-year-old-songwriter-amanda owes him more that i could repay, it’s un-pay-back-able, but this comes karmically close.
someone today on twitter this morning reminded me that this last day of tour also marks the exact two-year anniversary of the day i got the death-breaking phone call on an overground train on the way from london to to edward's in essex for our originally planned recording session. which didn't happen, because i dropped it all to fly home to hold anthony while he died.
i was seven months pregnant. edward saw my weeping face at the train platform and hugged me as i told him that i had to get right back on the train. i'll never forget the feeling of walking backwards through that turn-style and re-boarding the same train to travel in the opposite direction, feeling the tide of my life turning as the train stations whipped backwards and my entire hour-long ride went in reverse.
death and birth and cancer and foetuses....this train goes in a circle, or at least from one end of the line to the other in endless repetition. and as bill hicks so wisely reminded us: it's just a ride.
i’ve been telling that anthony death-train story on stage every night when introducing “machete”, and the full-circle poetry is not lost on me; the songs that we've been playing on this tour feel like mushrooms blossoming out of an endless underground network of death, time, chance, the election, the world of outside news and inside tragedy that makes the compost of all of our art.
so here i am i’m on the last day of tour, my baby-wait-no-toddler back in london with his father and they both seem to have the chest infection i just got over....and i'm in a van with a bunch of dudes, heading from one show to the next, reliving my past life of rock and roll road-dogging.
i never thought i'd be grateful to be on a three-hour van-ride, but i'm a fucking mom now, and so this is the most relaxed time i've had to myself in three weeks.
however, time to think gives rise to all sort of nasties, and i’m having one of those moments in life where i’m getting very goddamn insecure.
and here’s the thing: I used to have a way of dealing with all that insecurity…I’d write about it. i’d blog, back when Everybody Read Blogs. my blogging has died a slow death at the hands of a few different culprits - mostly the changing landscape of social media, and the blog-stilfing act of Writing a Book, but i've been slowly suffering under the lack of barely edited, stream-of-conciousness, head-clearing bloggage.
nowadays i have a different relationship with insecurity and the fraud police. i’ve been around the block enough times to know where the fraud-demons are hiding in the dark doorways, or, moreover, when I’m walking in the company of one of those demons, thinking they’re my friends instead of the shitty poser opportunist drug-dealers they actually are. (HEY LADY WANT A DELICIOUS NARCISSISTIC ICE CREAM SANDWICH? FIRST LICK IS FREE.)
insecurity feeds on free time. if you don't have time to feel insecure because you're too busy changing a diaper/cleaning up a little pile of baby puke that you just found on your bed, you're kind of in the clear. after the ecstasy the laundry, as jack kornfield says. and yet: after the laundry, when you're standing there thinking "oh my god the laundry is done and i have time to think" your follow-on thought could very well be "oh no the laundry is done what the FUCK have i ACTUALLY been doing all my life. OH. NO."
i’ll never forget the moment, maybe eight or nine years ago, where I CAUGHT my brain red-handed in the vicious downward spiral of uselessly comparing myself directly to someone else. i was mulling about regina spektor, whose music i love, and who i've toured with, and i noticed that i was feeling insecure and jealous.
goddamit i wish i had what regina had, i thought to myself. i wish i had a clearer, more polished voice, better piano chops, i wish i had the support of a fancier manager and a huge powerful label who treated me nicely, i wish i could write my weird piano songs and have them accepted into mainstream speakers and hear my songs played on TV and in hip little cafes. i thought: her life must be somehow better. nobody bitches at regina, i thought. nobody attacks her on the internet, nobody hates her.
i stopped myself in my tracks and thought a few things in quick succession.
first was: amanda, you’re on crack. you have absolutely no fucking idea what regina's life is really like. you don't know fuck ALL. for all you know, regina hates her manager, can’t stand her label, and is lost in a world of pain. who knows if she’s fucking happy? (and for the record, even being pals and having toured with her, i didn't feel like i could call her up at 3 am and say: “regina, hi! amanda here. i’m having a minor existential panic attack and only you can help me: so, super-super-quick, are you truly fulfilled?”)
but it wasn’t just regina…it was EVERYBODY. i started noticing this more and more as i slowed down my head and examined my thought patterns. it was fiona apple. it was imogen heap. it was PJ Harvey. lady gaga. zoe keating. ani difranco. lorde. it was my peers and semi-peers. the irony was hard to untangle: all the women whose music i loved and respected also made me shake myself and my past decisions with a disappointed frustration.
that i hadn’t done it THAT WAY, that I didn’t have what THEY had. i was good friends with some of these women. that made it worse.
important note: i only caught myself doing the comparison game with other women, never with my male colleagues, and I never compared myself to the women who were far away from me in fame or genre (Beyonce or Madonna really didn't throw me into a panic - i would never make those choices, and i didn't want to have a career as a dancing pop star).
