Amanda Palmer Says You're 'Exactly the Person You Want to Be'

Bryan Parys
December 12, 2018

The singer stopped by Berklee for a candid and empowering discussion on mental health.

Amanda Palmer singing in the David Friend Recital Hall
Director of Health and Wellness Programs Leah Driscoll interviews Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer singing "In My Mind" with a ukulele
Amanda Palmer preceded her talk on mental health with an intimate solo performance of a few of her emotionally-charged songs.
Leah Driscoll (left), director of Health and Wellness Programs, moderates a Q&A with Palmer (right).
Palmer closed the session with her ukulele ballad "In My Mind." She quipped, “While we’re talking about mental health and musicianship, you should get a ukulele. Whoever you are. It’ll just make you happy.”
Image by Kate Flock
Image by Kate Flock
Image by Kate Flock

In her song “The Perfect Fit,” Amanda Palmer sings, “I could fix a lot of things / but I’d rather not get into that.”

The song, which originally appeared on her band The Dresden Dolls’ first album, was one of a handful that Palmer sang solo to a packed venue of Berklee students, kicking off a raw and honest conversation about coping with issues of mental health while pursuing a career as an artist. So it wasn’t hard to sense some slyness in that line’s delivery, since “getting into that” was the very reason she had come to campus.

As an artist who always has her audience in mind, Palmer said she took to social media on the way to Boston: “I went on Twitter and said, ‘I’m talking about mental health—what do I play? So, this is a crowd-sourced playlist.’” She then sat down at a grand piano and kicked into “The Perfect Fit,” followed by the dizzying “Runs in the Family,” from her solo record Who Killed Amanda Palmer, a song she says she had mostly forgotten about but was the most requested by her fans when she put out the call. When the song finished she gulped down a miniature bottle of water, then sat down to take questions from the audience and from Leah Driscoll, director of Health and Wellness Programs and coproducer of the event's sponsor, the Reach Out Initiative.

After the talk, she closed with a voice-and-ukulele rendition of “In My Mind,” ending with a resounding delivery of the line, “I am exactly the person that I want to be.”

The following is an edited collection of the advice and reflections she shared with the audience.

On the Importance of Habitual Self-Care

For Palmer, discovering yoga in her twenties was critical to finding the space for self-care. “It allows you the chance to step outside yourself for a moment,” she said, adding that it was tough at first to make it a habit. Her solution? Just go. Always. “No matter what you have to do, unless it is an emergency, go to yoga instead. If you don’t go because you have other sh-t to do, you’re never going to go.

“It took me 28 years to even have the thought that in this moment I had the option of just taking care of myself. Without ‘why,’ without ‘I’m going to beat myself up about last night,’ without anything. I credit my yoga and meditation practice for all these small moments, like, this where I had the chance to confront myself and my patterns of thinking.”

“If there’s no space, there’s not going to be any reflection. And if there’s no reflection, there’s not going to be any growth.”

—Amanda Palmer

On Balancing Vulnerability and Self-Protection

Much of Palmer's music is predicated on intense personal vulnerability. While this may make some artists nervous, Palmer thrives on it. “I protect myself by opening myself up. I protect myself by baring my neck. People don’t expect you to be open and vulnerable and up-front about things.”

But how does she go about preparing herself to "go there" so many nights in a row? “I think it’s a lot of little, subtle micro-decisions that when you’re on tour, you just know, and you start shutting down certain systems. I’m sure athletes do it too… by cranking up what’s necessary and cranking down what’s not.”

On Knowing When to Put Your Phone Away  

“There’s nothing less inspiring than being about to go on to a stage and play music and to look over and see your collaborator doing this [she mimes texting on a phone] when you’re about to go connect with a bunch of people, because this [phone] is totally disconnected.”

“One of the things I worry about in general with our mental health these days—and I’m just as bad as anyone—there’s so little space because we all have phones. And especially if you’re an artist or a musician who’s constantly hustling for a gig, there’s this addictive pull that you could always be more productive.”

So, for Palmer, it all comes down knowing when to pause everything else and create some space. “If there’s no space, there’s not going to be any reflection. And if there’s no reflection, there’s not going to be any growth.”

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