photo by kelly davidson
this is a blog that i’ve wanted to write for ages.
(warning: if you’re in new york and you get this before showtime, head to see the pink dots tonight at le poisson rouge. tickets here/prolly at the door. ok? ok.)
and it’s long. if i’ve told parts of this story before, forgive me. i know i have.
now i connect the dots.
and sort of like the robert smith blog, it’s been brewing for years, and i suppose this is the time….in fact, this is SO the time that’s its not even fucking funny.
re: life? my mac is back from the shop.
i have over 1600 emails to look at. how exciting! my iphone has been extracted from its risotto sock and seems to be fully fucntional, aside from occasionally bleeping and blinking its lights randomly and helplessly…as if to remind me how i’ve Wronged It by dropping into a toilet bowl, and to perhaps serve as a constant reminder that electronics, like we humans, are highly resilient but fundamentally insecure.
tonight is the LAST night of “cabaret”….it went fast.
here’s me & all the sexy-as-fuck kit kat klub dancers during intermission last night….
…and now i’m focusing on practicing the dresden dolls songs with brian, which has been going incredibly fucking well. here’s us the other day, after playing through the entirety of both records:
photo by kelly davidson
wednesday, the last late-night cabaret was the cherry on the cake of them all, with ronald reagan (boston’s premiere 80’s saxophone duo) KILLING IT and juan son transfixing the audience in a way i’ve never quite seen happen before. it was magic.
here’s ronald reagan, rocking the house:
the dolls? it’s almost uncanny how little work it is and how naturally everything has hibernated. brian and i have most of these songs in our physical motor memory so hardwired that we’ve played them through the first time flawlessly, looked at each other, and said….”well, yep. that’s how that one goes.”
some need more practice than others…the songs from “yes, virginia” aren’t as hard-wired as the first album, but even those came flooding back easily. i’m glad i never wrote a complicated song (at least to me). this shit is like riding a bike. and as we play and look at each other, there’s a different energy than was ever there in the beginning…the undercurrent of how these songs have lives of their own already, their own stories out there in the world in people’s lives and histories, and now we’re merely servants…conduits connecting something musical to something bigger than ourselves. it’s beautiful and weird and hard to put into words.
also beautiful and weird and hard to put into words is how i feel about my favorite band.
the dots. the legendary, pink, dots.
some of you may have noticed that they’re going to be our special and honorary opener on halloween night in NYC (the show’s long been sold out), and the symbolism is almost more than i can handle. so i will tell.
when i was 14 or 15, my favorite band was the cure. the cure were a huge, mythical, untouchable and unknowable force. we’ve discussed.
and right around the time i turned 16, i fell in love (with a person, not a band) for the first time. with jason.
jason was from germany, he’d grown up with an american father and a german mother in berlin, and he’d landed, like a stranger from a teutonic planet, in the quaint suburbs of lexington massachusetts for at least one purpose: to change the way i perceived music.
jason was a genuine audiophile. music kept him sane and fed him….he was broke most of the time, and in my memory, he bought music instead of food. he collected rarities and vinyl and bootlegs and had a love and respect of music that i’d never encountered before. i considered my oh-so-edgy depeche mode, yaz, and cure records progressive – given than most everybody in my high school was listening to new kids on the block and if they were the alternative types they had a little REM sprinkled into their collections. jason had nothing to do with this world of easily-accessible music…his world was filled with bands i’d never heard of (but started dubbing onto tape and hunting down in used record stores like a woman possessed): coil, current 93, swans, einstuerzende neubauten, death in june…but his most prized and beloved band was the legendary pink dots. and once i was led by the hand into the strange, mythical cellar-garden of this band, i wanted to lock myself in and never leave.
robert smith spoke to me, but this was different. edward ka-spel didn’t just speak; he whispered and screamed to me in his heavy english accent, pleaded for me to understand him on a bed of strange and fascinating music…his voice and his lyrics were like something that had been erased from my memory but returned in a gift-package of songs that only he could pen. he created an entire alternate world and gave his listeners a key. entering that world became a sort of salvation for me, a sonic hiding place and escape hatch that reminded me that i was not alone in my strange dreams and angers. edward sang from the core of his heart and i wanted to lap up every line, every word, every utterance. he performed barefoot and draped like some kind of lost prophet, with his face painted white and covered in black-painted cracks (he often referred to himself as The China Doll) and his partner in crime, the silverman, who spent the early days of the band performing at a bank of keyboards covered in silver paint. the other rotating member of the band had stage names like Patrick Q Paganini and Stret Majest Alarm.
