Amanda Palmer Discusses Motherhood, Pink Floyd and Why She Breastfeeds Trump in a New Music Video

Protest art takes many forms: Kathy Griffin decapitated Donald Trump. Meryl Streep condemned Trump. Alec Baldwin impersonated the 45th president. And in a new music video, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer, the provocative singer-songwriter from Dresden Dolls, is undoubtedly the first celebrity to breastfeed Trump (or at least a Trump-like character). 

The video is for Palmer’s lushly orchestrated cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” a haunting song whose lyrics feel eerily prescient 40 years after it was written. (“Mother, should I build the wall?/Mother, should I run for president?”) The song echoed through Palmer’s head during the dislocating early days of the Trump administration. Her first child, a son with husband Neil Gaiman, had been born in 2015. And she found herself thinking about the meaning of motherhood in a time of demagoguery. 

Palmer channeled that into the video, which depicts a dystopian world in which children are made to build a wall while a callous Trump-like character looks on. In a striking (and graphic) scene at the conclusion of the clip, Palmer rescues the children and “mothers” the Donald look-alike. In an interview with Newsweek, Palmer discussed her inspiration for the video, her desire to have compassion for Trump despite loathing his politics and why she went ahead with a video that she expected would bring her death threats and doxxing on the internet.

I wanted to talk to you about your new music video.
I’m so happy that you want to talk about it! Not many people wanted to talk about it.

Why don’t people want to talk about it?
Oh God, what a hard question to answer. I think the news cycle and the art cycle has gotten more and more black-and-white. People don’t want subtlety because subtlety takes time and energy to digest. And time and energy are in painfully low supply right now. I think everyone has been trained by algorithms to think and write in clickbait. Making a video saying, “Hey, watch this video in which I breastfeed Donald Trump!” could be misinterpreted as sensationalism in itself, and I worried about that. But I didn’t write that into the script for shock value. That was the idea that I wanted to share. It’s a complicated idea! It’s not a simple idea, to say look at Donald Trump and look at all these politicians and let’s consider what happened to them to create the world that we’re living in.

You’ve dedicated this video to “the current administration.” How has living through the Trump administration impacted your connection to “Mother”?
I got the idea for the video right after [Trump’s] inauguration. I was in Australia and obsessively checking the news. My son had just turned 1. I was so afraid at the rhetoric I saw coming out of America. Looking at crowds of thousands of people chanting, “Build a wall! Build a wall!”—I couldn’t believe this was America. 

I thought, I have this child. And all the mothers I’ve been talking to are particularly on edge right now. We see what’s happening to our country. And it terrifies us that this is the narrative that our kids are going to be handed. the flip side is, we have the kids! They don’t! We’re the mothers. We get to teach these kids the difference between living in a world of fear and living in a world of love. The government doesn’t get to tell you how to raise your child. The government doesn’t get to tell you how to educate your child emotionally. That was part of the message of the video. You can build all the walls. You can shut out all the immigrants. You can be a white supremacist. But we have the children. We get to teach them empathy without conditions. Even for you, Donald Trump. Because you seem to need it most of all.

Your son is 2 years old now. What’s it like introducing him to the world during such a frightening time?
In a way, it’s a wonderful time to have a baby because I don’t sit around talking with my 2-year-old about politics. We sit around reading Dr. Seuss and Winnie-the-Pooh and talking about the moon and animals. Which is such a welcome [break]! If my child were 10, I would have to have those difficult conversations. That’s right down the street in my future, because the kid grows fast. But there’s this kind of wonderful panacea in being a parent of a baby because you’re still in a beautiful world of childhood, where everything is trust and compassion and kindness.

Can you talk about filming those last moments of the music video? The climax of the video is memorable and disturbing and shocking. 
Casting for the role of Donald Trump was complicated because we needed to find someone who could pull off the character but was progressive and large-hearted enough that they would get fully onboard with the action. I thought, “We have to get Chris Wells.” He's a professional actor, he is very openly queer and a known peace activist. And a friend. I thought, there are not a lot of people with whom I have that degree of trust. But I have it with Chris Wells, and if he can make it on set, I can do this without any heebie-jeebies. The two of us both had to mean it and not phone it in. I think he did a beautiful job.

Amanda Palmer Amanda Palmer and her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, pose at the Warner Brothers TV 2013 SXSW party in Austin, Texas, on March 9, 2013. Palmer calls Gaiman her “editorial board.” Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Were you nervous filming that scene with him?
Yeah, I was. We finished it and hugged each other and high-fived. And then it occurred to me, for the first time really deeply, that if the video was misinterpreted, I might wind up spending a couple months of my life getting doxxed by angry people from 4chan.