it was more what i’ve come to call “piano string theory”: two piano strings that resonate closely but not perfectly will almost sound more out of tune and grating than two strings that are further apart. we feel insecurity about what’s almost us, but not quite us. we’re not wildly jealous of the strangers across the globe living in totally different buildings with totally different cultures: we’re jealous of the fuckers right next door. like two pieces of translucent design making moiré pattern, the almost-equal creates more noise than anything else. (why is that? theories welcome.)
i was grateful to the revelation back then. not only did i notice that i was having these thoughts, but i (oh fuck) realized i'd been having them my whole life and not really acknowledging them. it also felt like a massive relief, even though it kind of scared the shit out of me that i'd spent my life caught in this hell.
so i just paid attention and, instead of letting the insecurity grip me and shake me, i’d look at it head-on, cringe, and name it. “oh! hi. there’s that shitty feeling: you’re comparing yourself with your near-female peers. why you doing that, amanda? ain’t helping anyone. ain’t helping you, ain’t helping them. quit it. you know nothing.”
and it worked.
i also starting using this embarrassing mental trick in which i tried to flip the fictional script and i'd imagine fiona apple or regina spektor thinking about me and getting annoyed.
i'd try to imagine fiona apple sitting on a chaise lounge surrounded by wonderful plants and colorful furniture and pretty clothes staring into the sinking L.A. sun and thinking: “why am i making this goddamn 12-song record? i should be more like amanda palmer and have a patreon, so I could do whatever I felt like whenever I felt like it and know I'd be supported and free from record company interference. i am terrible. fucking amanda palmer.”
or i'd imagine PJ Harvey looking over the edge of a wind-swept cliff in dorset, clutching the leashes of a couple forlorn greyhounds, thinking “ughhhh...i wish I could give a TED talk about how irritating the bloody music industry is. fucking amanda palmer.”
or tori amos sitting in a woodland mansion somewhere, surrounded by exotic birds, rare concert grand pianos and herbal teas, musing about whether she should have started a band with just a drummer, then taken off her clothes more often while learning to play the ukulele.
i knew that these fictional scenarios were bonkers.
but even the mild idea that these amazing, perfect-seeming women were potentially sitting there having similar fret-fits of insecurity took the edge off.
i know fiona apple is not me. i am not fiona apple. i know i have no idea who she really is or what her life is like. nor she about mine. it’s apples and oranges. it’s apples and palmers. it’s palmers and gagas, difrancos and heaps. it’s heaps of fucking ridiculousness.
and yet, it's so real.
this phenomenon isn’t really the fraud police, as I’ve come to name that basic sense of imposter syndrome that we all seem to feel feel. we need to call this....something else. it’s like “evil comparison syndrome” with a splash of Fear of Missing Out.
it’s the deep, creeping feeling that you made all the wrong decisions when compared to the decisions that someone else made.
in the fifties they used to talk about “Keeping Up With The Joneses” (imagine quaint scrambles to Sears & Roebuck to make sure you've got the latest model of glamorous, turquoise electric cake-stand mixer), so perhaps we could call this "Keeping Up With Joan".
but not quite. it isn’t just “Keeping Up With Joan”.....it’s darker. Your Personal Joan (reach out, touch faith) could be living in a cave with no belongings and shaming you into grieving guilt about your materialistic greed.
it's more that you're comparing her very existence with your own.
and you know it's your immature fault for having these shallow, superficial feelings, but YOU WOULDN'T BE HAVING THEM, goddamit, if Joan weren't standing right there across the lawn. fucking Joan. we should just call this phenomenon Fucking Joan. there we go.
and you kind of hate Joan, and yet you can't really, because you worship her and her perfection. to make things worse, since Joan is everything you wish you could be (compassionate! grounded! successful AND magnanimous!), it makes it absolutely impossible to feel any ill-will towards Joan.
she’s amazing, obviously, SHE’S JOAN.
you can’t want to kill her, she’s too amazing. so you just want to kill yourself.
and yet! you know how bullshit this whole thing is.
because obviously: Fucking Joan is fucking You...Fucking Joan is just a painful projection of your own insecurities. and there you go.
all you can do is notice it.
so next time you find yourself comparing yourself to the One Next To You (no matter the gender), remember that Fucking Joan is, while real, simply You Fucking Yourself Over.
no matter how hard you hate yourself for not being the person next to you, you'll never escape the fact that there is no Industrial Standard for Personhood - you're the only one who creates your personal measuring-ruler. if you're perpetually coming up short, it's because you've set the standard so impossibly high that you will never, ever measure up, and knowing and understanding that your own ruler is broken is the only exit out of hell.
