The first few ventures into the entertainment world for punk cabaret singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer involved busking on Boston street corners dressed as a bride. When people dropped money into the gauntlet by her feet, Palmer handed them a flower and thanked them silently with her eyes. This first moment of “asking” for help from complete strangers is the very spine of Palmer’s debut book The Art of Asking, a companion to her incredibly successful 2012 TED Talk of the same name. Garnering over 8 million views after it was released online, it was no surprise that Palmer would have a book in the works.
The Art of Asking is anything but a grand pronouncement or the compiled remnants of index cards and ideas from Palmer’s TED Talk. For those expecting a persuasive essay or “put it this way, folks” from the musician, look elsewhere. What you will find instead is more of the glimpse into Palmer’s past and her relationships with others than what was allotted for in around twelve minutes. Much of it involves her relationship with her husband, world-renown fantasy author Neil Gaiman.
It is the personal aspect of The Art of Asking that will hit the hardest for the average reader who is less concerned about funding a band or art project and more worried about the job he or she has lost and the resulting weirdness they have about asking their partners for help. The people who would be much more willing to bounce a check at Stop & Shop than ask their friends for money for groceries or—even worse— admit that they don’t have their shit as together as they would like everyone to believe. And, as the ‘season of giving’ closes in like thick, rolling fog, Palmer reminds us that we’re all holding a pretty powerful flashlight in our hands. We just need to borrow some batteries.
Not to say that Palmer completely avoids the topic of her infamous Kickstarter—a successful and scandalous fundraising effort that brought her 1.2 million dollars and sparked public outcry and endless scathing think-pieces. The Art of Asking rolls deep with metaphors and anecdotes that help support Palmer’s views on crowdsourcing, but will it be enough to silence the haters? Probably not. But Palmer is neither hoping nor expecting that to happen.
“I found myself conversely very excited to raise the flag of crowdfunding and sitting down trying to explain things to people,”says Palmer, over the phone from New York where she is busy doing tech rehearsals for her upcoming musical “The Bed Show” at Bard College. “That’s the fascinating thing about these time—you can’t extract the technology from the art. And you can’t separate the artist from the zeitgeist. Like, this shit is affecting all of my friends. It’s changing the art we make, it’s changing the music we make.”
Palmer’s openness to debate has never been more apparent than the stance she took in regards to recently fired CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi. Palmer’s original commitment to keep Ghomeshi as a guest speaker for the Toronto stop on her book tour was met with intense backlash from her fans. Palmer let her fans voice their opinions on her Facebook page and share their stories before she would make a decision.
This open dialogue is the kind of buzz Palmer wishes to generate with The Art of Asking. And it’s refreshing to see that, despite the endless scrutiny and heat she gets from the media and the public, she is by no means shying away from the flame or claiming omniscience on all topics that she has opinions on. Amanda Fucking Palmer will ultimately do and say what she wants. And it would be in perfect Palmer form to assume that she will handle any negativity or backlash as openly and honestly as the many anecdotes she touches on in her book. And if there are any nagging questions or controversies based on where Palmer stands on a particular situation—well, all we need do is ask.
THE ART OF ASKING MIDNIGHT RELEASE PARADE AND SIGNING. HARVARD SQUARE + PORTER SQUARE BOOKS BEGINNING AT 10PM. FOR EVENT DETAILS, VISIT AMANDAPALMER.NET
AMANDA PALMER W/ SPECIAL GUESTS. ROYALE, 279 TREMONT., ST. BOSTON. TUE 11.11. 8PM/18+/$20.