Here’s a clip of Dresden Dolls singer, and ‘Brechtian punk’ songwriter and performer Amanda Palmer with a tune off of her first solo album, 2008’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer?. It’s ‘Ampersand’, the third track off of that record, and something of a song of defiance to the idea of couples joined at the hip, plus a few observations on the absurdity, and even dangers, of modern courtship and love in general.
The melding of a woman’s singing voice, piano, and strings often evokes associations with touchy-feely sensitivity, and perfume-scented sentiment often relegated to our own personal Lilith Fair conceptions. Yet, true artists are able to take the elements of what’s familiar, what is deemed as safe, and then turn it on its head. Because, one doesn’t need a guitar, bass, drums, and snotty-nosed delivery to be punk rock. Amanda Palmer proves this on this tune alone.
This is a love song, but not of the usual sort. In this tune, this is love on a bad day. It’s about hitching one’s wagon to someone else’s, and how that can negatively impact one’s identity if one lets it. It’s a song about barriers, and of necessary boundaries. And you get the impression that one party isn’t quite in step with the program. As a result, there’s miles of tension in this tune, with Palmer’s almost violent delivery in front her piano, contrasted to arranger (first famously for Elton John) Paul Buckmaster’s strings.
There’s so much subversion in this tune, and the lyrics are relentless. Even before the bizarrely disjointed-yet-perfect middle section, you’re already getting rock n roll’s rebellious spirit in the middle of what would otherwise be a baroque-folk song that happens to be about a block-consuming fire. As it happens, it’s a song about not letting oneself be consumed. In a culture such as ours which is so often in the throes of deceptively dangerous ‘you complete me’ approaches to love, this tune raises the alarm.
To learn more about this song, and the making of the album, check out the Who Killed Amanda Palmer album site, which includes early song lists, videos, photos, and actual correspondence between Palmer, and co-producer Ben Folds. It’s a fascinating look into the process of how two artists get an album done.
For more music and upcoming projects including Palmer’s Radiohead cover tunes project, check out AmandaPalmer.net.
Also, be sure to follow Amanda Palmer on Twitter for real-time updates.
4 thoughts on “Amanda Palmer Sings ‘Ampersand’”
Hurrah for AFP! She is such an inspiration, and such a huge, original talent. She proves, too, that a punk attitude doesn’t have to mean anarchistic, destructive anger. It can mean being yourself, standing up for what you believe in, using your righteous anger to make intelligent commentary and actually affect change… it’s not just about tearing things down and smashing things up. Amanda manages to be ferociously strong and independent without losing or negating her feminine side.
I love her throwback-to-Weimar-Republic-1920s-Berlin persona. Very Brechtian, as you say.
Thanks for comments, Leslie.
I do think that the underlining characteristic behind punk rock is subversion, which we’re certainly getting here. In this, defining punk is similarly difficult to do by any other means, certainly by musical ones. The same can also be said of course for the term ‘rock n’ roll’, which is also a cultural phenomenon more so than one you can define by musical traits.
Also, I think that this song has important things to say about how we perceive love affairs and our place within them. This is social commentary within a love song. There is a certain anger and guarded-ness in this one, certainly, which may or may not have anything to do with Palmer’s own situation, involved as she is with a person who is famous in his own right.
Thanks again for comments!
There’s a great line in the song that I saved and quote on occasion: “I have wasted years of my life agonizing about the fires I started, when I thought that to be strong you must be flame retardant” — that line resonates so much with me, as a person who tried for most of my life to be “flame retardant”. I finally figured out, thankfully, that to be strong doesn’t mean not feeling anything. And that goes along with what I said above about being independent without losing touch with the Feminine.
I love how she totally subverts what’s been crammed down our throats, culturally, through fairy tales, Harlequin romances, and chick flicks: “I ain’t gonna die for you… I ain’t no Juliet.”
Thanks for this post on a song I love by one of my favourite musicians!
You’re welcome, Leslie. It should be said that I am a relative newbie to Palmer’s music, but I found this song undeniable for many of the reasons you cite. This isn’t a defiant song for the sake of defiance alone. Like I mentioned earlier, and as your last comment reinforces, this song has something to say, and with an emotional core, too, with which many, in my opinion, would do well to acquaint themselves in order to get past the myths about being in a loving relationship, and more on board with the costs associated with it that leads to its real rewards.