Monday, September 04, 2006

the condition of the bride

sleepless, mindless, on a plane from manchester to munich after three nights off in leeds.

disrupting the pattern of touring is heartbreaking, Real Life shoves itself in my face like a battering ram, and everything real looks so unreal, so untouchable, every common, mundane object takes on some sort of sacred quality.
i suppose disrupting the pattern of life is heartbreaking for anyone. maybe enlightening, always bizarre. there it is, everything you've gotten used to in stark relief to something else. look! you're tired! look! you're homesick! ha! thought you'd gotten used to that, no? look! you haven't been falling in love very much. i'm not homesick. it could be anybody's home...anywhere but here. right?

right. it's most fulfilling when i'm off on my own, the crew and the touring machine a distant nightmare, some life i try to forget i have. there are no airports, there is no soundcheck. i have no voice to lose, nobody to be. i think i'm permanently motion sick. going at a pace too fast for any amanda human. i know i sound like a broken record. i know. i know. i know. i know.

we finished the reading festival and the rest of the crew pushed on to munich via london for the time off. i got in a car that took me to a train that took me to a station in leeds, where ricky picked me up. i spent most of the next 24 hours in bed. new sheets. new house. new bed. he just moved in. it's beautiful. the house is on a quiet cobbled lane and the first morning i floated myself down to the cafe. everything was made of stone, dark, wet brick walls lined every street, covered in thick vines that caught the light. walked down the sidewalks with my eyes half closed. i'm in england...remind yourself, i'm in england and i'm freeeeee. i ran my hand against the walls and tried to walk without looking, dragging the roughness under my fingers, trying to pretend that i had recently had a near-death experience. i tried to imagine what it would be like to just be laying there, under the wheels of that drunken car. or in that bloody hospital bed with the beeep beeep beeeeeep getting more frightening. and thinking: oh what i wouldn't give for morning. roughness. walking. eyes closed. brick wall. fingers. now.....look you're alive.

in leeds, it rains for a few minutes and then it's blazing sunshine. then it pours again. people seem to be used to this. it's like boston weather on permanent times six fast-forward. the rain puddles and reflects the light and everything is always shining. i went outside yesterday to see what the weather was like and lay down in the grass where the shade from a big wall of trees met the sun. i decided to stay there. the dirt and the cut grass smelled wonderful and i was reminded that i never touch the ground anymore, barely ever see it. much less smell it. there's always something paved in the way. i used to grow out of the sidewalk.

the weekend before we left for tour, i went to harvard square and did the bride. it feels odd needing to explain what that means. everybody who knows me knows. for five or six years, before the band broke and we went off on endless touring, this was how i made most of my money. for a good part of the year i would work up to 4 or 5 days a week, doing 3 or 4 performances a day for an hour and a half each, totally exhausting myself. i always wanted to write a book about it. there's a booksworth in it. i was a living statue, a street performer, standing on a hidden pedestal wearing a wedding gown with my face painted white and every other inch of my skin covered with gloves and tulle. i would stand there, completely motionless and holding a bouquet of white daisy poms, until some passerby dropped money into a box at my feet. then i would come to life and share a short moment with the person who had set me free. i would give them a flower, sometimes a kiss to go along with it. i made, on average, forty dollars an hour. sometimes much more. sometimes much less. some people tossed in pennies. some people tossed in twenties. i was an art stripper. it was the most extraordinary job. i loved it with everything i had. i hated it sometimes. i dealt with the most obnoxious street scum assholes berating me (get a fucking job you whore) and encountered the most profound artists and poets (you have changed my life today), who would sometimes sit for hours and sketch, write poems about the bride and the crowd, young romantic boys and girls who would stop and stay, let themsleves fall in love with a stranger. i often fell in love back. then they'd leave.

a few blocks along the wall, then in the cafe, i sat down for a green tea and took out my journal. oh a little piece of paradise. one thing i love so much about england is the standard quality of music, everywhere. people sing on the train (probably because people also drink on the train), typically trashy bars play incredible songs. the leeds shopping mall was blasting radiohead. the cafe was playing the white stripes. the owner came over and sat down next to me. i ordered eggs. sat and wrote and waited and soaked it up like a sponge. i live for these moments that cost me nothing. for just a few cents a day - the cost of a cup of coffee - you can save a starving rock star. won't you please consider donating? by now i'm in hamburg, sitting at another one. the music here is terrible. there's soccer fever in the air. there's loud americans at the next table. no ground left to see, back in the grind but there's such a bright light at the end of the tunnel. i forget what it's like to like people sometimes.

