As you all know from my occasional posting, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to have worked with Amanda Palmer and her new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, at their recent stay at Bard College as part of the new Live Arts program. I haven’t had a real chance to fully divulge the details of my experience, nor really process them myself, so here’s a mega post of all my adventures!
When I first arrived on campus to aid with Amanda’s stay, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I only knew that they needed general crew help and I was more than willing to volunteer my time. My first interaction with anyone from Team AFP was with Michael McQuilken, who I learned was not only the drummer of the band, but also the director of the upcoming video for “The Bed Song” off their new album “Theatre is Evil.” To my surprise and pleasure, what the crew needed from we Bard students (or in my case, Bard graduate) was not only some extra hands here and there but also to be extras in the video itself! For the rest of that first day, myself and a few other students strung up Christmas light and did some other small set-dressing tasks. Michael immediately came off as a great guy and I got to meet some of the rest of the crew including the incredible, beautiful, and genius Sarah Lasley, the camera operator and videographer. We quickly became friends but everyone there treated us volunteers with warmth and gratitude and truly made me feel, at least, like a part of a team, albeit a temporary one. It wasn’t until the next day that I met the woman herself.
At my first sighting of Amanda I felt that awful giddiness of at once really needing to pee and then getting punched in the stomach. Just a big, fat, Holy. Shit. It must have read on my face a little bit, despite my attempts to keep cool, as she did a little wave as she walked by. Once she passed I could breathe again though at a shorter intake than before. It’s almost embarrassing to be admitting this on the internet, but luckily my fangirl starstruckness quickly wore off after only a few short interactions (aided by twitter and my shiny, gold, rockstar pants). It quickly became apparent there was no need to walk on any egg shells around Amanda because chances are she would obliterate them into a mess of slime and yolk under her own heel before you had the idea to be careful. Comfortable is really the best word to describe how she made me feel, and I quickly slipped into a not-so-nervous skin. I am not completely innocent of all stomachdropping feelings of awe for the rest of my time with her and the band, though, most notably when Michael passed me Amanda’s own ukulele to play in the music video I nearly shit myself. Here I was holding the instrument that led me to want to learn to play the instrument! I also have to give credit to another amazing person I met that day, Kambriel, who designed and crafted Amanda’s dress for the shoot. You can see the design from the back here:
She basically encouraged and reassured me that being myself and going after the things I want were the best methods of achieving happiness in this post-grad slum of emotion. The rest of the shoot went well though it was a lot of work with long hours. After a night of striking, driving around different members of the crew, and finally partying at a local bar - I realized I didn’t have a place to stay that night! Luckily, Justin Tyme, the make-up artist, came to my rescue and asked Amanda if I could stay at the house where most of the cast and crew were crashing. So I found myself on a couch in this great farmhouse with a treehouse out front getting about two hours of sleep before driving more members of the crew, including Kambriel, to the train station. I was sad to say goodbye after only a short amount of time but what time I did get to spend with her was well worn.
There were a couple days of downtime between the shoot and the three concerts but soon after it was back to work. Basically, I was out to impress - whenever they needed anything I was willing, ready, and able to do it. I helped paint the light cans, frames for the televisions, and the megaphone Amanda will use on stage for the rest of the tour. Also during this time, I got to meet the rest of the band, Chad Raines and Jherek Bischoff as well as the tour manager, Jaron Luksa. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to find a warm, open atmosphere and quickly went from feeling like an assistant to feeling like a friend to all these wonderful people. I even got to a dinner with the band and Neil Gaiman, who had come to spend time with Amanda and even gave a reading of a new story at the Fisher Center. There was also a bbq hosted by Amanda and Neil where there was great food, great drink, and once again great people. I spent a part of the evening on a tree swing with the band. After a few days of doing errands for the crew, sharing their food, and living in their space, Sarah asked me if I would be willing to run the merch table for the shows at Bard. I was honored and jumped on the task.
At this point I’m thinking to myself - my life is amazing. Look at what I am doing, and look at the people I am spending my time with. I want to be just like them - I want to be them. I want this life and now I’m beginning to live it.
