Thursday, November 25, 2010

If I had a higher power it would be Amanda Fucking Palmer.......... or “I'd rather be a bitch than an ordinary broken heart”

This is my third or fourth attempt at this blog and so advanced apologies for this 2800 plus word, disjointed mess you are about to enjoy. Or not. Not getting done with one this has been holding me up from finishing at least three other blogs soooooo..... here.... we.....go!

Just a girl and her Uke
Attempt #1- Summer 2010.... July 15th
Through the miracle of social media I found out Amanda Palmer had a secret “ninja gig” today at Harvard's American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.). Props to Scott Trano (organizer of the annual Zombie March) for posting on his facebook about this. One of the few perks of long term unemployment is I can go to things like this. Yay spontaneity! Hopped on the Redline to Harvard and walked right into the the theater and sat down as Amanda came out to applause with just her uke. I had guess it would be a little uke and Q&A which is fine for me. She played some tunes (including a tear rending version of “Makin' Whoopie” and talked about her upcoming collaboration with A.R.T with her co-starring in as the Emcee in Cabaret From August to October. You bet your sweet ass I got tickets! She did some Q&A with the audience on a wide range of topics and talked about some future projects, if and when she will get around to writing a new album, social media, her relationship with her fiancee Neil Gaiman (geek-swoon) and the possibility of being selected as a TED Conference ( speaker.

If I had a higher power it would be Amanda Fucking Palmer. I know that is ridiculous for me to even type these words because the idea of a higher power doesn't apply to my life. As in n/a or Not Applicable. But I feel like Amanda Fucking Palmer is a revolutionary genius, a songwriting marvel, a business and social media innovator and perhaps the savior of the future of the music industry. Or should I say a future where there is more music, more love given to the fans and a LOT less industry? That would rule. I adore Amanda and just about everything she has done since the Dresden Dolls. Everything she touches turns to a shower of golden coins with pictures of unicorns making sweet love on them. I don't really listen to any pop music or even get my music through the same channels everyone else does. I lead a most singular existence musically, preferring the safety of hard rock staples, the thrash and death metal underground that I trust and whatever else is on my ipod that I can't update for over a year now (grrrrrr, another blog for that story). I think in the past ten years the only modern artists I remotely have an interest in is Lady Gaga, Muse, Robin Thicke, The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Them Crooked Vultures (no brainer there knowing me) and DD/AfP/Evelyn Evelyn and her extended projects' repertoires. I know that is crazy talk to some people and there is no doubt I am missing some good bands and artists out there. On the rare occasions I hear anything on radio or video it is severely awful. Sev-er-ly. That is not to say that there isn't a lot of terrible crap in my preferred genres, but more often than not- I choose correctly and am rarely let down by rock and metal. Just sayin...... check out these amazing people!

As a frequent visitor to Boston before I moved here five years ago I knew about the Dolls before they hit it big. A girlfriend of my ex once name dropped them to me in a convo and said I should check them out. This was earlier in the last decade when they were a local sensation around The Bean circa 2002. And check them out I did. I played to the first DD record (which I never understood why Roadrunner, a predominantly metal label ever signed them) here and there and liked it a lot. However, I was hearing the Dolls, but clearly not LISTENING carefully enough. Along with copious amounts of awful and embarrassing breakup music I jammed in 2007, I listened to the self-titled album and their second Yes, Virginia on a never ending loop for about about a year. The first record is truly the best breakup record ever. I dare anyone who has lost love in their life to listen to “Truce” and not shed a few tears or hear “The Jeep Song” and not laugh you anus off. In that time I really fell in love with the band and AfP and remembered why I loved music in the first place at a time when I hated everyone and everything. I needed that music in my life and so I found it and the messages of overcoming the obstacles of loss within it. That and some good therapy can help you get over anything really.

