right before i hit stage in london the other night i was told to go to the bus, that i had to call kate, that there was bad news.
i thought i knew what it was, i have a friend, anthony, who’s been really sick and is battling leukemia. i braced myself.
it wasn’t him at all.
it was becca. my friend becca rosenthal. becca darling. back in boston.
she’d died suddenly in her room. nobody knows yet what happened. her dad found her.
she was 27.
i couldn’t believe it and for a few seconds i just choked on the phone. i asked jaron to go into the venue and find neil.
i needed someone to grab onto. i was so grateful to have him there.
neil knew becca, he’d met her the very first night he really got to know me in boston. becca was drunk that night, along with most of the members of my house.
she was sitting on the front steps telling me and neil how she had a secret plan to go back to her high school, in disguise, as a student. she could pass, right? she’d go back, re-live it….she’d fix everything, and she’d heal all the poor suffering old versions of herself. i’ve had similar fantasies.
i loved becca.
neil came to the bus. we held each other. about an hour or so later i had to get on stage in from of 1500 people. i called for a glass of red wine. becca. dead. this doesn’t happen.
we sat in strange disbelief as the preparations for the giant show flurried around us, special guests, musical saws, books to be signed, music, life, lights…death…
i’m still processing it. becca was such a huge constant in the changing landscape of my life, she was in that other part, the part that doesn’t change. she was always…there. she sent me music almost every month – things she was convinced i would like, things i should know. she turned me onto regina spektor back in 2004, st vincent many years ago, bat for lashes, anna calvi, always girls…the day before she died i’d sent her a photo of a cabinet in our london rehearsal space that had anna calvi’s name on it to make her freak out.
i thought it was weird when she didn’t write back right away.
becca ALWAYS wrote back right away. she was an addict of communication, like i was, a music fiend, an internet dweller but most comfortable inside books, inside deep twisted philosophies.
she went to smith college with all the other smart chicks, and that was where i met her.
she was probably 18, i was 27. she was at the early dresden dolls shows and she was one of our first real fans. as sometimes happens, but not often, she bridged that chasm between fan and friend and actually became a part of my life, a real part, a real friend, over the years. a few years ago, i nicknamed her. she asked me to. she wanted a new name, something more rockstar. i thought becca darling was perfect. like…candy darling. we both loved nico. lou. the velvets. antony. becca, daHLing. the way an old british drag queen would say it. she pondered it for a while and then deemed it a suitable nickname. i felt honored.
this is becca.
i was just looking through the thousands of emails we’ve sent back and forth, and one of the very first ones i have from her is hilarious.
it was march 6, 2004 and she and a friend of hers from smith had assaulted me at the iron horse in northampton with live a cappella version of “girl anachronism” that they had re-written to be about an astronaut. it was so fucking funny that i gave her my email address and told her to email me the lyrics because i wanted to read them. i had forgotten about that. here are some highlights….
(from the middle of the song:)
and you can tell
from the state of my moon
that they let me go too soon
and the freeze-dried food i ate
came a few light-years too late
and i’ve got some planets to go to
there i go again
pretending to be nasa
that there are craters on the surface
trying to convince you
it was atmospherically on purpose
(and the last chorus:)
i don’t necessarily believe that i have helmet hair
so i might join your galaxy but only at a supercuts
i was in the twilight zone removed as a caesarian
behold the void’s worst accident
I AM THE GIRL ANASTRONAUTISM
…..anyway, you get the gist (but HERE are the complete lyrics). the girl was a freak with a brain and i fell in love with her. soon she moved back to boston after graduating and she helped out the band as an intern, filing our recordings, helping me with email and press clippings and helping me sort and get organized between tours. her handwriting is all over my apartment. it’s going to be hard to go home. i also have her soul on my bookshelf, right in the middle of my kitchen. it was from those early days when we used to go touring to western massachusetts once a year or more.
becca and her friend meg from smith showed up at the gig bearing gifts for me. they were weird, decoupage boxes, covered with strange images, all hand-glued. one was in the shape of a heart, one was in the shape of a star.
“what are these?” i asked them.
“our souls.” they said. “we want you to have them.”
