The Dresden Dolls
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? -Virginia O'Hanlon.
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus? Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
(Printed as is, from the New York Sun, 1897)
Rock bands are pigeonholed into ever-increasingly minuscule sub-categorizations, but The Dresden Dolls continue to defy explanation and classification. While some have called it theatrical rock, punk cabaret, manic-musical, neo-glam-torch,...eventually even the most clever and creative describers shrug and say: "You just have to hear it to believe it."
Living in a two-faced, popular culture built on artifice that demands authenticity; The Dresden Dolls take the world stage, tear down the curtain, rip holes in the veneer and create their own rules, rhymes and reason. For the past five years, the duo has been climbing steadily out of the artistic trenches and into the mainstream of rock on their own terms. The Dolls thrive on their inherent juxtapositions. The musical-theater and New-Wave background of writer/singer/pianist Amanda Palmer mixes with drummer Brian Viglione's Heavy Metal roots to create a sonic smear of unclassifiable rock. Palmer wails; Viglione cackles. It is this dichotomy that supplies the band with a yin-yang quality that keeps them hurtling through space, pulling each other to and fro in an endless - and highly entertaining - match of musical wits.
After signing with Roadrunner Records in early 2004, the band has been enjoying a whirlwind schedule that has included headlining sold-out tours on four continents, opening for Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor hand-picked the band after seeing their homemade video for "Girl Anachronism" on television), performing at the world's biggest festivals including Coachella, Fuji Rock, Roskilde and Glastonbury, writing an original musical at the prestigious American Repertory Theater (scheduled to premiere in 2007) and releasing an innovative and acclaimed live DVD. A giant groundswell of interest - and a fan base that grows exponentially as the band tours - is setting the stage for an explosive response when Yes, Virginia, the band's newest collection of songs, is turned loose on an eager public this spring.
Produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie (Radiohead, The Pixies, Hole) and recorded over several weeks at Allaire Studios (a converted turn-of-the-century mansion in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York), Yes, Virginia is a rich tapestry that showcases the band's road-sharpened musical chemistry and digs deep into recesses of the human heart usually considered taboo. Songs like "Sex Changes" and "Dirty Business" blast listeners with earsplitting Marshall Stack Power and explore the pathology of identity crisis. Torch cousins "First Orgasm" and "Me & The Minibar" finds Palmer back alone at her piano, delicately unfolding her pained confessions. Viglione solidifies his place in the Drummer Pantheon as he delivers mind-boggling fills and flourishes on fast-and-furious tunes "Modern Moonlight" and "Necessary Evil." On "Mrs. O," a slightly cryptic mid-tempo ballad about the re-writing of history, Palmer takes on the dangerous character of a holocaust-denying old woman with the words "There's No Hitler and No Holocaust/No Winter and No Santa Claus/And Yes, Virginia, All Because/The Truth Won't Save You Now..." This line, and the title of the record itself, is a reference to the now-famous 1897 New York Sun letter to the editor in which 8-year old Virginia O'Hanlon questions the existence of Santa Claus. Palmer's ambiguous reaches at answering life's impossible questions - whether about identity, loneliness or technology - may echo dark, but underneath lies a timid optimism and a childlike wonder.
The Dolls have not lost their sense of the absurd, however, and the blacker-than-black-humor on "Mandy Goes To Med School" finds Palmer imagining a scenario in which she and drummer/cohort Viglione play a lighthearted and childish game of let's-pretend-we're-back-alley-abortionists. The album's final track, the pastoral and positive first single "Sing," brings it all home as Palmer boldly announces, "Life is no Cabaret/We're inviting you anyway," underlining The Dolls' real-life attempt to invite everyone into their party while maintaining the individuality that has enabled them to be a fixture rather than a fad.
Inclusion is an art form that The Dresden Dolls have perfected. The artwork for Yes, Virginia was culled from over 600 submissions from fans, painters and designers from around the globe. Each panel of the booklet includes original images directly inspired by the songs. Featured is up-and-coming New York painter Barnaby Whitfield, who plays Warhol to the Doll's Velvet Underground, creating beautifully disturbing scenes within the CD booklet reminiscent of post-WWI German Expressionists Otto Dix and Christian Schad.
This project is just one installment of the on-going artistic collaborations between the band and their fans. Additionally, a flood of home-made films, burlesque numbers, sculptures and animations to complete plays and musicals based around the band's songs have created a constant dialogue between band and audience. The same spirit exists at live shows, as manifested in the so-called "Brigade", where the Dolls collaborated with hundreds of performing artists ranging from high school drama troupes to top-shelf actors and professional circus artists, including members of Montreal's celebrated Cirque Eloize and San Fransiciso's Vau de Vire Society.
The Dolls' self-titled debut has been selling strong and steady. Initially released on Palmer's own Eight Foot Records in the fall of 2003, the album was subsequently re-released upon the band's signing with Roadrunner. The release of two wildly different singles, the manic-punk "Girl Anachronism" and the cabaret-tinged and bittersweet "Coin-Operated Boy," which debuted on KCRW via the influential DJ Nic Harcourt, swiftly went on to be the most-requested singles on a handful of stations nationwide. Both songs were showcased in wonderfully twisted videos shot and edited by Michael Pope. Airtime on MTV2 and the Internet immediately began to win the band thousands of admirers for their innovative style and "Coin-Operated Boy" received an MTVU award nomination.
The Dresden Dolls will surely continue spreading their musical call-to-arms into a world, which, though veiled by a mask of enlightenment, still seems as cynical as ever. The intangible madness, rage and love which passes between these two musicians radiates deeply into their audience, creating a human encounter that has - strangely - become unexpected in today's live music. Perhaps they need to be seen to be believed, but even then, it is the unseeable which makes this band magic.