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The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help Paperback – October 20, 2015
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"Amanda Palmer's generous work of genius will change the way you think about connection, love and grace."―Seth Godin
"This is the kind of book that makes you want to call the author up at midnight to whisper, 'My God. I thought I was the only one.'"―Jenny Lawson, New York Times-bestselling author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened
"To read Amanda Palmer's remarkable memoir about asking and giving is to tumble headlong into her world. Immediately, you notice that her world is really different from yours and mine. Amanda's world is more open, more vulnerable, more fearless, more messy, more surprising, more dangerous, more rich with human encounters and exchanges at every imaginable level. At first, you find yourself thinking, 'Goodness, what a crazy world that Amanda Palmer inhabits! How does she possibly endure it?' Then, gradually, as you read along, a doorway opens up in your heart, and you realize, 'I want to live in a world exactly like hers.' God willing, this book will show us all how to do it."―Elizabeth Gilbert --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Amanda Palmer rose to fame as the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist for the acclaimed band The Dresden Dolls, and performs as a solo artist as well as collaborating with artists including Jonathan Richman and her husband, author Neil Gaiman.
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If you have an opinion about Amanda Palmer, reading her new book “The Art of Asking” will very likely reinforce it, many times over.
“The Art of Asking” (subtitle: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help”) is an expansion of the popular TED talk she gave in 2013 of the same name, in which she described her early days working as a “living statue” street performer and how her lifelong business model developed out of the relationships she built with fans. When your work means something to someone, she found, that person will want to pay you for it.
“I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is ‘How do we make people pay for music?’” she said then. “What if we started asking, ‘How do we let people pay for music?’”
Over three million people have since watched that video. Her book takes it farther, delving even deeper into the value she’s found that people place on art when it speaks to them and the transactional nature of human connection. Just as importantly, it’s a master class on how an artist can build, maintain and grow an audience in a new social media environment where record labels rarely promote anyone these days who’s name isn’t Beyonce or Taylor Swift.
“How do we create a world in which people don’t think of art just as a product, but as a relationship?” she asks. And she answers, in detail. For some readers, her description of the trials and triumphs of her record-breaking Kickstarter campaign where she asked for $100,000 and received $1.2 million may be worth the price of the book.
It’s also a memoir, as it has to be because to be Amanda Palmer is to expose yourself completely. If there’s anything that Palmer watchers can agree on, it’s that she puts everything out there, for good or bad, whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram or her blog or in her songs or, now, in this book. “The Art of Asking” is as emotionally open and blunt as everything else she does.
But is it any good?
Unquestionably, fans will love it. Palmer has an easy writing style that lends itself perfectly to stories told while sitting around the kitchen table or hanging out by the bar and she opens up here as never before, skipping around her life out of order to talk about influences, seminal moments, important people such as the next-door neighbor who became her mentor, and, throughout, her relationship to her husband, author Neil Gaiman. For that matter, Gaiman fans will appreciate the glimpse into their private life. Anyone who wondered what these two very different people saw in each other may gain some insight as to how they grew together and how they make it work.
If you’re not a fan, you may become one. If you dislike Amanda Palmer you may find your assumptions validated, however, as she occasionally sinks into self-indulgence and skips over a few of the smaller controversies in her life.
She talks about her early life and her decision to become a street performer standing on a box in a wedding dress as “The 8-Foot Bride,” holding motionless until someone dropped a bill or some coins in her hat. She describes the surprising, almost tangible feelings of connection as she offered a flower or made eye contact and how she discovered that such connections had value.
Palmer went on to form The Dresden Dolls with drummer Brian Viglione, seeking “salvation through volume” with their pounding, screaming Victorian punk rock style. Their audience grew, helped in part by her insistence on meeting fans after the show and her use of mailing lists and parties -- early social media -- for more fan interactions. She began building a community. When touring, the Dresden Dolls regularly asked for volunteers, food, crash space, and for local musicians to get up on stage and open for them in exchange for merchandise table space and hugs. Palmer found that asking for help almost invariably resulted in success and an artistic community of people who were joyously looking out for each other.
When the Dolls were signed to a label, their first album sold well but not to the label’s expectations. They also wanted Palmer to stop talking to her current fans to go court new ones, she said. It took her years to finally break away.
“The whole point of being an artist, I thought, was to be connected to people,” she said. “To make a family. A family you were with all the time, like it or not. That was the way we’d been doing it for years, whether or not we had an album or a tour to ‘promote’.”
Not everyone saw it the same way. When she took asking to a whole new level with a Kickstarter campaign for her new album, “Theater of Evil” (disclosure: I was a contributor at the CD level), she broke the site’s record at the time and went on to launch the tour for the new album. As she had for the past decade she asked for local musicians to sit in, but this time the request was coming from someone recently famous for getting a million-plus dollars -- never mind that most of it was for pre-orders and shipping -- and she was soundly castigated for ripping off musicians. She posted a breakdown to prove it wasn’t all profit, and ultimately paid the musicians, but the damage was done and her reputation took a hit. Soon after she wrote a poem empathizing with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that brought a firestorm of criticism.
She writes about those events, as she writes about everything. Palmer’s intimate relationship with her fans has, from the beginning, been based on trust. Crowd-surfing, asking for help, couchsurfing, letting people pick their own price for her music... all of it relies on the goodwill of fans to pay her to make more art for them.
Ultimately the book is about learning how to ask.
“Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilized us,” she said. “Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for.”
The second half was a challenge to read.
It became primarily a memoir. I say that because if it were about asking, it would provide more guidance to a reader.
If an aspiring artist were to read this, I think they would struggle to figure out how to balance creating their art and connecting with an audience.
Most artists focus on the creating part, and think that they need to. I think it would have been valuable to share ways to do this as an artist.
I'm also not quite sure Amanda considers herself an introvert, given that she was throwing parties and connecting with people constantly.
Worth a read to be quite frankly!