I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you….

-Walt Whitman “Song of Myself”


photo by allan amato, machete care of erin routson.

my dear comrades,

it is with great, great joy that i give you this latest Thing.
this song is sort of the opposite of my release a few weeks ago (“a mother’s confession”) – i’d rather you read the story and then listen to the song. it’ll make more sense that way. baths, again, are always recommended, as is bath salt, wine, tea, and a hanky. a small warning: this song is much…louder. please wear headphones or listen on a pair of separated stereo speakers if possible. a lot will be lost if you listen on laptop speakers.









first of all: this is the 11th Thing (and fourth song) that i’m releasing on the patreon, and it’s been *exactly a year* since the patreon launched (that wasn’t planned, and i just realized because someone tweeted me…march 9th! can you believe it? ONE YEAR.)

i often take things for granted, but the patreon has now shown itself to be not only a clever and sustainable way to pay for what i was already doing. it’s literally shaping my life, the course of my days, it’s making possible the fantasy i always had: that i could get inspired by a crowd, make art at my own pace, work without a label and still get paid, and not have to compromise anything. i did it. we did it. that time has come, it’s now.

bigger on the inside” (Patreon Thing #1) and “the thing about things” (Patreon Thing #3) felt like simple songs with heavy meaning, they were both recorded for solo voice and ukulele with a minimal budget but a lot of emotion.

this song is the first full-scale band-and-strings production i’m putting out using the patreon, and the style of songwriting and production match the best of the best songs on “who killed amanda palmer” and “theatre is evil”. simply put: i’m putting my real shit out here, i’m not hoarding it for some later moment when a label might take it to some fictional higher place. this is the higher place.

and now, i’d like to tell you the story of this song.

many of you (especially if you follow my blog here and have read “the art of asking”) are already acquainted with anthony (the elder, not my son).

anthony was my best friend in the world.

instead of repeating here what i’ve already done, i’ll quote from a relevant passage in “the art of asking”:

Anthony made me feel real.

He was born in 1948, and he regaled me with tales from the ‘60s that made my heart ache to turn back the clock and live in a time when everybody hitchhiked and smoked hash while listening to Joni Mitchell on crackly vinyl records. Anthony’s stories drew pictures in my own teenage mind of wild, vital human beings creating a new reality in an upheaved world, dodging a draft, running around with feathers in their hair and knives in their boots, tearing down the system and trying to score as many girls, drugs, and adventures as they could. I was jealous.

Anthony was raised in a big Italian-American family who’d made their fortune in the liquor and real estate business. The combination of his calm, Buddhist approach to life (he taught and introduced me to yoga, meditation, and the general concept of mindfulness) and the facts that he had a black belt in karate, would arm me with pepper spray before I went on long trips alone, and displayed an arsenal of exotic self-defense weapons in the study above the office where he saw his patients, never struck me as strange.

In my Hollywood biopic, he’d be Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid,” but as played by Robert DeNiro. In an over-dramatic teenage flashback scene, I would confide in him that I’d been raped by a boy from the high school. He would then narrow his eyes, make an Italian gesture in which he bit his folded tongue in half while wrinkling his nose and say:

I’m going to find that guy and beat him to a pulp…
then he’d put his hands in yoga prayer position over his heart, bow his head and calmly add…with compassion.

We shared our stories on the phone, in long letters, sometimes typewritten, sometimes handwritten, and eventually (once it existed) over email. Whenever we could, we connected in person, on long walks, over food, over coffee.

We made up absurd, fictional skits and scenarios about my lovers, our neighbors, our families, ourselves. One of the skits involved a particularly skinny and effeminate boyfriend of mine hitchhiking a ride on an eighteen-wheel truck to visit me in college and getting forcibly ejected from the passenger seat when the truck-driver realized he wasn’t a girl, then being blown into the breeze by the blast of tail-pipe exhaust as the truck pulled away, and being picked up by a passing breeze for a few hundred miles and floating through the metal grate above my basement dorm window. We would tack on details of these skits over dozens of phone calls, making up absurd new characters, cracking each other up. We were ridiculous.

