This weekend I had the very rare opportunity to cross something off my bucket list. I saw Amanda Palmer live.
Amanda Palmer is my hero. She’s a feminist icon, a glorious musician, at the spearhead of her own philosophical outlook on the world, and also just very, very real.
Her not-really-a-tour to South Africa was courtesy of a house party she’d promised to funders of her Kickstarter project.
If that sentence is full of words that you don’t really understand, it boils down to this: Amanda Palmer asked the public to help fund her album through online crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
She met her target and is currently making good on her promises to her funders. Hence the house party in Pretoria.
She dropped in to do that and only that, but then the good people of Johannesburg made such a fuss on social media, and the Sheds at 1 Fox Street offered her a free space to do a free concert, that she couldn't really refuse, because that’s just the kind of thing that she does.
But now, here’s the thing. I am a big fan. A pretty enormously huge fan. I feel that I can go about my life doing my stuff and everything’s OK because Amanda is out there championing the stuff that really matters – in musical verse.
Every time I watch Dear Daily Mail, I cry. I know that it’s not one of her classics (although it is in another sense) and that it responds to one moment in her very particular life (the Daily Mail’s review of her Glastonbury performance, after her breast popped out of her bra on stage), but it speaks to me.
It speaks to me because she’s up there making an elaborate joke, and singing a funny song, and showing the world her naked body because, as she says, "It’s only a naked woman," and yet, under all of that, churns the magma of her fury.
And it’s not personal. She doesn't care that her breast was reviewed instead of her song. The Daily Mail are a "misogynist pile of twats" and she knows it. Instead, it’s the gleeful reduction of the paper, its readers and society to a bunch of playground boys with a porn magazine at the appearance of a breast that she’s perfectly happy to show off anyway. She’s angry on behalf of all women.
So, as you can see, I'm a pretty big fan. But, I am a mother, I have work and taxes to do, and even though "See Amanda Palmer live" was pretty high on my bucket list, queuing from 12 noon in pursuit of limited free entry (first 1 200 people) was a pretty big ask. I had resolved to take my laptop and an umbrella and join in the fun, and then I remembered: I am the media. If I could pitch a story, I could get a press pass, and still be home to feed my children dinner.
And here is that story.
As it turns out, while people did line up from 12, when the doors opened, everyone got in. I think that a lot of older fans were scared off by the frightening prospect of long queues and potential disappointment (what a waste of a babysitter!).
The concert did justice to my bucket list. The crowd was first entertained by a group of performance artists with giant luminous puppets, and while we were all caught up in that action happening on the stage (to which we’d squished ourselves as close as possible), Amanda did a Ninja trick and sprang up on the bar behind us, singing “Creep”.
There she was, large as life and almost within touching distance, exuding the same dark, joyful, feminine energy that she does in all the interviews and recorded gigs on YouTube. Because she’s never stagemanaged by people. She just is. And there she just was.
I was struck by so many things all at once. Her powerful voice, her cheek-splitting smile. Her ferocious between-eyebrows frown line. Her sad-twinkly eyes. Her pale, beautiful shoulders and collar bones (not wanting to come over all Daily Mail, but there are things that you notice when you see someone in person).
And then, she stood up at her keyboard (yes, stood) for an hour and a half and sang to us and performed for us. She hit the high notes, she growled the low notes, she performed the acting bits, she screamed, she crooned and she moved us all.
She made us laugh with Map of Tasmania, cry with the Bed Song, chilled us with The Killing Type, made us cry again with In My Mind and concluded the whole extravaganza with a laugh-til-you-cry rendition of Play your Ukulele (note to self: buy a ukulele).
Although the crowd wasn't a large one, every single person in it wanted signed merchandise, so we joined an hour-long queue (another one) to have the chance to make a personal connection with Amanda. And she honoured every one of us with exactly what she promises. That moment of eye contact, a hug, a comment and a signature.
This was my best part. I had written on my chest and neck in imitation of her book cover: "We are the media". Although her book is called the Art of Asking, I had chosen my statement in acknowledgement of Amanda’s philosophy that we no longer need the old structures of recording and music management and communication because we can all make a connection and get our messages out there (and raise funds) for creative endeavours through the Internet and social media.
I was being simultaneously very clever and not clever at all painting it on myself, because I actually am the media. Nonetheless, whether or not she appreciated the triple layer of personal subtext contained in these three painted words, my neck make-up clearly tickled Amanda, and *she* asked to take a photo of *me*, which was one of those knee-buckling, silent-screaming, eyes-tight closed fangirl fantasy moments (but I think I managed to keep my cool).
Amanda promises she’s coming back – and she’ll probably do Cape Town next time. She says she’s never seen a city (Johannesburg) so united in hatred of another city (you work it out).
I’d like to say to Amanda, it’s not that we really hate Cape Town; it’s just that she’s probably the only awesome thing ever to happen to us first, and only, so we've gone a little insane (suck it, Cape Town!).
But whether you live in Cape Town or Johannesburg, when she comes back, and whether you are required to queue for hours in sleet or rain or heat or hail, do it – she’ll make it worth it.