Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Amanda Palmer (@amandapalmer), who first came to prominence as one half of the Boston-based punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls. Her solo works include the fan-funded Theatre Is Evil, which remains the top-funded original music project on Kickstarter; her New York Times best-selling memoir and manual, The Art of Asking: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Let People Help; and her new solo piano album and accompanying book of photographs and essays, There Will Be No Intermission. Her 2013 TED talk The Art of Asking has been viewed over 20 million times worldwide. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Amanda, welcome back to the show.
Amanda Palmer: I’m so happy to be back on the show.
Tim Ferriss: It has been almost four years since we last spoke. There’s so much that we can talk about. The interview that we last did seems simultaneously like it was yesterday; it also seems like a thousand years ago.
Amanda Palmer: Like life.
Tim Ferriss: Like life. We’ve been chatting offline before recording, and I thought we’d start somewhere light, which is with books.
Amanda Palmer: Books are heavy.
Tim Ferriss: Books, literally heavy, sometimes thematically less so. There’s a book that you had mentioned also very kindly in Tools of Titans, so thank you. Well, I supposed it was removed from the audio, but nonetheless, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, which is a book by an author whose name I still don’t know how to pronounce.
Amanda Palmer: Seung Sahn.
Tim Ferriss: Seung Sahn, a Korean Zen monk that you have gifted to many, many, many, many people. Can you give us just a very brief explanation of why that is, and then any new books — and I suspect there’s one that might come up — that have had a large impact on you, your thinking, or anything else?
Amanda Palmer: Sure. So I read Dropping Ashes on the Buddha when I was 24, I think. My mentor, Anthony, gave me his copy, and he gave me a lot of books. It was one of those coincidences where, who knows? There was probably a pile of books. I was going on a trip to Australia as a street performer. This is before I was a musician, professionally at least. I remember being in Australia. It was a very difficult trip. I wasn’t making much money. That trip actually wound up being really catalyzing in a lot of ways that I wouldn’t fully realize until later.
I remember lying on the beach, this shitty beach outside Adelaide, where I was at the fringe, and reading this book, and just looking around and going, “Oh, wait. I get it. Do these people get it?”
There are few moments in your life where things actually really just seismically change and all of a sudden you’re a different person. It wasn’t like I got hit with a ton of bricks because I read one sentence, but the book did do a number on me. Then I was actually really fortunate. I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story. I got to actually grab all the lessons from this book, which were basically just the lessons of Zen Buddhism, non-attachment, being able to just sit with what is, the ability to not freak out, and to just watch life pass.
I got arrested — right as I was finishing the book — for shoplifting when I wasn’t really shoplifting, but sort of I was. So here’s the weird story. The weird story is I was street performing a living statue character. I talk about it in my TED Talk called The Eight-Foot Bride, where I’m dressed all in white, white gloves, white face paint, white dress, black wig, and I showed up in Australia, and I had forgotten one of the tools of my trade, which was a wig cap to gather all my hair up, so I could put this black wig over it. I was like, “Oh, fuck! I don’t have a wig cap.” It’s a weird thing to buy. They don’t sell them in your average store. Usually, in Boston where I lived, I would go to this bizarre hair salon store. I was like, “Oh! Where am I going to get something like this?”
I went to Woolworths. I bought a ton of other stuff, whatever, $60-$100 worth of other items. Then I noticed there was a display of stockings, of nylons that was half torn apart, and it had this thing that I needed just hanging off of it. So I took it. I left the store, and the cops came, and they arrested me. There I was arrested in Australia. I was 23-24, whatever.
Tim Ferriss: For a five-cent piece of material.
Amanda Palmer: For a five-cent, yeah, and it was weird because I hadn’t stolen an item for sale. I had just taken this thing that looked like no one was using it. What I did was definitely wrong. It’s not the thing that as a more responsible 42-year-old woman I would do. I’m not that stupid anymore. I had my indignant feeling, but I also knew. I wasn’t an idiot. I was like, “You did something wrong. That was stupid, Amanda. Oh, my God! Now, here you are being interrogated by the police.”
Everything that I had just read in this book by this Zen Buddhist monk flooded into me. I felt like in that moment, if I’ve ever had a cataclysmic human change, in that moment, I found myself acting like a different human being than the human being I had been up to that point. Because I think the human being I had been up to that point would have been defensive, and explanatory, and freaking out, and trying to convince the —
I remember just sitting back and going, “What would Seung Sahn, the Zen monk, do?” I just remember looking at the cop and saying, “I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. What I did was incredibly stupid. I hope that you can understand that I didn’t feel that I was stealing because I had all these other things I was purchasing. If you need to put me in jail, you should, but I’m very sorry. I’m not just saying ‘I’m sorry, don’t put me in jail,’ I’m just saying that I’m sorry that I have inconvenienced you in this way.” The cops were like, “Oh, okay. You can go.”
I was like, “I’m a Jedi master.” I walked out of there and was — but, I mean, we laugh about that, but that is — Star Wars really hits people deep for a reason. The Jedi lessons, the lessons of Yoda are the lessons of Zen Buddhism, non-attachment, non-attachment to the outcome, sitting with what is, knowing that the power is not coming from some outside authentication. All of these things, the lessons of Zen, and the book, and Anthony, my mentor in life, flipped me along that path.
Tim Ferriss: That’s an amazing story.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. Thanks for letting me tell it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Thanks for starting, kicking off the conversation with it. So that is one book that’s had a big impact. In the last four years, are there any others that come to mind, that perhaps you’ve gifted to other people or not?
Well, there’s a book I’m absolutely obsessed with right now, so it’s hard to think of any other books because I’m having a passionate affair with this one. It’s called Why We Sleep, and it’s by Matthew Walker. I had never heard of him. I saw the book in a bookstore, and just picked it up because I thought, “That looks interesting.” It feels, again, like this seismic life-altering. The information that’s coming at me in this book is literally, physically, technically changing my life on a day-to-day basis. I really want you to read it.
I will. I will, and you showed me the book.
Amanda Palmer: It’s just unbelievable. I’m not a person who reads constantly about self-improvement. I mean, I’m interested in it. I read a lot of nonfiction, but this book is just a collection of sleep studies, basically, and what this researcher has taken away as a sleep scientist from whatever, 25-30 years of doing sleep studies, and also what we’ve learned about other mammals, how they sleep, why we sleep, what happens when we are asleep. I mean, I find myself I’ve now bought a dozen copies of this book because I want everyone I love and I care about to know that this information is available.
I mean, it feels a lot like waking — no pun intended — it feels a little bit like waking up from a bad dream, where it occurred to me. I was lying in bed this morning, and I was actually thinking about some stuff that was quite dark. I was like, “Human beings have been alive as a species doing this thing for so long. It’s astounding to me that we on planet Earth right now are so fucked up that we haven’t just been on this ever-increasing curve of more knowledge, more understanding, more compassion. We haven’t been on some linear march of progress as mammals.” It just astounds me that I learn the simplest things and look back at the entirety of my life and I’m like, “No one told me about this? Human beings have all of this knowledge, all of this other knowledge, and no one told me about this?”
I felt the same way about a lot of reproductive female issues. I’m in the one percent of western civilization and no one taught me about this? People know. The studies are out there. The knowledge is out there. There’s also knowledge that’s been handed down from generation to generation to generation. You’re trying to tell me that it really is just stopping now, that we’re sharing information, that we’re doing it right, that we’re actually taking care of each other? How did this happen?