these were my people.
they had strange symbols and trick scavenger hunts to be decoded by candlenight at night while i sat in my room, sneaking cigarettes out of the roof and making mixtapes.
their albums pleaded SING WHILE YOU MAY on the hidden liner notes. i copied their logo (a trident) onto my leather jacket, and doodled it endlessly into my notebooks.
here’s one i found, hilariously drawn on the same page where i taped the proof of my graduation photo:
edward made speeches like this from stage, over a bed of music supplied by the band, who veered into space jams of epic proportions.
”I want to believe in the nobility of the human spirit.
I want to believe that mankind is essentially good and that the horror I see and the horrors I hear about are simply the last crisis of a dying spectre that has haunted our fragile globe for just to long.
I want to believe that we are about to peel off the mask with which this spiteful god has been frightening us.
I want to believe that we will not dance on his defeated rotting body for that would grant him victory in death.
I want to believe that we will peel away the masks with which we frighten each other.
I want to believe that no new spectre will replace the one that died and that we can stand alone and respect one another.
love one another.
respect and cherish life in all its shapes and sizes while continuing to evolve.
I want to believe that mankind will never be too arrogant to abandon it’s quest for the ultimate answer.
I want to believe that even I could answer this question.
I want to believe all of these things?
But you caught me at a bad moment…and I can’t.”
(from “a velvet resurrection”…the song was often improvised live and turned into a longer and even more inspirational and depressing sermon, here’s a clip of a good one:
it’s had only 300 hits on youtube. shame. it needs more.)
this made sense to me.
i made fan art.
here’s a pencil drawing i did of edward in my journal in high school:
edward sang about the theater of life and love and pain, about the hurt, about the terribleness of humans, about nonsense, about childhood, about the end of the world, he sang in surrealist images that made some of the songs sound like escher and dali paintings, his words dripped meaningless meaning, his voice was that of someone cursed, cursed with intelligence and more, cursed with a crippling capacity to feel.
the music was part prog, part synth-blap, part classical mash-up, and every song seemed to have been beamed in from a different spaceship. some of the songs sounded like fragments of lost soundtracks to dark surreal circus films i’d wish i’d seen, with winding stories and recurring characters spreading across years of albums (who was lisa? why was she showing up in all these songs? what was this tower he kept talking about? why is he singing about all these hotels? and singing in complete gibberish language that sounded like a cross between dutch and swahili? these questions would never be answered). and my collections grew…it was dawn of the CD era, so many of my albums were on vinyl, but my dots CD collection grew rapidly. they’d already released a dozen or more albums when i got into them…i caught up slowly and as my allowance allowed, and i dubbed onto tape what i couldn’t afford from jason’s collection.
here’s the dots-only portion of my CD collection:
i walked with my walkman to and from school and at all other times, listening to and learning the songs by heart, feeling comforted and making up movies in my head. some of these movies would even come true, later. but in truth, the music became my own personal soundtrack, and i loved that barely anybody i knew had ever heard of this band. they were completely underground, and therefore special, holy, untouched by the soiled hands of others, and i could take their music on my knees as a private sacrament in the happy fuck-off-all-y’all isolation of my teenage years.
when i was 16, jason took me to my first small rock club show to see the dots. it was at a place called axis in boston (long gone, but not before the dolls played there, years later…some of you may have seen us there on new years of 2004) and it probably fit 350 people. jason was 4 or 5 years older than me and a veteran club-goer, i’d barely stepped foot inside a place like this. jason hung back by the bar and i positioned myself as close to the stage as possible, waiting to see my heros.