Why is AfP a revolutionary? Well the Dolls broke up for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they were fighting a losing battle in today's music biz where they were a critical smash, but commercially undervalued. Perhaps if they had the same push as half of the terrible crap Roadrunner put out (Nickleback? Really?) they'd have fared better. RR dropped the ball and did nothing to properly promote them. So after they ran DD into the ground and Amanda's brilliant solo album (produced by Ben Folds) Who Killed Amanda Palmer album was also left to die (when your own label is misogynist and derisive to your career, it's time to go.) Amanda did the unthinkable – she went off the industry grid that so many rely on and booked her own world tour and went on bravely with no expectation of support. She did this largely via Twitter where she is a major influencer; networking with her ravenous fan-base in a way few other artists have done. She engaged them directly and worked collaboratively with them to help fuel her career and the fans embraced her back. She wrote and played songs live like “Please Drop Me”. She fought to get free of her contract and when she finally got her emancipation (and later the rights to all of her music) she celebrated with a free song on her website. Since then she has gone the route of releasing her own music digitally through her website and, reaping more direct financial benefits (as opposed to the points system) while espousing a “pay what you want format”. One might say in this age of downloading/sharing this is unwise, but she is proof that it works following the example of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and other artists who have also released albums in this way. She's not rich, but a lot happier.

Buy this at
Her connection to her fans via social media has enabled her to make a better living in this way than she ever made in the traditional artist/serf versus label/overseer relationship. She operates outside the boundaries of the system and still thrives, luckily for us all. Amanda talks about the history of artists and the idea that there is no shame in “passing the hat” like in the old days of performers. If her fans want future output from her and artists like her they will buy the albums from her directly- paying as little as they want. But they also pay as much as they want in the form of a donation that goes right to the artists' pocket. This is how new and underground musicians will survive the coming (already here) industry apocalypse. Only 3% of the commercially popular acts really live the old fashioned jets and limos lifestyle anyway. What you see on Cribs is fake as can be. Bank notes and bad credit galore. This new fangled approach has worked in spades for Amanda's recent release of her covers album Amanda Palmer Plays the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukelele which cost as little as 84 cents (50 cents for the license of the songs, 34 cents for the production of each digital record.) With special packages bundling the record with shirts, colored vinyls, and deluxe packages with limited edition content signed ukuleles and even phone calls by Amanda who will sing you a song! My Orange collectors vinyl is hopefully in the mail as I type this. This kind of unprecedented access to the fans is really special and unique now, but I see it catching on in the future for those that want to be close to their fans and offer a deeper experience. Love your favorite band and they just might love you back!

Blog Attempt II
September 14, 18
Well I am turning into the kind of creepy stalker I always warned people about. Hopefully we don't wind up reading about me in the Boston Herald. “Excuse me Amanda, does this rag smell like chloroform to you?” leads to “Keith lived alone with only his cat Trouble and was always frowning. He listened to a lot of metal and “How soon is now” on infinite repeat sometimes. It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”. Ok. Just kidding. Sort of........

I went to the #140 characters Social Media Conference at the Boston Convention Center today. Mostly to hear from Amanda Palmer who was speaking on a panel about the future of music and social media. There were great soc-med presentations by Chris Brogan and Jeff Sass about the future of personal branding in the digital age. I also met with a great company that does Twitter analytics called Tap11. I'm still not sure Twitter equals making profits for people and brands. Only time will tell. But I do love Twitter. Holla at me @Keefy ( if you are on there.

As part of a panel moderated by Matthew Ebel, Prince's former manager and another industry type, Amanda discussed the responsibility today's artists need to have to protect and cultivate their own careers and how the old big machine is obsolete. Connecting with the fans is key via social media and she talked about all of the ways she has been able to survive without any help from the industry. Self-reliance for artists is here now and it is the way forward. 

