i don’t have to go home but i can’t stay here
This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.
last night, for the first time in my life, i was actually awakened by two (well, i assume it was two) people having sex. sex like you read about, sex like you rent at the porn store: like, serious, SCREAMING, wild, pounding sex. they must have been in the hotel room above me, they must have woken half the hotel or at least everybody in the adjacent rooms, i felt the ceiling shaking. thwok thwok thwok thwok thwok and then a rest, and another scream, and then silence, for a moment….then again. but i wasn’t upset at all, even though it was about 4:30 am, and i’d had a terrible time trying to get to sleep…this was exciting. i lay there smiling to myself, thinking “I’m in hotel room in berlin listening to people have sex like you rent at the porn store.” it made me feel happy, then horribly alone in my empty bed. i’ve been staying in this hotel room for three days, waiting to leave for home, where i’ll only be for four days before turning around and coming right back. this has been the loneliest tour yet, and i’ve never wanted to be more alone. it’s confusing to say the least.
i was seventeen. i was in germany for the first time and had just slammed my hand a good centimeter into a rusty nail, which was jutting out, unseen, from a door in the squat in east berlin where I was staying with jason.
that whole flood of emotions still feels the same, or – at least – I can detect them even though they’ve been pushed underground and given years of caring, karaoke and karate.
we were convinced that jan was home, since he’d said he would be. so we were knocking hard. It was freezing, winter vacation, just after christmas. the only heat jan had in the squat, next to his towering piles of dubbed cassettes (millions of dead cops, the cramps, sex pistols) was a retro little stove that barely kept the room above see-your-breath level. cold cold cold. he wasn’t there. we pounded. then my hand went through the nail. i screamed. was it serious? well, it was bleeding, but not much. it was a hole, a nice little german stigmata. it only took 15 seconds before i didn’t know myself whether i was crying to get attention for a wound that wasn’t all that bad, actually in pain or shock, or crying about the fact that i was confused about whether i was crying for some real pain or over the confusion my possible ruse. this was a typical pattern in my life. maybe i was homesick. maybe i was just looking for a reason to weep and the nail was just a little gift. we bandaged and disinfected. the incident was easily forgotten. i think jan wasn’t there. but he must have come home at some point. thwok thwok thwok thwok thwok. is there anybody out there?
i walked by that door yesterday. it’s 13 years later and jan is still living in the same squat, one floor up. the cassettes are CDs, but most everything else is the same, jan still smiles his shining czech smile, his girlfriend cut up watermelon. we rode around on his motorcycle and watched berlin setting up for the world cup, the russian war memorial, drank come coffee, walked through a church with no insides. there are lots of these in berlin. in my bunk, hiding from the tour and the world outside, i’ve been watching DVDs of american propaganda films that were shown to soldiers in 1943…right before they were shipped off to die. a series of Seven Informational Films called “Why We Fight”. brought to you by the ministry of war, the letter Z and the number 8. this is a jap, this is a german. kill, kill, kill kill kill kill. thwok thwok thwok, watching the bombs drop on every side, watching the bodies fall. hitler at nuremburg. metallica at nuremburg. morrissey at nuremburg. the dresden dolls at nuremburg. that was four days ago. we played right on the rally grounds.
the last three days of the proper tour were those huge festivals. i remember the purgatory-like feeling it had last summer. not many fond memories, mostly images of trailers, where we sat and waited to play, unfriendly people all waiting in the same miserable conditions, pointy shoes, and rain.
one day was good, there was some sun and some air and some shyness that was criminally vulgar….i hiked, with the Dancer, up the huge dutch hill and we looked down on it. there were tens of thousands of people gathered below. tranfixed in the flashing lights and the spectacle of it all. around us, european teenagers were all smoking cigarettes and throwing trash into the tall grass. you just played in front of all of those people, i said. so did you, he said. then we laughed, at the people. at ourselves, at all the trash.
you want your solitude, miss thing? you may just get what you wish for. you may just wake up one day in that twilight zone earth after all the bombs have gone off, surrounded by a pile of books. with no reading glasses.