But as I got older, he shared more of the real things. Not just the entertaining stories, but the sad ones. The mean ones. The embarrassing ones. The scary ones. He told me his whole life, and I told him mine.

Anthony was also one of my patrons. He gifted me books on Buddhism and cans of mace. Occasionally, when he knew I was broke, he’d include a crisp $100 bill in a letter. When I was just out of college, surviving from statue-paycheck to stripper-paycheck, making my living in one- dollar bills, Anthony would cover my rent if I were tight on cash. I was once wiped out by a $300- dollar speeding ticket I got on the Massachusetts Turnpike, racing to a gig as an artist’s model at a local art college. I had $250 in my bank account and my $350 rent was due. I borrowed the money from Anthony.

I swear I’ll pay you back, I promised. I know you will, he answered

We used to talk about what would happen if he died. He’s more than twenty-five years older than me, and I worried about it. I once asked him, while we were lying on the couches of his study, what I should say at his funeral, since I’d probably have to say something.

He gave this some thought. He said he’d like me to walk up to the front of the wake or memorial or whatever, carrying a stick.
What kind of stick?

Whatever kind of stick, he said. You know, a branch, a stick. A big one. One you can hold and everyone can see.
So you mean, like, a NATURAL stick. Not like … a martial arts stick. You mean like a…. WHATEVER kind of stick. he said, sounding annoyed. A stick from a tree. An ALL-PURPOSE stick. I’m trying to tell you something important here.

Okay. I said, breathing out. You’re dead, I’m at the funeral. What do I do with the stick?
Don’t say anything, he told me. Just hold that sucker up in the air, break it in half, and throw it on the floor.

Everything breaks.

everything broke.

anthony died, in our arms, in the arms of all his beloveds, when i was seven months pregnant with his namesake.
neil held me and my belly, i held anthony. nothing in my life had felt quite that big, ever.

we did get to tell him, before we took him home from the hospital to die in peace, that we were naming the baby after him.

he said “you don’t have to do that”.

it was the last thing he said to me.

i’m looking at the baby right now. he’s asleep. little anthony. little ash.

there’s a thunderstorm, lightning, and it’s slamming rain down on thor’s beautiful handmade house, where i’m staying in austin tonight, alone.
it’s just me, the baby, four dogs, and eleven cats. everyone is alarmed by the sounds and the blasts of light.
the old gods are with us.

anthony is ash now. they cremated him, they split him him into twenty plastic boxes. i have two of them, in a closet in boston next to my meditation cushion and the bottle of holy water given to me by a monk when i was in china. the two boxes are tall and plastic and blank-white. two twin towers, filled with the remains of the person i loved most.

maybe i’ll give a box of ash to ash.

it makes me incredibly sad, sadder than any sad i’ve ever felt, that they won’t meet.

and in a selfish way…it’s not even that they won’t meet.
it’s that anthony won’t get to see me be a mother.
he taught me so much of what i know about love, the core curriculum of human kindness and compassion.
and here i am, in my final exam, and he’s not here to grade me.


anthony always told me not to forget how flawed he was.

it was his greatest lesson to me, and the lesson that didn’t come until much later in our friendship, i don’t think i truly understood that part until i was in my thirties. and it was driven home, hard and painfully, while he went through cancer-times. he was such an asshole. the steroids, mostly, were the asshole. but my friend…where was my friend?

he used to say: a true friend is someone who loves you despite knowing you.

he wasn’t perfect. he was so imperfect. i knew that. but he was so honest about grappling with his imperfectness, and that was why i loved him so much. he fought, in his own flawed way, his own demons, out in an open field for everyone to see. he made no bones about that fact that he, like all of us, was totally. fucked. up. his fetishes, his OCD, his fear of flying on planes, his hatred of parties, his love of self-protection…it was all fodder for conversation over walks and groks. it was the thing, i think, that i loved most about when we would be us together. walking and talking about big, real things.

he writes a lot about his childhood in his two short story collections, lunatic heroes and beloved demons… it wasn’t a pretty place.

