imagine all the panic (!)
This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.
my body is heaving a kind of relief that it’s never known before.
it’s so hard to relate to anyone, even those who know me well, the combination of good and bad and evil i’ve been whizzing through in the past five weeks. one minute, playing in front of vapid mallrats who are alternately ignoring us and screaming at us. seeing the look in brian’s face (he is, in my humble opinion, one of the top drummers of the century) after kids scream at him “YOU SUCK!!!!” after his heartwrenching drum solos. dressing rooms with no food, and sometimes no water, fluorescent lights, no trees, no quiet, no soundchecks, the haze of nothing to do in the middle of giant parking lots that stretch as far as the eye can see. squeeeeeeeling fourteen-year-old girls hanging around the tour buses all night, hoping to catch a glimpse of a panic member. trying to relate to the boys in the band, mostly not getting anywhere. the bus starting to feel like a cage.
the next minute, getting in a cab for Fuck The Back Row, into the arms of our fans, watching our little world growing slowly, as it does, step by step, friend through friend, word by mouth. being so exhausted i can barely stand. feeling the realness of a makeshift vaudeville theater dressing room instead of a corporate cubicle, laughing with the drag queens, watching all the beautiful art that people are making and bringing, wanting to spend more time with every person i meet, not wanting to go back to the bus. ever. feeling the difference between being on stage in front of three hundred people listening, slowly, versus being on stage in front of 3000 people chewing gum, blinking wildly and texting.
and mostly, moving too fast to feel anything. seriously. emotions just shutting down and assuming they’ll have time to manifest at some later date.
the panic tour did have it’s bright spots. the boys themselves continued to be gentlemen and sweethearts, and i got to know ryan (the guitarist and songwriter that i had over to the cloud club, see last long blog) a little better. i felt like i had something, anything, in common with him….he has an artist’s head, i said, he thinks in lyrics, he likes to wear wild make-up (but had never heard of adam ant?? i tried to rectify and gave him an adam ant mix, but who knows if that’ll do any good)…he must be from a similar planet. he grew on me. we sat down one night after a particularly harrowing show and i decided we’d fight fire with fire and start covering “imagine” by john lennon. so what do you think, when all this is going on? you’ve sold a million records, the girls scream your name….what the fuck is happening in your head? what’s going on? we talked about wsriting on the road, how it’s impossible. how there’s no mental space to get to the place where you can possibly articulate an idea. he looked at me and told me that he’d never talked to another artist about this before. there’s not that many of us, you know. you’re writing this, performing that, whatever. the struggles are the same. i close my eyes, i see myself in the same way. i wish i had someone to talk to who has been through the same thing. maybe ben folds will call up randomly.
ryan learned “imagine” and we played it on stage with us the next night, and instead of people throwing water bottles at us, i think they were just really confused. i was hoping for water bottles. you win some, you lose some. at any rate, any irony was lost. note to self: this crowd doesn’t yet “get” the irony thing. was it their age or their parents? brian and i would discuss this. will they learn to appreciate irony, at some later date? the answer at the end of the night was a pretty firm “no fucking way”. a lot of these kids were attending a concert for the first time. for many it was the second. their first concert? the polls revealed: britney spears. i’m dead serious. so we covered “hit me baby” nightly as well, with brendon from panic on vocal. irony lost, but what good fun!! if the tour had continued, we were going to work on “living on a prayer”. we tried to have fun. we did what we do. take lemons, make lemonade. take situation, make art.
two years ago, when we were touring europe and i was at my wits end, thinking that the band was going to break up, thinking that it was all over and that brian and I had had enough of each other for good, i found a bright spot in listening to avril lavigne’s new record and deciding to make a fake video out of the song “together”. you’ve seen the results (if you haven’t: www.dresdendolls.com/). it was truly cathartic. i don’t think anyone really believes me when i say that. having a project like that to throw myself into saved me. the song, with all it’s adolescent cheese and overproduction, gave me a wormhole back to 15-year-old self, the lonely confused one eating her lunch in the piano practice room.
this tour felt the same way. brian and i were getting along fine. we were bonded through our vehement frustration of a common enemy, the panic fans. we went out on stage every night ready for battle. but i turned to myself for a solution, and i foudn it in this: why not make a video with these guys? they’re here, they’re bored like we are, they’re hilarious. so we did. we decided to film a home-movie video of the two bands trying to kill each other, spy vs. spy style, and the results will be forthcoming. they were all excellent actors. the label nitpicked us until we couldn’t handle it anymore and the deal was broken. we aren’t making a “real” video for our next single. backstabber. what’s more real than this?, we keep asking. nothing.
a week before the tour ended, we got the call in seattle that ryan’s dad had suddenly died. his only close family. he was an only child and his mom was out of the picture. our hearts sank, we sat in the bus and all looked at each other at a loss for words.
they canceled two shows. we almost didn’t want to get the call that the shows were on, because we assumed that that would mean that ryan had been talked into coming back on tour when he should be at home, dealing. dealing with who, with what? ryan came back on tour after three days off, we finished up in california. the whole crew felt strange, their whole gang seemed out of sorts. no wonder. i took a long walk with ryan around the parking lot in anaheim. i felt like the whole world had been thrown at him, in all it’s shitty ugliness, and what could i say? better to say nothing. we walked, saying nothing and occasionally something. we started at the hooters billboard, hoisted 5 stories in the air to reach the passing traffic from the highway. we waled to the bud light billboard, hoisted 5 stories in the air to reach the passing traffic from the highway. do you have anyone real to talk to? i will. i’ll talk to you. when you’re ready. don’t lose me. i’m an ally. really. i hugged him and i went back to the bus, getting into my bunk with a heaviness i couldn’t describe.