children would be terrified or enraptured. countless marriage proposals. lots of tears. lots of screams of o-my-god-it's-real-you-scared-the-shit-out-of-me. i was free to fixate my gaze on anybody or anything i wanted, and it was perfectly acceptable. nobody looked away. they would stare right back. i would play games like this with people for stretches of up to five minutes. daring people. people would tease me, taunt me, poke me, try to make me laugh. tell me to get a fucking job. i earn more than you, fucker, i would always want to say to the meatheads who yelled that at me. and i'm doing more. when was the last time you made somebody fucking happy, you fucking twit?? who'd have guessed that under my mona lisa smile and longing eyes was a complete bitch. some days. not all days. not most days. most days i would just let it all slide off, let my heart surge with love when the harvard professors would stop and stare, and stay. sometimes i would put poems down at my feet. shakespeare. keats. most people didn't read it. but the ones who did...they did.

i've decided that what i like most in life isn't as obvious as singing or performing or writing. i think i've come to realize that my true passion is for surprising people. that's it. that's all. really. truly. one person, thousands of people. kin dof doesn't matter. the bride was very handy for this.

i traveled with her sometimes, packed up my box with wheels and did the bride in florida, LA, vegas, germany, australia. it was surprising how similar groups of people are all over the world. the same patterns. the same types. the stories and pieces of paper i collected could fill a two volume novel/scrapbook. everythings piled in a drawer at home. it wasn't until we really started touring, on stage, under lights, every night, that i realized how painfully perfect she was. a white knife that cut straight to the heart of all of this, so little in the way.

he took me to the hills outside leeds, to a rock formation called the cow and calf - guess which one is the small one. there was graffiti up there from the 1800s, when people really took the time to do it right. all etched out in olde englishe font, so much care put into every line and corner of each letter. it looked like the scottish highlands up there, all rocky and barren with the wind whipping something fierce, pale flowers and weeds clinging to the rocks for dear life. sheep tottering around aimlessly. it was a bank holiday and so families were doing what he said the english call "rambling". i can ramble. i can rumble. watch me. we went to a stand and ordered popsicles and for some reason i could not get over the hysterical sound of a grown man ordering a "lemon lolly and raspberry lolly". he told me to stop making fun of him. we sat and ate our lollies, wondering why we stupid enough to be eating anything frozen when it was freezing outside. he showed me the spot from which he painted a landscape when he was sixteen. later i saw a photograph of the painting. it was beautiful. he used to paint. now he doesn't. la la la la la....oh, manchester, so much to answer for....there is a light and it never goes out. etc. we used to do all these things. and now we get up in front of crowds of people and thrash around. we agreed it's ridiculous.

some famous german, nietzsche i think, said "all art aspires to the condition of music". i think all performance aspires to the condition of the bride. fifty or fifty thousand screaming fans couldn't touch the feeling of looking into one unsuspecting person's eyes for a few moments. they hadn't been expecting me. i hadn't been expecting them. we just found each other for a second and the world stops, something vital happens.

we find each other like this sometimes, this is what it's like. trying to prolong a moment like that almost never works.

while i was back in boston on the last break, i ventured out to the cambridge arts council and bought my $40 street performing permit for 2007. i left it tacked to my door. we left on some tour or another. ah yes, the panic tour. thank fucking god that's over. right. and came back. on friday night i crawled under my loft-bed and dragged out the box. the smell alone when i opened it up brought me right back, a totally unique combination of stale make-up and sour sweat and wig spray and powder. it's never changed at all. i dusted everything off and fell right back into 1999. the air outside starting to turn into fall, the airplanes making that sound that i swear is totally unique to chilly late summer mornings. it must have to do with the air pressure outside, but there's this SOUND they make, only when it's bright out, and morning, a piercing sound that sounds like cosmic paper ripping apart.

