Amanda Palmer bares all

Former Dresden Doll pulls the strings in the ART's Cabaret
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  August 23, 2010


I knew Amanda Palmer would show me her breasts. It was just a question of when.

On a Sunday afternoon, I went to see Palmer, back in Boston to star as the Emcee in the American Repertory Theater's production of Cabaret, at her South End apartment. She greeted me at the door in a silk kimono. Her eyebrows were missing. She told me to follow her upstairs.

PHOTOS:Amanda Palmer rehearsing Cabaret, by Derek Kouyoumjian
"I just have to put some pants on," Palmer said, dropping the kimono to the floor. Sighting number one: a partial. They were encased in a cream-colored bra with black lace that matched her bikini briefs.

"Have a green-tea cookie. I brought them back from China," she said, and ducked into the bathroom. She painted on her eyebrows in no time. A number of young women have posted Amanda Palmer makeup tutorials on YouTube, but the eyebrows aren't as difficult as they appear — just a few deft curlicues with liquid eyeliner and voilá. She emerged wearing black straight leg jeans and the sort of T-shirt I relegate to the pajama drawer.

To New Englanders and a deliberately pale faction of society, Amanda Palmer is very famous. To the rest of the world, she is not, but there's a good chance she will be someday. She is the most hard-working kind — some might say the generous kind — of aspiring celebrity: a habitual oversharer.

As a performer, she is equal parts intimacy and artifice. In either case, she is often unclothed. Last year, in what might be seen as a pre-emptive strike against the violation of her privacy, she released a .zip file of naked pictures online. There was also a coffee-table photo book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, in which she played dead in varying stages of undress. In January, Palmer removed her black bloomers on the red carpet after the Golden Globes. In concert, she hooks her legs over her keyboard to flash her underpants.

To her fans, she exposes more than just her flesh. Via Twitter, Vimeo, and her blog, Palmer communes with them on a near-constant basis. The blog has 5000 regular readers, more when she posts something juicy. She hosts regular webcasts like a recent luau-themed party to celebrate the album release of her ukulele interpretations of Radiohead. For those who want more, there's the Shadowbox, an Amanda Palmer–themed message board; it has 8000 registered members.

"If I'm going to be brutally honest, I started writing songs and making music so that I could be social, and not the other way around," she says. "I think that's actually true for a lot of musicians and they lie about it."

This sociability walloped me in Harvard Square, where Palmer logged time as a living statue before she started her music career. Being there with Palmer felt a bit like walking through London with Oliver Twist — urchins wriggle out of the woodwork and tip their hats to you.

In the two blocks between Café Algiers to First Parish Church, a young man in britches stared a moment too long. Sundry cast members waved hello. A woman in black stopped her. "Amanda Palmer!" she exclaimed and then, in a throaty half-whisper, invited her to a party.

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