The Perks of Being a Dolls Fan ( or.. a community, not just a concert)

disclaimer: if you’re not an amanda palmer/Dresden Dolls fan maybe skip this blog because it may sound like fannish bleating.. it may sound like that anyway, but if you’re not into it, skip it.

I first started listening to Amanda Palmer when she was first a part of awesome punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls. This was after my young brother, Nick put a mix cd under my door as a birthday gift with the note that read ” listen to this, sounds like you might like it” and I did.    The year after that I went and saw the Dresden Dolls for the first time live, sneaking Nick in as he was underage.  It wasn’t untill I saw the Dolls live for the first time that I realized it isn’t just for the music that people turned up.

The fans were a community. Incredibly welcoming, and supportive of one another. At that time I knew no one, i had never been to a show like this before.  The fact we were greeted outside by crazy people, some in costumes,  some who were drag kings handing out chocolate coins as the “coin operated boys”  meant something to me and  made me feel less out of place.   I was reluctant to get into contact with groups of fans, my previous interactions with fans of other leaving me cold. There were some who unless you’d been to shows around the country or were planning to see every show on that tour, or followed the band for ten years, dressed a certain way etc you weren’t  “hardcore” enough. This couldn’t be less of a case with the dolls. Yes you get groups of friends pop up, but those groups are always welcoming of new members, and not as cliquey or stand offish as i’d found with other bands.  That evening we ended up drinking and I believe it was my brother’s first case of the staggers (or being drunk enough to puke) as my Dad used to call it. 

Fast Forward to 2010.  I just moved to Melbourne, thinking that my career was not going in the direction I wanted it to go in,  having left a horrendous past behind, and knowing absolutely no one, I decide to be a poet full time.  The only people I really knew were Tom Dickins and Jen Kingwell, having just met them at Adelaide Fringe a couple of months previously, but barely..  I had no close relatives, no connection to anyone.  Through posting on the shadowbox (the dresden dolls fan forum) and re-connecting with friends who had travelled to adelaide for the shows, I instantly met people and felt less alone in a huge city. (well, more huge than the one i had just come from) Dolls fans welcomed me, supported and cared about me.

In May that year Nick died suddenly of a brain haemmorage . He had an exceptionally low platelet count as a result of chemotherapy he’d just started receive after some five years of remission for a childhood cancer.  Some in the Dolls community in Adelaide knew him, and were exceptionally loving and caring during that time with a few of them attending his funeral and all supporters were really kind and generous and just downright wonderful. It was a sad and horrible time, but a love of music and the love of music lovers got me through it.

I had other personal tragedies during that year I’ve touched on in other blogs,  but what got me through was the ability to reach out to music lovers, dolls and amanda fans, some I’d only just made contact with, some i’d never made contact with, through the internet and face to face made life bearable. What makes it special to me is that we don’t have anything in common except the music, the love of art. We have no personal investment in each other – only the desire to be friends and allies.  This helped me come out as Matthew in mid 2011. Knowing the acceptance and love from this new group of people, knowing that many of them had similar struggles, made my decision to live full time this way a lot easier. To them, it wasn’t a big deal. This year, after late night fast food on a hot January night a group of us sat and talked about our lives. Having only just met, this was weird to me, but it’s the openness and forthrightness of Dresden Dolls fans, the fact that yes you might have depression, but you’re still welcome here, makes me keep coming back.  Sometimes I wish I could transplant that attitude into other areas of life, the ability to embrace the “inner freak” in us all, the inner misfit, the inner not quite right, and the ability to say, it’s ok, because here the inner misfit is welcome and has a place. 

The attitude is the same within the concert venue as without.  If a person is alone, has no way of getting home, or is in trouble for whatever reason at a show (loutish or drunk people, or just a small person getting squashed in the mosh pit) we look out for each other.  I’d never leave my wallet, my uke, or my backpack anywhere at another show but in Melbourne at the January concert, I could.  It’s that implicit trust we all have not to fuck with each other (unless we all want to, many relationships have formed, but that isn’t what I meant)  but to nurture and support each other.

So what fosters this attitude?  I’ve got to put it down to the artists themselves.  Amanda has said it many a time, that  from the very first days of the Dolls they have always strived to include their fans in whatever way possible in the shows.  This is evident in their committment to signings, the brigades of times gone by,  the more recent concept of “Ninja Gigs” and the promotional aspects of the show – like the street team.  The flow on from that is not only do we get to feel part of something, we get to know each other.  That is how community is formed.  That is how friendships are made.  That is how people come to really care about each other.

If someone is worried about not having anyone to go with to an AFP or Dolls show, tell them not to worry, they will walk away having made life long friends.  


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