Sadness in memories, healing music and complicated compassion

Amanda Palmer – Bataclan, Paris; September 28th 2019

“so let’s pour tears and light all over that fucking stage, all over that floor where so many people felt so much pain. maybe we can help erase some of the dark still hiding in the cracks there.” (Amanda Palmer on why she chose to play at Bataclan)

Sitting on my bed at a hotel room in rainy Paris, I cannot quite comprehend what happened last night. Amanda Palmer brought light, compassion and love to a place that still needed healing. He concert at Bataclan was intense, beautiful, emotional and most of all it was tender and true. Everyone in the room knew about the terror attacks in 2015, everyone could feel the pain and the fear that had lived inside these walls, everyone knew that many people, people like us, had died here. Amanda took all these dark vibes and turned them around, making me laugh through tears, making light. As one fan said to her after the show: “Amanda, you made it that we can walk by this place again and smile. Thank you!” – she hugged him, it was the only possible response. This was exactly the show I needed and I am deeply grateful I got to be there.

The moment I realized Amanda was playing her Paris show at Bataclan, I knew I needed to be there. The only time I had visited the venue was in October 2016 before they reopened and an overwhelming sadness took hold of me while I stood there and looked at the flowers attached to the fence. The previous year on the night of the attacked, I’d been touring and out with friends. We saw it on TV and did not quite grasp what had happened until the following day. I remember sharing the grief with a friend, lost for words, quietly hugging each other. Those were scary times and the world has not gotten any less scary since. Still, if we give in to our fears instead of continuing to live and love in spite of them, those who seed the fear will win. Therefore I wanted to see a concert at Bataclan, to commemorate the events of 2015 just as much as to celebrate the fact that the venue is still here, we are still here. And what better way to do so than seeing the woman who teaches us what radical compassion means, who bears her soul night after night and talks about all the things we rarely talk about, because, as her yoga teacher would say, “if you can, you must.”

With the train I arrived in Paris shortly after noon, meeting up with my friend B. and going out for lunch first. Afterwards we checked in to our hotel and since we’d both seen the city before we just stayed in chatting about music and life. We’d both come to Amanda the long way around via her book and when I explained how her music had not clicked with me until I’d seen her life, B. said it was because “you really needed to listen” to understand her – this is not background music and she was right. Eventually we checked out the venue and admired the beautiful colors. Got back there shortly before the door opened and it all went nicely. It was beautiful inside too and I hav the perfect seat at the front. Sadly we did not sit together.

Amanda had posted on social media about wanting to play this venue, because she had played there with the Dresden Dolls, could easily imagine her community being there in November 2015, wanted to show solidarity with the venue and felt the need to bring light and help everyone heal. She also asked us to take good care of ourselves, to leave if things became to overwhelming. As I sat in my chair I felt it all – the sadness, the pain, the fear. Memories came to me and I texted my friend, sending virtual hugs. I took a deep breath and got out my hankie, ready for an emotional show.

Tori Amos’ ‘Cornflake Girl’ started playing, letting everyone know the concert was about to start. Amanda walked in from the back of the room, playing her ukulele, singing ‘In my Mind’.Shortly after she had passed us, she stopped playing and asked a woman a few rows behind me if she was knitting, noting she usually does not get to see what we do in the audience. She was and Amanda lost track of the song for a moment. Everyone laughed. It was such a relief of the tension that had been building inside me all day.

She got up on stage and explained how in increasingly dark times it was difficult to know what her contribution as an artist could be. Everyone cheered when she mentioned the “pretty decent news from America”, i.e. possible impeachment of Trump. From then on in we were right in the middle of stories about her life and her bad taste in music and men when she was young. She also spoke about her beginnings as an artist and her stepfather telling her that she was just getting her aggressions out on the piano. “Exactly!” she spoke and launched into a wild rendition of ‘Runs in the Family’.

We heard about Anthony moving in next door, becoming Amanda’s best friend and mentor, teaching her about everything important, but never telling her what to do. When she was 19 several important people in Amanda’s life died and she was not equipped for it, could not write music for a few years. It got better after she left college and started a band and found a community. Everything went well until she did her Kickstarter and the Boston bombing happened. She spoke about how confusing it was to have something like that happen in her city and how she still tried to emphasize, writing a poem about the surviving bomber. It was especially powerful right then and there. By then she sat right in front of me and I could see all the emotions and the tears on her face when she told us about receiving death threats and messages full of hate. I cried with her and felt for her. I tried to distance myself for a moment, not because it was too much to take, but because I realized on some level that it was the perfect opportunity to take pictures and I was struggling to do so. It felt like raising my camera was violating the purity of the moment. Was it my job to do so, to document? I wasn’t sure. In the end I did capture a few shots, but mostly I just watched and listened to ‘Bigger on the Inside’.

