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A Serious Conversation With Amanda Fucking Palmer

Fame and the machine

Defending the eclectic and in-your-face rocker Amanda Palmer in public these days is like lobbying City Hall to run a high-voltage wire through a public playground. The reaction to the controversy surrounding her can be so visceral that you miss the point of what she's trying to do. God forbid you take a good idea like her new album, Theatre Is Evil, and ask for help on Kickstarter to put it out there instead of getting bent over the barrel by some corporate A&R. Or that you invite fans to join in the glory on stage for the sheer fuck-all-ness of it. Because media hype puts food on the table and hits on the company website, it's easy to forget that the people we take down from time to time are actual human beings who create things like music out of thin air for the enjoyment and betterment of our collective existence. Love 'em or hate 'em, she and the members of the Grand Theft Orchestra are taking turns at the helm of their rowdy little posse, playing Purple Rain in its entirety at Terminal 5 this New Year's Eve. Palmer talked to the Voice about their upcoming performance and the unifying power of Prince:

What was the worst New Year's Eve you've ever had?

It was the millennium turnover, and I had the flu. Everyone was having crazy parties, and I was sick and in bed.

At around 5 or 6, I got a call from an old high school friend of mine who I'd barely stayed in touch with, who moved into a new apartment in Boston, and just dropped me a line and said: "Hey, Amanda, I'm moving right down the street from you. We're supposed to do New Year's Eve. Do you want to come over?"

I scraped my ass out of bed, took a cab a mile down the street in Boston, and wound up in one of the most awkward situations I have ever been in. My old high school friend had another friend of his over and just a bunch of random people I didn't know. I think I watched my friend macking on some other girl while I sat on the corner of the couch nursing a drink.

Every other New Year's Eve of my life that I can remember has been onstage. You've got to. It's such a waste not to play New Year's Eve. It's such a fantastic celebration.

Tell me about Purple Rain.

Purple Rain is in the Venn diagram of my band, our top influence. It's the one solid place where we all overlap. If you look at what we were all listening to as teenagers, it's not drastically different, but it's pretty fucking different. You wouldn't have found many of the same records on our shelves. But there are a couple of crossover points: Michael Jackson, Prince. Purple Rain is the perfect example of where we all agree it's one of the best records ever made.

Have you had an "I made it" moment?

Not one big one, but I have had a couple of moments where I kind of step back from my life and think, "Wow." I guess no one is going to come along and tell me I've made it. [Laughs.] It really is hard to, especially for an artist like me, because I'm just a perpetual underdog. And no matter what I do, and no matter what I make, I feel like I'm permanently dedicated to being a cult artist.

Here's an "I made it" moment: [Theatre Is Evil] coming out, and the mainstream media ignoring the record. It really does feel like there's still that insecure teenager in me that wants the recognition from the machine. I want to not only beat the machine but also be recognized by the machine. The grown-up in me shakes her head and says you really can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you want to beat the machine, you have to be willing to live outside the machine.

Last question: Is fame as frightening as it looks?

I think it depends who you are. [Laughs.] No, it's not. Fame isn't a real thing. It's a state of mind. It's not defined by the outside. . . . I've been thinking about that a lot for the past year as I worked up to the release of Theatre Is Evil—thinking I'm still totally independent, putting out this record by myself, and I have my amazing cult audience, but how would I feel if all of a sudden the mainstream decided to tap me with its "famous" wand?

I look at my indie music friends who have jumped up a couple rungs on the fame ladder—especially if they've jumped quickly—and they really don't like it. . . . If I looked at why I got into doing all this in the first place, it's not that I want to be famous. I wanted to be functional, and I wanted to be able to make my living doing that. But fame in itself wasn't going to do anything for me.

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