insecurity takes time and energy, and lately, i’ve had no time.
i’ve been on wild tear for the past two or three years to really kick the shit out of my bucket list, and i’ve done it with fervor.
i'd wanted to make a record with my dad. i did it. i put it out on the patreon. it was wonderful.
i’d wanted, for ten years, to make a record with Edward Ka-spel. i did it.
i had a baby.
i'll admit it now: none of these three projects above were a huge commercial success.
but a nice side effect of doing all these projects, baby included, is that i haven’t had much time and/or energy to feel insecure. i’ve been too goddamn busy, every hour of every day, trying to convince me and everyone around me that i can Do It All — be a Pretty Good Mother, a Pretty Good Friend, a Pretty Good Partner to my husband, a Pretty Good Artist.
and it’s the Pretty Good Artist thing that is creeping out of the dark doorway and slithering up my dress as i take my walk around the mental block today.
and i am thinking about it for two reasons:
one reason is that i’m wrapping up this tour with Edward and i have LITERALLY no plans for a record after this. i have a ton of songs that i wrote in australia over the winter (they’re amazing, mostly), i have a list of art and music projects and collaborations as long as my arm, and i have a ton of unfinished video projects to tie up.
i still need to write my long piece about lesvos and i have one beautiful brand-new song i’ve recorded but haven’t put out yet. but i don’t have any PLAN-plans. no recording plans, no touring plans. this is one of those rare moments where i get to stop and look around and PICK which way to walk.
the other reason is that - as i write this - i’m away from ash for the first time. this is the first time in his life that we’ve been apart for three entire days and nights.
i'm touring around with my band, with the gaps in my time-landscape that i used to have on a daily basis: the time to read the newspaper, the time to catch up on other people’s careers and news, and the time to think about the choices i’ve made and the choices i’m about to make. and most importantly, the time to feel insecure about all of those choices. and if i’m super lucky, time to start feeling insecure about feeling insecure.
i read this interview with lorde in the guardian yesterday and there they were. surging waves of Fucking Joan.
let me do deep dive on Lorde here...
i fucking love Lorde's music; i cherish her debut album. absolutely and purely and shamelessly (and i won’t go on a long tangent here about how i don’t think anyone should feel any shame about liking ANY music. suffice to say that “guilty pleasure" should be stricken from our lexicon. if it’s music and it brings you pleasure, there should be absolutely no guilt about it, whether it’s ABBA, Mozart, Kenny G christmas carols or air supply).
i’ve had a hard time getting into music in the last fifteen years, probably due to aural and spiritual exhaustion thanks to endless touring and thinking of music as Work.
but i heard enough about that record while i was in australia in 2014 (while writing “the art of asking” alone in a little flat in melbourne) that i went to the local CD shop on the corner (RIP) and bought a copy of “pure heroine”. it was cosmic timing - i was free and alone for the hard marathon of book-writing and i had sonic and physical space back to myself for the first time in years. i put the record on expecting to be disappointed (as i am pretty much every time i take a risk on a new hip pop/indie album), and instead, i felt transported. Lorde was enough parts new wave and originality to speak my language and draw me into a new conversation of Song. i reveled.
for the next few months i listened to the album non-stop, and i googled Lorde, wondering what the deal was with this 17-year-old wunderkind from new zealand. i felt a kind of protective parental protectiveness towards her (ONE OF US! ONE OF US!) and it warmed me with pride when david bowie would say nice things about her, or she’d be invited to do huge fancy things at the rock and roll hall of fame, etc...it felt like a community win.
she wrapped up that tour and album cycle and i wondered what she would do next. and, looking back, it appears she did everything right.
she didn’t race into the studio with the swedish-hitmaster du jour and stay on the road and in the glare of the media like most young female pop stars.
she stopped. she went back to new zealand, hung out with her friends, and took five years to release her next record. she didn’t chase fame and endless oncoming opportunities. she made some real friends, she kept it relatively real, and she didn’t rush.
she wrote a batch of songs she wasn’t happy with, she started over, she did what a good artist should do: she exhaled and exalted the content above all.
from what i’ve read, the album is killer (i'm going to listen to it the minute i'm off tour).
and as i read that guardian article, there it was:
i noticed at least six moments where i compared my choices and my life path to Lorde's. WHAT? how? why? she and i are so incredibly different, and at such completely different points in our lives.
but still, how deliciously tempting.
if only i had a mother from new zealand! i thought. if only i LIVED IN NEW ZEALAND. fuck. if only someone had recognized my talent when i was 15! if only i had released my sophomore album at TWENTY!
if only i had a MANE OF HAIR!