i’ll let him speak for himself in that realm, but suffice to say that he dealt with enough abuse to justify a pretty rough relationship with fear and self-protection, and he lived with that until the end, until the cancer won the final round and knocked him out, and he just couldn’t get up anymore.

he had so many knives. dozens of them. i even started collecting knives for him when i traveled. exotic knives from asia, morocco. little knives from switzerland. it was our joke. he’d armed me with mace as a teenager. now i was paying him back. i asked nivi, our mutual friend, to go into anthony’s study today and take a picture of one of the knife-shelves. laura still hasn’t touched the contents of his study. here:


he told me for many years that he would leave the contents of the study to me, if he ever died. i didn’t like thinking about him dying.

he has no children.

all the books, the poetry, the jung and the jesus and the ramm dass and the statues of buddha, all the rosaries and rudraksha beads he prayed on every day for five years when he was a devotee of da free john, living a life of total sobriety with no alcohol or sugar or meat.

and all the knives and the rifles.

i love books.

i hate guns.
i hate knives.
i hate violence.

i love anthony.

we contain multitudes.

a hate sandwich with love bread.


and then anthony died.

i wrote this, one of the hardest blogs i’ve ever written:

about five months after anthony died, and two months after little anthony-and-ash-for-short was born, there was a memorial of sorts, a reading of anthony’s books held at a church in lexington. a bunch of friends were gathering to pay him homage by reading selections from his short story collections, and nicolas and i, who were both at his deathbed, were asked to come and play.

i’d never written an anthony song, and i knew this occasion needed one.
i’d already played my share of “hallelujah”s and “i will follow you into the dark”s for his two funeral-type-things and other peoples’ funerals and somber occasions.
anthony deserved his own song.

but i didn’t have one.
moreover, i had a baby, and i was exhausted and the thought of writing a song seemed sort of unthinkable. those parts of my brain just weren’t getting used.

i woke up the day before the memorial, alone in danny and taylor’s house in cambridge, where neil and i sometimes stay when we’re in boston.
(that’s right, i’ve taken couch-surfing to its ultimate extreme and EVEN WHEN I AM IN MY OWN CITY, WITH MY OWN APARTMENT, I STAY AT OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES).

it was an unusually warm day for november in cambridge, the day before the memorial – it was walkable weather, and there was a misty rain and a strange, strong wind blowing. nicolas wanted to get together and practice the song that we were going to play together (a sufjan stevens song, “for the widows in paradise for the fatherless in ypsilanti”) and i’d suggested he catch up with me during the day. i decided to walk to cafe pamplona, via harvard yard, where i figured i would sit with the baby and read.

i thought, as i walked the stroller over the brick streets, my heart swollen and happy because of the warm unseasonable wind, that anthony never got his song. i didn’t even know what song he didn’t get. something about his contradiction, probably. something about how he was everything to so many people and so flawed. something about his knives. something about a machete.

two blocks later, i realized what was happening. the song was already writing itself in my head.

it took the walk, the weather, and the expanse of free time. sometimes you have to make space for things to come. had i been with neil, i wouldn’t have written it. if i’d been cold and trying to get indoors, i wouldn’t have written it. this isn’t a prescription for a husband-less life in bali. but maybe there’s something to be said for being in motion when i write (i almost always am. the climate may be more agreeable to change than the marriage, and i’ll keep it all in mind as i plan my life to come.)

i decided to give it a go. i had a third of a song in my head. i was a block or two from harvard yard and the leaves were pouring down in swirls. i set the baby down on the grass and took out my notebook, and wrote the first lines. i took a picture of him. he looked beautiful, there in the yellow leaves.


nicolas came, and i played him the very start of my song. we practiced for the memorial.


