As my partner and I waited in line to meet one of my most favorite musicians ever, I began to break a small sweat. Meeting your heroes has a certain terrifying edge to it. You wonder whether they will act kind or rude. And even if you aren’t religious, you pray a little that you don’t accidentally spit a fleck of food on their shoulder as you tell them how much you love them.
Being a music geek, meeting such artists gets me particularly riled up. And this particular musician was Amanda Palmer. While some know the name well, others have never heard of her. She began her music career as the brilliant mind behind the “punk cabaret” duo known as The Dresden Dolls. But she really came into the limelight when she broke free from her record label and then broke a record for one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date.
Ms. Palmer asked for $100,000 to make the album and all the business that goes along with it. The lowest giver of $1 or $5 would get musical downloads. The highest giver of $5,000 or $10,000 would get their own house party where Amanda (or the full band) would play. I almost considered the $5,000 option but then just threw in $25 for the deluxe edition CD instead.
Amanda Palmer ended up raising nearly $1.2 million and controversy quickly ensued. She defied the industry standard of the record labels and not everyone would take too kindly to this. Palmer then went on to do a TED Talk called “The Art of Asking” where she explained “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking ‘How do we let people pay for music?’”
The release of her book (also titled “The Art of Asking”) recounted her life lived this way and it was also the reason Luke and I had stood in line to meet her. We had gone to the book reading/meet-n-greet at Denver’s most notorious book shop.
As she discusses, people don’t like asking for things. It makes them feel vulnerable. I understood exactly what she meant. So in the spirit of living my own vulnerable life, I decided that I would ask her for something very different than an autograph. Rather, I would ask Amanda Palmer… for a new tattoo.
Technically this would be the 5th time I met Palmer. The first had been at a small film festival called “Fuck the Back Row.” Her voice was so strained that she couldn’t say a word. Instead, she playfully tried to pinch my nipple as we posed for the camera.
The second time was during the first True Colors tour hosted by Cindy Lauper. The Dresden Dolls played in the line up and I was one of the only audience members to be rocking out to their incredibly unique, off brand form of rowdy show-tune-esque music. They announced they'd be meeting fans and signing autographs. I rushed over to the table and patiently waited in line. But when I got to the front, I realized I didn’t have anything for them to sign. So I panicked and did the only thing any normal person would do: took off my shirt so they could sign the back of that.
The prime meeting came after The Dresden Dolls broke up. Palmer had gone solo but they decided to do a reunion tour. I met up with my buddy, Matt, in Atlanta. Prior to our arrival, I sent Palmer an email telling her my story about HIV and how her music gave me the courage to be open and even start up a non-profit social group to connect young people living with the virus. I called it “Gravity” after one of their songs. The night of the show, at the last minute, I got two backstage passes to meet them. It was only us. No other fans. Palmer gushed over my tattoos (one of which was the symbol from their second album). She demanded a photo with them and together, we cried over my story.
The fourth time came in a typical record store meet-n-greet. I went back to properly waiting my turn in the queue. Palmer didn’t quite remember our meeting in Atlanta, but she pretended to after I tried jogging her memory. She was kind as always as I asked her to sign my hoodie and the album. Then I got the hell out of the way so the next fan could do the same.
You’d think all of these meetings would make one a “pro” at coming face-to-face with their favorite musician. But now back in the bookstore, I felt just as nervous and terrified as ever, knowing that I’d be asking for a little more than just an autograph. What if she said ‘no?’ What if she told me to fuck off? Asking someone to draw a new tattoo on you is kind of a lot of pressure. It takes time and thought. Our limited time could only make it that much more intense.
Palmer’s arrival to the store had been delayed because of the flight. She was exhausted and after the reading, she declared that they’d make a pillow fort right there in the book store so that she could lay down and meet fans on the floor. It was cute and bohemian - everything I loved about her and everything I wished I could be. Any moment now, Bette Middler would burst through the wall, not unlike the Kool-Aid man, and declare how Palmer was indeed the "wind beneath my wings."
