Amanda Alexandra (or, how I went to sleep for a week woke up internet-famous)

Meeting your heroes can suck. Dating them can be worse. I once temporarily ruined a band I really really loved by dating one of the band-members; there’s one record of theirs I just don’t listen to because all it makes me is annoyed – but that is another story.

This is not a story about a sucky hero-meeting. It is, in fact, just the opposite. It’s a very lovely story & I’m still incredulous that it happened at all.

It begins with my love for Amanda Palmer. Her blog, her music, her zeitgeist: I dig it all greatly. My brother was a Dresden Dolls fan way back and gave me some Dolls cds, which I lost in my car (sorry, Frederic…but you were right and I admit it here on my blog) so I found Amanda through her solo work. And I found her at a time when I was floundering (musically and personally), and while I always feel a little bit exhausted and definitely kind of inadequate/lazy after reading what she’s been up to, I also always, always, ALWAYS feel inspired to see her making all this shit happen her way, with her people, with her fans involved. Because it has been my contention all along that this is possible, that this is how it could be if someone had the energy & vision. I walked away from major label offers in the 90’s because they just felt so limiting and wrong (in hindsight, if I’d known that all the music biz money was going to dry up and go away the way it has, I might not have been so young and high-principled – so it’s a good thing I didn’t know) – I wanted the freedom to record what I wanted and wear what I wanted and work with who I wanted.

And there goes Amanda Fucking Palmer, living the dream and then some. I love it. I love her.

So a few weeks ago I got an email saying she was looking for horn & string players. (NB – I didn’t see any of the controversy about pay coming ahead of time. My friends were all happy to play with her BEFORE they got paid – which they did – and I’ve had a bajillion debates about it already on FB so I’m skipping that here.) As it happens, I knew EXACTLY THE PERFECT PEOPLE FOR THIS GIG – we all play in bands together. My long-time musical soulmate Sam Craft: violin player (among other things). His brother Jack Craft: cello. The Crafts have been playing with me since they were in high school. Ashley Shabankareh & Hannah Kreiger-Benson, my bandmates from St. Cecilia’s Asylum Chorus, are also badass horn players (Ash plays trombone & played with Aretha Franklin at Essence Fest; Hannah plays trumpet & piano). So I emailed them and told them to apply, right away, that whether or not they got paid they would have the time of their lives & meet fantastic people.

They all got in to the band. I was very happy for them. And then I got kind of wistful: all of my friends were going to be onstage with my heroine, indeed hanging out backstage with Amanda & the band…and I would not be. Oh how I wished I had learned to play strings or horns as a child. Nobody every comes to town and says, “I need a spare lead singer,” (although in the event, Jherek Bischoff, The Grand Theft Orchestra’s bassist and opening act, said, “I would’ve taken you.” Good to know.)

Then…I remembered this idea I’d had for about a year, of getting the St. Cecilia’s ladies (me, Ashley, Hannah & the divine Amy Trail) to learn an a capella four-part harmony of ‘Map of Tasmania.’ So I convinced them to find a two-hour window of time on the Sunday before the show (which was Monday) to learn the song. Ashley & I decided we should all wear pink. Amy threw together a video backdrop, edited the whole shemozzle, and put it up on youtube that night. And then we all dashed off to more rehearsals and things.

I had the vague dream that Ash or Hannah might get the chance to play the video for Amanda or her band – she is, after all, known for being incredibly open to projects from fans. In my dreamiest dream, I thought she might ask us all to come backstage and sing it for her and hug us. Which would’ve been peachy.

But what ended up happening was this: the lovely Sarah Lasley, who’s videographer for the tour, kept asking the strings & horns, pre-show, how they’d found out about the show. And most of them kept saying, “Our friend Alexandra Scott told us to apply.” So she asked, “Who is this woman & can you get her up here?” Ash texted me to come backstage; meanwhile she & Hannah showed Amanda our pink Map video & Amanda asked if we wanted to get added to the bill and perform it.