“that’s a huge responsibility” i said.
they nodded dead-seriously. “we know.”
so me and brian did the dresden dolls gig, drove home, and i put their two souls, side by side, on my kitchen bookshelf, where they have remained since 2004 or 2005.
becca was always there was a sarcastic comment without being too, too cynical, sometimes she just stated the morbid as a fact. she was a total francophile, spoke fluently, and got along like gangbusters with our french gang of fans, emlie bera and marie-harveline, when we brought them over to represent the european brigade in 2005 for a dolls DVD….those were some of the happiest days i’ve seen her.
when max melton moved to the cloud club (my arts community/freakhouse), he and becca became really close friends. i just found this one of all of us in a cuddle puddle in the downstairs apartment.
siena, becca, me, max….around 2007/2008.
becca was music, always. she always had music pumping into her head. she was always headphoned, always listening, always lost in the sound, always trying to play me a song.
music, absorbing it, that was her main passion. she got some this-and-that jobs around boston working in the music industry, but she never truly found her place there. she was great at PR but cared about the quality of music too much to just push random bands that she didn’t care about. she got frustrated a lot. she wanted to write and she was a brilliant, brilliant poet. it’ll be a while before i can look at her writing and somehow collect it somewhere, since i think…i should do that. it was always dark, heartbreaking, but immediate and vital, like the poets she loved and admired. she was the real deal, as a writer.
here’s just one, for now…
diluted chinese ink poisoning
i never found the sermon in the suicide
but these are the things that have held my attention:
a name as original fiction
a borrowed idea twice over, a second sin.
this, the face i had before the world was made,
eyes blueblack as a bruise & already knowing
that this must be the way the world hurts god.
you, building shadowboxes in your bedroom,
pot after pot of semi-hot coffee & turning
the corners down.
now, apotheosis by appointment. now,
we know too much. we read highway signs
as semiotic warnings,
we die stillborn to avoid abjection.
i never found the lesson in the murder of five
& now dietrich is dead too but still we keep
the key light
8 feet up and a little to the right.
she kept a music blog, called beecharmer and it’s still up. the greatest thing you could do to serve her memory is to go listen to the songs she’s posted recently. i think it’s the exact thing she would want people to do. go to the music she loved, the music she was always so generous to hunt down and share…..and listen. listen.
another one of my favorite becca-memories is this one:
it was the summer 2007 and she had come on the entire cyndi lauper/”true colors” tour with the dolls to sell our merchandise. we all lived together on the tour bus for about 5 weeks – me, her, brian, and the dresden dolls sound crew.
one night, in the middle of tour when everyone was up to the eyeballs in surreal travel and experience, we were parked, stuck, in some random-middle-of-nowhere soulless venue mall-like parking lot. trapped in the concrete wasteland. i was currently obsessing over a jacque brel youtube clip that kept making me cry.
i shoved the bus speakers out of the window, so they pointed to the parking lot outside, i brought my laptop to the foot of the bus and put it on a couple pillows, then a fed a cable down to becca…it just barely reached and becca plugged them in. i blew up the clip to full size, poured us each a glass of wine, and we sat on the pillows next to the tour bus wheel hub, feeling the hot summer night wind blow off the parking lot onto our faces. and i pressed play, and we watched jacques sing. we both wept copiously. i could always count on becca to feel things through music with me. she felt the deepest. (if you want to try this at home, here’s the clip: http://youtu.be/za_6A0XnMyw …that FACE. that face.)
on that same tour, becca agreed to get dragged into a stupid idea i had, which was to lip sync the entirety of “girls just wanna have fun” while walking around (half) pretending to be drunk on the strip in las vegas. we were ridiculous together.
and then, of course, was becca’s oscar-winning performance as “melissa mahoney” in the “oasis” video clip.
nobody could pull off that face of absolute apathy mixed with a sprinkling of disgust like becca.
also, if you’ve seen that ridiculous version of “poker face” i did with the boston pops on new year’s a few years ago, that was becca who came on stage with the “deconstruction text” about lady gaga…and she was also the one who wrote it. she was sharp as a fucking tack when it came to pop culture and media, living both in and outside of it at the same time. she simply loved music. she didn’t care where it came from.