Did someone say stalking? Three days after the #140 Conference and it's my 38th Birthday. I spent a lot of years not really celebrating much or depending on others to ensure a good time. Not anymore. Since most of my friends are far way and the few people I asked to go bailed I ended up out by myself. But it was no sad affair, nay nay I say! I went to a nice diner at The Fours (surf and turf) and I had my ticket to see Cabaret at The Oberon/A.R.T. In Cambridge and I was pumped up! A lot of people know me musically from my 20 years in rock and metal bands or my time at LaGuardia High School. What a lot of folks don't know is that I spent a lot of time in musical theater as a kid. I did tons of community theater and dozens of productions from the ages of 8 to14. I think along with Jazz the Broadway Musical is one of the few uniquely American art forms. I also went to a bunch of Broadway plays as a kid coming up including Cabaret on Broadway with Liza Minnelli as the Emcee- the role Amanda plays. We puttered into the theater and there was a cool energy in the room as we waited for the show to start. The show, directed by Steven Bogart was awesome with some amazing artistic twists and turns thrown in for good measure. The entire cast was amazing, but especially Amanda who took the bawdy, androgynous Emcee role to new heights with tremendous dramatic gravitas and depth. Plus she pretty much wore a prosthetic dong under her pants the entire night so props for that kind of commitment to the role. I met an interesting girl, Nancy a theater major from New Orleans and we chatted about AfP, Cabaret, DD etc during the intermission. She ended up next to me since I ate the other ticket and it was the only other open seat in the place. Nancy told me to hang out after the show and that Amanda would come out eventually to sign autographs. And she did! She was gracious with her time with everyone and very sweet and not creeped out by me which was nice. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek when I told her it was my birthday and autographed my WKAP Book for me as well. She also took a purely badass pic with me that I will never forget, ever. It was about as much a fanboy moment as I shall ever have. The end?
The best everrrrrrr!

Nope. Not the end just yet....

Blog Take III- November......
While meeting Amanda she made an announcement (to all ten of us) that the Dresden Dolls were doing a short “Bandiversary tour”, including Boston and tickets were going on sale in a few days. So as a present to myself I bought a pair of tix. Now for a bit more context. This has been a remarkable year of concert going for me. I never thought I would see bands like Alice in Chains, Faith No More, The Cro-Mags, Decapitated and D.R.I., ever. Let alone all of them in the same year. Somebody pinch me! And now I can add the Dolls to that esteemed list. My pal Gretchen came to town to go to the show with me as we are bound by our mutual love of all things Amanda. I had to go to class the night of the show which made me nervous. Right after class I jumped in a cab to The Wilbur Theater and made it to my seat with a good fifteen minutes before show time. There was a surreal vibe in the place as people came in costumes and boys dressed like girls and verse-visa. Just a very simple stage of Amanda's electric piano and Brian Viglione's impressive drum set- both on equal risers. They walked on stage and immediately took their spots in the darkness. And then the madness set in....

I already knew they were going to play their first album in its entirety so I was prepared for that. But hearing them in your headphones alone your room is one thing, but experiencing them in person is another story all together. Perhaps I wasn't ready to feel all of the of love, lust, angst, anger and confusion that the first DD album emits, but the air was pretty thick with feelings with everyone singing, cheering, crying and sighing the entire two hours plus they were on stage. And while I know I am all Amanda all the time- Brian is equally important to the equation. His performance was phenomenal. Whether it was his interplay with AfP, his amazing dynamics of delicate intricacy or his brutal heaviness (three floor toms and double bass drums!) he was dope. Amanda for her part was just deadly on the piano and vocally. Equal parts Brahms, Billy Joel, Joan Baez, Bowie and Carol King rolled into one being and that is just for starters. From the first notes of “Sex Changes”, to Amanda's self conscious stopping of “Girl Anachronism” to make sure she didn't fuck up, to the sweet silliness of “Pierre” the show was was so epic in scope. So many heart stopping moments and many smiles. In between songs we were treated to anecdotes about the formation of the band and a back story of most of the songs which was amazing too. As a bonus I managed to not cry during “Truce”. Coming out for an encore of “Mein Herr” Brian picked up the acoustic guitar and Amanda took to the balcony to sing and vamp her ass off! After the aforementioned “Pierre” and a very sad take of “Boston” they brought the house down with a rousing cover of BLACK SABBATH's “War Pigs” that had me screaming with glee like a little girl. But what makes up the glory of The Punk Cabaret is more than just great musicianship. It is raw emotion that you cannot fake or look away from. It is the soul of what is missing today and what needs to come back in a big way. That's what set this show apart from all of the others this year. The memory of this night and really the last few months full of Amanda-ness has buoyed me personally and will stay with me a long, long time.
Amanda sings "Mein Herr" from the balcony

