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?


   

18 comments:

  1. Wow! A ferocious lullaby! Frightening/comforting.She's like Enya with an attitude.

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  2. That was fantastic!! Such a fierce, powerful performance, and that haunting string accompaniment, especially the cello solo, was just perfect. This world needs more cello solos! Thanks for sharing. If you're interested in visually excellent videos, might I suggest OK Go, they just released a new one last week.

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  3. Interesting. Well done. I'm glad there was no diaper changing at the end. Best to just leave that implied, I guess.

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    1. I was worried she was going to push the Trump figure over the precipice which, while understandable, would have been wrong. When battling monsters, as Nietzsche reminds us, one must struggle not to become them.

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    2. Yes, whereas the nipple in the mouth spoke volumes.

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  4. Thanks, Neil, for introducing us to Amanda Palmer and her book a couple years ago. Glad to see she's still fascinating and outrageous.

    john

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  5. OK, maybe I'm a philistine or something, but I don't get it. The figures with the white vertical lines across their left eyes are immigrants or slaves or something, building the wall and trying to flee, but then they begin comforting/dominating the Trump figure and his business-suited minions...which means...???

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    1. I think it implies that all these 'grown ups' are just children at heart that are lacking compassion like they just need their mommas to hold them and tell them it's all okay. I loved that part, it also shows that love is much stronger than violence. Amanda i love you! <3

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    2. The white lines are the symbol of The Mothers (of all genders). They are the people who, through archetypical feminine attributes such as tenderness, compassion, nurturing, and love can heal the wounds of the rigid, masculinized Government figures (also of all genders). The Mothers are hiding not because they are immigrants or slaves, but because they have been oppressed by the system that has twisted motherhood into a role of fear and overprotectiveness, creating monsters who are so frightened of the world that they build walls - emotional and literal - to protect themselves, at the expense of all of us. When they seize their moment and strike, saving first the children and then the Government figures, the Mothers bring salvation not with walls or bombs, but with love.

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  6. There is much about compassion in Amanda's video. And I see it as "motherhood" being the ultimate force in the world.

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  7. In P!nk’s defense, the song is about going back to your lover even though it might not feel right because of the toxicity it creates. Has nothing to do with motherhood. The video doesn’t have much to do with the song.

    I have watched both videos many times. I love both women.

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    1. I felt bad dissing Pink, but as you said, the video doesn't match the song. Nobody said it had anything to do with motherhood.

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    2. The video and song match up perfectly actually. The song is about a toxic, maybe even abusive relationship. And the video is the 1950s ideal relationship sham. A trope Amanda palmer also used in one of her songs.

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  8. the Australian video is no longer available

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  9. If anyone is interested, Amanda put together a page with insight from the people who worked on the project, as well as a look into her process for it and a bit about what the video means for her. I got a lot more out of the video after having a chance to read through it.
    http://amandapalmer.net/mother/

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  10. Great article/review.
    I have followed Amanda Palmer´s work since their work with "the Dresden Dolls" with Brian Viglione. She always have released interesting content. Ever since "The Girl Anachronism". She never lost her "punk vibre". And "Mother" keep that energy.

    I also like Pink, but you are right. Beautiful Trauma is fine as a song but the video is a little boring. And I don`t know how Channing Tatum is (I didn`t bother to search him yet haha) but apparently it was a big surprise XP.

    PD: Zoe Keating as guest musician it is the cherry on top.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.