The sleep book is making me feel like that. Mammals have been pretty good at this. Human mammals have been pretty good at sleep, and then everything got pretty fucked up, and we’re just — it’s like pulling up the rug and looking at the insane creepy crawlies of how we’ve damaged our mental health, our emotional health, our physical health by doing something as simple as not ever sleeping right. It’s insane.
Tim Ferriss: I am going to read it. I should say for people who are wondering or skeptical maybe, possibly as I am often, I look back in the book, you might remember this, and I saw a name on the back, under one of the blurbs: Adam Gazzaley, who’s been on the podcast, who is a neuroscientist out of UCF. One of the sharpest, and also most skeptical people I know who had a glowing review, which tells me that the science and the descriptions of the science are highly, highly, highly credible.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. It’s a very credible book, and it’s also beautifully readable. There’s no woo. It’s pure science, which for a skeptic, I can handle a little bit of woo sprinkled in my books, but mostly, I have a woo allergy.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk a bit about interviews. This is going to be a segue. Well, I think this will be a segue into a lot of fertile ground. You said something to me before we began recording, which is, “I’ve done many, many different interviews.” You’ve done hundreds, probably thousands of interviews, and you recently had one of the most, I think the word used was profound, interviews with a German radio host. Is that right?
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. Well, I mean, I just mentioned that because that was the interview that happened this morning. I’ve been having profound interview after profound interview for three weeks since I started doing promo on this new record. I mean, I’ve been putting out music for a long time and doing a lot of interviews in cycles, the way you do when you put a book out. You’ve got your media cycle, you talk about the thing you made, you go away. You make another thing, and you talk about it.
This record that I just made I didn’t even think about it, but going into the media part and the interview part, I mean, this is the most personal, and most direct record by a long mile I’ve ever made. I talk about the death of my friend, my best friend, from cancer. I talk about abortion. I talk about miscarriage. I mean, it is a balls-to-the-wall, unapologetically open, vulnerable record.
So you can imagine being the journalist on the other side who gets sent this album, and then has to do an interview with me — or gets to do an interview, depending on which way you’re looking at it. It has been a fascinating process to be the person on the other side of the phone.
Tim Ferriss: Can I pause you for one second?
Amanda Palmer: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Can you repeat what you said to me — maybe it was an hour or so ago — about your metric?
Amanda Palmer: Oh, I said to Tim the metric that I’m using to measure the success of this record is not in numbers or stars granted to me by magazine critics, but this number of human beings crying when they hear it or see me play it, which is a way more satisfying way to judge the worth of a record. And it’s working.
So I’ve had two kinds of interviews. I’ve done interviews with journalists who just keep it very light and superficial: “So tell me about your record? What kind of space were you in when you wrote these songs?” A few, quite a few of the interviews, have been unprecedented in my experience of just doing music interviews with journalists. I found weirdly, especially European interviews, a German, Austrian, I think, Austrian journalist the other day, he was talking to me about the record. And he told me about the miscarriage that he and his wife had gone through, and what it felt like.
I don’t think he’s going to include that in his piece, but he wanted to tell me, talk to me about it. I did an interview with a German radio station this morning, and I was like, “Oh, God! Radio station. It’s going to be very fluffy and superficial. It’s the radio. Those are never good.” This German journalist started just talking to me about vulnerability and the shamelessness of the record, and what it feels like to share this kind of material. She told me that she found out she had breast cancer, chose to have a double mastectomy, and she talked to me about in Germany there’s a lot more nudity. There’s what they call Freikörperkultur, the idea that we shouldn’t be ashamed to be naked, which is great. I agree.
She talked about being in saunas and going to lakes, where everyone has their tits out, and how she feels when she emerges from the water and people see that she doesn’t have any breasts, and she just has these scars. Then I expected her to say something different than what she actually said. She said, “I actually think it’s a lot of fun. Do you?” I was like, “Well, I don’t know if I would call it fun. I’m not sure.” She said, “Spass.” I’m like, “I’m not sure that that’s really the word, but there is definitely something delicious about baring your neck, baring your pain, talking about your abortion, talking about your miscarriage, talking about your grief, showing your scars.” It doesn’t feel narcissistic.
Actually, if you do it right and you’re in the right place, it actually feels like a generous act because you act as a reminder to the other human beings when you’re getting out of that lake that any shame they may be feeling is unwarranted, unnecessary, really. If they’re feeling discomfort, and you’re not made uncomfortable by their discomfort, you can offer them a gift. Being able to do that with music feels like my job right now, the ability to get up there on stage and bare my throat as a gift.
Tim Ferriss: I think it’s a huge gift. I think that by sharing or showing scars, whether they’re physical or emotional, you give people permission to do the same, even if that is someone who only trades with another person, like the journalist you mentioned who finally felt free to divulge what happened with the miscarriage. I think there’s tremendous, tremendous value in that.
Amanda Palmer:Well, the more you get to know people, all people, they’re all carrying something. Everybody, maybe not right at that moment, but there just isn’t anyone out there who isn’t going through some kind of suffering, or has, or will.
Tim Ferriss: If you don’t mind, because I really want to underscore how much has happened, and this isn’t an exhaustive list, but this is in a book in front of me, which I’ve been reading since you gave it to me, There Will Be No Intermission. But just to put in perspective what has transpired the last few years —
Amanda Palmer: You’re going to ask me to read my book.
Tim Ferriss: Would you mind reading this portion?
Amanda Palmer: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Because we’re going to dig in to some of it.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. So, this book is written to be a performance. It says, “Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. This performance will last seven years.” Actually, this piece gets read as a recording before my show, before I’m seated at the piano when I tour the stage show, and it’s read by Neil.
Tim Ferriss: Wow!
Amanda Palmer: It’s also my way of bringing him with me on the tour.
Tim Ferriss: For those who don’t know, Neil —
Amanda Palmer: Neil is my husband.
Tim Ferriss: Neil Gaiman, one of the most hypnotic voices you shall ever hear.
Amanda Palmer: He’s got a good radio voice.
Tim Ferriss: He does have a good radio voice.
Amanda Palmer: “This performance will last approximately seven years. You will experience two abortions, one out of your control, another totally your choice. The death of your best friend after a four-year dance with cancer, you will hold him in your arms as he takes his last breath two months before your first child is born. The unexpected death of another beloved friend, you will stumble across him sitting there on his favorite chair in the living room. You will hold his cold dead hand in your own. One ex committing suicide with a handgun. One childbirth, a 24-hour labor in the woods with no drugs. Parenthood, during which your baby will fall from a shelf, a few beds, and other high places. One miscarriage alone in a hotel room on a very cold Christmas night. Strobe light, smoke, and other special effects may be used. There is adult content and graphic language. There will be no intermission.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s a lot.
Amanda Palmer: Just some light reading for you on a Sunday.
Tim Ferriss: Which of those, and it may not be clear, was most difficult for you, if that’s even a decent question? I don’t know if any stick out.
Amanda Palmer: Oh, Anthony’s death, for sure.
Tim Ferriss: Anthony, the same mentor who gave you the book we discussed.