This is our video, by the way:

So when I arrived backstage there was a camera in my face, a whole bunch of smiling faces, crazy good news that we were going to be onstage in 20 minutes, and Amanda Palmer in a kimono with half her face painted blue hugging me and thanking me for providing her with half her band.

I still think, as I write this, that I might have made it up.

Ashley ran to her house to get a tambourine. We texted Amy to get her ass backstage and be prepared to sing. She was a little freaked out. Chad Raines lent her a white jacket so that she could match. Then we all got busy on the floor coloring with Sharpies on the back of a GTO poster; we needed a ‘Fuck It’ sign for our act. (It’s now hanging on my wall.) I definitely had a “Holy shit, I’m coloring with Amanda Palmer” moment.

Then we – me, Ash, Hannah, Amy – got in a circle & sang ‘Map’ to warm up. At some point I looked over my shoulder and Amanda had snuck up behind us & was listening, mouthing the words. I opened up the circle and waved her in and she sang it with us, and as great as singing it onstage was, that private little backstage campfire was just as much of a treasure.

Describing performance is like describing sex: it’s really better just to do it. Singing with people you love – and I love those girls I sing with a lot – is already the nectar of the gods. Having your heroine introduce you, and then come back onstage to perform with for the last verse – just think of the best thing you’ve ever felt, and that’s probably it. Having it all come together because of a crazy idea you had that you convinced all your friends to collaborate on, that then manifested a thousand times better….well, you’re fully in Oz at that point. All four of us are still giddy about it.

Amanda Palmer & St. Cecilia’s Asylum Chorus; photo by Erika Goldring, all rights reserved

It was one of the best shows I’ve seen since I don’t know how long. I couldn’t look away from the stage. I had access to the VIP area and backstage, and normally I wouldn’t pass up a chance to sit down, but there was no way I was going to miss a single bit of the show. I miss music that reaches out and grabs you by the heart and asks you to hold on back, just as hard.

We all hung out for a long time in the green room after the show. We chatted, we chilled, we cuddled on the sofa. Photos were taken. There were Real Conversations. By which I mean: I’ve met a lot of rock stars. Most of them are, either by nature or by habit, incapable of coupling listening with talking in the way that makes a conversation pleasant (to me, at least). That tends to limit my friendships with rock stars.

This was a really different experience. It felt like making a friend. (Which is partly why I’m not saying much about it.) Amanda came across to me as a cool & lovely & funny chick with awesome boots and a thoughtful mind. If folks wonder why people anted up so much money for Amanda on Kickstarter – it’s because we wanted to give it to her. She’s pretty rad.

So all that would’ve been a good enough story to go to bed on, and go to bed I did. And I woke up the next morning and went off to have my next round of knee procedures (prolotherapy & PRP, following a bad accident 7 ½ years ago).

And on the way home – when I was pretty much half-asleep and in shock – I got a text from Ashley showing me a tumblr post from Amanda Palmer mentioning me by name and showing a photo of all of us.

Then I got another email showing Amanda’s blog with Sarah Lasley’s film featuring EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY PEEPS – and me too.

Or direct link to the movie (I cant make it embed for some reason):

Then I spent most of the next two days sleeping, waking up to get crazy emails from friends and former major label contacts and everyone in between going ‘Did you know you’re on Pitchfork?’ (I hadn’t) or ‘Hey, you’re internet famous.’ It was totally weird and extremely pleasant and distracted quite a lot from the pain in my knees.

My mom said this morning, “I have to tell you something, honey: I’ve watched that video about twelve times.”

And I said, “Oh, don’t worry, Mom. So have I.”

I think the best part – aside from all of it being quite awesome – is that I got to share it with my friends/collaborators. It wasnt for me. It was for us. It wasnt by me. It was by us. All but two of the people I play with were on that stage. And if you could’ve seen their smiles as they danced and played during the finale – ‘Leeds United’ – you’d’ve been happy too. In fact, please do be happy too. Theres plenty to go around this week.

love and rockets,


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