…and the spell of writing was broken i went home to the cloud club.

neil was off in his own life in upstate new york, getting ready to do his own event and catching up on work.

i’d wanted him to come so badly, and now i’m so glad he didn’t, even though that sounds awful.

i kept the third-finished song in my head, i went home that night and before i knew it, it was late. it was midnight.

i don’t really write in the mornings. and i knew that i’d blown my chance. unless i decided to stay up into the night.
the baby was hanging out, quite cheerfully, in a suitcase, because i had no crib.


it was at this point that i gave myself what i’d call an enforced crossroads. a fictional ultimatum.

i was like: ok. you are going to have one of two lives. you are either going to be the person who stayed up and wrote the song, or you’re going to be the person who went to bed and didn’t write the song. you are either going to be a songwriter, or a boring fucking parent. which would you like?

once i did that to myself, it was curtains. i stayed up and i wrote the song, just to prove to my terrified parent-self that i could. i left the baby in the suitcase, and when he croaked and cried and complained too much, i snuggled him into a wrap against my chest and kept writing. sometimes i had to stop and feed him. i stopped and fed him. then i kept writing. by four in the morning, i had a song.

the next night, i played it in its sloppy first-draft form, on a church piano, at anthony’s memorial for about a hundred people. it was much slower.

then i let it be.

i didn’t even think about recording it.

it had served its purpose.

i had written something real, and i had done it with a baby, and so i was fine. i wasn’t going to die an artistic death.


about six weeks later, neil and i were in LA over christmas (in a rental, yes,where the baby fell off the changing-shelf

our baby ash-tony was now starting to flesh out as a small human being, and we’d had no help, no babysitters or nanny-types….just us taking care of a baby by ourselves for three and a half months.
neil was starting to go a little crazy. and i was starting to go a little crazy, though i was having a hard time admitting it.

after we’d had about twenty relatives over to our LA rental for christmas day, and the dishes were piled up, we both started breaking. also, holidays.

jherek and his girlfriend mayumi came over to say hello and have a vegan eggnog, and we started talking about how we were. and just talking to jherek made me homesick for music, and for making, and for tour, and for being a musician.

i have a song, i said. it could probably sound great with strings.

we should do it, said jherek.

we should, i said, like, tomorrow. like right now.

jherek said: sure.

and i said, i mean it. let’s just get a band together and go into the studio. i have to make something and not just change a diaper and wash a dish or i am going to go mental and eat this couch and the people are going to come take me away.

and jherek said, sure. i’ll play bass and do the strings.

and the next day i texted ben folds, and ben folds said he’d play drums, and ben had a friend ryan who played guitar.
and i sent them all my shittily-recorded phone recording of the song that i made in my apartment the night before the memorial, and i told them to learn it but expect it to be much faster.
and we decided we’d tweak it in a rehearsal, and spend one day rehearsing and recording, that was it.
and a week later…we did it. we used the patreon budget, rented a bunch of gear, loaded into east west studio in LA, took four hours to learn and rehearse and arrange the song (ben and jherek and ryan all had great input and wrote their own parts), and about three hours to do a bunch of takes.

east west is a big studio and has several rooms. we were in the smallest room, where, historically, “california dreamin’” was recorded.
in the other two studios were john legend and michael buble. we felt very punk rock.

jaron and bebe:

me and my fate:


me and ben and baby (photo by jaron luksa)


jherek and ryan:

ash-duties were shared by mayumi, ben’s daughter gracie, and neil. neil took the last shift.



jherek stayed up until 3 am working on the string arrangement, i went home to rest my voice, and the next day we recorded strings and vocals at my old friend jaron luksa’s home studio.

the strings: aniela marie perry on cello, lauren elizabeth baba on viola, crystal brooke alforque on violin (photo by nicole lemberg):


making things work….

jaron’s mixing lair:


jherek’s sheet music:


strings and a jherek and a baby:




(all the above photos by nicole lemberg)

and that, as they say, was that.

jherek got to work mixing, and i got to work thinking about what kind of image might be appropriate for a cover.

a week later, at the crack of dawn, i found myself on the beach outside my cousins house in hermosa beach, holding a naked baby and crowdsourced machete (thanks to erin routson, who not only came at six a.m. with a machete but also held photo lights).