Amanda Palmer: He was, yeah. Anthony and I had a really unique, blessed relationship. He came into my life when I was nine. I lived in a leafy, green suburb with my very, pretty normal household. My sister, my older two step siblings would come over sometimes, they didn’t live with us, my stepdad, and my mom. Anthony moved in when I was nine. He was probably 35. He was a grownup. He and his new wife, Laura, his second wife, didn’t have children, and opted not to have children. Anthony and I adopted one another. He became to me, first, nice, grownup neighbor friend, then mentor, then important confidant, best friend by the time I was in my 20s.
He opened a bunch of doors that would have been otherwise completely unopened because in Lexington, Massachusetts, I just wasn’t stumbling upon this kind of stuff. My teachers weren’t really showing me the way. My parents weren’t really showing me certain ways. I cannot imagine what my life would have looked like if this guy hadn’t moved into that house.
Our relationship was so fundamental to me that if I ever needed to make myself cry for a project, for theater, whatever, all I would have to do is cast my mind into the possibility that he might die, and I would be brought to weeping. Then right around the time of my — right before my Kickstarter, so around 2011, he started having all sorts of strange health problems, one bizarre symptom after another, until finally, he was told that he had a very rare form of leukemia, and had six months to live.
Then it was a shit show because it was second opinions, third opinions, “No, you’re going to be fine,” “No, you’re going to die in six months, “No, “Yes,” this, that, the other thing. Ultimately, he died about four years later. It was a very rough ride to the end. He was on steroids, heavy steroids. You probably speak steroid. He was on a 100 mg of prednisone a day, which is crazy making. I feel like I lost my friend not even to death, but to steroids because his attitude towards life and towards me and towards everything became so vicious. That was almost harder to see than death.
I changed my life. Neil and I were completely uprooted. We had a plan. Our relationship was still quite new. We uprooted ourselves. We moved to Boston. I nursed my friend. I took him to chemo. I watched him die. In the midst of all that, I had an abortion, and I got pregnant, and I was seven months pregnant when I had to let go of Anthony. I was this close. Nowadays, if I want to make myself cry, I can’t think about Anthony dying anymore. He’s gone. That ship has sailed, but I can really get myself going, think how close I got to being able to introduce Anthony to my son, to Ash. They never got to meet. Anthony would have been so incredibly proud to see me incarnated as a mother.
Also, he was my teacher. It almost feels like the last huge teaching that he gave to me was his death, and sitting with it, and absorbing it, and being okay with it, and letting him go, and not attaching. Breathing, weeping, but not regretting.
Tim Ferriss: How did you feel the day after that?
Amanda Palmer: Oh, I let myself get hit with the full weight of mourning. I woke up. It was so interesting. No one’s ever asked me that question, actually. It’s such a good question. Neil and I had raced home to be there at his deathbed because things got very bad, very fast. We flew home from London. We were there. We were working on something, I don’t even remember what. We raced home, and then we sat deathbed for about two or three days with Anthony’s wife, Laura, and a few other really, really close friends.
He died at night. It was right around the time of the June equinox. I think it was the day before the longest day of the year. He went at night. I mean, I had never really sat and just watched someone die. Because it’s a process. It’s a physical, physiological process. I had never watched someone die, and there was someone else in the room, our friend Nicolas, who had watched his wife die. He had lost her a few years before, and he had sat by her deathbed. He had the knowledge. He knew that certain things happen in a certain order when someone is just slowly checking out: what happens with your eyes, what happens with your breath.
I was like, “Wow! Once again, no one ever told me any of this.” Nicolas knows because he just went through it, but all of his knowledge that I’m sure people who work in hospice must have down pat because they’re taught. He went at night. Neil and I went to bed together. We were all exhausted because we’d basically been up for a few days waiting for this moment to happen. I also felt a really strange peace, and I woke up without an alarm the next day at dawn. Anthony’s body was still there. I slept at my parents’ house across the driveway. It’s just like childhood in reverse. I walked, snuck into Anthony and Laura’s house. Anthony was just laid out in his hospice bed. I sat there, and I looked at his dead body, and I thought, “Why are we told to be so afraid of this?”
I just remember feeling like, “Wow! There’s no fear.” There’s this whole narrative about death and dead bodies, and it’s oh, so creepy, and gross, and scary. I just felt an incredible peace, and I sat down, and I started to meditate, and then our friend, Nicolas, the one who had buried his wife, he had also woken up. It was bizarre. It was 6:00 in the morning, 5:30-6:00 in the morning, and I never wake up early. He came in, and he didn’t say anything to me. He picked up a guitar and he started playing.
I just spent the rest of the day with my phone off as much as off as I could make it. I was like, “I know enough about fucking life at this point. I know that my only job right now is to feel this grief as deeply as I can. This is not something I want to defer or repress.” I spent the whole day crying. I went to Downtown Lexington. I went into Peet’s Coffee crying. I went up to get a coffee, crying. The guy behind the counter actually knew Anthony. He started crying. Everyone cried all day, but it felt really natural. It felt really normal.
Not to skip too far ahead, but it actually isn’t until now talking to you that I realize that that experience resonated right along with how I felt when I had a miscarriage. It’s the same experience. Also, that same feeling like I’ve been gypped by culture that no one told me that these things were so natural, and that we come equipped to deal with them, and that there’s nothing scary about it, and that you don’t need anyone to protect you from it, that actually taking it in is a lot better for you. The end!
Tim Ferriss: No, I’m just listening. Thank you for sharing that.
Amanda Palmer: You asked.
Tim Ferriss: Not everybody gives the real answer. So thank you for giving the real answer. Would you like to say anything more about the miscarriage to people who’ve experienced it, maybe felt shame, maybe never told other people? There’s been a fair amount of that in my family, not that I’ve experienced it directly, but I’ve seen it just kept secret for years, decades.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. I mean, there’s so much I could say about it. I mean, I could talk about it for hours, but I found out that I was going to — I was very happy to be pregnant. I was coming up on three months. Ash was two. Neil and I, we were over the moon. We were a little scared, but we were really excited.
Tim Ferriss: Why were you scared?
Amanda Palmer: Because we were just barely holding it together, juggling kid number one, because the two of us — if you haven’t noticed — we’re relentlessly workaholic and productive, and figuring out how to do the dance with one child was just starting to feel workable. I was like, “Okay. Well, if I also believe the parents around me, this is going to be a game-changer.” A lot of parents will tell you having a second child is like multiplying. It isn’t one plus one, and then you’ve got two, and it’s just twice as much work. It’s 10 times as much work. You have to change the whole ecosystem if you want to support your children. I buy it. I’ve seen it firsthand, and I think that’s true.
Neil was in London, and I went for a — what do you call it? Ultrasound. There had been a little bit of maybe things aren’t totally okay because the baby’s heartbeat had been a little slow. So I was already a bit on edge. Actually, it’s worth adding a part of the story that I’m not sure I’ve told. I remember walking from the ultrasound with the midwife down the hall of this clinic, and it was like I’m just so fundamentally optimistic, and I barrel forth in life with this attitude that everything is going to be absolutely fine and go my way.
I just had that feeling. I just felt this gut instinctive certainty that things were good. So we’re walking down the hall of this clinic, and the midwife looked at me and she said, “Why are you smiling?” She didn’t say it in a mean way. She was really curious, as if I had just thought of some funny joke that I was going to tell her. I looked at her and I said, “I’m just waiting for my good news, which I know is coming.” Five minutes later, she told me, “I’m really sorry, but the baby has no heartbeat.”
