Saturday, December 2, 2017
Motherhood hasn't mellowed Amanda Palmer
I don't watch TV much. But occasionally, when I want to unwind, I'll dip into YouTube and look around for something new.
Last week, on a Sunday, I noticed a new Pink video. I like Pink, and admire her taut, well-produced videos, for first-rate songs such as the dark, decadent "Sober," with its establishing shots of an overcast Stockholm, or the heartbreaking journey through divorce's lasting impact in "Family Portrait," maybe my favorite song of hers.
This new one, however, "Beautiful Trauma," was just dreck, in my eyes. The same tired cotton candy 1950s imagery that was trite decades ago. A jarring literalness. At "the pill I keep taking" she gobbles some pills. The cross-dressing that Annie Lennox was doing in 1984. And the song itself? True, not many songs work the first time you hear them. But unpromising. I've listened to it twice and have no idea what she's singing about.
No big deal. Performers peak and enter their downward limbo, a shadow of themselves. No matter how sharp and hungry—Ani DiFranco—they go flat and out-of-focus and whatever spark they have gutters. To be honest, I didn't think about it.
The next day, however, the very next day, in one of those intriguing real-life juxtapositions, Twitter served up Amanda Palmer's cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother."
I gave it a watch.
First, what a great choice, for Palmer to reach into the nightmarish "Wall" double album and serve up this lament, so necessary in the hideous era we find ourselves in, as Donald Trump and his followers distort everything good and decent about America. A funhouse mirror reflecting our very worst selves.
Savor the fierce scowl on Palmer's face when the video begins. I can't remember ever seeing a singer so pissed off in a music video, and rightly so. We all are, or should be. The elegant, unsettling imagery, the string ensemble, the piggish politicians, the Trump figure, the allegorical escape/rebellion, the children building their little wall—literal too, in its own way. But somehow it works here. It all works.
I won't give away the surprise ending, beyond to say that it's there, and I think Palmer is about the only singer who would do that. People sometimes accuse her of being an exhibitionist. Maybe so. Or maybe just fearless. Either way, it jarred me. Now there's something you don't see in every music video...
Very few music videos are artistic, or engaging, or worthy of thought or a second glance—Sia's "Chandelier" and the other way-creepy vignettes with pre-pubescent dancer Maddie Ziegler come to mind. I have no idea what Sia's trying to convey in these, but boring they are not.
Maybe it's that I feel a bit of residual kinship of Palmer after meeting her a few years back, and reading her book. I assumed she had disappeared into motherhood, having had a baby a couple years ago (Duh, "Mother." I just thought of that connection. Making the song doubly apt).
Not that creativity is always rewarded—the Pink video, released Nov. 21, had 16 million hits when I looked at it. The Palmer video, released five days earlier, had 20,000. No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. (Although, to be fair, "Chandelier" has 1.7 billion views, so I suppose the message is, if you're a big enough star to begin with, you can take risks, which circles back to Pink and the surrender of "Beautiful Trauma.")
Singly, I'd never murmur a word on either video. And I am no Lester Bangs, so I hope you'll forgive this foray into contemporary music criticism. But somehow, the interplay of the two videos made them worth mentioning, fodder for a Saturday, and since you'd probably otherwise never encounter the Palmer video, I thought I'd point it out. What do you think?