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Amanda Palmer Opening For Morrissey

In Music
Bad Girl: Amanda Palmer is a proponent of ‘women misbehaving.'

Bad Girl: Amanda Palmer is a proponent of ‘women misbehaving.'

(Ed. note: Amanda Palmer has dropped out of this show, citing complications from treatment of acute Lyme disease. Read about it here.)

It’s hard to talk about Amanda Palmer without first addressing her haters. From her days as the frontwoman of The Dresden Dolls to her flourishing solo career, Palmer, like her hero, Morrissey—for whom she’ll be opening at the SJSU Event Center on Saturday—has been on the receiving end of public criticism for pretty much as long as she’s been an artist.

Why? Take your pick. She bared her breasts onstage. She wrote a bouncy song about some pretty dark subject matter—the tale of a girl raped at a party and her subsequent positive STI test and abortion. She asked local musicians to play dates with her for free. She married geek hero Neil Gaiman. She doesn’t shave her armpits.

“People really don’t like being confronted by women misbehaving,” she says, rather calmly for someone who has a section specifically for hate mail on her band’s site. “Whereas men misbehaving can be kind of sexy. That’s part of this game of entertainment.”

She is, admittedly, hugely influenced by Morrissey. Palmer was a teenager in the ’80s—hormonally primed to be influenced by the sweeping drama of The Smiths. “I got my first Smiths tape when I was 14, 15,” she says over the phone, driving home to Boston from upstate New York. “One side was Strangeways, the other Meat is Murder. I just wore it into the ground.”

The Smiths and their contemporaries (Depeche Mode, The Pixies, Nick Cave and “all that dark apocalyptic stuff one of my boyfriends got me into”) have always been lurking in her work, even when she was writing vampy cabaret choruses on keys as one half of “punk cabaret” weirdoes The Dresden Dolls, which is where she got her start. She’s always had a theatrical, sentimental bent, somber but never sappy. Both her and Morrissey’s bodies of work speak of something more suited for the Shakespearean stage or a Lifetime movie than moody, morose rock ‘n roll.

“One of the things I love about being an older musician and having the perspective of time is that your own formation is a mystery to be solved,” she says—posing and then answering a question. “Why did the Smiths speak to me? The music you listen to as a teenager, you take for granted, until you look back at the greater context of things and realize there wasn’t anyone writing songs like that. Now I realize how formative it was.”

These days, after years of sticking almost solely to piano, she’s starting to work her way back to the sounds that started it all. “My really early music has cheesy synths and handclaps,” she says. Theater Is Evil, her 2012 crowdfunded record, which drew $1 million (she asked for $100,000), saw her going all-in on ‘80s conventions—making heavy use of the synthesizer. She is continuing in the same vein with her currently in-progress album, which she is recording with Edward Ka-Spell of The Legendary Pink Dots.

“I had this entire conversation with Edward,” she says. “We sat down (to record with electronics) and it was like I was going back to a language I hadn’t spoken in 20 years.”

Palmer’s opening slot on Saturday’s show came about under sudden, strange circumstances. “I was having lunch with an old manager of mine who offhandedly asked if I might want the gig,” she says. “In the mysterious ways of the underbelly of the industry, I was called up about the gig a few days later.”

She says she isn’t sure whether Moz personally requested her to open. “I’ve never actually met Morrissey, but rumor had it he did attend a Dresden Dolls gig.” (If Morrissey message boards are be believed, he surfaced at a Dresden Dolls show in LA around 2008.) In any case, playing for one of her teen idols seems a fitting end to the most current chapter in Palmer’s career and life.

This will be the last show before she goes on an indefinite hiatus—she’s currently seven months pregnant, and not entirely sure what the future holds, musically or otherwise. “I really, really believe in living a life of no regrets and radical compassion for myself and others. There are times when I wish I did take myself more seriously,” she says. “I feel like the key to life, as self-helpy as it sounds, is pure, unadulterated, simple self-acceptance. We are built the way we’re built. And that’s the thing I love about Morrissey. He’s totally and utterly himself.”

Like it or not, so is she.

Amanda Palmer opens for Morrissey on July 25 at the San Jose State University Event Center. More info.

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