I have to say one of the things that occurred to me in that moment wasn’t just, “Oh, my God! I’m not going to have a child, and I’m having a miscarriage.” I remember thinking in that moment, “Oh, my God! Am I going to become the kind of person now who does not move through the world with optimistic certainty? Is this going to be my other game-changer, where I just move with a different kind of certainty or something? Is this going to make me bitter?” I remember thinking that in that moment.
Neil was off in London at Terry Pratchett’s funeral, his friend, who had just died. I called him. This was a few days before Christmas. The midwife gave me a bunch of information, and she said, “This is what the process is going to be like. You’re going to start bleeding. As soon as you start bleeding, here are the numbers to call. It’s Christmas. Things are a little weird. You might need to do this. You might need to go to a hospital. If you haven’t started bleeding within six days, we’re going to need to do a D&C,” which is basically where they just go in and take everything out. I’m being told this 10 minutes after getting this news. My head is just swimming in grief, and confusion, and all of the plans I had made in my life literally collapsing in one moment.
Christmas happened. I had a really rough Christmas morning. It was me, and Neil, and his kids. They all knew what was happening. It was hard as you can imagine to deal with the joy of Christmas and “Let’s all do this!” when you literally know that this is happening and about to happen. I had bought myself two nights at Kripalu, which is a yoga hotel in Western Massachusetts as a gift to myself, Christmas night and the day after. I was going to go there. It’s an hour and a half drive from our house. I was going to go there, be alone, do some yoga, sit in a sauna or sit in a whirlpool or whatever, probably wasn’t going to sit in a whirlpool because I was pregnant. I was just going to do some self-care. I had scheduled two pregnancy massages.
I just really wanted to get away from everyone because I was overwhelmed by feeling like I had to host all these people and be cheerful and be hosty. So I told Neil, “I’m splitting. I’m still going to go. I’ll be back in a day.” So Christmas day, I drove over to Kripalu. I checked in. I went to my 7:00 pregnancy massage. I hadn’t called to say, “Hey, by the way…” This woman met me in the lobby. She was so beautiful. She came up to me and she said, “I’m so excited to massage you and your little one.”
I was like, “Oh, let’s not talk about it right here, but when we get to your room, I have a conversation I need to have with you.” We got into her treatment room, and I said, “Listen. I probably should have called ahead. I’m going through a miscarriage right now.” She looked at me and she said, “This may sound weird, but I’m really relieved because I just had a miscarriage, and I was not looking forward to this appointment.” She laid me on her table, and she cancelled whatever she had next. I said, “Just take care of me.” She found every labor-inducing spot on my body. She just treated me like her sister. We wept together. She gave me this enormous hug. She wished me well. I went back to my room. I fell immediately asleep.
In about an hour or two later, I woke up in labor having a miscarriage. I was like, “Oh, right. All of those things the midwife told me. I’m on a mountain in Western Massachusetts. It’s Christmas night. Am I really going to call hospital right now or can I do this myself?” I had been through a natural childbirth two years before. I know what it means to give birth to a child whether alive or dead. I didn’t know exactly what to expect because no one had really told me. I imagined what it would be like to pick up the phone and call an ambulance; I was like, “I guess I could get in my car, but I’m not in good shape. I’m in labor, and I’m bleeding.”
I just projected forward what that would look like, and what it would feel like. I was like, “I would get in an ambulance. I would be treated a certain way. I would be surrounded by all these strangers. I would be taken to a hospital. I would be strapped into things or I could just stay here in this room, and deal with whatever is about to come at me, and probably face some very dark images. I actually know that I’m equipped to do this, and I know that women have been equipped to do this for tens of thousands of years. This is not news. Nothing bad is happening to me. I’m not in danger.”
So I walked the halls of that yoga hotel all night, ran a bath, had a miscarriage with blood everywhere, stared death in the face, went to bed, and woke up actually feeling like the most powerful version of myself I think I have ever felt. It’s so weird saying this to people, and it’s so weird explaining it because miscarriage is incredibly dark, and I don’t want to say that my miscarriage was fantastic, but it was also, it really was one of the most powerful experiences of my life because I really centered myself, and I did something very brave, and again, felt that sense of loss for everybody else.
In health class as women, you sit there in seventh grade, and you’re told that you’re equipped to have a baby, and that you should use a condom, and that’s pretty much it. But there’s so much more, and there’s so much wisdom about the human body, what we’re capable of containing, what we’ve capable of containing emotionally, all the other things that happen, and no one tells us. No one teaches us, which is, when you think about it, and given what we all go through, it’s absurd. The knowledge is there. It just doesn’t get passed along.
Tim Ferriss: Have you found anything in particular after that experience to be helpful in any way?
Amanda Palmer: Talking with other women, I mean, sharing the story. All you need to do is mention to almost any women anything about reproductive trauma — abortion, miscarriage, stillbirths, problems with pregnancy — and most women have a story. Most women don’t talk about it openly, but the minute you invite them, they will tell you. I mean, now that I’m talking about this stuff openly, it’s like the floodgates have opened. “I had a miscarriage in a gas station bathroom.” “I had a miscarriage in my car with my kids in the backseat, and I had to deal with all of it at the same time.”
“I’ve had 10 miscarriages.” I mean, it’s just rampant. It’s everywhere, but we’re really scolded by society to keep this stuff under wraps because it’s not part of the cultural conversation. I mean, it is. It’s part of culture. It’s happening every day as we speak, in these buildings. Sharing anything, sharing any kind of grief, trauma, loss, sharing any kind of experience is — that’s how I heal. I share. I mean, I do it through art. I do it through conversation. I do it in cafes, in pubs. I do it over dinner parties. I’ll talk to anyone about anything. I find it really gratifying. I find it constantly healing.
Tim Ferriss: I’m listening to you.
Amanda Palmer: Is this exactly what your podcast interview with Neil was like?
Tim Ferriss: It was highly complementary, and not overlapping, but this has become more and more in a way what this podcast is about in a sense that I want to talk about the things that people are dealing with, whether or not they choose to deal with them. Does that make sense?
Amanda Palmer: Oh, yeah. You don’t get to choose.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You’re going to have to metabolize it somehow, and you can do it in a proactive, hopefully, healthy, constructive way that leaves everyone better off or you can stuff it down.
Amanda Palmer: You can repress and deny it.
Tim Ferriss: You will deal with it nonetheless.
Amanda Palmer: Well, and it will come out in way less pleasant ways.
Tim Ferriss: Metastasize and rupture in ways that are very unpredictable.
Amanda Palmer: Anthony had a great saying. I don’t know if it was an Anthony original or he picked it up from someone else, but he said, “If you don’t deal with your demons, they go into the cellar of your soul and lift weights.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s a good one. That is a really good one. That is a great one. So this actually brings up a question hearing you speak so candidly about all these things, and you just said, “I’ll talk to anyone about anything.” There’s a woman named Tara Brach, who I haven’t spoken with in years, but she wrote a book called Radical Acceptance, which I found very powerful. She was referred to me by a female neuroscientist, who is even more skeptical than the Adam I mentioned earlier. They happen to be friends also.
So it does, based on the book description, have a fair amount of woo, but nonetheless, she found it very powerful. I can’t remember if it was in that book or in separate conversation with her when she mentioned to me, and I think this is probably a pocketful, but that there’s a wise sage who at one point said, “There’s really only one question that matters, and that is: ‘What are you unwilling to feel?’” So my question for you then is, historically, maybe you figured it out, maybe even still today, has there been a particular emotion or anything that you’ve been unwilling to feel?