the night changed my life. the only shows i’d seen before this were shows in enormo-domes and giant ampitheaters. this was different. this was a man whose music i worshipped singing FIVE FEET FROM MY HEAD. once, during the set, edward looked right at me. he was singing a line about a butterfly and he reached his hand out to touch my head and flickered his fingers up into the space, miming the fragile little creature as if it had taken flight out of my hair (and i don’t remember the song, but knowing the dots, the poor creature was probably on its way to a costume party at an garbage-gilded hotel in the ruins of the apocalypse, where it would be turned into a garnish on a giant wedding cake made from the flesh of innocent children).
after the show was over, edward was signing CDs. jason had met him before, at shows back in his native germany. i didn’t really understand it then, but they were (and still are) a struggling Band on the Eternal Road. they signed pretty much every night and maintained a close connection with their fans. i stood in line, terrified and thrilled, and thought about what to say – wondering if i could possibly put my profound emotions into words.
when my turn came, i walked up to edward and i looked him straight in the eye (oh, those loving, tired, beautiful eyes) and after our initial hello-hello pleasantries, told him (i remember this to the word, because i practiced it in my head over and over): “someday i want to write music that is as true as yours”. and he said something kind, and off i trotted, fulfilled that i had actually met my icon.
by the way, casey is living next door. she came over the other night because her apartment had gotten overrun by stoned people and i was listening to one of my pink dots records. she asked what i was listening to. i told her. we got into a long discussion about drugs. i’ve done a lot of drugs, or at least i did when i was a teenager. she’s done almost none.
when i told her that i was a major stoner in high school, she cocked her head and said “was that when you were into this band?”
i’ll admit. it’s slightly stoner music. maybe. i never thought of it that way.
a year or so after that, my senior year of high school, i gathered a group of 5 actors and created a stage show to one of my favorite pink dots records, “asylum”. it was the third significant stage-play i’d written/directed, and the high school drama teacher (and my theater mentor steven bogart – remember him? he just directed me in “cabaret”) was so impressed by the show that he chose us to represent the school in a state-wide theater competition. if you’re wondering what the play was like, imagine The Wall as a stage play, set in an insane asylum with no dialogue. it was Out There. it was disqualified from the competition for being Too Weird. pressing on, we took the play to the middle east nightclub in boston and performed if there on a bill with 3 local bands.
the dots had an online message/bulletin board system (BBS – remember those?) called Cloud Zero. this was back in 1993, the internet was just gasping its weird invasion into our homes and minds. and when i first created an email account on AOL, the only emails that arrived in my inbox were group-wide notifications from other legendary pink dots fans around the globe – and many of them were from boston, since the board had been founded by a guy names alan ezust who lived in cambridge. jon whitney (who would generously go on to host the dresden dolls first website on his now-legendary music site brainwashed.com) was another ally, and sandy charon – who was a DJ on the way-out-there boston college radio station WZBC – was another. all three of these people became my actual friends through our love of the dots, and they all, in their own ways, turned me onto other music and art (sandy even drove me up to vermont to see bread and puppet, a theater experience that left me changed).
when i was about 19, and a freshman in college, the dots came back. they needed a place to crash (they always needed a place to crash – and often stayed with fans if they could, to save money. sound familiar?). jason communicated with them and somehow i convinced them that staying at my parent’s suburban house would be perfect. my mother (bless her) said yes. it was halloween weekend. i drove home from college, met up with jason, went to the band’s show and they followed us back to my folks’ house about an hour outside the city and we spread the band among various rooms in my parents Dear Old House (except for niels the horn player – he wanted to sleep in the camper to guard the gear. i tried to convince him that the incidence of theft in the woods of lexington massachusetts was on par with the incidence of sunstroke in a bunker, but he ignored me). i could not believe the legendary pink dots were sleeping in my house.
i may be getting the chronology wrong and this may have been another tour, but around that time, everybody met up at alan ezust’s house one night after or before the dots were playing in boston. i’d still barely exchanged many words with edward, and i was still some combination of starstruck and dumbfounded just being around him and the other members of the band.
i had made a demo tape of my earliest songs and i’d given copies of it to alan and jon, my friends from the Cloud Zero board. and it was at this gaethering at alan’s house, with assorted folks sitting around the living room, when alan said to edward: “do you know amanda’s a songwriter? you should listen to her demo tape. i have it here.” whether it was out of sheer politeness or actual interest, edward said yes, so alan went off to hunt for the tape. it was the most terrifying moment of my life. i’d made rough solo-piano recordings of “bad habit”, “slide”, and a few other songs and the whole living room of folks sat there and listened for about fifteen minutes. i held my breath the entire time.
