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arrested in amsterdam

hola comrades….

yesterday’s ninja gig in amsterdam was cut short; i got arrested.

i won’t TOTALLY blame eric, but he did send me a text saying “DAM SQAURE! DAM SQAURE!!” when i told him i was going to head there for a day from utrecht and do a ninja gig.
to be fair, we both hit our twitter feeds and asked everyone where an ideal spot would be. a lot of them agreed with dam square (though i doubt, in retrospect, that those people were local) and there were lots of other suggestions for parks and other squares…but we kept it with dam square, one of the biggest touristiest spots in amsterdam.

it didn’t help matters that there was some sort of royal function going on in some other part of the square (the square is HUGE, football-field sized…which i never saw, but people were warning me about on twitter as i was making my way over. i’d been at anneke’s office, having a meeting about doing something with the amsterdam fringe next september, when the messages starting coming in.

someone twittered “the space in front of the monument is free,” and that sounded pretty easy for everyone to find, so i sent word to the collected troops to meet in front of the monument. i had no idea where the monument was, or what the hell KIND of monument it was, but anneke assured me it was central. so off we went. we made some jokes about how she would could spring me from jail if the cops gave me any grief, since she has to annually spring international artists from jail when they do weird public performances as part of their fringe theater gigs.

there were about 100 people already gathered and since this was obviously busking territory (i saw a street performer about a hundred yards away, doing a juggling show, which made me feel nice and safe), the curious other tourists and onlookers of dam square stopped and joined, and soon the crowd was about 200 or more. anneke stepped back into the crowd, i found a nice step to stand on, i collected my glue stick from the person who’d kindly offered to bring me one on twitter (i needed one, and i’m so fucking glad i got it before i got arrested), and i started playing joyous ukulele songs for the dutch.


i made it through “inbetween days” by the cure, then got a request for “oasis” (with collective dutch crowd clapping!) and needed a chair to put my foot on, since i don’t know how to play the goddam ukulele and i finger chords from the top and am too proud to have a strap. a wonderfully outgoing english fellow named peter volunteered to get on one knee and let me use him instead, so i did:

we were having a grand time. i asked for a drink, and a fan volunteered a beer. being used to the open container laws in germany, i assumed it was fine (or at least decriminalized) to have a beer at my feet. (turns out later: bad assumption). a very drunk guy who had been hanging out behind our party staggered over to me and threw 72 cents on my ukulele case. the crowd went wild (well, “dutch” wild, which is…wild in its own way). he came back a few minutes later and gave us a whole euro. peter and i hi-fived.

i played a cover of the clash song “should i stay or should i go” and got a volunteer mosh-pit of four people to bop up and down:

then i was hot, so i took my jacket off. i was wearing my usual stage gear underneath: my corset, costume-bra, and opera gloves. peter followed suit, since he was awesome, and took his shirt off. i sharpie’d a nice AFP tattoo on his arm.

then someone in the crowd asked me to play the violent femmes request i promised. i got a little wishy-washy about it because i still hadn’t really practiced it, but in the end i decided to go for broke and play it. i got about 30 seconds in (the song was “add it up”….quite a dramatic song beginning, from one of the best albums of all time in the world if i do say so myself) and my eyes were closed….i think i felt a tap on my shoulder and behold: dutch cops.

nope, not exactly. memory is weird. here it is on youtube:

the main cop who confronted me was PISSED, or at least he felt it was his job as a cop in front of all these people to ACT PISSED. i wonder about him. he was nice to me later. i think maybe they were doing a bad-ass cop show for the collected crowd. he started yelling at me for disrespecting a national monument, being half-naked (huh?), and generally “starting a ruckus”…the open container didn’t help. i didn’t argue. if i’ve learned anything in my life, you don’t argue with cops. ever. ever. especially in front of their countrymen.

i’m not sure what the look on my face here, says:

so the five cops escorted me to the van they had waiting, and they decided to take peter too, since he’d been standing (well, kneeling) right next to me:

the main video that made the rounds has been deleted from youtube, but you can check more footage here:

they drove us to a police station, took our ID, and put us in a waiting room. they let peter go.

my heart sank when they came to me with a bunch of bags and told me they were taking all my belongings. they only do that, obviously, when they’re actually booking you.