in germany, a week before, i watched the torrents of rain come down on the crowd while they played their set. not just any rain, it was biblical, sheets of rain and freezing. but the crowd, they all stayed and danced. they clappped, they lost their minds. the band knew how to take care of them. it's a different fucking world, it's a different set of expectations.

one evening was spent making up dirty limericks. he was much better at it than i was. i want our fans to dance, i said. he said, it's all nonsense. i said, the hit single will be called "you make them dance, i'll make them cry". i woke up in the morning with a limerick in my head. it wasn't funny, and it was too depressing to start the day off that way. i let him sleep, rolled off the bed and onto the floor, scratched it on a piece of cardboard that was lying there.

the basement of toscanini's smelled the same, the ice-cream cups all piled in the same place next to the freezer, the pipes all hanging janglely, and the little bathroom where i used to get dressed was still out of soap. i put on the dress, caked my face, donned the wig, pulled on my gloves, cut up the flowers with the scissors from upstairs. i felt like i was moving through a drawing of myself. my motor memory was right there, no time had passed. that walk from toscanini's to the spot across from au bon pain is always the most interesting, and totally different from the walk back when i'm finished. i am a grown woman, walking two city blocks and waiting at stoplights, wearing full bridal gear with veil and my face painted. it always gets some strange looks. i always felt this mixture of pride and embarrassment. nothing to see, nothing to see, please go about your business. then up to the pedestal, climb on top, fix my eyes on one spot and wait. i wondered if any dresden dolls fans would wander by and know it was me. the sun was in my eyes and i had to squint.

returning to the tour in germany i looked at my life like an outsider. the stultifying superficiality of the road and the care we all must take with each other, because every nerve seems to be a frayed one after four days on the road. the lack of privacy which has become de rigeur, shut shut shut shut shut your mind off, turn your body and your voice on, become somebody you were and remind yourslef that you'll sort it all out later. soon enough.

i find myself wanting less and less. and less and less and less and less and less. i know. i feel like i'm somehow disappointing everyone around me by not caring about certain things i used to care about. i think about january coming, with time to myself, time to learn how to play the piano, time to write new songs, time to become myself and everything else just pales. records not selling? that's fine. label is dropping us? wouldn't mind. world is ending? about time.
it all feels like a very irrelevant game compared to washing some dishes, running my hand against the wall, smelling the ground, feeling somebody's arms reach for me even if it's only for a second.

typical tourist influx, the passersby of harvard square on a random summer saturday, the harvard students and the average people. my wondering: there was one boy with a cure t-shirt who gave me a i-know-who-you-are smile. it was very sweet. but mostly it was glorious to stand there unknown and ignored or loved for standing on a street corner in a dress painted white. i can love everybody here so safely. everyone can love me but nobody can touch me. why did i ever think this was perfect. of course i know. it is perfect. i stood there for two hours in heaven. an old man in a tweed jacket with glasses came and stayed for a half an hour. he came back up for a final flower and we looked at each other for a long time. he knew. that was enough for me. that made my year worthwhile. we must be really close to the football stadium. i hear giant cheers. everyone at the bar was wearing a st. pauli shirt. it must be hunting season.

back in the bus, i try to care about our sets, throw myself into the music for two hours with everything i have and scratch off days on the calendar. all or nothing, all of this. sometime i look at brian and don't even recognize him. the unrecognizable has become common, i get it, i get it. i tried out a brand new song in bochum last night...i wrote it a few months ago. the long way out. it ties all of this together. it's the long way out. past the bar, and past the awning. past the yawning crowd. back into the end of harmony. back into the grind. back into the non-music land of music.

i dragged my box home, up the stairs to the apartment, and felt like i had given myself a profound pinch. i left it there, not unpacking the box or even counting the money i had made for several days. i almost wanted to just give it away. i used to think it was so absurd, to get paid for doing something that i probably would just do anyway. maybe that's why it's still so impossible for me to come to terms with the fact that i have a job. fucking ridiculous. it is. it's not. i don't expect anything. i expect everything. it's two o'clock, time for press.

an odd couple lay under the covers
who could never attach to their lovers
as she packed up to leave
he just smiled and agreed
"tis a joy reserved solely for others".