Amanda Palmer: Oh, that’s a really good question. I used to be very afraid to be alone, and I’m not anymore, but I think if there’s an answer to that question, it’s somewhere in there. I think we always hide in plain sight, right? You’re not doing this podcast for no fucking reason. I don’t do the work that I do for no reason, and Neil didn’t pick science fiction, fantasy, and Sandman for no reason. I think the course of my career and my work to find deep, passionate, unbridled connection with others belies my fear of being alone.
In the department next door — and I know that it’s true because even saying it makes me uncomfortable — I have a very deep-seated fear of feeling unbelieved. I think the spots where I’m still uncomfortable to sit, and the stuff that I’m still uncomfortable feeling, lies in there. Actually, I can tell you one of the things I’m grappling right now that probably answers your question.
There’s a journalist out there who writes for a paper that I regard very highly, and read, and she hates me. She just hates me, hates everything I stand for, has done nothing but criticize me, and just state openly that she thinks I’m a terrible, awful, narcissistic person. You have these people, I’m sure.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I have more than a handful myself.
Amanda Palmer: You’ve got dozens. I have these, too, but this woman is authenticated because she’s not just a shitty YouTube comment. She’s a journalist at a really respected outlet. She’s cockblocked my record. It won’t ever be written about or reviewed in this paper. I’m obsessed with her. I can’t stop thinking about how I want to win her over, and change her mind, and force her to love me, and connect with me, and see the light.
It’s almost bordering on a mental obsession. I found this out, whatever, eight, nine days ago, and it’s plagued my thoughts every day, even as the record gets critically hailed. Even if every other review is great, everyone is crying, every tear is shed, every show is sold out, none of it matters because I have been unable to capture this one person’s love and acceptance and attention.
The fact that that’s my Achilles’ heel, that’s the bear trap that my leg is in right now, speaks a lot about what I am unwilling to feel. I’m unwilling to feel unloved by everyone, but I’m also way better at it than I used to be. I can at least sit here and pontificate about that, examine it, and go, “Oh, yeah. That’s that thing that you do. That’s cute. Enjoy that. Wait a couple of weeks, it will go away.”
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned — or I should say you used a phrase just a few minutes ago, and I can’t remember the exact wording you used — something about being unbelieved. With any of these, whether it’s the fear of being alone, the fear of not being believed, do you have any memory, do you have an earliest memory of feeling that way?
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. It’s my first memory. I even write about it at the beginning of The Art of Asking. Actually, it was only thanks to a yoga retreat that I was on probably in my early 30s. We did an exercise, a really beautiful exercise as a group. There’s maybe, whatever, 50 people at this retreat. It was a retreat specifically for yoga teacher training, but I was just there as a civilian. The question — we had gotten into a very quiet place, and everyone was feeling very connected with themselves, and I think this was an exercise that we did at night.
The question was, “When was the first time in your life that you felt that things were not okay?” That was the way it was phrased. I was like, “I remember.” It was the first thing I remember, which was I was probably around Ash’s age, probably around three years old, and we lived in this teeny little house, and there was a long wooden staircase that connected the second to the first floor. I was at the top of it, and slipped to the top, and tumbled down the entire staircase like a cartoon. Also, like a cartoon, it was actually fine at the bottom, but completely freaked out. I had just literally fallen down a set of stairs, but I was three, and bouncy, and chubby, and whatever. There was no blood. There were no broken bones.
I was shocked. I had the wind knocked out of me. I was disoriented. I was terrified. I ran straight to the kitchen, and I don’t remember exactly who was there, but probably my family, my mom, my stepdad, my older brother, and sisters. Whoever was there, it was them, the big people. I told them what had happened in whatever way a three-year-old does that, and they didn’t believe me. I remember the degree of pain that I felt not being believed was pretty seismic compared to the pain of falling down the stairs. That was shattering. All of a sudden, things are not okay. My world was blown apart.
I remember being in this yoga retreat and thinking — I think I literally laughed out loud like belly laughed when I started thinking about that incident, and then the fucking line of work I chose, which is to get up in front of thousands of people and scream about my pain to paying customers. I was like, “Nailed it!” It’s not not connected.
Tim Ferriss: I would say you’re completely right. Do you feel like you have overcome or addressed that? If not, do you not want to address it deliberately? The reason I asked is that I’ve met, in particular, comedians or stand-up comics, but also quite a few artists in different disciplines who are afraid that if they take their pain away, they will not be able to create.
Amanda Palmer: Yes. That is such a tyrannical and destructive myth. I think Neil believes that, and I spend a lot of time trying to convince him that it doesn’t work that way. I think a lot of artists and writers, and standups, and whatever, they think that if you pull on the thread of self-knowledge and healing, then the entire artistic architecture of their life will just fall and disappear. So you have to take a bizarre, faith-based leap, and just believe that that’s not true.
As mammals, in our habits and in our small-minded way, if we’ve done something, and it’s worked, we’re just going to continue to repeat that. We’re not going to try some new combination, and try to fuck with the chemistry. This is a real problem in our culture because of the — is profligation a word?
Tim Ferriss: It sounds believable. I think that’s a word, but then again —
Amanda Palmer: Let’s say proliferation. Because of the proliferation of this myth, artists suffer, and they should not. We should be taking care of our artists the way we take care of any other valuable cultural tool. Artists are really fucking necessary for us to make it through this vale of tears. If we don’t take care of them and the art that they make, and the music that they make, we all collectively suffer. I mean, I believed in that myth for a really long time. I was a super self-destructive, self-styled artist, Bohemian weirdo in my teens, 20s, and well into my 30s, and I still have my moments, but I really bought it.
I was like, “I need to have a dangerous, destructive life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, so that I can be awesome and have great things to write about. My pain is valuable.” I feel like if you’re an artist, maybe if that’s the door you come in through, great. That’s step one. Yes, your pain is valuable. Good. Starting kit. Step two, your pain is valuable to others. That’s master level. The interesting thing about being not believed and going into this line of work is I didn’t go in thinking that music was a service industry.
I went in thinking it was what I needed. I needed to express myself and be believed by these people. “Will you believe me? Great. You’ll buy the ticket? You’ll buy the CD? You will understand this pain? Great. This is a job I want to do,” but it did not take long for the next curtain to open, and for me to see that the people in the audience, and the people buying the CDs, they weren’t just validating my pain, and they weren’t there to validate my pain, and to believe me.
They were having their own experiences. I hadn’t really totally clocked that. I mean, of course, I subconsciously knew because I had listened to music all my life. I knew that other musicians had done it for me, but I think I was too — what’s the word I’m looking for? Not scared, but I didn’t ever believe that I would be that person for someone else.
Tim Ferriss: Intimidated?
Amanda Palmer: Intimidated? Yeah. I just felt too small. I know that The Cure did this for me, The Legendary Pink Dots did this for me, Leonard Cohen did this for me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be doing that for anyone, but I know that I want to be like them. I know that I want to write music about my pain, but then it was like a magic trick. Then it worked. Then people were crying at my shows, then women were coming up to me and telling me about their pain, their abusive relationships, their rapes, their struggles, and men of all ages, sizes, and genders.