we joked that it was the only hill in holland. made after the war.
when i was 9, i was at summer camp. not sleep-over camp, but a sort of dregs-of-whoever-was-left day camp at the local rec center. i was one of the richer kids with intellectual parents who simply didn’t Believe in overnight camp (the way they didn’t Believe in sugar cereal or gel toothpaste or nintendo). when there was a costume contest at the end of the summer, a la halloween, i (of course) threw myself into it full-force. alongside the makeshift draculas, freddy kreugers and michael jacksons, i went as The World. i sported an electric blue leotard and tights and onto my flat-chested, scrawny little body were safety-pinned asia, africa and the rest of continents that my step-sister helped me to cut out from green felt in the kitchen the night before, while my parents probably looked lovingly at their wholesome and intelligent children . but the majority of the contestants, who were mostly boys, went as boxers. not boxers with everlast belts, mouthguards and shiny warm-up capes and fancy boxing shoes. just 10-year old boys who had no costumes. take off the t-shirt, throw it around the neck and when you are asked to parade on front of the costume judges, start punching the air as hard as you can. then you were a boxer. i remember feeling that bizarre combination of feeling costume-proud and insanely jealous of those boxers and their raw power, as i stood there, looking like a spoiled rich art fag in my The World costume. i imagined them at home, eating sugar cereal and playing nintendo til the sun came up, unable to buy materials for any clever costume because their parents were mean and on welfare. but they were punching, punching, swinging with everything they had, putting me to shame.
one morning i woke up to find myself in a city that i had seen before. i hadn’t recognized it in the tour book. i was in france, in an Again venue. i wandered up the stairs. ah yes, i remember this. was it a good show here? when was it, a year ago? six months ago? was it a good show? i couldn’t tell you, i couldn’t tell you if you held a gun to my head. but i remember what amandas remember, and this is what starts to disturb me. and then it hit me that this was happening in every city. was it my mood? was it bad luck? there it is, that’s the same yellow backstage couch where i slept when i was ill before the last show here. hey, that’s the closet with the electrical supplies where i tried to get some privacy to make a phone call home. that’s the airport cafe with the internet. that’s the industrial parking lot where i walked in circles for an hour to warm up my voice, and probably where i’ll walk in circles tonight. that’s where i couldn’t find a bathroom in the morning so i had to poop in a plastic bag. that’s the dressing room with no door and that’s the same potato salad they put out last time. that’s the guy i met with the long hair, whats-his-name, who promoted the show. hi. are there any good memories? honestly, they’re really few and far between. tour doesn’t tend to leave many fond memories. what makes it worth it? the shows should. but i can’t remember them. they are mostly the same, even when they’re good. it’s like taking an amazing shower. do you remember it? even if something remarkable happens, like you have a profound thought, or come up with a wonderful idea? not when you take a shower every day. i doubt it. i don’t take a shower every day. i don’t want to. mike penta used to say, amanda palmer, amanda palmer is a dirty girl. he started a new toothbrush every two weeks.
when i go back to milan, if we play in the rolling stone again, i’ll remember being doubled over with menstrual cramps in the bathroom before the show, not doubled over to really fix anything, because nothing was fixable, and not doubled over for the effect, because nobody was watching. just stuck, knowing full well that the few people outside the door were rolling their eyes at me. uh-oh. amanda’s turning into a rock star. here we go. but maybe i was paranoid. it was too late for me to separate the cramps from the confusion. pounding pounding on the door. then i went back into my bunk, and watched The Wall, again, and the maid keeps knocking. thwok thwok thwok thwok thwok. housekeep-iiing. housekeep-iiing. brian throws his sticks, exits stage. i play another solo song. is there everybody….out there.
that was the day my mother emailed me some old pictures of my cat, govinda, sprawled on the back yard with first litter of kittens. the four of them are flopping all over her and her head is all upside-down with her tongue sticking out a little bit.