i didn’t know if my music was good or not, back then. i just knew it made sense to me. but i was completely insecure.
the party clinked back into action and edward went out onto alan’s front steps to smoke a cigarette.
i followed him out. we sat there, smoking. he turned to me and said: “you know, amanda, i listen to a lot of crap. people are giving us tapes all the time. and you’re really, really actually good. your songs are good. i hope you’re actually going to do something real with it.”
and with that simple statement falling out of the mouth of edward kaspel on alan’s steps, the path of my life changed. i’d been given some kind of cosmic permission to take the final plunge and dedicate myself full-time to being a musician and a writer….it was as if the fraud-fairy came by and tapped my head, rendering me Not Full Of Shit and given leave to go forth and prosper without fear. i floated along like a person in love for the first time, or on crack, for the next several days.
last night after “cabaret”, someone came up to me and said “i read your blog. and on behalf of all your blog readers, i want to thank you. you make me want to join some sort of revolution.” and i looked at him and said: “if you’re saying that, you’re already in the revolution.”
here’s a beautiful picture of edward performing live:
a couple years later, i was living in germany. long story, but suffice it to say that i followed my bleeding heart into a language lab and learned german in a matter of 10 months and then got on a plane to study at regensburg university in 1996. after my semester at regensburg was done and i’d put on a good 15 pounds in wurst and weissbier (no shit – i’ll try to post pictures from that period at some point), i moved to cologne to commence study at the university of bonn and simultaneously start an internship at a small experimental theater called the Horizont Theater (for y’all living in koln, es is neben/hinter der dom, und wenn es sich nicht viel verandert hat, die shows sind ganz gut. sag hallo von amanda die bloede amercianerin).
while i was living in cologne, i read in a local newspaper that the pink dots were about to play in a club somewhere in the city, and i counted the days where i could go commune. i was miserable in cologne, i was living in a flat with no heat or hot water and it was fucking freezing. i was drinking an absurd amount. it was dark times. the novelty and excitement of being in germany had worn off with the incoming winter weather, and i was more homesick than i think i understood. cologne offered up no solace and no friends. i felt completely alone, and i pretty much was. in regensburg i’d had a collection of friends and a boyfriend and people to drink and be merry with. in cologne all i had was an alcohol problem and a yearning for human connection. one night i drank too much alone in my apartment and decided it would be a great idea to experiment with the bottle of zoloft i’d brought along from college, where it had been prescribed to me by a psychiatrist who spent about 35 minutes with me, listening to me cry about how i felt confused by life. that’s a topic for yet another blog. the experiment left me with a sore taste in my mouth and a neck caught in electric-shock wet cotton spasm.
that’s where i was at when i went to see the dots show. i needed them. i got drunk, i’m sure, and somehow i wound up helping at the merchandise table, because i spoke german. and somewhere in the course of the evening the band told me that i should hop in the tour van and come on tour with them and Do Merch for the tour. they didn’t have a dedicated merch person. now that i Speak Merch i can see what was going on: they used the venue person and send a Band Delegate to the merch table after the show to help out the fans and ask questions about the releases that the venue was wholly unqualified to answer. i, obviously, being a complete pink dots completionist, could answer any answer under the sun about any of the records – in german, no less – and was an obvious asset to the touring party. i had a huge essay due for school (it was a 15-page beast about the collage work of john heartfield – IN GERMAN).
but i found myself mouthing the words ARE YOU SERIOUS YES OF COURSE I’LL COME to the band and the next thing i knew i wasn’t taking the u-bahn home to zuelpicherplatz, i was getting in a fucking european campervan and driving to some german city with my favorite band. i was in heaven.