I thought, “Oh, I guess this is the way it works,” and I stumbled into this job. Now I guess I do it, and I learned how to get better at it. One of the things about this record is that it actually, it feels like my final exam in songwriting. It’s the most raw, unedited offering from a place of grief, but also empowerment and enlightenment that I could offer up to anyone out there who would need it. In a way, it’s the most medicinal record I’ve ever made, and I know because I needed it. If I needed this medicine, it’s probably going to work on other people, “Here, you try it. Is this going to work on you?” That’s been what it is.
Tim Ferriss: I want to underscore a few things I think I heard you say, because they strike me as very, very important. I’ll use my words because I don’t have the memory to repeat what you said verbatim, but the first is that you can use your pain without always allowing your pain to use you in the sense that we could tie it into the experience you had on the beach before your shoplifting, and even during, and after, which is, if we’re using a metaphor from meditation, if your pain is, say, if experiencing your pain and being driven by your pain and being reactive to your pain is being inside the washing machine, you can actually do a better job of seeing what is inside by zooming out 12 inches and being outside of the washing machine. And that allows you to use the content of your suffering, to use the content of your pain, while having a better understanding of it, and being able to shape it like a sculptor, so that you can better wield it and impart it to other people.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. You befriend it, almost. One of the most powerful lessons I have had in the pain department, and the understanding of what we’re calling pain, was going through a natural childbirth, which when people ask me to describe it, the best thing I can come up with, and it is not necessarily analogy that works for all people, but it’s like an acid trip. You have to let go of the wheel or you will really suffer. What gets in the way a lot, I think, when women go in to have babies, is that they are told that this will be extremely painful, but there’s a difference between the kind of pain that is childbirth, and the kind of pain that is someone just sliced your arm open with a razor blade.
One is danger. You’re in danger, and your pain is sending you a very, very specific loud message that you are in danger, and you need to take action. The other kind of pain is really more describable as a discomfort, but it’s not danger. The more I think about our bodies, and the messages they send us because our body, any kind of pain or discomfort is always a message from somewhere. As soon as I was in labor, when I was having Ash, and my labor was 24 hours, as soon as I went into labor, I really clocked and took onboard the idea that this wasn’t dangerous pain.
Because I was able to flick a switch in there, and have a conversation with myself, and my own body in which I said, “Self, you’re not in danger. This is just uncomfortable.” It didn’t really feel like pain. It felt like discomfort. That made me much more able to just sit with it, and deal with it, but so many women, when they go into the experience of having childbirth, are just frightened to death by people, by doctors, by narrative, by whatever bullshit TV dramas they have seen on your average soap opera where there’s a woman shrieking in agony being wheeled on a gurney with six people around her with a baby inside of her, that you are going to be in pain, and pain is bad, and you need to stop this pain — which is why most women will just race to take drugs, and get an epidural, which winds up being very, very negative, and with a knock-on effect for both baby and mama.
What a classic metaphor for our entire fucking society. If you’re feeling pain, just stop the pain. Don’t think about why you might be in pain. Don’t think about where it might be coming from, and why you might need to feel it or feel this discomfort. Just fucking get rid of it. We have a handy product for you that we’re willing to sell you at great expense to yourself to just make that pain go away. As you said earlier, that’s never a sustainable option, ever.
Tim Ferriss: The polar opposite also isn’t sustainable, which we’ve been talking about as it relates to a lot of artists, but not just artists, and that’s the fetishizing of pain, and using pain as —
Amanda Palmer: Sexy pain.
Tim Ferriss: — sexy pain or creative pain, which exists, but you don’t want to be a vessel or a hammer looking for a nail everywhere because you’re going to end up hammering a lot of screws, and that doesn’t make a whole lot of fucking sense. I would say also that as someone who has or had for decades fetishized pain, and I took great pride in having a very, very high pain tolerance, that it’s important, I think, if you identify strongly with pain, if that is a primary driver in your life, if it’s something you romanticize or fetishize or view as your friend — which it sometimes is when it’s giving you a message — ask yourself, “Am I putting pain in pole position because I’m unwilling or unable to feel other things, so I just want to feel something?”
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. Well, because pain can become a muzak that drowns out the other conversations that you should maybe be listening to. Because pain can be annihilating, and annihilation can feel great if you’re annihilating other things.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, there are different ways to numb yourself. One is by taking away the pain using different agents, and the other is to use pain so frequently, or to make the volume so loud that it drowns out other things. For those people who feel like they might in some way identify with what I’m saying, the book I mentioned earlier, Radical Acceptance, is very, very, very helpful for this.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. I had a thought flash through my head that day that I woke up from the miscarriage, and it was also minus five degrees on the mountain top that night and that day. It was that you don’t even go outside kind of cold. I remember walking outside and thinking, “My relationship to pain and discomfort has been permanently altered. Something has been rewired.” I also found myself thinking about women and men, and what we come equipped to endure, and what we do endure.
I found myself thinking, men, in the male narrative, especially recently, and when I say recently, I mean whatever the past few thousand years of patriarchy, there’s this real machismo, and this male narrative around violence and war and strength, and the ability to withstand pain for a noble cause and bloody battle after a bloody battle, and I thought about all of that. It was like I had this flash, the montage of male violence through recent history, all the wars, all the battles, all the bloodshed, all of the comrades…
And while holding that image in my mind, I thought about being up in the hotel room alone, as a woman surrounded by blood, and holding this dead baby, and thinking, “No man has ever done that, gone through that particular battle.” That is one deep fucking battle, to grow life and then hold it in your hands, and say goodbye. I thought one of the reasons that we are not doing so hot as a culture is this thing that women are fundamentally equipped to do, and are really quite good at when we are given the space to do it and create it, and share it. The thing that men are just equipped with DNA-wise, and I don’t want to get into gender politics because things will get very dangerous, but we’re so bad at taking care of each other in these departments, at supporting each other.
The strength that women have had for thousands of year to deal with the dark side of reproduction, and to deal with the real, visceral, bloody life and death of periods and stillbirths, and abortions, and dead babies, it’s not nothing. It is badass. It requires an incredible fortitude, and strength of body and mind to go through experiences like that, and women go through it, but they don’t really get a ton of credit.
They’re also, they’re disempowered at every turn by men taking charge of the narrative, infantilizing women, patronizing them, and taking charge of things that women could very well do for and by themselves, for and with each other as they have for millennia until doctors marched in the room and said, “Step aside, ladies. We have a better plan, and it’s going to cost you a lot of money.” P.S. Fucking capitalism!
Tim Ferriss: I think it’s important to, and feel free to disagree, but to recognize that there are exceptions in the sense that it’s not all men, right?
Amanda Palmer: Oh, no, no, no, no. I’m making a —
Tim Ferriss: There are the bad guys, and there are the bad girls, and the men and women, there’s no monopoly on bad behavior. I’ve seen some horrifying behavior on both sides. Men, certainly, more than have their fair share, but in part, if I’m looking at it from my perspective, this is stuff I wanted you to talk about. I think that speaking from the vantage point of someone whose own family would not talk about these things.
Amanda Palmer: What do you mean?