there i was, crouching in my pajamas with my eyebrows shaved and bleeding. in an overhead shot, in the the corner of a dank bathroom in a random rock club, clutching my little black book of poetry after the teacher smacked my wrists. smack smack smack. watching my 12-year old self come running at me with a dead rat.
bill asked me why i hadn’t blogged in a while, that he felt the hole. i asked for a suggestion. if you can’t say something nice, he suggested, don’t say anything at all. nail on the head, i said. on the nosey!! so i decided to save it all for one, nice, poetic and painfully long entry. better that way.
it took a while, but it occured to me i wasn’t really homesick. i was myself-sick, just sick to death of not being alone, sick to death of not having space to breathe, to make anything. to feel anything other than a kind of numb irritation and simultaneously sick of feeling disconnected, alone, missing my friends, my grounding home and hearth, my piano, the things that make me feel like myself.
this tour, which lasted seven weeks, is over. i’m getting on a plane. but it’s not over. it’s a four-day break. this was the first tour where, prison-like, i started crossing off days on my tourbook list, ripping out each page as it passed, one day closer to…what? to four days off? whatever i was looking forward to, i’m not getting it. i’m here forever, or at least for anohter five months, which feels close ot forever.
but there were some nice things. there was the scene with the rat. there was the beautiful flower animation. there was the dinner i ate in portugal, treated like a queen, eating real food, cooked by real people. this was good. there was dinner with dahlia the first time round in berlin. she made some broccoli soup, which was wonderful. there was the cafe in fribourg. there were a few other cafes. and there was seeing my family in dublin, for an evening. that was over a month ago. but it left a nice memory. stained, as it was, as it always is, with the soil of sorry-i’m-so-tired. sorry i’m not myself. sorry i’m not available because i’m exhausted and sorry i’ve been too much of a pussy to organize my life in such a way that i can sit with you without feeling like i’m collapsing into my appetizer, that i can enjoy a conversation with you without losing my voice. different city same story. i’ve started to sound like a broken record when i run into my old freinds, when it’s now going on three visits and two years in a row and it’s still: “i’d love to hang out but I’m just too tired…i look unhappy….well, yeah….i’ve been touring too much….we should take a break….i said that last time?….well, you know, it’s hard to find the time to really go home for longer than a week or two…i said that last time? …oh…i guess i must have…listen, the NEXT time i come to town we’ll grab a cup of coffee and i’ll….i know….i said that last time….well, what can i say….(insert ironic laugh)…..i don’t have a real life anymore……” and they let go of my hand and wave good-bye. with pity.
that was supposed to be a positive paragraph, it derailed. just like most days in the past month when i woke up thinking that it wasn’t that bad.
i wrote a long blog about two or three weeks ago, when i was really in the thick of it, but i let it be, didn’t post it.
now i am looking back over it, cherry-picking the parts that i want to reveal and letting the rest rot in it’s stinking heap of negativity.
here are some excerpts:
when I first went on tour, it felt a little like a vacation. free from the routines of home which had become too mundane and repetitive, leaving behind the smallness of playing local clubs to convincing a new audience, and the illusion of freedom and the open road. but even then, i went into the process unwilling.
i never wanted to Get Away or Escape From My Life As I Knew It. i walked blindly into it, taking each sacrifice as it came, since it wasn’t real life. i assumed that the situation would either improve to the point where it would be enjoyable instead of just tolerated, either that, or it would end.
nowadays i’m softly banging my head against the thin curtain of my tour-bus bunk, not wanting to make any noise because i don’t want to wake the ones sleeping.
all the journalists ask me: “aren’t you afraid you expose your private life too much?” i find this funny. my family reads this blog, my manager reads it, the label publicist reads it, brian reads it, our crew and promotors read it. this is the fucking ART of telling the truth carefully.
if i actually shared my private life in all it’s complexity and detail, i would anger and worry and confuse these people so much….i’d be crucified. so i generally save my personal conflicts, my true heartbreak, for the emails i send to the ones who don’t need me as a boss, a rock star, a musician, an idol, a promotional tool or even an artist.
