So, a while ago Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra released the album Theatre is Evil. The digital version of the album was put up on Amanda Palmer’s website with a “pay what you want” price-structure – including the option of taking it free, gratis and for nothing.
Aside from listening to a few older Dresden Dolls tracks on YouTube I hadn’t actually owned any Amanda Palmer music. I wanted this album but at the time I was skint. Proper, actually, boracic lint. Not enough spare cash to spend on music, anyway.
So I downloaded it. For free. And I absolutely loved it. The track Want It Back, especially, has done some serious duty on my virtual turntable. (As an aside, I miss turntables. I don’t have one any more, and the attic is stuffed with vinyl which I can’t bear to part with, gathering dust and storing potential energy at such a rate that sometimes I fancy that the roof of the house is going to blow off in an explosion of noise that’ll sound like Supertramp having a fight with The Orb while Motorhead smash up the kitchen and Abba try vainly to calm everyone down).
But, yeah. I downloaded it free. And I felt guilty about it. And I sort of kept promising myself I’d pay for it sometime, and it never quite happened.
I like getting free stuff, but I also like people who make art to get their dues. I get a lot of free books but I try my damnedest to get them reviewed in high-profile publications as recompense. I think it might be a throwback to my working class upbringing. People just didn’t get stuff for nothing when I was a kid. They earned it. Someone tried to give you something – even a relative trying to press a fiver on you for your birthday – you felt bad, and turned it down, and they had to force it upon you, and it all got a bit messy and awkward.
But I did want to pay Amanda Palmer back for her album, and when I found out I was going to be interviewing her hubby Neil Gaiman, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity.
It would also, I thought, be the perfect opportunity to try to give Neil Gaiman an advance proof of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. But what if he said no? What if he said, “Thanks for the offer, but I have no time/inclination/energy to plough through your book. So I’m not even going to pretend I want it.”?
But then a solution presented itself. A book for an album. Was that fair exchange? I could at least suggest the option to Neil.
So I met Neil Gaiman, and we had a jolly time, and at the end of the interview I took out my proof of Gideon Smith, and I said to Neil: “Look, the fact of the matter is, I downloaded Amanda’s album for free from her site and I was skint. I can either give you a tenner now or a copy of this book to give to Amanda. It’s up to you.”
He chose the book. He asked me – nay, made me – sign it and leave a message for Amanda explaining the whole downloading-while-skint scenario. I hope it made it back to the States with him. I don’t mind if it doesn’t get read – though, let’s face it, which author starting out on their career wouldn’t hope that someone of Gaiman’s stature might say something like, “Hey, I read David Barnett’s book. It was effing brilliant!” – but I feel that in some small way a debt has been paid.
Though, to be honest, I think out of the whole transaction I got a slightly better deal out of it than Amanda Palmer…