There is a war going on right now. For the world, for the environment, for our rights.
And we are losing.
We are losing ground every day. The rash of anti-choice legislation being rammed through state courts and the appointment of anti-choice judges by (republican controlled) senatorial appointment are just the latest and among the most egregious examples of our loss. But there are heroes in the battle for the heart of American culture fighting for us.
We use the word “heroes” a lot.
We use it to refer to our parents. Historical figures. Actors. Sports players. And more than a few of us use it for musicians.
But what do we mean? Do these people lead lives that inspire us to live like them? Or does their music just resonate deeply with us? More often than not in these days of superstardom, people simply dub heroes that moniker because they live a life they would like to emulate–fame and material wise.
This is not to say that there are not figures worthy of our praise and veneration, just that we as a culture have a tendency to misattribute our acclaim. This goes across the board of modern heroes–for every person naming Colin Kaepernick as a hero there are ten citing Connor Mcgregor or “Money” Mayweather for example. Musicians, as with all public figures, have always been actors on the social and political fronts with everyone from Bob Dylan or Harry Belafonte making personal, inspirational, or legislative stands and differences for social progress. But we went astray somewhere. We started valuing personal resonance over common good and forgot that you can have BOTH.
Amanda Palmer recently came to the Theater at the Ace Hotel and cut right to the quick not only the reason why she is one of my personal heroes, one of the heroes of this culture battle, and one of the people who can see right to the heart of what’s lies at the center of these debates.
She did all this in a single, powerful motion.
After three hours of bearing the deepest depths of her heart and soul, through her incredible songwriting and through her incredibly perceptive and didactic personal histories (death, abortion, miscarriage, cancer, marriage, despair, depression), she did the simplest thing in a room full of hundreds of people–she asked, if people felt comfortable, to raise their hands if they, or someone they love, had had an abortion.
Every. Single. Person. Rose their hands.
In a single moment, her practice of radical compassion and radical honesty had deconstructed the taboo surrounding the discussion of abortion. She had created a safe enough space that HUNDREDS of people had felt courage to volunteer one of the most personal of experiences.
Yet this is nothing new to the singer. She has made a career of bold, incredible honesty and radical compassion. Songs like “Coin Operated Boy,” “My Alcoholic Friends,” “Girl Anachronism,” all speak to true, authentic, and often-ignored thoughts and feelings. She and drummer Brian Viglione, through their art and their attitude, fostered communities and had those of us who listened feel seen in a way that we hadnt yet.
The dissolution of the Dresden Dolls hasn’t slowed her down in these respects, releasing three full studio albums and a myriad of collaborations and covers albums (not to mention TED talks and books) that continue to deliver everything that has made her a hero in so many of our eyes. Her last record, “There Will be No Intermission,” released this year, takes her sound down to its absolute barest roots–often just a piano and her magnificent voice–and this puts the focus on the lyrics and the stories behind the songs themselves. Each one is heartbreaking and courageous and heartening all at the same time. The format she has chosen for this run of shows–a four hour one woman show with a sprinkling of songs and (indeed) one intermission, doubles down on every strength of the record itself, but it is in highlighting these moments of absolute, fundamental humanity that she makes the world better.
Seeing Amanda Palmer the other night was the perfect microcosm of this. In sharing stories so fiercely personal she managed to encapsulate so many topical ills and inspire a sold out audience while breaking our hearts, making us laugh, and making a roomful of strangers who grew up as social outcasts feel loved.