FUCK, i thought, here we go. here we Joan.
it didn't take long for the rest to tumble.
why didn’t the dresden dolls take a break in 2005 when we should have? why didn’t i leave college at 18 instead of staying put like a sheep on zoloft for four miserable years? I WANT THOSE FOUR YEARS BACK. and finally: WHAT AM I DOING READING THE GUARDIAN APP INSTEAD OF WRITING BRILLIANT SONG LYRICS?
I AM BAD.
LORDE IS GOOD.
and then, of course, it all felt so extreme that i could laugh at myself and acknowledge this as a Very Classic Fucking Joan Moment.
and let’s get meta, i’ve just spent the last three hours of my life in a tour van writing THIS, instead of some super-reflective and beautiful poetry, because … seriously? FUCK IT. this is what i wanted to do on this van ride. write a blog. not a poem.
there's a long laundry list of potential regrets I could have, and HAVE had.
that i’d gone to school for art.
that i’d spent more time caring about how my hair and clothes looked so that fashion magazines had given me the time of day.
that i hadn’t signed with a major label.
that i had hidden from view so that people could think i was sexily mysterious (and, by default, way more amazing).
that i’d forced myself to be disciplined enough to write more songs about anthony and birth and my first true love, Jason (who introduced me to the legendary pink dots) when Edward and i were working on this record.
that i’d spent more time practicing piano.
that i’d picked a perfume to wear when i was 20 so that everyone would associate me with one wonderful smell.
that i’d spent less time answering my email.
that i'd been better at answering my email.
that i'd read more books.
that i’d taken time off between my huge albums and hadn’t allowed myself all the side-project and ukulele indulgences.
that i’d been more articulate in my interviews.
that i’d stuck to my guns when the whole kickstarter kerfuffle happened and not let myself get bullied by my management.
that i’d learned guitar. that i'd moved to New York in my twenties.
that i’d been kinder to my lovers.
that Anthony was still alive. that none of us would never die….
we could go on and on.
but the question i have to ask myself is this:
if i HAD spent my time and energy on all these fictional pursuits, what WOULDN’T have i done?
it’s not like i spent the last fifteen years sitting in a basement on a dirty couch shooting heroin.
i’ve always been working.
i’ve always been trying.
going left, going right, making decisions as they came.
for every single thing on that list, there’s an inverse…
if i’d gone to school for “art”, who knows? i would not be here, now, making this music that i'm making that i so love.
if i’d spent less time on the internet, i may not have created a kickstarter, a TED talk, a book….a child.
if i hadn't just spent the last two years making a record with my dad and with my childhood songwriting hero edward, i would be regretting...not having done it, bascially. bucket dreams take time.
if i’d spent time on my fucking hair, i might not have spent the time on my friends.
you only have so much time.
i made all the choices i made, and now they are made, and here i am, the culmination of Me.
i’ve put out seven albums. i’ve toured the world 14 times.
i’ve forged some truly beautiful, deep, real friendships with a handful of people that could only grow with the fertilizer of actual time.
i’ve written a best-selling book. i made a massive kickstarter. i’ve run a massive business. i've managed to convince 11,000 people on patreon to give me their credit cards so i can make whatever art i want, whenever.
i’ve managed not to have any drug addictions or massive accidents.
i put my life on hold for a few years to be with a friend dying of cancer.
i’ve given birth and taken time off so i could merge with my child.
i’ve played carnegie hall, the sydney opera house, and fronted the boston pops.
seriously. i look at that list and i want to cry and laugh.
WHAT THE FUCK MORE DO I WANT FROM ME????
that’s fucking what.
so. if you are like me, if you also have a relationship with Fucking Joan...
let’s all agree to just let it go, shall we??
please join me, right now, wherever you are sitting or standing (or bathing, or sprawling) in a huge, bellowing BARBARIC YAWP/PRIMAL SCREAM of:
whatever we’ve done, haven’t done, chose, didn’t choose, think we fucked up, think we missed….whatever.
you’re here and you're alive and you're reading this.
and we’re totally fine.
start from now.
i love you.
i even love Joan.
afp, your daily insecure motivational rock star
p.s. the photo is from backstage, taken by my friend marjolein after arriving in mannheim and just before taking stage. lest you believe the hype, the porta-potty is to the left just off-camera, the dumpsters smelled fantastic, and since i had full boobs from not seeing the baby in three days and there was no privacy in the horse-stables-turned-festival dressing rooms and the porta-potties were pretty foul, i crouched behind the porta potties and expressed my leaking boobs into the bushes. the life of a rock star IS as fucking sexy as you thought.
and the set itself was amazing. xxx
p.p.s. i'm reading all comments as usual, and i'll slap the heart button if i'd read your comment even if i don't respond to it directly...maybe do the same so your fellow patrons know who's reading. i'm also going to cross-post parts of this blog to facebook and medium. please share over there, or share this original link. love.
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