the last time i got arrested and put in a holding cell was twenty years ago. i was 15, and me and my best friend got simultaneously arrested for shoplifting together in harvard square. we were beyond guilty. it was unpleasant back then, and it was just as unpleasant now…but at least back then i had my friend. we kind of liked being in the holding cell…we made up a reggae-sounding freedom song about how we didn’t deserve to be locked up and sang in on repeat at the tops of our lungs while a drunk chick in the next holding cell screamed relentlessly at the cops to let her out. it felt bad-ass.

anyway. they took my friend away this time (peter and i were like *this* by the time they released him) and i just went into my zen zone.

they took my bag and ukulele…then my shoes, my belt, my jacket, i emptied my pockets, and a female cop took me to a separate room to take off my bra and corset. then she body-searched me. it was a considerably more invasive pat-down than the airport-brand i’ve recently grown fond of.  i had no drugs and no weapons.

then they locked me in a room. i hate being locked in a room. for the next while or so people came and went and i really hated the fact that every time someone would leave the room, they would latch the top lock (ka-chunK) and the bottom lock (ka-chunK) and there was this dramatic deafening silence. nothing but my little worried thoughts to keep me company.

i crossed my legs and alternated between paying attention to my breathing and having irritating fantasies about what would happen if they decided to actually put me in jail….which i doubted they would do, but you never know. nothing to be done at this point, i thought. so i sat zen.

prison is very good for zen. there are no outside distractions.

some nice dutch cop brought me some water.

they put a teenage boy in the holding cell next to me. i watched him go in (the walls to the hallway were made of hard, thick plastic, so the cops could keep an eye on you, like a hall of fishbowls). i wondered what he’d done. i wondered if he was being arrested for stealing tights.

i was glad i was alone.

i was only in the cell for about an hour or so, then the angry cop who’d been yelling at me came in.

he told me i was being charged with an open container fine and that i would have to appear in court in amsterdam on november 14. (i remember thinking: maybe i’ll make my next record in holland, just to make things easy).

after asking many patient questions, i figured out that the court appearance was ONLY due to the fact they couldn’t mail me my fine since i didn’t have a dutch address. the cop started saying something about how i could technically go to a police station after november 14th of next year. how long is the period in which i can pay? i kept asking so many questions that he finally left, came back a half hour later with the district attorney and they told me they’d allow me to pay the fine on the spot. the fine was 76 euros. i had exactly 80 in cash. i paid it and they let me go.

every time i talked to some official, they always started their interrogation by informing me: “you do not have to answer”. ok. when they let me go, they asked if i had any statement to make.

i said: “yes. i’m sorry.”

it was a real sorry. and a fake one.

“sorry” included:
– i’m sorry that i broke your law. i truly am. i’ve been hanging out in europe for a decade. we’re awful. you probably felt good arresting me as a symbolically very loud and law-ignoring american. so, on behalf of my whole country….i’m sorry we’re so loud and our tourist-representatives have a tendency to think we’re above the law. i mean, clearly, i was breaking your law. i would not have tested the open container law in boston. or new york. i mean, the cops would NAIL YOU in a fucking second. i somehow assumed you dutch, like the germans, were cool with it. but…ass = you = me, etc.
– i’m sorry you had to spend your energy and time taking a girl playing ukulele in a town square into jail. it, honestly, seems like a waste of your energy when other people out there are committing real crimes, like stealing shit and hurting people.
– i’m sorry that you have to be a cop in amsterdam. if i had to be a cop, i would not want to be a cop in amsterdam. it’s a tourist-heavy playground that, among other things, attracts overzealous american college kids who come to blast themselves on ecstasy, smoke vaporized THC in coffee shops, and ogle at the prostitutes. it must be a JOB FROM HELL to have to scrape frat boys off the street every friday and saturday night and dump them en masse into the pits of the dutch holding cell system.
– i’m sorry we live in a world where we’re even having this conversation.

a lot of people commented on twitter about how “ironic” it was that in the land of free-floating hash and hookers, a chick could get arrested for playing ukulele in the street. and a lot of dutch people have chimed in that the police situation is not looked upon kindly over here at the moment. i didn’t know. next time, warn me. also…i think the fact that the royal thingamabob was going on in the square was really the deeper issue. they didn’t want my ukulele-loving crowd to turn traitorous and mutiny in a swam across the square to decapitate their monarch. fair.


i’m a street performer. i’ve had to deal with dozens of cops in different countries in different situations. usually, apology and ignorance can get you out of anything.

we used to have a rule on the road (coined by emily white, our tour manager for a while): “don’t ask. do it til you get caught.” it often works. they don’t usually send you to jail.

sometimes they do. it’s just an odds game.

