Behind every great man there’s a great woman. Or, as it was so wisely put in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” One just has to consider the influence women such as Josephine Bonaparte, Coretta Scott King and Eleanor Roosevelt had on their husbands Napoleon Bonaparte, Martin Luther King Jr and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is sad to think that these brilliantly strong women are only renown through the names of their men. For instance, Alma Reville is mainly identified as the woman who married Alfred Hitchcock, not as the individual who completed Hitchcock’s genius. Few people truly appreciate the huge artistic contribution she brought to Alfred’s work. And Alma is but one of the many women eclipsed by the notoriety of their husbands.
This article is not about me going on some vindictive, feminist rampage. I would just like to point out a reoccurring pattern that vividly dawned on me once I discovered my now-favorite musician, Amanda Palmer. I found out about her quite recently while hunting for information on her husband, Neil Gaiman. This illustrious writer is one of my personal favorites; if his name does not ring a bell, make sure to look into the literary jewels that are Coraline, Good Omens, the Sandman series and many, many more. When I found out that he has been married since 2012, I was compelled by curiosity (and by a naïve delusion more commonly known as a “celebrity crush”) to look this wife (also known as my romantic competition) up. Google, oh you beautiful tool, what ever would we do without you?
I hate defining Amanda Palmer as “Neil Gaiman’s wife”. She is his wife, but she is also her own individual. It’s as simple as that. Amanda Palmer is Amanda Palmer. And she is incredible. She is infatuating. She does not need to derive her identity from her legendary husband. She is her own artist, and her artwork is astounding.
Amanda Palmer’s style is completely different from her husband’s glamorous, dark and witty prose. It is beautiful to see how she doesn’t let her husband artistically overshadow her. Which is why I find it sad that I only discovered her through his fame. At least I can now channel my Gaiman obsession into a Palmer addiction.
Vocalist, pianist, lyricist and composer, Palmer’s creations are characteristic for exploiting the dark cabaret genre. Very musically active, Palmer is implicated in a wide variety of projects including the Dresden Dolls duo (since 2000) and the Evelyn Evelyn duo (since 2007). She still remains focused on her solo career, sometimes accompanied by her Grand Theft Orchestra (GTO) – an ensemble that can help you kill time while waiting for Grand Theft Auto 6 to come out.
As a vocalist, Palmer conveys a lot of emotion through the fluctuations of her deep, raspy voice. Her tone entrancingly varies from soft and mournful to passionate and angry, while her occasional cheeky, teasing inflections are particularly reminiscent of the cabaret style.
Palmer sings a lot from personal experience, but also out of human understanding. Not to overkill the praise, but Palmer is an extremely empathic musician. She sings about love without making it sappy. She sings about pain, and in her tone you can sense that it is honest. Few artists nowadays are truly honest. They prostitute themselves; they write about what people want to hear. She writes about what she wants to write. She knows her vulnerabilities and inner perversities, and she openly exposes them. Often, her words, ringing with truth, are tremendously relatable from anyone’s point of view. Other times, they create controversy. But that doesn’t put Palmer off. She is an earnest writer and she writes for herself.
For instance, her song Oasis has been widely criticized for making light of rape-culture. Indeed, it comes off as controversial to have lyrics about date rape and abortion (both experienced by Palmer first hand) sung to an upbeat melody in a sarcastic tone. Palmer defines it as black humor. She narrates this song from the perspective of a young girl who tries to turn a blind eye to how serious and traumatic her past experiences have been. The result is thus extremely real and humane. And, as Palmer puts it: “When you cannot joke about the darkness of life, the darkness takes over.”
Besides Oasis, Palmer has a come up with a wide array of great tracks. Good Day, Astronaut and Shores of California are renown for their incredibly catchy choruses. The frantic instrumentals and female punk rock style of Girl Anachronism deserve close attention. To the girls who just went through a breakup, ditch the ice-cream tub and Nicholas Sparks movie to let out all your helpless anger by viewing the video to The Killing Type (the end takes quite the priceless – not to mention bloody – turn). Missed Me, a piece about pedophilia, is lovely for the cheeky and degenerate way it revives the cabaret style. Coin-Operated Boy thoroughly fulfills the dreams of anyone sexually attracted to men. Dear Jenny and Runs in the Family both express substantial and explicit themes: insanity and depression. Finally, I Want You, But I Don’t Need You shows Palmer’s more sardonically light side.
Evelyn Evelyn’s new album, Evelyn Evelyn, is a whole other story. It needs to be listened to in one shot, the lyrics deserving full attention. The Evelyn Evelyn duo (Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley) impersonates two Siamese twins. The album tells the twins’ fictional story, with its dark twists and turns and satanic mysteries and perversities. (Also, I am proud to say that the song Sandy Fishnets makes a brief mention of our delightful city of Montreal!) Evelyn Evelyn is a chilling, sensual and scarring album – although disability-rights advocates have understandably criticized it.
Another worthy aspect of Palmer’s personality is the original way in which she involves herself in activism. To protest the famous Proposition 8 (Californian proposition issued against same-sex marriage), Palmer put on a skit to Katy Perry’s song I Kissed a Girl, where a Katy look-alike ends up getting gagged and raped by Palmer and comedian Margaret Cho. Besides sending an anti-Prop 8 message on a banner at the end of the performance, the skit condemns Katie for being a phony, since the latter’s song mainly exploits homosexuality for monetary purposes.
To promote feminism, Amanda makes sure not to conform to whatever conventions society imposes upon women. Her crazy, often ridiculous, makeup satirizes the heavy layers of paint worn by your average female today. She dresses for comfort, not style. And – most admirable of all for a woman of the 21st century – she doesn’t shave anywhere! This “osé” and hairy feminist even wrote a song called Map of Tasmania (another memorable video right there) to express how absurd and unnatural it is for women to feel pressured to shave off their pubic hair (“it hurts with the stubble, walking ‘round and look like an eight-year old”).
Amanda Palmer’s sexy, hoarse and dynamic voice makes her a sorceress. Furthermore, she has recently publicly revealed being pregnant with Neil Gaiman’s child… The mixed gene pool of such brilliant artists will probably create quite a Power Baby; I personally cannot wait to see what this child will eventually have to offer the world!