She joked she was going to speak about more cheerful topics now and told about her first abortion and how the hardest part was going through the crowd of protestors, who told her she was a murderer. ‘Oasis’ brought Beach Boys vibes and a nice Beatles-esque sing-along. I love this song because there is such a contrast between the content and the way it sounds and that is why it works. Amanda felt that the people who criticized her for it would have thought it a good song if it had been sad. She noted how that present day feminism and activism has an irony deficiency. Art should not play by such rules and I like that Amanda doesn’t. The story continues to later in her life when she had to have an abortion for medical reasons and how she dared sharing this information with others. To her surprise, most of them had their own story and instead of burdening them she freed them to share their stories.

We heard how she didn’t know if she wanted to be a mother and feared if she did she might turn into a boring artist. Eventually though, she got pregnant and knew she wanted a baby.At the same time Anthony was dying and he did when she was seven month pregnant. She shared that death was different from what she had though, that it did feel like an honor to be with him when he left. For his memorial she wrote ‘Machete’. Two months later she gave birth far from any hospital in a retreat for natural childbirth with midwives. It must have been quite the experience. She made us all laugh when she shared how she tried showing him films that would be educational for him until he suddenly had free will and wanted to watch ‘Frozen’ on a flight. 😀 ‘A Mother’s Confession’ ended the first set. In the end she asked us all to getup and sing with her so we did.

Before the intermission she read us a little bit from the artbook she did for the album. We got a 15 minute break, which was chaotic, because everything was in the same corner and the lines for the merch stand, the bar and the toilets mixed. I decided not to bother, chatted with B. for a brief moment and went back to my seat.

Soon after, Amanda was back on stage, telling us that if we were in the middle of buying a drink or merch we should stay were we were and finish such important business. ‘Coin-operated Boy’ brought us all back into the show. It was exactly the right song for this. 😀 We heard a story about the restorative justice project she was invited to, where prisoners publicly meet with survivors of the same crimes they had committed, trying to find closure for everyone. They survivors would speak about their experiences and the prisoners make public apologies. They also talked in smaller groups and she spoke about how that went. It was hard to hear and hard to talk about.

Speaking about Patreon lead to ‘Drowning in the Sound’. I loved the power of the song, cried for a while. During the evening the atmosphere at the venue had changed. It felt warmer now and somehow less scary. Amanda was bringing us all together, making light in the darkness we must have all felt coming there. It is fascinating how speaking about difficult topics and tragedies can lead to laughter and feeling good in the end. I can’t quite understand how or why it happens. It is just Amanda’s special kind of magic.

She said the next song was something she had not played on the tour yet, but it felt appropriate here. Leading up to it she spoke about mass shooting and how after the one at Columbine everyone was shocked and had thought things would change, but it only got worse and such shootings happen in the US on a daily basis now. The song was ‘Strength through Music’  – nothing could have fit better. ‘Guitar Hero’ followed immediately after. This was a new one to me and even had people clap along. It sounded angry and powerful and perfect.

We learned about performers that had inspired her and the realization that it is not the performer’s job to make the audience feel comfortable, but to be real. Not every artists seems to agree here, but the ones that truly touch me always are. <3 ‘Voicemail for Jill’ made me cry again. It always does. Amanda spoke about her miscarriage next. The sentence that stuck with me most was “I held death in my hand”. I cannot even begin to imagine what this feels like, but I believe her when she says we are by nature equipped for all this. The song she had to sum everything up was ‘Let it go’. It instantly lightened the mood and she even sang the last verse in French.

The last story of the show took us back to the prison retreat. One of the survivors was speaking about being a murderer because she had had an abortion. Later, in the small group Amanda was still thinking about it and said that she did not feel like a murderer for having had abortions. Then and there, compassion came from an unexpected direction. “Compassion is very complicated, you guys, don’t forget how human everybody is.” She left us with ‘The Ride’ and maybe for the first time the song truly spoke to me. <3 To standing ovations she bowed, thanked us, waved one last time and left.

I looked at my watch and was surprised to see it was 5 minutes to 11. I recalled hearing we had to be out at 10:30. All patrons gathered at a center and Amanda came back out to take a pictures with us. She had us carry her, so we did for her what she had done for us all night. 🙂 She promised to come out and sign so many of us waited outside after the show. When she arrived she asked what we wanted to do and someone suggested a group hug so that’s what we did. “We made it! Nobody died.” – it was exactly what I felt. Amanda admitted at being too exhausted to sign, but wanted to play a song for us, so she did Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ on the ukulele, walking through the crowd. The night could not have ended any better. A few people got hugs and then she finally left.

We took a deep breath and got ready to leave as well. B. and I went into the venue’s cafe for a drink, then realized we were hungry and had burgers – comfort food. We agreed it had been a great show. I was surprised then that I had not cried more, had not been more emotional. All the tears came the next morning when I thought back on the show and they are still here now, as I finish writing this. I went to Bataclan looking for closure, to heal an open wound I wasn’t even aware of and it worked. I feel very much at peace now. Thank you Amanda!

Setlist

In my Mind
Runs in the family
Bigger on the Inside
Oasis
Machete
A Mother’s Confession

Coin-operated Boy
Drowning in the Sound
Strength through Music
Guitar Hero
Voicemail for Jill
Let It Go (Idina Menzel cover, sung partly in French)
The Ride

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