(from the weird cosmic coincidence department: at the exact same time as my utrecht ninja gig, there’s a protest against police brutality, there. google info if you can, it’s interesting to note.)

but seriously….these ninja gigs are getting a little big. it was fine when it was 20 people, 30 people, 40 people. it may be time to come up with a better plan. i just HATE PLANNING. it defeats the purpose. if i’m going to spend my time organizing and dealing with laws and spaces and other people, i’m going to do a real fucking gig and get paid. i’ll figure it out. i wish you could apply for an international ninja license. that would actually defeat the purpose too. i mean, honestly, it’s a scale thing. U2 wold be dicks if they just told their fans “show up in central park at 5pm!”. you’d have mayhem.

if you guys have any thoughts about the future of the ninja gig, i’d be happy to hear your ideas.  i think, for my next real tour, i’ll have to come up with something crowd-sourced and more organized, but in keeping with the random spirit. eric, bless his soul, will probably be spending more time than he wants looking up the actual laws dedicated to public gatherings in specific cities.

outside the station, about 20 people were holding vigil…mostly people who had traveled from outside amsterdam for the ninja gig.

having fans is really wonderful.  there was a part of me that wanted to peace out, thank and hug all these people, and get my ass on the first train out of amsterdam, but that part was not as big as the part that wanted to be around people, any people, and finish my gig. some of them had come from antwerp in belgium. anneke, my friend from the fringe, had waited outside the police station, too. she’s a class act. i asked her if we could head to the bar under her office, which is attached to a theater. she thought it would be fine. so we paraded over there, only to find they were setting up for salsa night. anneke asked the bartenders if we could use the empty space upstairs to play. they were fine with it….so we all got beers, went upstairs, and i played three more songs for the faithful:

i think i was still in shock…and it’s funny. i can go through anything and pick up an instrument and play.

this whole day reminded me of the day i had a 4pm ninja gig (and a real gig) planned in belfast. at noon, a car hit me and ran over my foot, breaking it in four places. (here’s the blog about it, if you want to read it when you’re done with this one)

i went to the hospital, got out by 3 pm in a huge cast and all pumped up on drugs, and went straight to the ninja gig, which i was doing with jason webley.

we’d been told by our fans to gather on the town hall lawn, which was a common outdoor hangout for people.

there were 50 people. the officials came out of the building and told us to leave. “why?” we asked. because you can’t legally have a gathering of more than 13 people, they said. so we tried to split up into 5 groups of 12 or so, and play songs to each group like musical chairs. the officials did not find this plan amusing. they informed us that, legally, instruments were also not allowed on the town hall lawn. so we informed them we would simply go group to group, a cappella. they did not find this amusing, either. they glared at us with angry irishness. “now you’re just being funny with us,” they said. “no,” we said, “actually we’re not.  we love a challenge.” i was looking forward to a cappella versions of dresden dolls songs.

in the end, we moved to the sidewalk. the gig was great. i don’t think anyone on that sidewalk truly understood what it meant to my smiling and singing self that 4 hours before i’d been hit by a car, bawling and shaking and bleeding on the way to a hospital with no idea if i’d be able to walk again, and i don’t think that last night, in the midst of salsa night, while signing bottles of playdough (we did a whole playdough reenactment of the ninja gig) and joking and taking pictures with people…i don’t know if they realized how shaken up i was, or what it meant to my state of mind that a few hours before i’d been sitting zen in a cell all alone wondering if i was going to go to jail for a while, not be able to call my husband for a while, have to explain this to my poor sister, sleep on a cot, eat bad dutch prison food…but honestly it doesn’t matter. it boils down to what it means to be a musician, i think. people do what they can for you, and you do what you can for them.

and you take what you can get, and you give them what you’ve got, and that’s what you do.

music is beautiful that way.

thank you, ryan anas, for being ON IT and awesome and making this shirt, yesterday.

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