yes. it was cold.
the dress was brought by allan.
i was planning on being naked, but he thought i might want it just in case.
the naked photos didn’t quite work.
but the dress photos did. the dress was designed by Rachel Freire!!

allan amato, the photographer (who has to be commended on his ability to think that clearly at 6 am), also came to the studio sessions with olga nunes, and together they captured a bunch of documentary footage of the song-making, which i’ll post here tomorrow, after which point it will live forever on this page.

and that, they say, was that.

i wanted to put the song out right way, but then, while we were working on the mix, david bowie died, so we switched our attention to the covers of his songs.
and now, fatefully and accidentally chosen, it’s coming out exactly one year, to the day, after i launched the patreon.
it doesn’t feel like a coincidence.
none of it does.

i miss my friend.

i miss him so much.

everything changes, everything breaks, everything slowly gets put back together.


i did break a stick, by the way.
two sticks, actually.
one for each funeral.

i burned one of them, and one i kept.
it’s already a new relic in my collection of Things.

he always told me not to get attached to Things.



….Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

-Walt, as often quoted to me, by Anthony.



the end.


i love you all so much.
thank you for listening. thanks for being my patrons and making this possible.
this one wouldn’t have happened without you. the song, yes. the recording… no. not like this.

Please, please wear headphones, there’s panning.

the band:
amanda palmer – piano and vocals
jherek bischoff – electric bass, string arrangement, mixing & mastering engineer, bad-ass
ben folds – drums, spiritual editor
ryan lerman – electric guitar
aniela marie perry –  cello
lauren elizabeth baba –  viola
crystal brooke alforque –  violin

sound engineers:
chris kahn at eastwest studio LA (band)
jaron luksa at the rattle room (vocals and strings)

thanks to mayumi heider for cat-herding, to mayumi, risa luksa, and gracie folds for childcare, to allan and olga for photo and video, to nicole for photos at jaron’s, and to erin….for a machete.




i have never liked the box of knives
you said was a paradox because you’re kind
but withstood a childhood that robbed you blind
of love that was safe and so you learned to fight

what do i do with this stuff?
it seems like yesterday i called you up
i had a terrible case of the past
i didn’t know how to get it off
i didn’t know how to get it off

and you took
your machete
and you sliced through the vines that wrapped around me
and you said
i don’t know what i’m doing
so i’ll just keep on cutting
it’s worth a little blood to get your arms free

i have never liked the box of knives
you said was a paradox because you’re kind
but withstood a childhood that robbed you blind
of love that was safe and so you learned to fight

what do i do with this stuff?
it seems like yesterday i was in love
i kept of covering the soft parts up
i didn’t know how to get them off
i didn’t know how to get them off

and you took your machete
and you hacked through the woods in the surrounding
and you said
i don’t know where i’m going
i just know that i’m heading from
the dead things piling up behind me

and you took
your machete
and you carved out a path to my chest and you said see
there’s nothing not worth keeping
you’ve felt so many beatings
nothing’s going to work if you believe me
nothing’s going to work if you believe me

i have never liked the box of knives
you said was a paradox because you’re kind
but withstood a childhood that robbed you blind
of love that was safe and so you learned to fight

i have never liked the box of knives
i took it to the oceanside the day you died
i stood out on the dock
no matter how hard i tried
i couldn’t drop them in
and i collapsed and cried:

what do i do with this stuff?
it seems like yesterday you were alive
and it’s as if you never really died
and it’s as if you never really died.

and you took
your machete
and you said boo guess who
but seriously, beauty
you said
see ?
you get the drill now don’t you
it’s not a will or won’t
you can’t keep making symbols out of nothing

so i took your machete
and i sliced off your head and you laughed
and you said see
it’s just like anti matter
it’s dumbo’s magic feather
you don’t need me here to cut you
you don’t need me here to cut you
you don’t need me here to cut you
you don’t need me here to cut you




p.s. – if you are a patron you will have received an email with a link to download the song in your choice of MP3 or WAV. all current & future patrons will also have access to a link to the poster which is already selling fast!

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