by Seth Rogovoy
(ANNANDALE-on-HUDSON) – From the very first time I heard it, one of my favorite Amanda Palmer songs has been “The Bed Song.” It’s an intimate, first-person account of a long-term relationship, which uses the couple’s evolving sleeping arrangements as a weighty symbol of their emotional entanglement or lack of such. It’s a remarkably mature song that I assume was written when the songwriter was in her early thirties – to soon for her to have experienced the depths of the long, slow decay of a relationship directly. But Amanda Palmer is a true artist, and somehow she was able to tap into a sad truth about many modern-day love relationships.
One of the things that also always attracted me to the song was its open-endedness. There’s a mystery at the core of “The Bed Song,” implied in the repeated refrain, “I would have told you, if you’d only asked me.” Which to me raises two more questions: Is this a song about the general lack of and essential need for open and honest communication in love relationships? And equally important – just what would the characters in the song have told each other?
All these questions, as well as Palmer’s gorgeous performance on this song, which features some of her most glorious piano playing and melodic leaps – it’s a mini-opera, in some ways – has always kept me coming back for more, as well as unsettled me no matter how many times I hear the song. So when I heard that Palmer was in residence this fall at Bard College to work with students on an adaptation of the song into a full-blown staged musical, I knew I was there.
I saw the show on its closing night last Saturday, November 8, 2014, at the LUMA Theater in Bard’s Fisher Center. While I don’t want to review it per se – it’s labeled a “work-in-progress” and most of the cast and crew are non-professional students – I do just want to offer a few observations about “The Bed Show.” First of all, Amanda Palmer is an incredibly generous artist to have basically handed over this song – as well as other of her songs – to a creative ensemble of students and her high school drama teacher and invite them all to collaborate with her to expand the song into a theatrical evening. How exciting for the students to be able to work with this virtuoso – an actress and theater personality herself, as well as something of a rock star, but one so humble and down-to-earth that as the audience filed in and took their seats, Palmer, accompanied by student musicians, ambled through the crowd improvising short songs based on any topic theatergoers chose.
Kind of a cross between the Who’s “Tommy” and “Rent,” the show easily has the makings of a professional production. In its current version, the concerns raised in the book veered from the manifest content of “The Bed Song” and focused on matters of particularly contemporary relevance to college students, including abortion and sexual abuse. If this is what they found of significance in the source material, so be it. The performances were quite good for a college ensemble; the music was terrific; Palmer’s version of “The Bed Song” may have been the best I’ve ever heard; and if I was still left with my questions about the song unanswered, that’s as much a tribute to Palmer the artist and the brilliance embedded into that work of art.