You’re just not willing to work that hard.
So I sauntered up to the Pop Tart Gallery after parking my car on a side street convinced when I returned it would be minus the radio. You see this is not what we call a good neighborhood. 6th Street east of Vermont. Hell, I think if you drive a new car down the boulevard it spontaneously explodes.
And I’d never heard of the Pop Tart Gallery. I had to look it up on Google Maps. And when I got there, it was empty. With art on the walls.
Amanda paid each of these artists $500 to paint an album cover. There must have been a hundred of them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m the only one looking at the art, which I’m enjoying, for both the nudity and the artistic chances, never mind the exquisite piece by Shepard Fairey, and I’m enjoying the air-conditioning, but then I hear a spontaneous cheer. Then another. Whereupon I find an exit from the building, which was not easy, and go up a concrete passageway to the performance area where this rotund woman and a boy with makeup covering his lips and his face were singing.
Another unsigned act.
I did. You see it was the sensibility. Most popular artists are playing for an audience that does not exist. One that is rich and bland and has life on a string. But the reality is we’re a jumble of emotions and challenges, and this act, Die Roten Punkte, from Down Under, singing with German accents, seemed straight from…Straight, or Bizarre, Frank Zappa’s labels back in the sixties. Die Roten Punkte was so creative, and so engaging, that even I found myself singing along, thrusting my hand in the air with the devil horns, as instructed. I was included.
We all want to be included.
Despite all the lip-service to their fans, the tribe most artists want to belong to is the rich and famous, those with good dinner reservations and private planes. And on the way there, they’ll accede to letting their manager and label, all their worker bees, inside. But they really don’t care about the fans.
But Amanda Palmer does. And her fans care about her.
They paid $300 to be here. Yup, on Kickstarter. And for that money, they got this gig, the one the night before at the Roxy and some merch. They got to belong. It was worth every penny. Because memories are made of this.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught Amanda in the audience. I figured everybody else hadn’t seen her. But they had. They treat her as normal, because she knows every one of them and treats them the same. And after introducing me to Ben Folds, she took me backstage. And introduced me to her band in a steaming, unventilated room.
Her assistant? The one in Amanda’s away messages? She was dressed up in an outfit akin to a dominatrix. In a few minutes, she was going to belly dance. And she did.
After that, the bass player performed rock instrumentals, akin to Zeppelin acoustic, with a string section he’d just met that night. You see Amanda does it on the fly, she makes it up as she goes. She didn’t know this gallery or its proprietor, she found them on the Net. But she insisted this guy get up and explain what he was doing here, in the middle of L.A.’s vast wasteland.
And Amanda’s network of friends included a magician… Who did card tricks while we were amazed. You see that’s Amanda’s tradition, she started out as a street performer. Learning two things. That she could survive, but only if she entertained everybody. That’s what the Idols don’t have, stage chops, Amanda does.
And when she finally came out and closed the show with her set, we experienced a performance. With the chopping of vegetables, the slapping of a knife, lying down on a sheet on the concrete that functioned as a bed…and then stripping off all her clothes and letting the participants paint her, naked…yup, tits and pubic hair, the whole thing. But it wasn’t erotic. Because when you constantly expose yourself, it’s art. It’s not TMZ, it’s mind-bending.
And then it was over. There were book signings. Conversations. She was still greeting her fans by time I left, after 11.
So what have we learned here?
That the only thing holding you back is you. Amanda does not know the word “no”. And every effort is an investment in her career. Money is secondary. She wanted to raise a million bucks on Kickstarter, did, and now it’s almost all accounted for, profit is next to nothing. Tell that to the managers of today. What did Billy Preston sing, “Nothing from nothing”? It’s all about cash, hopefully upfront. And the audience feels this. So they come for the train-wreck, the hit, then they abandon the act.
L.A. was not the only city Amanda did this in. I think she told me she was doing eight of these performances, literally all over the world. If she sleeps, it’s not for long. I felt lazy just being in her presence. But that’s what it takes to make it today. Hard work. Are you prepared?
And hard work is not e-mailing journalists who don’t care, it’s not badgering people to watch your YouTube clip and like you on Facebook, it’s doing something so good people are drawn to you.
And most are not drawn to Amanda.
But that could change.
First and foremost, she’s got enough of a tribe to make it work. But she’s in her thirties, she’s been doing it since her twenties.
Second, she’s just one hit away from going nuclear. Remember the old game, when instead of making it for radio, radio found you? That’s what happened in the classic rock era. AM radio picked up the weird and bizarre and made it mainstream. Amanda could break through.
But even if she never does, she’s got a career.
And the audience didn’t look like clubgoers. They were not the ultra-thin fashionistas. Some were lumpy. Some wore costumes. They were letting their freak flags fly. That’s what nerd culture truly is. Not babes on TV saying they’re nerds while dating billionaires.
Not everyone can do it for themselves.
But if that’s your path, and it’s gonna be if you don’t make Top Forty-ready music, then your role model is Amanda Palmer. She’s the queen.