Amanda Palmer and Friends
Forty-Five Degrees: Bushfire Charity Flash Record
You often hear people decry musicians who take a political stand with the command, “shut up and sing.” Amanda Palmer began the Australian leg of her No Intermission tour at the same time the worst bushfires in memory were incinerating large swaths of the country. The ecological disaster shocked the world. With the crisis raging all around her, Palmer took that command to shut up and sing and turned it into a mission statement. The Forty Five Degrees Bushfire Charity Flash Record was put together in just five days with the help of Brian Vilione (her foil in the Dresden Dolls), Missy Higgins, Clare Bowditch and other Ausie mussos. All proceeds will go to Firesticks Alliance, and indigenous led groups advocating better land management.
As you might imagine, Forty Five Degrees is a Spartan affair. There was no time to get fancy in the studio. Just get in there and spill your heart out. “My Favorite Things” starts off like many a playful Palmer cover. The first half of the song sees Amanda playing with the classic, substituting “boys in white dresses” to mix things up a bit. Around the midpoint in the tune, things turn tragic. “Rain never falling and whisked away kittens, Evacuations and cars people live in, Kangaroos burning and birds with no wings…” Amanda still cites the horrors she’s seeing as “my favorite things,” in a sort of PTSD fugue state.
“Suck it Up, Buttercup” is the only new song on the record. It was inspired by an installation Palmer did in Tasmania where people confessed their fears. The rest of the songs are by Australian musicians. “Beds Are Burning” was a hit for Midnight Oil. Missy Higgins turns the song originally written about indigenous land rights into a rallying cry for the brave folks responding to the fires. “Solid Rock” was another rock song championing indigenous rights when it came out in the 1980’s. Palmer, with the help of Fred Leone, give the song a meditative, almost prayerful reading. The original words about the dignity of the Aboriginal people of Australia apply to the current crisis in uncanny ways. “We’re living on borrowed time and the winds of change are blowing down the line.”
The remaining songs give us some insights into the Australian experience. Ted Egan’s song, “The Drover’s Boy” is a folk ballad about a white man who had to pass off his Aboriginal wife as his servant boy. “Black Smoke” by Emily Wurramara evokes images of her home on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory. Jen Cloher’s song, “Regional Echo”is about living in the distant outposts of Australia; places that feel like they exist outside of normal time and space. Midnight Oil’s song, “Trugnini” name checks one of the last full-blooded indigenous women in Tasmania, while painting a vivid picture of life in the Outback.
For a quickly dashed off response to a crisis, Amanda Palmer & Friends have created a moving impression of Australia. The record introduced me to musicians I didn’t know, but now want to check out. Shut up and play can say a lot.