Things to Do

Amanda Palmer Explores "The Art of Asking"

The musician-turned-author's first book preaches the importance of reaching out for help.

Amanda Palmer has raised eyebrows about how she’s asked for favors, but she still believes in reaching out to others. Photograph courtesy of Sixth & I.

Amanda Palmer is the first to admit she’s had a career many would call bizarre.

She got her start as a living statue called the Eight-Foot Bride in Boston. She created the “punk cabaret” band Dresden Dolls and its follow-up, Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra. She has a penchant for crowd-surfing naked and sometimes employs the F-word as a middle name. And she’s known to contact fans via social media for practice space or a couch to crash on when touring.

That DIY ethos came back to bite her in 2012 when she briefly became the internet’s most hated artist after raising $1.2 million through Kickstarter to fund a new album, then asking musicians to back her on tour—for free. Palmer defended her decision on her blog and broke down exactly how she’d spent the money; she also announced later that year that she would begin paying her “volunteer musicians.”

The 38-year-old has condensed the lessons gleaned from these experiences into her first book, The Art of Asking—a “memoir slash manifesto,” she calls it—that she discusses November 12 at Sixth & I. The kernel of the book began during a TED Talk Palmer gave last year, ostensibly to tell how she launched the most successful music crowd-funding project in history but also to explain her philosophy of requesting help without shame.

“Everybody at some point finds themselves in the position of needing to ask for a certain kind of help, and everybody finds themselves in the position of offering help,” she says. “Friends, time, energy, love, space, listening, talent—there are so many levels of asking for help that I think we just block off from our reality.”

A book had been in the back of her mind for some time, but the TED Talk—and a “dominatrix editor”—pushed her to commit words to page. The result is part autobiography, part business manual, part feminist statement, with an exploration of her marriage to fantasy author Neil Gaiman thrown in, all filtered through the idea that learning to trust and lean on others is a welcome necessity and an inescapable part of the human experience.

How Palmer’s hippie-ish theory plays in hyper-competent, type-A Washington remains to be seen, though she insists the “ask and ye shall receive” concept is universal. “Human beings like to help each other, and to feel connected and useful,” she says. “Sometimes they just need a way in.”

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This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.