Notes from an extra in the Amanda Palmer “Voicemail for Jill” video

Amanda Palmer

I’m in Amanda Palmer’s latest video!

I’ve been trying for a  few weeks  to come up with the sentence to end all sentences to start this post with. I was hoping for something whip-smart, witty and brilliant.

Then I realized something: the damn sentence doesn’t matter. So let’s just forge ahead shall we because I’ve got a hell of a good story to tell. As someone with ADHD, telling stories briefly and in a concise, succinct way is damn near impossible. I ramble. I give too many details. I can’t seem to help myself. That said, I invite you to settle in because I think you’ll appreciate this story, even if Palmer is an artist you’re not familiar with.

The video is for the song “Voicemail for Jill.” It’s a track from Amanda Palmer’s new album “There Will Be No Intermission.” The album and video were released on the same day: Friday, March 8. As for the album on a whole: NBD. Just my FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2019. Read my review here. Oh and while you’re there by all means poke around as I’ve written about Amanda a bunch of times and also reviewed a Dresden Dolls show.

OK so the video. Although this post is about my experience of being part of said video, it is also my sincere hope that a key takeaway is HOW IMPORTANT THE SONG AND VIDEO ARE, especially now as attempts are being made all over the country to dismantle abortion rights. The struggle is not only real, it’s terrifying.

“Voicemail for Jill”  (click if you’d like to listen to the song before forging further ahead, I’ll of course include the actual video at the end of this post) is about abortion – and supporting rather than shaming women who have them. Amanda’s been trying to write such a song for many years.  The song is structured as Amanda leaving a voicemail message from London to her friend Jill on the morning of Jill’s abortion in Boston. The message offers support, love, friendship, empathy and even the promise of a party; an abortion shower. “Voicemail for Jill” isn’t hellbent on being a straight-up political song, it’s more, at least in my opinion, one that is focused on compassion. The song acknowledges that no one is happy about getting an abortion. It offers a lifeline to women who have felt alone, misunderstood, villainized, threatened and judged.

jill walking in boston 2
Kate Adams as Jill in a still from “Voicemail for Jill”

“You don’t need to offer the right explanation
You don’t need to beg for redemption or ask for forgiveness
And you don’t need a courtroom inside of your head
Where you’re acting as judge and accused and defendant and witness”

So we’re clear on how importance this song is right? OK.

Now I’m going to nerd out about being in the video.

First off, in addition to being a GIANT fan of Amanda’s, I am also one of her patrons. This means I kick in a little dough every month to support her making art. Patreon is a fantastic platform. For info click here.

I mention Patreon because membership has its perks, including being on the receiving end of casting call for the “Voicemail for Jill” video shoot that went out in early January.

The post included these words from Amanda: “This video – if i get it right – feels like it will be more than just a video, it will be a love letter, it will be a message in a bottle to women everywhere, it will be…a thing. i really, really, wanna get it right.”

I scanned the list of what the shoot was looking for and it was only when I came upon the last category that I dared to dream I could maybe get cast: Party Attendees. Requirements were this: All ethnicities, genders, personal clothing style, and body types. You will be being genial, happy, and having fun at a “party”.. possibly dancing, general nice frivolity. I had to email the video team a photo and a little bit about myself and then wait and see. I sat on this for a day or two. Then I gave myself permission to take a little risk and sent in my stuff. A couple of weeks later I got a response. I WAS IN! As you can imagine, I lost my mind with excitement. Me? In a music video? And not just ANY music video. AN AMANDA PALMER ONE. What the what? How can this be happening?

Then I started to worry. Not full scale panic, but a mid-range level of worry and all my worries were born out of massive insecurity.

Would I look dumb?
Would I look fat?
Would I be a zillion times less cooler than everyone else?
Would I screw up?
Would I make a fool of myself?

I sat with these thoughts long enough to remind myself of a key piece of information:

THIS ISN’T ABOUT ME. This is about creating art because art -in all its forms – is essential. So in a sense, I insecurity-shamed myself to, well… get over myself. I had to take all of that bullshit out of the equation. It tried to bite me a few more times, but I did my best to firmly (but with empathy) kick it to the curb.