Tim Ferriss: For instance, miscarriage, right? These are experiences that I think many people, men included, are very open to hearing, but it’s not part of the cultural conversation. There is a lot of social pressure, one way or another. There’s a lot of centering, and there’s a lot of self-centering also.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: One thing that’s become so clear to me in the last handful of years, especially since I’ve written publicly about family and personal struggles with major depressive episodes, and near suicide in college, I mean, the most important thing I’ve ever written is some practical thoughts on suicide, which is a blog post about that, and much like your experience putting out this record and this book, I suspect, and even before that, but I think especially with this, you realized that everyone you bump into, every person you see or appear on a high floor, in a high rise looking down at these thousands of ants, and every single one of those people is fighting a battle we know nothing about. The scale and depth of suffering, the experiences, male and female, and everything in between that people have endured or suffered or had inflicted upon them is enough to boggle the mind.
I mean, it’s so valuable to have you sharing your experiences, and to have other people and in a few weeks, I’ll be having someone from the Special Forces come on to talk about a lot of what is suppressed or not openly discussed even in those worlds when it comes to PTSD and —
Amanda Palmer: Oh, I believe it.
Tim Ferriss: — a lot of the —
Amanda Palmer: They should read the sleep book.
Tim Ferriss: The sleep book, yes. This is a longer conversation. Actually, there’s Kirk Parsley, separately for people who are interested in sleep, this former Special Forces who focuses on sleep specifically for those people who want to go Google that later, but without rambling too long, the point I’m trying to make is that the way we all become more comfortable talking about pain and simultaneously recognizing the courage and the capabilities and the incredible strength that people can bring to bear on these situations, certainly including women, is by talking about them.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah, and it gets back to what I keep seeing the major theme nowadays with everything politically, with feminism here and there, with art, which is that it feels like a paradox, especially given the cultural Kool-Aid that we’ve all been raised with, but vulnerability is incredible power. We’re hammered so hard with the opposite message that it can be very hard to really believe that until you do it and do it again, and do it again, and practice doing it, and realize that, actually, the knock-on effect and the —
Tim Ferriss: What is the knock-on effect? I actually don’t know what that is. You mentioned it earlier.
Amanda Palmer: Well, by the knock-on effect, I just mean the effect, period. When you actually take the plunge and make yourself vulnerable, whether that means discussing your suicidal thoughts or being open with your community about your abortion, or admitting to a paralyzing fear, or whatever your bag is. The effect of that, and we’re taught that that’s such a terrifying thing to do, and we fear whatever is waiting on the other side of that ridicule — rejection or just being dismissed or whatever — but my personal experience has taught me that there’s just an immense amount of bounty on the other side of that every single time. I’ve now been practicing it for long enough that I don’t have to believe it anymore. I just know.
Tim Ferriss: At least in my experience, one thing I realized not too many years ago is that when you put armor on, and you keep it on long enough, it’s true that that can keep a lot of scary things outside, but it also can keep a lot of scary things inside.
Amanda Palmer: It’s heavy to wear around.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a barrier. How has, and this is something that I know you’re, at least based on our conversations, quite passionate about, but how has moving to a fan-supported model changed you or your art or both?
Amanda Palmer: It’s changed both, and it’s impossible to discuss the life without the art and the art without the life at this point. I was actually pretty blindsided at how profound the effect on my life, on my day-to-day life, on my artistic life, switching to a Patreon model was. I thought that it was going to be a good, convenient, nice, sustainable way of giving my fans an avenue to pay me once and then not be bothered because I would have their credit card, and I could charge them at will instead of bugging them every 18 months with a crowdfunding scheme.
I knew that I would appreciate the predictability of having a certain amount of money every month, and that they would appreciate not being assaulted with an NPR-style fundraiser that was going to irritate the hell out of them once a year. I also knew that my fans are my fans. It’s not like I’m going to find a new batch of 25,000 people the next time I do a Kickstarter. It’s those people. It’s one community. So going back and going back to the well every year to Kickstarter another record just seemed like it was going to be exhausting on both sides.
So when Patreon came along, and for people who don’t know what Patreon is, it’s basically a sustained subscription to an artist. So I have 15,000 people right now backing me at about $3 a month just to work, to do what I need to do, to podcast, to release demos, to write, to film, and I offer back a lot. There’s basically a channel of my work. I blog, and there are little perks here and there, but mostly, it’s a nonprofit — not a nonprofit model. It’s an NPR model. You’re just paying for me to broadcast, and I will send you my broadcasts personally with a bow tied on them if you’re my patron and everyone else in the world basically just gets to tune in.
I did not understand how disorientingly liberating it would feel to all of a sudden not have to have the second thought every time I had an artistic thought of, “How am I going to sell this? How am I going to market this? This idea is pretty good. This idea is genius. This song is great. This album is great.” Every artist grapples with this tightrope between art and money constantly. It’s such a bizarre combination of things to think about.
Here you are writing a song, baring your soul. That’s thought number one and activity one, and then activity number two is, “Okay. How is this thing going to pay your rent? How are you going to get this thing from your soul out into the marketplace, into the hands of someone who will authenticate you, sell it, and then give you a paycheck?” I actually hadn’t realized that being part of the major label system, which I was, and then being an independent artist, which I was, but still out there doing like the daily grind, and the daily hustle to make sure that there was money coming in so that I could pay my staff and make my work, and pay my recording studio bills, I just did not realize how much of the pie chart in my brain was the hustle versus the art.
Even though I still do the hustle, and I still need to run my Patreon, as soon as thousands of people said, “Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, just relax. We’ve got your back. We’re going to pay you. So take your time, say what you need to say, sing what you need to sing, and we’re in. We’ve already bought the song. Now, tell us what you have to say,” it was almost like being punch drunk.
Tim Ferriss: When did that become real for you? Because there’s a shift at some point where you’re like, “Ah, maybe I’ll try this. Maybe this will be a thing.” Where did it hit the boiling point where you’re like, “Oh, wow! This…”
Amanda Palmer: Well, I mean, the boiling point is a good metaphor because like everything else in my career, it wasn’t like one day I woke up and said, “Oh, my God! Crowdfunding has liberated my artistic voice.” I’ve been in a long-term relationship with my community of listeners, readers, audience for 20 years. I’ve experimented with every dial in that relationship. I went through crowdfunding independently off my website. I went through using Kickstarter as a model. Now, I’m using Patreon, and the platforms and the tools keep changing, but the fundamental is that I think that when we can divorce art from money, and when artists can just let go of that lever —
Tim Ferriss: By divorce, you mean not have to think about that.
Amanda Palmer: Not have to think about it so much. There’s a great blog out there by a woman named Wendy Ice, who crowdfunded a book of her husband’s. He was a fantastic illustrator, and he did a book of illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, a new illustrated version of it. The publishers wouldn’t take, but people wanted it.
Tim Ferriss: Wendy Ice, I-C-E?
Amanda Palmer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: Okay. I-C-E.
Amanda Palmer: I forget the name of her husband. It’s escaping me.
Tim Ferriss: We’ll put it in the show notes.
Amanda Palmer: I’ll summarize her blog because it’s a little bit of a tangent, but it’s really important. Enough people convinced her to go to Kickstarter and do a crowdfund for this book. She was very scared because they were used to working in the world of publishing where everything was authenticated, and there was a system, and there was an order of things, but the book wasn’t getting picked up. So they went to their community, and they did this crowdfund, and they were overwhelmed and overjoyed with the amount of support that they got.