When our time arrived, Luke and I got down with Palmer, one on each side as she ushered us down. She signed our books and Luke commented on how beautiful she was up close. She didn’t shoot down his compliment or act bashfully flattered. She said a simple “thank you,” which I also admired.
The time had come to ask her for this favor. “So, I, ummm, was, ummmm, wondering if you would, ummm.” Just spit it out, for God’s sake! I thought to myself. “If instead of an autograph, you’d draw me a new tattoo?”
I pointed to the empty space next to the symbol from her second album.
She glanced it with a blank stare. I think her precise words were, “Fuck yeah!”
“Hold on, though,” she said. “Wait. I need a second. I want it to match the aesthetic of the rest of your tattoos.”
She was actually taking this seriously! I did exactly as told and waited with the giddiest of patience.
“Ok, I know what I am going to do,” she made her final decision. She began stroking the sharpie against my arm. I had no clue what she was doing. It reminded me of that game we play as kids where someone draws an image on your back with their finger and then you have to guess what they did. And you think they drew a penis but they swore they had just drawn a car.
“Ok, done!” she said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to get it tattooed.”
I looked down.
“Your tattoo artist will have to clean up,” she added.
“What is it?” I asked. I couldn’t tell.
“It’s an abstract flower,” she said. “It’s like the ones I used to give away when I was a street performer. Since I never got to give you one then, this me giving you one now.
“Oh my god, I love it,” I gushed and slightly lied. I just couldn’t tell what to think and over the years I’ve learned that when it comes to getting a tattoo, you need to be damned certain.
But Palmer wasn’t done explaining. “I want it to also serve as a reminder,” she said, “to always accept what others are willing to offer you.”
Well, fuck! She just gave it some serious meaning. Now I HAVE to get it tattooed.
As we started to get up, thinking our turn had come to an end, Palmer told us to stop and get back down with her. “I want to cuddle with you two handsome men for just a little bit longer.”
There we laid, Amanda spooning me while Luke spooned her from behind (after spooning, I think it’s fair to be on a first name basis). I couldn’t stop laughing. It was quite possibly the best, most perfect three-way that I would ever have.
After the meeting, I asked Luke what he REALLY thought of what she had drawn. He confirmed that it would definitely make a great tattoo. So I avoided all showering until I could get into the shop the next day and have the artist needle over what she had done (rather than just trying to re-create it). Per Palmer’s suggestion, he cleaned it up and it indeed fit the aesthetic of the rest of my tattoos. She knew exactly what she was doing.
Palmer also knows exactly what she’s talking about when it comes to the concept of asking. Society doesn’t like asking for things. It feels shameful as if we cannot suffice for ourselves. Then the fear of rejection makes us feel weak and vulnerable. I know I certainly felt more vulnerable asking for something like this - something far more than what I was “supposed to.”
Here’s the thing. Even though a thesaurus will lump both in the same, weakness and vulnerability are not truly synonyms. They don’t exactly mean the same thing and they certainly aren't mutually exclusive to one another. Someone, in fact, and more often than not, can be vulnerable with a sense of strength - especially when it is you putting yourself in the position of vulnerability.
It took courage to ask Palmer for the tattoo and, after the fact, I realized the actual payoff far outweighed the potential risk. Had I let fear or pride stop me, I wouldn’t have had this amazing story to tell. Being vulnerable and asking for more than “I should” paid off.
Since meeting Palmer, I have adopted “asking” as part of my experiment in living the vulnerable life. I ask for things all the time - from airport transportation to help painting the house. Of course I offer some kind of compensation - whether it be the little money I have or some bizarre slices of pizza (chicken, jalapeño, and pineapple… anyone?)
I have been amazed at what one can achieve by doing this. It goes beyond badass tattoos and simple favors. Over this last year, I have gone as far as asking several talented friends for their professional help in the development of my social media and this blog. I won’t name names (yet) but they know who they are and I cannot thank them enough for this supportive sense of human connection that keeps me feeling motivated and thriving.
Whenever I need help, I do feel a little vulnerable about it. But I just look at my tattoo and remind myself of Amanda Palmer’s words: be willing to accept what others are willing to offer you. And in the end, we won’t really know what others are willing to offer us… unless we ask first.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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