we toured to a few random german cities and we ended the tour in denmark. i sat behind the merch table and sold the CDs. those days are a blur of drunken disbelief, but i do have one flashbulb memory. there was a night somewhere (maybe berlin?) when an uber-goth german guy started hitting on me. i’d had so much to drink that i was barely intelligible. ( a warning to those heading onto the Road Of Rock: the drinks are free. beware.) he was a sort of strange german goth…highly coiffed, angry, and i remember he reeked of cologne (the drakkar, not the city). i was making out with him (of it memory serves correctly, he was just gnawing at my face) when edward drfited by me and said ” i don’t trust that guy”. i, of course, was too drunk to not trust anybody. in my drunken stupor, everybody looked like mr. rogers.
beside the point.
it all blurs together on this particular night. it was the night when i committed a cardinal sin, and i have to come clean about it because it’s haunted me for years.
i was standing at the merch table after the show, drunk as fuck, and (i have a hard time writing this)….i stole five CDs. i remember thinking in my drunken haze THEY’LL NEVER NOTICE THEY HAVE SO MANY OF THEM but by the time the next day came around, i was so dripping with fear and shame that i couldn’t confess.
i kept the CDs. the irony is that the band probably would have happily given me anything i’d asked for…but i was drunk and lost and dumb and i didn’t understand that at the time; i just felt like a thief. i remember watching phil (aka the silverman) counting out boxes of CDs the next day in the european campervan and thinking: the game is up. the money i collected won’t match the sales. they’re going to leave me on the autobahn. i should confess.
i sat, hungover, in the campervan, looking at my library-loaned book of john heartfield’s anti-nazi collages and writing my essay.
a few days later, when i was leaving the tour after the show in copenhagen, phil (aka the silverman) tried to pay me for selling their merch. i was shocked. THEY wanted to pay ME? they’d ferried me away in a rock n roll vehicle from my humble drunken stupor in cologne and shown me an entire universe of love. and what had i done? a few hours of german-speaking and CD-venind. and stolen from them.
i flatly refused. he pressed a handful of marks into my hand saying “we really want you to have this, you’ve helped us” and i refused “no no no no you don’t understand what you’ve done for me”. and i don’t even remember who won in the end (probably them, i was poor and he was insistent) but i hold those memories to me, so closely, to this very day.
here i am, a musician begging and pleading to her fanbase to act out of faith and donate.
i’ve hired a lot of random merch people. i’ve trusted countless human beings, night after night, to guard my merchandise and take money for it, and scribble down sales on a napkin.
i trust everybody, implicitly. like they did. or did they? i have no idea how much money (cash or otherwise) has walked away from my business and the dresden dolls business, lifted from those who were drunk and young (or worse: old, sober, and sleazy, or even worse: young, sober, and sleazy) but i know i don’t care about that as much as i care about not wanting to eyeball the wolds suspiciously. this gets me in trouble all the time. i may be clever, but running a business is not my forte.
here’s the tattoo i told myself i would design and put on hold for 5 years when i was 21.
it’s the symbol of the legendary pink dots with my scottish clan motto (in latin: “fortune aids the daring”) written in the handwriting of my mentor anthony, my latin teacher and mentor dr. fiveash, and my stepfather, john.
i waited five years. i decided i didn’t need the tattoo and i could carry the message inside. but i keep the drawing up at my desk at all times.
sometimes i wonder when i changed.
i still sometimes steal toilet paper from venues.
maybe i haven’t changed. maybe it’s just a matter of degree.
bravery or stupidity? such a fine line.
i stray from the topic – that was my confession, now back to the story.
i continued to be obsessed with the dots through the rest of college and of course (like all the other musical obsessions i had) they faded into the background when i became a working “adult” trying to make ends meet and kickstarting my own music career and my own band…a full-time battle that left very little room in my brain.
i stayed in touch with edward over email throughout the years and always made a point of seeing them when and where i could, and i invited them to come be the dolls’ special guests at our Roundhouse DVD-shooting in london. they couldn’t come in full formation, but those who own the DVD know that edward ka-spel & the silverman (aka phil) played as a duo and gave a beautiful little interview on the extras. they also opened up for us in hamburg (the dots are well-known in germany – they have more going on in some parts of europe than anywhere in the states) and brian and i remember that show (at a weird club called uebel & gefaerlich) as one of the best dolls shows of all time.
there’s something i only see looking back. some things only come with perspective, i suppose.