Set List:
Sex Changes
Modern Moonlight
Mrs. O
Good Day

Girl Anachronism
Missed Me
Half Jack
Coin-Operated Boy
Bad Habit
The Perfect Fit
The Jeep Song
Post show giggles
Mein Herr
War Pigs

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Written and Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Werk Werc Studios)

I went to the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA to watch the movie Howl staring James Franco as the late, great Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Warning: I am a huge poetry fan and Ginsberg is one of my idols so this review is going to be fairly one-sided. When I was 15 my uncle Lenny gave me his copy of Howl and Other Poems and told me "I could learn a lot from it”. Lenny being an eccentric artist, musician and intellectual was always trying to broaden my horizons and I was always eager to check out whatever new thing he had to share. I was by no means a sheltered kid growing up. Howl just blew the doors off of a lot of dark and light corners off life I really had no clue about at the time. I was already trying to write my own poetry as an early teen with primitive attempts at song lyrics, sonnets etc, but after reading that book and absorbing other Beat Generation titles I tried to raise it up to another level. I'm not sure I've ever gotten there with my writing, but I keep trying. When I went on vacation last year to California and stopped in San Francisco I made my pilgrimage to the famous City Lights Bookstore which is a major focal point of the film and ground zero for the Beats.

The film which was produced by the team that created The Times of Harvey Milk, covers Ginsberg (Franco) recounting his life interview style from the period when he was writing Howl and flashes forward and backward at different points to his cross country travels and finally his crucial appearance in San Francisco at the Six Gallery readings in 1955 where the Beats really coalesced as a movement. The central point is as much a focus on Ginsberg, his written and emotional journeys, but more importantly the obscenity trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (owner of City Lights) of which Howl was the focal point.

The case which was a landmark at the time pitted the honestly and blatantly graphic content of the book versus those who deemed it obscene. The prosecution brought many witnesses and experts to bear witness as to whether or not the book had artistic merits and if the obscenity was necessary to tell the narrative. Other experts argued that out of context anything can be considered obscene or ridiculous or silly. In context the content of the words is paramount to the vitality and purpose of the poem as a story telling device since it reflects Ginsburg’s life experience/journey. The verdict was of course not guilty and this was crucial to American artists and writers at the time since this was the precursor to the more open times of the 1960's. Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance" and this paved the way for the protection of writers and other artists who would face future scrutiny. I couldn't help watching the court room scenes and feeling just how relevant this was to today's public battle for the soul of this country. The forces of evil (most of the mainstream media, the moral majority, tea baggers, crazy right wing entities) can never silence art and if they try they will surely rue the day. They just mint more free thinkers and rebels. To quote Otep Shamaya “The tighter they try to make the noose the faster we all break loose!”

 The film has received some poor reviews because of its non-linear story telling, but I think it is unfair. Franco gives a stunning performance and is joined by an excellent cast such as Aaron Tveit, John Hamm, David Strathairn, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels and Treat Williams. The film itself is masterfully done in my opinion. On top of the stunning courtroom drama, many of the scenes are constantly inter-cut with amazing animation not unlike Waking Life or PINK FLOYD's The Wall with Franco reading most of the text of the book as a voice-over or at filmed poetry readings. The movies' frenetic pacing style mirror's the meter of Ginsburg’s own words with a seamless editing job between animation and real shot film. Plus the use of black and white shots and old school film shooting style (deep focus, dissolves and cutaways- not the modern MTV jump cut style) to fit the period coupled with hints of color and finally dizzying imagery later on is top notch. If this movie doesn't earn a wider release in spite of its brilliance and Sundance pedigree- please do yourself a favor and find a way to see it.

Here is the poem for those interested:
In Art-