back in my apartment, i face the classic bullshit of myself and my expectations of myself. ben folds called last night. he emailed a week ago, raving about our records and asking if we would share the stage with him at the sydney opera house when we’re down there in a few weeks. we attached like long lost siblings, the same sense of self-what, the same instrument hanging us up by it’s strings. we talked for two hours, ranting and raving and laughing with each other about this treadmill of sings and recordings and touring that we’ve been on. he’s an ally. he was in tomorrow, in adelaide. i was in today, in boston.
i wander into my bathroom and look at myself naked in the mirror. not bad, i say. you’re fine. go to bed.
i put on my kimono, pretend to be romantic, sit down at my computer, pour an apple martini and read the short story one my best friends sent me weeks ago, i havent had time to read it on the road with all the mental clutter. i close my eyes halfway through, drag my finger along the frame of the screen which is warm and silver, and think to myself: now, enjoy yourself. it’s quick. it’s over so quickly.
every time i come home i feel the same stressful triptych, quadrupltych, of feelings and prioritues all in conflict with each other. be with your people. move forward, write music and make things. catch up and stay on top of managing the band. rest. amanda. the night i got back i went out with pope and the house and we drank and smoked cigarettes until i came tumbling into my apartment with becca. i threw on one of my favorite king missile discs and sang at the top of my lungs to “as i walked through queens”. i still miss listening to music. i can’t do it on tour. then we lip-synched together, creating impromptu videos to the entirety of “under my skin”. thank god she knew most of the lyrics. becca had made a july mix for me and we listened to it but i was unable to pull myself away from the piano, playing along with every chord to every song by razorlight, the eels, the french kicks, and rilo kiley. becca! you’re too hip for your own good. they’re just chords!!! she can play piano the way i can’t, i’ve seen her sitting at the piano and reading music. show-off. she was in drunken awe of my ability to sit and play chords by ear. we’ll trade, i said. someday.
the sheet music book is finally out, it’s released about two weeks into the tour and my mother emails. she’s upset. she feels like i painted a not-so-flattering picture of her, my step-father and the beloved steinway i grew up on.
my mother was like any mother. how can i say this? i love her. but i saw her as a constant artistic obstacle as i was growing up. how could it be any other way? she gave birth to me, carried me in her womb for nine months. the buddha once said (i paraphrase) “we can carry our parents on our backs for our entire lives and never repay the debt”. i feel the same way. my mother and my step-father gave me all the tools, for better or worse, that made everything possible. i love them more than i can possibly ever articulate. the teenager in me will always scream in defiance. but i’ve seen the alternative, and they’re not on the dark side. they’re on the side of the force. and for that, i will be eternally indebted. my mother brought me to music. she fed me music, by making me sing, even when i didn’t want to. and it was that action that solidified the performer in me. mom, i know you’re reading this. i love you. thank you.
today i woke up at one o’clock in the afternoon and went straight out to shoot filler for our homemade video with pope and brian. we went over to the steinway dealership in boston to shoot some footage of brian trying to heave a grand piano out of the window (onto, poetically, ryan’s head). the guy who worked there offered to show us a secret, if we came back at 6. we went and shot on the beach, then went back, burning with curiosity. he let us in, the staff were gone. underneath the steinway store on boylston street, two stories undergroung, is the first concert hall in boston. it’s decrepit, water-damaged and pink, and utterly beautiful. filled with dead pianos and filing cabinets, and seated about four hundred in it’s day, including the balcony. poe and brian and i (and brianna and julian, who came along for the trip) wandered through it….doors leading into blackness, the floorboards ready to give out into the 6th circle of hell, mozart and beethoven and schubert all embalmed in the script at the top of the walls…and at the end of the theater, a little stage the size of a flatbed truck. why was the stage so small, i asked. piano concert hall, he answered, no need for more space. i know where we’re doing our next photoshoot.
two drops of peppermint oil in a bottle of water is fucking excellent. a massage thearpist showed me the way.
i only have another six days at home. i want to make love to my tea kettle, i want to go to the museum of science and see the bodies exhibit. i want to drink apple martinis and smoke cigarettes and read books by bill bryson. but i feel like i should learn a new german song for our upcoming tour, finish the ideas that are in my head for songs that planted themselves there on the road, deal with the business of life and keep my interview appointments, clean the closet, take my boots in for repair. who will fucking tell me what to do? i need someone to tell me what my priorites are, because i sure as hell don’t know. i want to go back to harvard square and stand there, painted white, for strangers to see. i bought my cambridge street perfomers’ permit, on a whim, the last time i was home. maybe i will. i miss myself.
i buy thom yorke’s new solo album, the eraser. and read his interview in spin magazine.
“so, mr. yorke, you seem upset about the fact that the world is ending, that we’re all about to die in a glorious combustion of greed and selfishness.”
i light another cigarette and keep typing.
while on tour, i listen incessantly to the kaiser chiefs’ record. it’s excellent workout music. especially on the elliptical machine.
i light another cigarette.