The original day of shooting that included the party scene had to be rescheduled because the director got sick. Then my jury duty almost caused me having to miss the entire thing. But somehow, it all worked out and the next thing you know it’s Thursday, Feb. 7 and worked for for half the day before heading to Boston for the shoot. My friend and co-worker Sally, god love her, was in charge of my make-up. I own it but rarely wear it and am terrible at putting it on. Sal worked wonders. To be clear, wearing make-up was not required. But I figured fuck it, I may as well try and look good-ish. Eyeshadow, eye liner and mascara helped the cause.  We were instructed to show up ready to go wearing what we might wear to a party. We were also told to bring a second option. It was up to the director what we’d end up wearing.

So I busted out one of my favorite items of clothing. It’s one that I rarely have occasion to wear,  a  burgundy colored velvet motorcycle jacket. I also busted out my EPIC pair of tall, dark red heeled leather boots that are the absolute BOMB, even if I can barely walk in them. I threw a few other things in a bag (as instructed) and then it was off to Boston (I drove in other footwear, lest anyone be worried about that). Said outfit can be seen in the photo below.

Amanda Palmer
Being welcomed by Amanda Palmer at the “Voicemail for Jill” video shoot.
Photo by Jesse Epstein

And when I say I was off to Boston, I don’t mean just ANY location. Holy shit, the party scene was shot on the top floor of the legendary CLOUD CLUB! If you’re a hardcore fan of Dresden Dolls and/or Amanda Palmer then you likely know what the Cloud Club is. If not, fear not, there’s a groovy website that will tell you everything you want to know. But the short version is that Cloud Club is a pair of side by side townhouses in Boston owned by Lee Barron who bought them in the 70s and founded an artist co-op like none other.  And holy shit, Lee was there on video shoot night . Amanda Palmer has kept an apartment there since the late 90s. Want to take a massive walk down Cloud Club memory lane? Carve out some time for this. Or to go even further back, check out THIS. Cloud Club holds a huge amount of Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer history. If those walls could talk…(and frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they did).

Knowing that I was about to be granted access to this sacred locale was a trip all on its own to try wrap my head around.

One by one us party extras assembled outside Cloud Club at the appointed time. We were all big Amanda Palmer fans, some of us based in New England and a few from way further than that. One woman, Dianna, had come all the way from the west coast just to participate in the video shoot. She was literally in Boston for about 48 hours. That is impressively hardcore!  We were let in by one and the nicest guy in the world named Eli who let us all use his first floor apartment as a greenroom/place to hang before it was time to head upstairs. During this pre-shoot time was when a woman named Jacque walked in. We had met and hung out at one of the three Dresden Dolls shows in Boston in November of 2017. I hadn’t seen her since and had no idea she was in the shoot yet there she was and this was both entirely fabulous and surprising yet not surprising at all. Things in the world of Amanda Palmer sometimes work in mysterious ways.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the first level of Cloud Club. This is where we first met the video’s director, Amber Sealey who could not have been any more welcoming. She also gave our outfits the once over and a few of us, including me, got asked to make a few modifications. Off went the black jeans and blue Taos boots and on went my retro blue patterned pants and yes…the red boots. In all, there were ten of us party extras and we all looked fab!

Climbing the stairs to the top level of Cloud Club I felt like ascending the stairs to another dimension. Said dimension isn’t all that different that the one we’re normally in. But there were a few key differences. In the Cloud Club dimension, the only  tense that that mattered was the present.  My past didn’t haunt me and the future felt vague. In the Cloud Club dimension I could spend actual time with one of my favorite musicians.  And once I climbed that final step and was standing in the sanctuary that is the top floor of the Cloud Club,  another realization struck me: This was really happening!

The top level of Cloud Club is the dream-like creation of Lee Barron and it’s the kind of place that once are in, you don’t want to leave. It’s magical, mystical, forest-like and you don’t feel like you’re in Boston. Narnia maybe. But not Boston or not anywhere you could ever find on a map.

Have you ever been in a music video? Me neither. I had no idea what to expect. I had to sign a “music video actor release” for god’s sake. And BTW, this was a paid gig!