Then there were the actual shows which I was lucky enough to get to watch. Part of my job at the merch table was to get the concert-goers to divulge some sad/bad things that had happened in their bedroom. Needless to say, I contributed to the white box myself every night and every night Amanda read one of my dark secrets to a silent crowd. I’m generally an extremely private person but I relish hearing my secrets made public anonymously. Somehow it acts like a certain justification - yes, this was sad, yes, this was wrong, we feel your pain, stranger - we cannot tell you you deserved it. A part of me wanted to tell her after the show which slips of paper had been mine - not for the satisfaction of sympathy but because she strikes me as someone who, unlike my therapists, can act as a mentor and help me learn “this is what you do with pain, this is a method you can use to impact others, this is how you save others by first saving yourself.” Her music has always acted as an avatar for me, a conduit outside myself to aid in the rough times - so it should be unsurprising that the woman behind the melodies would give the same impression, but I felt it much more strongly than I’d expected. For me it is the most powerful part of her show - we fans made this tour and album possible through crowdsourcing, I truly believe her way of giving back with this crowdsourced therapy is well worth our investments.
But then the time came for her and the band to leave Bard and officially kick off the ‘Theatre is Evil’ tour. It was time for me to say goodbye and I received hugs and thanks from the band and crew. I thought this would be a good time to ask Amanda if she would sign my ukulele - she returned my own instrument of evil to me like this:
(note, when I was cleaning the set of “The Bed Song” I found a playing card - I may add it as a pick guard)
Then she said, “Hey, you coming to the New York show? You should totally come, we’ll put you on crew.” And then I made plans to go to the New York show. That was yesterday - I got the afternoon off, got on an Amtrak and headed down to the city. I picked up some batteries for the band and when I walked into Webster Hall I was greeted by Amanda’s soundcheck yelling my name into a microphone and declaring I was finally at a real rock show in a real rock venue (no offense, Bard, but it’s true). I greeted everyone and then got to helping set up. I ended up working the audience participation booth and got to have some great conversations with other fans. But I couldn’t stay behind a table the entire night. Once my job was done I dove into the thick of the crowd and rocked out to the music like I’d never heard it before.
Finally it’s the last song of the set before encore and in true AFP style, she jumped off the stage and into the crowd. During the chorus of the song she somehow found me in the crowd and grabbed me by the shoulders singing “olly olly oxen free, all the people you will never be,” and whether that was her way of thanking me with a moment of connection or if she specifically meant to say those words to me, I don’t know, but all of a sudden the words to our first real conversation hit me. She told me that all the people she’d ever met who were successful has a personality and drive like mine and that she completely believed in me. And I realized - right now my life isn’t awesome. I’d been focusing so much on wanting the lives of these great artists around me I’d almost forgotten the simple fact that I am stuck with the one I’ve got and that it’s completely up to me to mold it and myself into what I define to be great. Wanting isn’t enough because wanting without being grounded in yourself will always leave you dissatisfied. I am going to be great, not because I want to be Virginia Woolf, or RuPaul, or Björk, Banksy, or Carl Sagan, or Friedrich Nietzche, or Beyoncé, or Marlena Deitrich, or Amanda Fucking Palmer, but because I am Carley Fucking Gooley.
So no, right now my life is not what I want it to be, but I will slave and toil until I turn this mess of a person of unturned drawers, soiled bedhsheets, crushed tubes of paint, and broken ukulele strings into the best piece of art I can and, through others’ participation and interpretation of that art, I and they will heal together and then I can call my life awesome.
To close, I want to say thank you to Bard, to Sarah and Jaron, to the band, and especially, of course, to Amanda Fucking Palmer. Of course I am grateful for all my experiences with you guys and my very short stint in the rockstar lifestyle. But the priceless slap in the face of the above realization is truly what I am taking away from this experience. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time our paths will cross (in fact, I’m sure it’s not because I’ll be going to the Detroit show!) but in whatever capacity you will be hearing of me, thanks in part to all of you. Yeah, my rockstar life may be at an end… but only for now. All my love and warmth and wishes for safe travels and rock and fucking roll!