they changed my view of music and community, with their commitment to touring their strange brand of songs, their commitment to connecting with their fans as friends…as family…to blazing a trail of This Is What We Do Join Our Circus mentality. i watched and learned, and did. i’ll be forever indebted to them, and i needed to say my piece.
whether or not you ever love their music is irrelevant. i needed to pay homage to Whence I Came. and They Are It.
here’s a picture of me & the band when they stayed at my house in boston, probably in around 2001:
now, comrades, they are coming to play on halloween, the day of our bandiversary.
if you see me watching from a hiding place in the venue, as i will be, probably with a glowing look of love and awe on my face, please don’t interrupt me to tell me how much you love them.
just love them. maybe hold my hand. that’s all.
and if you’re not in new york….you can still go and see for yourself.
they’re on an american tour right now, which is how we managed to talk them into it, here are the rest of the dates. go see them if you can.
DATES (from http://legendarypinkdots.org/tour)
TONIGHT!!! 29 Oct 2010 New York, NY Le Poisson Rouge
31 Oct 2010 New York, NY Irving Plaza: with The Dresden Dolls – SOLD OUT
1 Nov 2010 Philadelphia, PA The M Room
2 Nov 2010 Pittsburgh, PA Thunderbird Cafe
3 Nov 2010 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506
4 Nov 2010 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade
5 Nov 2010 Orlando, FL The Plaza Theatre
6 Nov 2010 Tampa, FL Orpheum
9 Nov 2010 Dallas, TX House of Blues
10 Nov 2010 Austin, TX Elysium
14 Nov 2010 Phoenix, AZ The Rhythm Room
15 Nov 2010 San Diego, CA The Casbah
16 Nov 2010 Los Angeles, CA EchoPlex
17 Nov 2010 Hermosa Beach, CA Saint Rocke
18 Nov 2010 Costa Mesa, CA Detroit Bar
19 Nov 2010 San Francisco, CA Cafe Du Nord
20 Nov 2010 San Francisco, CA Cafe Du Nord
22 Nov 2010 Portland, OR Doug Fir Lounge
buy their merchandise. tell them i sent you. bring your friends. support them. they will be signing after all their shows. tell them i sent you.
….and for those curious about their music but overwhelmed by the number of choices (they’ve put out over 50 releases, probably more, if you count all the side projects), here’s amanda’s guide to where to start.
my favorite albums, and the ones i’d start with in no particular order, are:
* any day now
* the maria dimension
followed closely by:
* the golden age
* the crushed velvet apocolypse
* the legendary pink box (a two-disc set).
if you’re into more minimal, synth-y blipp-y stuff, you’ll like the eighties records (i love these):
* the tower
* island of jewels
this one has two of my favorite dots songs ever (“the lovers” parts I and II”), but the rest of it is a little too proggy for my taste:
* the lovers
and if you’re into more organic sounds, you’ll probably like the later stuff:
* from here you’ll watch the world go by
* nine lives to wonder
* shadow weaver & malachai
…and anything else that’s come out in the last 6 or 7 years.
edwards solo stuff is incredible, and i’d recommend this as a must have:
* down in the city of heartbreak and needles
* lyvv china doll
is also amazing and one of my favorites from the old school.
i’ve been listening to the new dots CD (it’s called “seconds late for the brighton line”) and it’s just beautiful.
i’m assuming you can buy it at the halloween show if you’re coming, otherwise, check it out online by clicking on the cover:
…and that’s that.
if you just want a taste, i put together a personal playlist of my favorite dots songs. we’re uploading it now and will post a link on twitter when you can download it and have a little #LOFNOTCLTTLPD party…
and there you have it. welcome to my favorite band.
p.s. since writing this blog yesterday (with the intention of putting it up before they played in cambridge), i have an update. i went last night to see them (only catching the last 5 minutes of their set, after i raced from “cabaret”).
i saw edward & phil (photo below by the third touring DOT, the VERY TALL guitarist erik). sandy was at the show. so were a lot of old friends….time marches on.
i took a deep breath and finally confessed to stealing their CDs. they forgave me.
(but edward did creep over to me at their merch table and warn their current merch guy to Watch Out For Me. I’ll probably never live it down. ONWARDS with the bucket list.)