becca was always trying to figure out, in one sense or another, what the fuck to do with her life….and it was me that talked her into being a living statue.
back around 2005 and 2006, she did the street performance thing in the boston area, making money as i had done, standing white and painted on a box, waiting for someone to come release her by tossing her a dollar.
i could go on and on about our correspondence and connection because of that, but a few emails that i just dug up sum it up perfectly, so i’ll paste them here, below. please read them.
she seemed to be doing amazingly well the last few times i saw her. she’d gone back to school to get her masters. she decided she wanted to be a librarian. she and i were just starting to work seriously on archiving all my old papers and recordings, and she was going to help me coordinate a university to house everything. neil had cast her a while back as the “airman” statue in his short film, and she’d asked if he would write her a good recommendation for a library job she was after. he wrote it. she got the job. she seemed….fine.
here are two photos from “statuesque” that neil sent:
neil remembers her most, i think, as the one who finally pushed me over the edge to marry him. she showed up in my blog about getting married to neil as the friend who was backstage, who i turned to right before taking stage for a huge, scary nerve-wracking show and asked “becca, should i marry neil gaiman?” and with that same deadly-serious nod with which she’d handed me her soul, she said “yes.”
i said yes the next day.
i want to say more, tell you more, share more. more becca stories.
becca was deep, complicated, beautiful, smart, vital.
she shouldn’t have died. i don’t know why she did.
pope just sent me, right as i was typing this, a photo from her funeral. i can’t not cry. i want to be there, not here, not on tour, i want to be around those who knew her, who loved her, who this is hitting. all i can do right now is write this blog and try to send it off before hitting stage in amsterdam before we don’t have wireless again for another few days.
and noah sent this.noah was the one, in our circle of friends, who got the call from becca’s parents.
becca got buried. and they took their secrets and lit them on fire and sent them down the charles river.
i wasn’t there.
when i got onto that stage in london, holding the hour-old news in my head, i’m not really sure what happened, but something….happened. i felt her gone, the reality of a person disappearing, and in equal measure i felt the blood pulsing through my body, the feeling in my feet and in my fingertips and on my tongue, the very fact of being alive – of being. i’d never felt so strangely alive. the feeling of…very clearly being not dead.
of becca being dead.
of me being alive, on a stage.
breathing. feeling. existing. i’ve never felt sadder, braver, more convinced by myself and also more lost in the impossibleness of THIS. i couldn’t make it through “astronaut” without crying, thinking that becca would never ever hear music again (NO NOT POSSIBLE) never hear instruments again (YES AMANDA SHE IS DEAD SHE WON’T WAKE UP TOMORROW MORNING) never hear anyone singing anything again (HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT A PERSON CAN VANISH LIKE THAT)…never sing herself again, never pass on another song, never breathe another breath. i ached and i spit and i let myself crumble more than i usually do onstage. i felt like that was fine to do. i didn’t tell the crowd. they didn’t need to know. i felt like i was at the funeral, my own little personal funeral for her, the one she would have approved of, screaming songs into the noise, into the crowd…lost in the sound. like she was.
i can’t believe she’s gone.
crowd in london, thank you for being with me that night….you helped me more than you could have possibly known. you, that, it was what i needed most.
From: becca rosenthal
Date: Sat, 18 Jun 2005 22:04:26
To: amanda palmer
Subject: statueing: the horror story
i left you a voicemail but i figured i should send an email about how today i was attacked by a dissociative insane homeless woman.
she ranted at me for a while about the blue line and making people blind and asking me in a singsong sort of manner if i’d like to have children and if i’d like to get married and settle down. she’d go away for a bit and then come back… she grabbed a flower out of my hand and threw it into the urn, then basically wrestled me for the vase of flowers – she was trying to take it out of my hand and i obviously wasn’t letting go and at this point i was talking to her & trying to tell her to get the fuck away from me but trying to do so in some way that wouldn’t make her angry or more deranged than she already was but she wasn’t saying anything, she was just staring at me and pulling on the vase and i was like LEAVE ME ALONE. so THEN she went away again for a while and when she came back she stood SO close to me, her foot was on the part of my skirt that goes on the sidewalk, and she was talking & singing and at this point, things like “you never had 2 cents to rub together” and then going into a less-than-charming rendition of “if i were a rich man” i was so totally terrified & freaked out that i didn’t know what to do so i’m just trying to keep ignoring her & i’m pleading silently with the people in front of me WATCHING THIS HAPPEN to come SAVE ME and finally this nice balding harvard-type man came over and was like “are you part of the act ?” and she goes “no” and he goes “oh, so you’re just a bitch.” her: “what ?” him: “you’re just a bitch” her: “[mumblings] i never had a LITTER !” him: “why are you hassling her, leave her alone”, etc etc, and as she went away this time, she had been holding this page from a magazine in her hand and she went to put it under my urn but when she touched it, i literally almost lunged for her throat because the whole time i was scared that she was gonna go for the money. god. she left & i got the fuck out of there.
