It's the day after Christmas, and Amanda Palmer thinks she has beaten the flu by stomping half-naked through a foot of snow.
Well, almost beat it. The Dresden Dolls frontwoman is not quite 100 percent. That might be why the "punk cabaret" star has flaked out on her 2 p.m. interview. A callback two hours later finds her cellphone ringing and ringing and then, finally, Palmer picks up. She's apologetic, but I don't care about the delay; I'm ecstatic that the idiosyncratic singer answered at all.
Eccentricity is nothing new to Palmer. The Brecht/Weill-influenced singer pens torch songs about masturbating in the morning, dresses up in garter belts and bustiers on stage, and writes drama-queen blog posts. But the one she unleashed on Christmas Eve has me concerned.
It's 1,769 words of borderline insanity. This kind of stream-of-consciousness venting would have never entered public discourse a decade ago, or, if so, only in the form of a professionally edited memoir published years after the events being chronicled. But here it sits at dresdendolls.com and Palmer's MySpace page.
After rambling about not posting enough, she announces: "So fuck it. I'm just writing with no plan."
The 31-year-old proceeds to tell the world about how much she loves being at her parents' home, where she was raised, in Lexington, Mass., and then explains that bathing in a tub filled with cat hair really isn't that bad. ("I played a game to see how much floating cat hair I could wrest out of the tub and ball into a giant collection on the side of the tub.")
Palmer has never been coy. Her dramatic piano ballads, which feature fellow Dresden Doll Brian Viglione bashing away on drums, cover all manner of subject matter. The duo's latest album,
Yes, Virginia... comes with a Parental Advisory stamp and features titles like "Sex Change," "My Alcoholic Friends," "Me & the Minibar" and "First Orgasm." So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Palmer writes just as frankly online. But this particular post, titled "on this xmas eve," hints at a singer on the brink of pulling an Amy Winehouse.
After piling the cat hair into a ball on the side of the tub in which she bathed, Palmer takes a scalding hot shower, wraps her naked body in a blanket and proceeds to "walk in the one-foot snow as [far] as my burning, little, pink feet could bear."
On the phone, I express my concern: "Amanda, I'm no doctor, but a hot shower followed by a near naked stroll through the snow doesn't sound like the best remedy for the flu."
"Au contraire!" Palmer shoots back. "They say that it actually helps the healing process."
"Exposing the body to extreme cold and heat, it's how you beat the flu."
"It's not like I hung outside that long," she says defensively. "Seven minutes — maybe. Just enough to get cold. Remember, I had just taken a really hot shower, so my body was really warm."
Well, it must have worked, I reply. But as a fan of The Dresden Dolls, I'm concerned that in her diary entry Palmer sounds totally burned out. As in, is the upcoming mini-tour that started last week and brings The Dresden Dolls to Tampa Theatre on Jan. 10 actually going to be completed? Did the Christmas visit to her childhood home recharge her artistic batteries?
"I feel like they are about at 73 percent," she answers matter-of-factly.
Is that typical for the start of the tour?
"I usually start closer to 100 percent," Palmer says, and then unleashes a wicked laugh. "But I've done shows on 6 percent and been fine."
Palmer needs her batteries at max. In concert (as evidenced by the duo's new DVD, Live at the Roundhouse, London), Palmer pounds her keyboard mercilessly, singing like a woman possessed, her voice soaring to operatic heights while Viglione matches her verve with heavy-metal-style drumming. The concert was filmed in November 2006, and the duo is dynamite, performing Palmer's quirky tunes while troupes of physical theater artists act out the lyrics onstage. The actors are part of The Dresden Dolls' famed "brigade" of performers that Palmer has cultivated since the band started playing around its home base of Boston in 2001.
Will there be any brigade members at the Tampa show?
"This whole tour is really pretty relaxed," Palmer says. "Sometimes we put someone in charge of finding new acts, but this is a really short tour. If there's anything, it will be a surprise to you and me — you'd be surprised how often [performers] come out of the woodwork."
Palmer's epic Christmas Eve blog post also mentions that she is reading the autobiography of Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis. Palmer details the parallels she sees between her relationship with drummer Brian Viglione and the one Kiedis shares with Peppers bassist Flea.
"Brian lives and breathes to play drums — more specifically, to play drums with others," Palmer explains in our interview. "He loves more than anything to just jam out.
"I'm sort of more a performer and into the business — I don't have a love affair with the piano as Brian has with the drums. Anthony has no passion for singing, he has a passion for being Anthony Kiedis, being a performer, being in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the way I have a passion for being a frontperson for the Dresden Dolls. There is something cathartic about singing and playing in front of an audience that I love. But I rarely practice."
I hope the adulation will keep Palmer going. According to her Christmas Eve blog, she's axed a spring tour and indefinitely postponed the release of her Ben Folds-produced solo debut album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
"I've canceled my life," Palmer writes. "I'm leaving in two days for a short, killer Dolls tour in cities where we know we can just rock out and have fun, and then I'm coming home with absolutely nothing on my schedule. I had a spring tour planned; I just canceled it. I was going to put the record out this spring; I canceled that, too. Everything around me has suggested that it's time to stop, assess, restart and then blast off."
I attempt to ask Palmer about having canceled her life, but she's getting awful phone reception. I call her back. She apologizes for the poor connection. Seconds later, the call gets dropped. I opt not to pester her, not to risk another garbled conversation, hoping that she's closer to 100 percent than six when The Dresden Dolls play Tampa.