it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everything i share here is heavily censored, well, slanted at least..a combination of the reckless impulses to emote and the simultaneous, hyper-conscious measuring of the consequences. i can complain about my own faults, my own mistakes, my own fears, but the line ends there. it’s not my place to complain about everybody else’s.
i am a performer. it’s my job to get up on that stage and entertain the crowd, even when i’m sick, even when i’m sick of it, even when i’m ready to keel over in exhaustion. there’s something noble about plastering that grimace and/or smile on your face and heaving yourself up there, trying anyway. but for god’s sake, i still need to be honest about it. i feel like that’s the only saving grace. hello everyone, here are my mistakes. i don’t want to be here tonight. we’re touring too much and the show is starting to suffer, my voice is starting to sound like it’s being ripped apart by the middle of every set. good evening everyone: no illusion for you.
i fuck up on stage, a lot. i never play a song perfectly, and i think that’s just fine and dandy. i’ve played girl anachronism, by my count, over ONE THOUSAND times and i STILL fuck up the lyrics. i can forgive myself everything and anything as long as deep down, i am convinced that i am trying as hard as i possibly can. and i actually like it when things beyond my control take over and force some kind of snafu. i don’t invite disaster, but when it comes in the form of a power outage or a blown monitor system or a broken keyboard, i notice how human i become on stage. and i notice, more and more and show by show, that people have not paid their money to sit down and witness perfection. they’ve come to experience something, feel something, see something real and human. and to err is human. to err while striving for perfection, the small but inevitable glitch of Real Life, is more beautiful than perfection in my book. i believe the japanese have a term for this.
….and the rest of it was too negative, childish and bitchy.
and i want everyone to love me and think that i am compassionate, wise, kind and clever.
somewhere in the UK, a girl near the front row fainted during “shores of california”. she must have been no further than ten feet away from me, and i watched her limp body get passed over the barrier to the security guards. this is where things just seem insane. the human being in me, the woman named amanda, says: “stop. wait, there’s someone suffering, do something.” the performer smiles and keeps playing, continuing the ruse for the 92% of the audience that has no idea what’s going on, in cahoots with the 8% that knows full well that you are deliberately ignoring a fucked-up situation. the solution? none. just mention over the microphone, after the song, how fucked up and inhuman it felt. but when there’s no body, when the girl passed out is you, when the girl passed out is the drummer, ah, this is different. then, sometimes, you should downright lie.
or smile and nod?
or tell the truth?
or dramatize the truth? laugh about it?
when you’re playing solo, the choice is yours.
when you’re playing with a band, you need to agree to believe in the same decisions.
this will never be easy.
i do have still have fantasies.
i do love touring, and god, do i love playing for people.
when my life isn’t ridden with pounds of extra rubbish.
it’s sort of like anything you love. something pollutes it, and it really turns on you.
try eating a chocolate cake while listening to babies getting strangled. ruins it.
you want to be able to enjoy your situation, your work. you don’t want the noise pollution, the emotional pollution, the baggage and the stress around you. but eveyone, including you, creates it. you’re all stuck in a zoo-like environment, and nobody comes to clean up the cage very often. so you adjust. you learn to ignore it, grapple with it, evade it, solve it, eventually….you take it or leave it.
or, someone gives you a Book. you escape. you breathe and find a minute to read Alone even though people are shouting everywhere.
after watching The Wall again Again, i watched the commentary.
roger waters recited the beginning of a poem he had written:
There is a magic in some books
That sucks a man into connections with
The spirits hard to touch
That join him to his kind
A man will seek the reading out
Guarded like a canteen in the desert heat
But sometimes needs must drink
And then the final drop falls sweet
The last page turns
and it goes on, more hopeful, turning the metaphor to his wife, to the book that doesn’t end. i have had this Book on tour with me. it’s remained unfinished quite on purpose, i was sucked into it and then started to measure Very Carefully how many pages at a sitting. i looked forward to two things for a few weeks. reading the Book, and having a cup of coffee alone in a cafe at the beginning of the day. but it needed to be Away. and sitting down.
