Punk-cabaret musician with eclectic leanings

Brian Viglione Amanda Palmer, who first garnered attention as a member of The Dresden Dolls, is slated to play the Emcee in a production of “Cabaret.’’
Brian Viglione
Amanda Palmer, who first garnered attention as a member of The Dresden Dolls, is slated to play the Emcee in a production of “Cabaret.’’ (Brian Viglione)
By Amanda Katz
Globe Correspondent / September 5, 2010

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Starting in 1997, Amanda Palmer introduced some welcome oddity to Harvard Square, performing as a living statue called the Eight-Foot Bride. Today, Palmer, a South End resident, is a punk-cabaret musician with a passionate cult following. She is back in Harvard Square playing the Emcee in a nearly sold-out run of “Cabaret.’’

You studied German literature in college. What German authors are interesting to you?

I went through a period of obsession with Heinrich Böll and Hermann Hesse. As a teenager, I was in love with a German man who was in love with Berlin. He gave me my first copy of “Steppenwolf’’ and of Böll’s “The Clown.’’ That opened the gate, and I wandered in to see what else was inside the garden.

What are you reading now?

I tend to be a multiple book reader. In the morning, I read before I meditate, to refocus my mind — generally books about Buddhism or mindfulness.

Right now I’m reading “The Golden Compass.’’ When my rehearsal schedule got really hectic, I pulled it down from the shelf, thinking it might be a soothing nighttime sedative. It’s beautiful. It’s a perfect bedtime book.

Your fiancé, Neil Gaiman, is a beloved fantasy writer. Has knowing him changed your reading?

Absolutely. I feel perpetually guilty no matter what I’m reading, because I’m not reading Neil Gaiman. I’ve only read about 5 to 10 percent of what he’s written, and I feel highly undereducated. So I also have the gigantic “Collected Sandman’’ by my bed. My ongoing joke with Neil is that I would read “The Sandman’’ if it wasn’t so hard to read in bed.

When you get into a relationship with an author, you read his work differently. Anytime I pick up a Neil book I’m looking for hidden clues, trying to understand the man I’m getting married to. He hides very deeply in his work, so you have to dig. Unlike my songs, which are relatively transparent.

How did you become a character in the new book “On the Many Deaths of Amanda Palmer’’?

It’s by my friend Rohan Kriwaczek. I read an article about this fraudulent academic book he wrote, “An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin.’’ I got the book, loved it, and we became friends. When I made the “Who Killed Amanda Palmer’’ record, I said to him, “It would be hilarious if you wrote an academic paper about my death.” What started as a silly idea turned into a project that consumed a year of Rohan’s life.

What books helped make you who you are?

One was “Dropping Ashes on the Buddha,’’ by Zen master Seung Sahn. I read it when I was about 25 on a trip in Australia. It’s a book of letters that he wrote to his American students. They would write to him about their problems, and he would say, “Do you realize what your actual problem is? You are so caught up in your own internal chatter. What you need to do is stop and be present.” It hit me like a ton of bricks

While reading it, I found myself in the back office of a Woolworth’s in Adelaide, being questioned by the police, who thought I had been shoplifting. In this crazy moment, something just clicked. I sat there, surrounded by Australian police officers, thinking: “Any anxiety that I am feeling is a construct of my mind. I’m fine.” I honestly think the clarity I had in that moment overpowered the police force. And they let me go. AMANDA KATZ

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