I was immediately impressed with everyone involved from the director to the people handling cameras and dealing with lighting and people dealing with everything else that goes into an undertaking such as this. I may have not had anything to compare this to, but it sure as shit was a highly professional undertaking.

THANK GOD THERE WAS WINE. Though I’m more of a whisky girl, I have to say that the wine that was out both as a prop and for our enjoyment helped me immensely to loosen up. Despite my best efforts, I was nervous. This was all SO NEW to me. I appear on TV once a month to talk about upcoming concerts,  I have a radio show and I host events from time to time. I’m not shy…usually. But this was a WHOLE OTHER THING. When I was a sophomore in high school I got a TINY part in a play. I had TWO lines and I forgot one of them. What the fuck was I doing in a music video?  Even as a “party goer” extra surely I was going to massively fail. More wine, please. But I reminded myself: this was about helping to MAKE ART, not about my bullshit insecurity.

Amber started to talk to us about what was going to happen, how it was all going to go down. She instructed yours truly walk across the room and start talking to another party goer. Other people were given loose direction and we were all told to not look at the camera.

I don’t follow directions well. I had a physical therapist once tell me (lovingly, he was great) that I was a motor moron. I also realized there would be scenes that we’d be dancing in (which, HELLO, was clearly stated in the casting call). Oh god. What had I gotten myself into? But wait. The art!  Remember the art, I told myself. We forged ahead.

At some point, I can’t remember the exact moment because there was a lot going on, Amanda joined us and talked to us for a bit. I’ve been a giant fan  of hers for many years and as a journalist I’ve interviewed her and written about her for the Portland Press Herald newspaper as well as this music blog. But until this point I had never had anything resembling a substantial face to face conversation with her. Said another way, she didn’t know who the hell I was. There was no reason why she would.  I had never hung around after a show to get something signed. In the fall of 2017 she walked up the steps of a Harvard Square church where an event she was part of was happening and I was the only person there in line at the moment and she asked me what door I thought she should go in. Even then I didn’t actually say hello or introduce myself. It’s not so much that I was starstruck (and trust me, I can be starstruck. Read my piece about meeting Bono for proof) it’s just, I don’t know, I just never wanted to engage in a quick, meaningless exchange with the likes of Amanda. But I don’t know, scanning my memory now surely I may have said hello when Dresden Dolls played at a Bull Moose record store in Maine about a million years ago? I guess it doesn’t matter. The point is that here was a unique opportunity that might actually permit at least snippets of real conversation in a non-rushed, non meet & greet and non fan-meeting-artist setting.

So when the moment to say hello was in front of me, I did indeed introduce myself and it came as no surprise that Amanda was super cool about it. She put two and two together that I was Aimsel Ponti of Aimsel on the Record. Over the course of the next few hours in between shots and such, we had little moments, like bonding over The Cure. But, and this part is an essential one, for the most part it just felt normal. Well I mean as normal as being in a video shoot can be. We were all part of a production which was on a time schedule and there was work to be done. Said another way: this wasn’t social hour, we all had jobs to do. Any “fun” as far as I’m concerned was a bonus. Little did I know what would ensue.

During the entire shoot, mostly 80s alternative music was being played. They were of course just shooting video so the audio didn’t matter. In fact, us party goer extras hadn’t even heard “Voicemail for Jill” at the time the shoot was happening. That would come later in a very unexpected way. Hold that thought.

hayley rosenblum of amber, kate and amanda
Kate Adams (Jill), director Amber Sealey and Amanda Palmer.
Photo by Hayley Rosenblum

Kate Adams, who portrayed Jill, had also arrived and she was lovely. We were into it now. This was happening. Scenes were being shot. Conversations were happening around the room. Different things were happening. It was all being filmed. I didn’t really know where the cameras were. It almost didn’t matter.

For one scene Amber had us all sit in a circle, some in chairs and some on the floor, in the corner of the room. It was the ten of us, plus Amanda with Kate in middle. The scene involved  a sheet cake, after all this was an abortion shower. As Amanda put it so goddamn perfectly with epic timing:  it was not a birthday cake, it was not a birthday party. Zing!