a cup of coffee in the venue was worthless, and cup of coffee on the bus was more than worthless. the best cup of coffee was in a good cafe. a bad cafe was better than no cafe. a restaurant was also passable and i did that a few times but it could be unnerving, bothered by waiters. the worst case scenario, but still coffee, was to brew myself a cup of tea on the bus, walk in a straight line away from the Mess and towards Being Alone and sit there, on a stone, on a bench, on a mound of dirt. anything. just give me some solitude, some time to process those thousands of faces, those nasty comments, those conflicting thoughts battling in my already-boiling-over brain. stick me in a room full of people all sitting around, making small talk and sandwiches, staring at the wall, waiting for time to pass, and i will eventually just Go Postal.
there was another book, the one i kept stealing for the camera out of different hotel night tables, dramatically ripping out pages of genesis or whatever. but most of the good footage from prague got lost, and i don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. as it poured down rain on the charles bridge, we tried to cover up the camera to get the shots of the book falling, page by page, into the river. under the covered entrance to the brigde were two blind women, street performers. one was playing a synthesizer and both were singing…..ave maria for an unwilling crowd. all trying to escape the downpour, crushed up against them. everyone was forced to listen, barely anyone gave them any money, and the blind woman playing the synthesizer just kept singing, empty eye-sockets rolling heavenward. when the rain lets up, the crowd will thin, and maybe people will listen. i knelt at her side and closed my eyes, all i could see was the heavy coat of the rich italian tourist in from of me. manta tried to get a shot, but the coat. the coat got in the way. a few nights later, a boy from the Brigade named valentin gave me his eye. i thought it was a language barrier issue, when he handed my a small cardboard box at the end of a show in switzerland and said “here’s my eye.” but no, i opened it up on the bus, and there it was. he was missing an eye, and this was his prosthetic. i put it over my own, stuck a wedge of orange in my mouth and scared the shit out of brian the next morning. when i want to i can make him laugh.
“It is still a fairly astounding notion to consider that atoms are mostly empty space, and that the solidity we experience all around us is an illusion. When two objects come together in the real world – billiard balls are most often used for illustration – they don’t actually strike each other. ‘Rather,’ as Timothy Ferris explains, ‘the negatively charged fields of the two balls repel each other . . . were it not for their electrical charges they could, like galaxies, pass right through each other unscathed.” When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimeter), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy.'”
-Bill Bryson (from A Short History of Nearly Everything, aka The Book)
people complain in different ways and at different volumes. smelling the heroin cooking from the next dressing room cubicle, never being able to escape the noise, wading through piles of trash. and i LIVE here, i keep reminding myself. the floor on which i daily tread is sticky from vomit, stained with ashes and i rarely see a dressing room wall without a giant, hairy penis staring me in the face, bidding me a happy welcome. hello, amanda! i wanted to take pictures of every penis in every dressing room i’ve been in and make a nice little children’s book. i wanted to take pictures of every piece of art hanging above every bed in every hotel i’ve ever stayed in and make a nice little flip-book. i wanted to do a lot of things. sometimes i get a good view of the sky. sometimes there’s a hill nearby.
that was the day my mother emailed me some pictures that she had taken that morning of the newly blossomed rhododendron bushes ouside the old house.
after we climbed down from the view, it was dark and the festival was over, placebo had left the stage, we walked onto the space where we had both just played. where the hoards of people had just stood was now just a capret of cups and bottles, the smell of ashes and sweat and french fries and ripped-up dirt. we trudged through it with no snow shoes. wondering, as you do, who is going to pick this up before tomorrow, when it starts all over again? machines? immigrant workers, punching, punching, punching sticks into these cups at a rate of 2000 cups and 6 euros an hour? probably. don’t complain you, we say to each other. what’s your work day consist of? singing? getting your photo taken with a bunch of fans? sitting and waiting in a bus all day? shut up. just SHUT UP.
i miss myself more than anybody else.