Trump supporters, you mean?
Whoever. There’s a lot of people out there who have traditionally gotten angry at me for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand why. I turned to Chris and said, “Maybe we’re going to have to cut that part from the final cut.” I’m not sure I can weather another storm like 2012, when I spent a year getting yelled at on the internet by strangers who don’t know me and don’t understand me. I have a kid now. I have a family. I don’t want anyone threatening to come and bomb my house.

I thought about it really deeply. I showed the cut to [husband] Neil, who is my in-house censor [laughs]. We’re each other’s editorial board for certain things. He said, “If you put this out, your life is going to be difficult, and I suggest you not do it because you don’t need your life to be difficult right now.” I was so upset. I went to bed thinking, “Oh my God, I know he’s right, but I’ll be more upset if I don’t.” I saw Neil the next morning and I said, “I appreciate what you said. You’re right. And I’m still going to do it.” He looked at me like a great husband and said, “Then I’m gonna totally support you.” This is why I love him so much.

I wrote this back in January, and it’s now November. To me, this video means something different right now, given what is happening.

Because of women speaking out about sexism and assault, you mean?
Yes. [Women] are refusing to allow the system to continue crushing their narrative. This is the thing about being a woman in art and in rock. I’ve been here 20 years. To succeed, you’re expected to act like a man and make art like a man and be happy if you’re accepted into the club. I was really ambivalent about having a child. As a breastfeeding mother, you do not have a place at the table of the rock world.

This is the diet I grew up on—watching MTV and finding no way to connect the idea of rock ’n’ roll to the idea of motherhood. Because motherhood was sort of the antithesis of hipness. Which is ridiculous! If you think about art and what it is and what it’s supposed to do, mothers are some of the most astute and artistically valuable voices in society given our stake in the game.

Related: Does Bush-era protest music still hold up?

Are you a big Pink Floyd fan? Was this song echoing in your head?
I wouldn’t call myself a diehard Pink Floyd fan. I would call myself a diehard fan of The Wall. When I discovered The Wall when I was 15—in particular the film—I pointed to that movie and said, “That is what art should be. This is what great artists should be talking about: the ingredients that are going into making everybody unhappy.”

Amanda Palmer Amanda Palmer, the musician, songwriter and lead singer of the band The Dresden Dolls, refuses to let the system crush her narrative. Shervin Lainez

It’s such a disturbing album too. There’s so much going on.…
It’s so good! And on top of it, Roger Waters and David Gilmour are amazing musicians. It would be such an easy thing to do badly. But the music is great. The lyrics are great. It’s not heavy-handed. A lot of my own songwriting deals with the same kind of [attempt] to look at the ingredients behind unhappiness, behind anxiety, behind depression. It’s easy to write a song about being angry, being in love, being depressed. To me, what’s more fascinating is trying to get one psychological level deeper, to ask, Why are we this way?

I haven’t been alive that long. I’m only 41. I’ve seen my fair share of presidents come and go. Never before have I seen myself looking at a president, thinking, “Oh my God, what happened to you? What must have hurt you so deeply to make you so insecure that you need this brand of power and wealth and reassurance.” It’s heartbreaking, really. Donald Trump seems to live in this world of such extreme scarcity—of love, of compassion, of everything. You can see in his eyes that he did not grow up feeling safe and nurtured. You don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to see this man as totally wounded.

There is an entire cottage industry of people trying to psychoanalyze him and not really getting far.
Sure, but the basics are all you need. Anyone who is that hungry for power and wealth and that willing to throw other human beings under the bus—it’s like a cartoon tyrant. And it’s always traceable back to a place of lack. It is Human Being 101. It’s not hard to look at a guy like that and, if you’re able to turn on your engines of empathy and compassion, really feel for the guy. And this is as a very lefty person, which I am. Not a popular thing to say! I got myself in the same sort of trouble when I wrote a poem for the Boston Marathon bomber [in 2013].

I remember that.
Basically, we must be able to empathize with all human beings. Empathy does not mean that we approve of human beings and their actions and their politics. But if we as a society shut off our ability to empathize and try to understand one another, we’re all fucked. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times in a thousand different ways—and I still get grief for it! To this day. As a feminist, it’s even more confusing.

Amanda Palmer Amanda Palmer’s new music video was inspired by her disgust at the Trump administration. Palmer, the provocative singer-songwriter from The Dresden Dolls, is undoubtedly the first celebrity to breastfeed Trump. Amanda Palmer/YouTube

Let’s say someone sends this video to President Trump. What message do you want him to take away from it?
That he is as deserving of love as everybody else. And that all the hateful, bigoted, racist, fear-fueled rhetoric in the world cannot stop a society of people from being ultimately on the side of compassion.

That would be nice for him to realize.
Wouldn’t that be fucking nice! It’s rough with him. It is like trying to suck water from stone. Somewhere in there, there’s a different kind of human.

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