The scene involved clinking glasses, eating cake and showing the Jill character a whole lot of love. But the scene also involved something else, something that will always stay with me. Amber said she was going to point to a few of us and ask us to share something personal. The first person called upon, and I won’t say whom because it was indeed quite personal, shared that her son had died about five years ago from a drug overdose. She was, as you can imagine, quite emotional when speaking about her son and this of course made all of us quite emotional. It was rough. But it was honest. Then Amber asked someone else to share and in that moment, I prayed to god that I wasn’t going to get called on. Me, who loves to talk and loves the spotlight, didn’t want to say one word. I was teetering on the edge of full blown tears and I don’t even know why. I felt that had I been called on I would have burst out crying without explanation or gone the other way and made some dumb joke. Thankfully, I wasn’t called on. I think in all three people shared and it all got quite real in a hurry.

Aimsel Ponti, Zia Revere and Amanda Palmerin a still from
A still from “Voicemail for Jill.” Me, Zia Revere and Amanda Palmer.

From there we were moved to the center of the room and dancing happened. I had just enough wine in me to do as  I was told and it was REALLY FUN. Then we were told to all draw in close for the mother of all group hugs with Kate in the middle.

When the shoot officially wrapped it occurred to Amanda that we should probably hear the song, “Voicemail for Jill.” We of course thought this was an excellent idea. But it wasn’t mean to be. It kept cutting out and the issue couldn’t be resolved.

Get ready. Because you won’t believe what happened next. I still can’t. Amanda made a quick, executive decision and we all marched down two flights of stairs into HER ACTUAL APARTMENT. Crammed into the kitchen with a different audio set-up, Amanda again tried to play us the song. Nope. It still wasn’t working correctly.

Are you ready for this next part?

Amanda had us all move over into the room off the kitchen. This room was full of all sorts of Dresden Dolls stuff (cds, merchandise, etc). But there was something else of note in that room: a baby grand piano. She was going to play the song live for us.  Her goddess-of-all-things assistant Hayley Rosenblum pulled up the lyrics for Amanda on a phone and Amanda sat down and played it. I happened to be at a spot where I was literally standing inches from part of the piano.  A few times during the song, I closed my eyes and put my palm on top of it to feel the vibrations. I’ve never done or experienced anything like that before. Not to mention the fact that “Voicemail for Jill” is beautiful and emotional and powerful and tear-inducing.

I’ve been around the sun a few times. I’ve had more than my fair share of to-die-for experiences both as a music journalist and as a fan but I gotta tell you, this was a whole other thing.

When it was time to leave about six of us repaired to a bar around the corner just to hang for a bit and chat. I for one couldn’t quite process what had just happened over the past few hours but I for sure wasn’t ready to let the evening end. I think everyone felt that way. Contact info was exchanged and some of us are still in touch and it’s lovely.

This was all in early February. A month later the video was released. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be something quite special. I fully expected the party scene to only be featured for a fleeting second but it was actually in there for a longer period of time than I thought. I didn’t know if I would see myself (or would even want to) but there I am, I think for three different moments (and to be clear, these moments are super quick).

Most of the video is of Jill’s character hooking up with the man, sleeping with him, arguing with him and then walking through Boston on the way to her abortion appointment. You don’t need me to narrate it for you, just watch it. It’s stunning and intense.  I can’t believe they turned it around in a month. Amber Sealey and everyone involved in the production of the “Voicemail for Jill” video is a goddamn hero in my book.

I’m going to share again what Amanda had said before the video was made: “This video – if i get it right – feels like it will be more than just a video, it will be a love letter, it will be a message in a bottle to women everywhere, it will be…a thing. i really, really, wanna get it right.” Amanda, Amber, Kate, everyone, you sure did get it right. I’m in awe of this video. In absolute awe of it. Being even just a tiny part of it is something I’m proud of, even if I still can’t believe it happened.

I think I’ve said everything I need to say.

Clear your head for a moment.

Here’s “Voicemail for Jill”

Video credits:
Amber Sealey (Director), Matt Crum (Cinematographer), Stefanie Sparks (Producer), Jesse Epstein(Producer), Patrick Nelson Barnes (Editor) and Matt Crum (Colorist). A complete list of cast and crew appears in the description of the YouTube clip.

Ponti out.

One thought on “Notes from an extra in the Amanda Palmer “Voicemail for Jill” video

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