Then her husband got cancer shortly after that happened. She was very afraid to go to her Kickstarter backers and say, “Things are going to be held up. Something very bad has happened.” Then her husband died, and she said she had never felt more supported emotionally by a community that then she felt from these Kickstarter backers, who were purportedly there to get a book, but were actually really there to support the artistic entity behind the book. They wound up supporting her family. They wound up supporting her. They supported her journey.
She talked so succinctly in a way that I have never managed to do about what it feels like to be held by a community like this, and how it actually feels safer sometimes than the community of your own friends, and the community of your own family, because it is an unconditional love that asks nothing in exchange. I feel that way so often about my patrons. They’re just there for me. They ask very little in return, but they’re very happy for what I have to give them. We do not have any entanglements. There’s not a whole lot of passive-aggressive behavior. There just is this unconditional acceptance and love for what I do, and what I have to offer. It’s such a beautiful, delicious, uncomplicated relationship.
If I want a complicated relationship, I’ve got my marriage. I’ve got my parents. I’ve got my family. I can go there anytime. That channel is open. When it comes to art, which is so fragile and sometimes just needs an unconditional support system, oh, my God! Having 15,000 people who are there with a giant net to catch me in my spectacular failings as an artist or my successes or whatever they’re going to be, it feels like the apex of artistic freedom.
Tim Ferriss: I’m so happy for you.
Amanda Palmer: I know. I’m doing it. Who knows? It might change. Platforms change. Companies get eaten by Facebook. You just never know, but the point is actually not the technology, not the platform, not the companies, not Patreon, not Indiegogo, not Facebook. It’s what human beings are capable of doing for and with each other. The platforms, whatever, they’ll change, they’ll evolve. They’ll be more or less helpful in our endeavors, but what I am exhilarated by right now, and really inspired by right now is that Kickstarter seems to have kicked down the door for people understanding that this kind of support and patronage was available, and started to chip away at the stigma, and now Patreon is picking up where Kickstarter, at least for me, picking up where Kickstarter left off.
Now, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are out there thinking that it’s totally okay to just support an artist because you want to hear what they fucking have to say, not because you want an object or a piece of plastic to put in your Discman, but because you want to hear what Tim Ferriss has to say about the world, and you want the message out there, and you want to see what music Amanda Palmer is going to make. It’s worth it to you for $3 a month to just have it exist. That’s amazing. That feels like artistic evolutionary progress happening very fast right now in the world.
Tim Ferriss: I’m excited for you, and happy for you. I think this is, also, if we’re just looking at one example of the output that is enabled by that type of support, I think this is really important. I don’t say that lightly. Look at how sweaty my palms are, just having this emotional conversation. It’s wild.
Amanda Palmer: The sweat is all over the Death book.
Tim Ferriss: This is important.
Amanda Palmer: I gave this talk at South by Southwest a couple of days ago, talking about how never ever, ever in a billion years would have had the fortitude to make a record like this if I had known that somewhere in there I would have had to walk it up to Steve in marketing and say, “This is what I’ve got,” because I know Steve from marketing, and I know what the response would have been, which is, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding us,” and “This is not going to play well at radio. What do you mean your first track is 11 minutes long? Back to the drawing board, lassie!” Instead, I just got to sail over, under, and around all of those hurdles and just say, “This is my offering.”
Tim Ferriss: Where can people find your offering? Where can they learn more about all of this?
Amanda Palmer: Well, this is the vinyl. Most people don’t have vinyl, but I mean, the album is available on vinyl and on CD, and pretty much anywhere on the internet where you get music. One of the things that my patronage —
Tim Ferriss: Amanda Palmer, for those people who are not watching, but listening, There Will Be No Intermission.
Amanda Palmer: There’s boobs on the cover —
Tim Ferriss: There’s boobs.
Amanda Palmer: And full frontal nudity. Sorry. Sorry, grandma. One of the things that the Patreon makes possible is my ability to keep my music very cheap for the public, for people who don’t have a huge budget to spend on music. So this album, which clocks in about 80 minutes, is a dollar on Bandcamp. You can pay more on Bandcamp if you want. It will come directly to me because I own on my own fucking music.
If you download this record for a dollar at Bandcamp, keep my patrons in mind because it’s their funding that made it possible for me to put a giant, expensive, really well-produced record on Bandcamp for a dollar and feel no pain.
Tim Ferriss: The army of Medici for the modern artists.
Amanda Palmer: Exactly. Yeah. Crowd Medici.
Tim Ferriss: Where can people find you on the interwebs, say hello, anything that you’d like to suggest people perhaps take a look at? What’s your website?
Amanda Palmer: Well, if I’m going to send people to me, my community is mostly hanging out on Patreon right now.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. How would they find you?
Amanda Palmer: Patreon.com/amandapalmer or you can just Google Amanda Palmer Patreon. I have a big website with a lot of information on it. That’s easy to find, AmandaPalmer.net, and I’m on all the socials, @AmandaPalmer. I tend to respond and discuss the most on Twitter. I am trying to wean myself from the evil bloody tit of Facebook. I’m just not a fan. Sorry, Facebook. You’re scoring low marks in my book right now, and you have been for a while. I’m around. I’m on Instagram. I’m on Tumblr, but chances are, if you want to chat with me, find me, wave something in my direction, I’ll see you on Twitter, and I’ll shout back.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t be dicks, people. Be nice.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah. Just don’t be a dick. That’s our office team logo, and mantra. Just don’t be a dick.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Try being nice. I’m very lucky that my audience, I feel really blessed with the audience I’ve somehow managed to have form around these ideas that I borrow from other people, and share, and plan together, and put out there. They tend to be very, very, very supportive, and mostly constructive, except for that one guy on Twitter today who was like, “Shut up, Ferriss. Go away.” I’m like, “You follow me.”
Amanda Palmer: Listen. If everybody loved what you did all the time, I would say you’re doing something very wrong.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That would be a cause for greater concern. Amanda, this is so much fun.
Amanda Palmer: Thank you for having me.
Tim Ferriss: It’s so lovely to see you again. Is there anything else you would like to say, suggest, ask? Any closing comments before we wrap up?
Amanda Palmer: I don’t think so. I mean, maybe. It’s actually worth mentioning to your people, specifically, that I’m starting my own podcast to have conversations mostly with artists about process, and about asking, and about how we do what we do, but I’m also having conversations with people from every possible field. I talked to David Eagleman, who’s a neuroscientist. I’m going to be talking with people from Planned Parenthood, and I’m going to be talking to social scientists, and anyone who has anything interesting to share, I want to hunt them down, and chat with them. I’m calling it The Art of Asking Everything. I’m figuring it out right now, but if you want my voice in your head, if you can handle more, just stay tuned to whatever channels of mine. It will probably be hard to avoid when I launch it.
Tim Ferriss: Step into the Palmerverse, and you shall hear the noise and the news.
Amanda Palmer: There will be no intermission. I’m also going to start a death metal band. Well, my death metal band will write the theme song for my happy hippie podcast.
Tim Ferriss: Amanda, thank you for making the time.
Amanda Palmer: I think you are an awesome human being, Tim Ferriss. Thank you for existing and doing this.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Amanda. I hope we have many more conversations. We will be having more conversations, in fact. Things coming up, and to everybody listening, you can find links to everything we talked about in the show notes as always at tim.blog/podcast. Just search Amanda’s name, and it will all pop right up. Until next time, thank you for listening.
Posted on: April 22, 2019.
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Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.