Rather than get him a card for Father’s Day this year, Amanda Palmer has made an album with her dad. The pair’s covers record, You Got Me Singing, will be released on 15 July – and you can read Palmer’s take on her relationship with her father on Myoldman.org run by Q’s Features Editor Ted Kessler who has just published a book of the same title. Here in a guest column Jack Palmer explains how it feels to be the daddy to a Dresden Doll.
It’s interesting, to say the least, to have a blisteringly honest songwriter for a daughter. An early Dresden Dolls song was Half Jack, about Amanda’s struggle to establish her own unique identity. I heard Amanda and Brian play it at one of the first Dolls shows I attended.
Amanda says she was afraid of how I’d react to her singing about growing up the child of divorced parents. She needn’t have worried. In fact, what I felt listening to her sing was enormous pride and love that she was able to express so honestly what she felt. That song, in that moment, overcame years of the pain of a distant, on-and-off relationship. What other art form can do that?
In the years that followed, Amanda invited me to join her on stage a handful of times. Audiences were welcoming, if perhaps mostly for curiosity about her father. I’m a semi-professional choral singer, and you’ll find me singing hymns more sundays than not in various churches around the Washington DC area. I’ve sung in concert halls and churches from the Kennedy Center to St Paul’s, but never taken the stage alone, certainly never singing folks songs for a large audience. And my acoustic guitar had barely been strummed in decades when Amanda approached me to join her on stage.
Finally, After more than a decade of throwing the idea back and forth, Amanda and I went into a studio and laid down a collection of songs. If Half Jack began a healing, our time together recording was a labor of love – for the songs and making music together. We called the album You Got Me Singing, after the opening Leonard Cohen track. I think the title speaks to how we both feel about singing and the impact it’s had on the intersections of our lives.
Music has always been to hold up a clear mirror to society’s issues and keep them in plain sight as we continue to fumble for solutions. I introduced Amanda to “In the Heat of the Summer,” written by Phil Ochs more than fifty years ago in response to riots in Harlem after the fatal shooting of two black youths by a New York City policemen. Amanda returned the favor, suggesting Sinead O’Connor’s Black Boys on Mopeds about a tragically similar event twenty years later in London. It began to seem the recording project had become an excuse for each of us to share “our” music with the other.
The rest of the songs cover a range of subjects from a motorcycle to a nursery rhyme to a simple love song. Some I’ve known for years, others Amanda introduced me to. The oldest, Skye Boat Song, was suggested by Amanda’s husband, Neil.
The studio where we recorded in upstate New York used to be a church, which seemed appropriate, as my singing experience has been genereally religious in nature. But music’s purpose and power, whether performed in a cathedral, concert hall or rock club, whether by 150 voices and full orchestra or a duet with a guitar is always the same. Music can speak to us, touch us, and move us like nothing else.
Amanda was eight months pregnant when we made the album, and I’m pretty sure the baby could hear the music we were creating. As we recorded, I kept thinking about the span of three generations in the studio. When he listens to these songs someday, I hope my grandson will feel the love that went into them, then open his mouth and sing.
For more head to Amandapalmer.net.