everyday i reach back home, see my apartment, remember my life. when i get enough quiet to myself, the picture becomes clear. i see myself through four lenses, on the television, sitting in the chair in a hotel room, outside in the middle of a huge field in dunkirk, as a couple in the hotel room above me pounds and punches away, having sex like you rent t the porn store. so what was it? did you want to be alone? or have someone here in bed with you?
hand into the nail on the door. thwok. i remember when it seemed like staying in a hotel was a huge luxury. now the fists pound on the door. housekeep-iiing! housekeep-iiing! housekeep-iiing! thwok thwok thwok thwok. cardinal hits his head against the window. housekeep-iiing! stab those plastic cups. thwok thwok thwok thwok thwok. housekeep-iiing!! thwok thwok thwok! shoot that heroin, my friend in the next dressing room. smack smack smack. there’s always somewhere out there a little less well off, isn’t there? bombs could be dropping, i could have be ODing, there are much worse things out there than not getting your solitude. solitude is a fucking modern phenomenon, anyway. they didn’t use to have it back before the 1500s. it was invented. by da vinci.
my friend reminded me this one: “i complained that i had no shoes, then i saw a man with no feet.”
i, unlike a lot of my contemporaries, never actually went through a obsessive full-on pink floyd phase in high school. i’ve simply gone through a life-long Wall phase. it’s not too late, i was discussing with dave. i don’t have a bedroom in which to do it anymore, but i do have my bunk. i could download every album, leave them on repeat from my mac and exchange my bunk curtain with a big black-light tapestry of a fractal, put in some spider plants and start taking more drugs. a waft of incense and pot would wave out behind me every time i exited my bunk for the bathroom. i would become comfortably numb, and communicate with nobody (except via my sneakers, which would be covered with meaningful lyrics in sharpie) simply because NOBODY WOULD UNDERSTAND ME. and to a certain extent, i would be right. nobody understands fuck all about anybody else at a certain level. it’s just the degree to which we want to be understood that screws some people.
it all became clear to me quickly: i need more time Alone. vast amounts of time Alone, dripping, oozing, mountains of time Alone. enough to fill up a stadium. but i ain’t going to get it. i’m lucky if i get 1 or 2 hours a day, and that’s not even actual solitude. that’s cafe, walking-down-the-street-surrounded-by-voices solitude. from the start of this tour i felt like a polar bear in a zoo-cage. except i made the choice. i want desperately to entertain those people on the other side of the bars. i need them. i was supposed to have a full week off after this tour and i deliberately chose to give it up, to head back to england to do more promotion after being told by Everyone that it was So Important. still, my decision. why am i doing it, when i know it means yet more time in airports, with people, going crazy? i make these decisions in times of stress and accidental high morale, then regret them sorely. i suppose i continue to believe, as all of my rock elders keep telling me, that if i give it all up now, i may be free later. free to tour when i want, free to spend time with my friends and family, free to spend time alone, free to think. free to become myself again. free to write again. but all later. if i think it’s worth it. today, i think it is. and it’s never all bad. i am juts going to have to learn to be greedier in the correct ways, in the wise and compassionate ways, despite the pain in the ass it causes. there’s no other choice.
every band has much the same different same story, every famous singer i meet gives me that knowing You Sucker sympathetic look when you tell them you’re been on the road for six weeks and don’t have much of a break for the next six months. but they can’t do much to help you. they know you Know. they way they Knew. when they were that sucker. that’s what the wink they give says. then where you headed? australia? brilliant! then back to the states? then japan? lovely! then europe for another while, good, good, new single coming out. great. this is the push, you know! someday you won’t have to be this sucker. they pat you on the arm. but here they are, themselves. some happier, some more trapped, some less, some more free than me, some on the other side already. but we all talk about how we can’t complain, because we don’t want to, because it’s Just Wrong, when there are bands in vans playing to 12 people and children starving in china. and we all sit there, mumbling black ego humor to ourselves, cooking at a slow roast in the dressing room trailer behind the tent, triumphantly safety-pinning another green continent to our electric blue leotards. grinning that toothless grin of empty accomplishment, stealing jealous sideward glances as the boxers around us punch into the air.