one of the most terrifying things that’s ever happened to me. i had no idea what to do & 9 hours later i’m still all shaken up….
has that ever happened to you ? what do you DO ?
traumatized but stronger (or something),
From: amanda palmer
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2005
To: becca rosenthal
Subject: statueing: the horror story
O my girl. I’m sorry.
Well, I’ll tell you two things.
One is that I once had something very similar happen to me with a crazy guy in harvard square who stood right next to me for a while, screaming portuguese in my face, grabbing my money and flinging it back into the urn, and finally grabbed hold of my arm and trying to pull me off my pedestal. I was very scared and upset. I’ve also had someone throw an apple (not an apple core, a whole apple) at me from about forty feet away and hit me squarely in the chest. I’ve also been hit by beer caps, gum, water balloons, coins, cigarette butts and this one is classic: a drunken jock once came up to me and buried his face in my crotch.
End of empathy segment. Beginning of therapy:
There is no harder job, certainly performing job, than making yourself vulnerable to the world. And you become a magnet of love and hate and craziness. This is why being a statue is so amazing, you are forced to soak up the world in all it’s highs and lows. It does indeed make you stronger because the more humanity runs through your veins, the more human you become (ah, the poetry of the statue being the most human) and incredibly, the more hate you can stomach the more love you can feel. This is only my experience and my theory. It’s not that you become a woman of steel, impervious to all emotion up there on a box, it’s that you become able to take it and reflect it, and this is why what we do is important. Plus the money is great.
From: becca rosenthal
To: amanda palmer
Subject: statueing: the horror story
today i brought the living statue to the streets of northampton, & tonight i hit the boxwine & wrote this.
the ‘you’ here isn’t you, but i thought i’d share it, if purely for statue-value.
eez it crrrap ?
i have blisters on my fingers from trying too hard. i have circles under my eyes from the nights i spend desperate for sleep, aching for more time, for less time, for your time. dreaming of drowning this town, unashamed and unafraid and i will unpeel the layers of my skin until there is nothing left to say and nothing left to wash away. my past lives run down my face, mascara-style. unsettled, unprepared. red with decadence and deliberate violence. and i am running out of places to go where the squares of the sidewalk won’t whisper i loved you here, and here. i’m running out of room on my body to mark my stories: i loved you here, and here. i wore all black this morning and screamed at the traffic; everyone rushes by, even in this small town. so this afternoon i painted my face white and stood still on the sidewalk and dared them, defiantly, silently, to stop too. and i love the ones who do, and i mark my time with their disbelief, with their dollars and dimes. we are learning by example. we are lying by default. there is defeat. there is an end. this is not my city. but when the sun sets, i still believe in absolution through cold cream, i still believe in the comfort of warm water and a washcloth. but at night, despite my scenes of sidewalk seduction, i still believe i loved you here, and here.
my favorite picture of becca. not sure who took it.
it’s of her taking a break from doing her living statue.
it’s the cigarette that kills me.
she was so beautiful and so brave and so very herself.
RIP our becca darling.
writer, reader, thinker, liver, do-er. feeler.
i’ll keep your soul. someday i’ll set it on fire, where the music is loud and beautiful and the people are singing and crying and dancing….and and and i love you, darling girl.
wherever you are, i hope there is music.
i hope there is music the likes of which you’ve never heard before, music you wish desperately you could just share with us, just for a millisecond….
…music we’ll just have to wait for.
we love you, becca.