My friend Amy passed away last year. And really, to say “friend” feels a little disingenuous. I’d say what we had was a budding friendship.
I met Amy during a time when she was dating a good friend of mine, and while we were briefly co-workers. I knew of her before then because we had a handful of mutual friends and acquaintances, and because Bloomington is a small place and it’s fairly easy to at least recognize the faces of most everyone who gets around town very much. Even though we didn’t work in the same department at the library, we would bump into each other in the hall pretty frequently and have a chat and share a few laughs and some small talk. We got on very easily and I always found her pleasant to interact with, I can only hope she thought the same of me. And let me tell you, working with a bunch of nerds in a public library, you’re lucky if you can even get some eye contact and a nod of ‘hello’ from someone passing you in the hallway - let alone a few minutes of pleasant conversation. She was a stand-out.
I knew that Amy ran around in a similar, somewhat bohemian, crowd as I do. It was not hard for me to imagine that she was involved in some kind of musical, artistic, or otherwise creative endeavor but like I said, I was just getting to know her, so I wasn’t certain. One night I was taping a fund raiser/awareness event at a local music venue, and unbeknownst to me, Amy was performing with her friend Catherine as a member of The Von Volsung Sisters. I hung out and goofed off with them a little before the show started, but there was no way I could have prepared myself for what I was about to experience. The two of them came on stage, crudely and perfectly dressed as men (do you still call this drag? I’m not sure…), and sang a mix of a cappella and accordion-accompanied traditional folk tunes in a decidedly and most untraditional way. It was one of the most electrifying performances I have ever seen. It was dangerous and adventurous and absolutely freeing to watch. Everyone in the place had their eyes glued to the stage and I can’t remember a time when I felt like I was really witnessing a true, raw performance as much as I did that evening. The next day, I remember I called Jared and told him “THAT is who I want to play the Honest Weight album release show!”.
After that, Amy was no longer just an acquaintance of mine, but someone whom I was a fawning, blushing, fan of. Seeing that performance also opened the door for me to learn more about her art and to ask her more questions about her philosophy and her work, and that’s when she turned me on to Amy & The Dance Box. The Dance Box was Amy’s primary outlet for songwriting and solo performance. And MY GOD, can she write a song! From what I understand, she seems to have used the pre-programmed “demo” recordings on some kind of casio keyboard or other similar instrument as a foundation on which to build these funky, lyrically beautiful and melodically genius pop songs. I sincerely love these songs. I remember when she first showed me her bandcamp page, I listened to the songs on my entire drive home, and when I arrived, I sat on the couch in my living room listening to them over again and exclaiming to my wife how brilliant I thought they were. At the time, there were three songs on the page, and later two more showed up with a promise of five further (a proper album’s worth) to come. I can only hope that somewhere, someone has those five remaining recordings and they somehow see the light of day.
I was lucky enough to have coffee with Amy a couple of times before she moved from Bloomington back home to Ohio. Most of those conversations were me hurling blubbering compliments at her about how much I loved her music and that performance I’d seen. We talked a lot about our families, and about her plans to head back to Ohio for a while to regroup. We were in touch via email a little bit after that, mostly regarding music stuff and playing shows and that kind of thing. Those were the last few times I spoke with Amy.
Soon after she died, the Amy & The Dance Box bandcamp page went away. I’m not sure the circumstances behind this, but for whatever reason the page no longer exists. I decided - after hearing about her passing - that I wanted to record a cover of one of her songs. Both as a tribute to her, and also as a way of grieving her loss. I felt like it gave me one more insight into this person I was getting to know and gave me one more chance to peek into her mind while I tried to deliver and decode the lyrics and feel for the arrangement of the song. I don’t know if there’s any bearing to that or not, but it certainly felt good at the time, and I’m glad I did it. I also hoped that anyone who listens to my music might hear the cover and seek out Amy’s original music*. So, that’s what this post is all about. Here is my feeble cover of Amy’s tune, Maximum Wage. I am inspired by her, in life and in death. She was a beautiful, talented person and a fascinating friend. She’ll be dearly missed.
Thanks a million to Nowah Jacobs, Erin Tobey, Liza Pavelich, and Jon Erich Booth for helping track down the original tunes.
*Amy & The Dance Box - Good Report Card