Amanda Palmer Sings a Heartfelt Musical Tribute to YA Author Judy Blume on Her 80th Birthday

Art saves lives, and so does author Judy Blume. While some of her nov­els are intend­ed for adult read­ers, and oth­ers for the ele­men­tary school set, her best known books are the ones that speak to the expe­ri­ence of being a teenage girl.

For many of us com­ing of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Blume was our best—sometimes only—source when it came to sex, men­stru­a­tion, mas­tur­ba­tion, and oth­er top­ics too taboo to dis­cuss. She answered the ques­tions we were too shy to ask. Her char­ac­ters’ inte­ri­or mono­logues mir­rored our own.

The hon­esty of her writ­ing earned her mil­lions of grate­ful young fans, and plen­ty of atten­tion from those who still seek to keep her titles out of libraries and schools.

While her sto­ries are not auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, her com­pas­sion is born of expe­ri­ence.

Here she is on Are You There, God? It’s Me, Mar­garet, a tat­tered paper­back copy of which made the rounds of my 6th grade class, like the pre­cious con­tra­band it was:

When I was in sixth grade, I longed to devel­op phys­i­cal­ly like my class­mates. I tried doing exer­cis­es, resort­ed to stuff­ing my bra, and lied about get­ting my peri­od. And like Mar­garet, I had a very per­son­al rela­tion­ship with God that had lit­tle to do with orga­nized reli­gion. God was my friend and con­fi­dant. But Mar­garet’s fam­i­ly is very dif­fer­ent from mine, and her sto­ry grew from my imag­i­na­tion.

On It’s Not the End of the World:

…in the ear­ly sev­en­ties I lived in sub­ur­ban New Jer­sey with my hus­band and two chil­dren, who were both in ele­men­tary school. I could see their con­cern and fear each time a fam­i­ly in our neigh­bor­hood divorced. What do you say to your friends when you find out their par­ents are split­ting up? If it could hap­pen to them, could it hap­pen to us?

At the time, my own mar­riage was in trou­ble but I was­n’t ready or able to admit it to myself, let alone any­one else. In the hope that it would get bet­ter I ded­i­cat­ed this book to my hus­band. But a few years lat­er, we, too, divorced. It was hard on all of us, more painful than I could have imag­ined, but some­how we mud­dled through and it was­n’t the end of any of our worlds, though on some days it might have felt like it.

And on For­ev­er, which won an A.L.A. Mar­garet A. Edwards Award for Out­stand­ing Lit­er­a­ture for Young Adults, 20 years after its orig­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion:

My daugh­ter Randy asked for a sto­ry about two nice kids who have sex with­out either of them hav­ing to die. She had read sev­er­al nov­els about teenagers in love. If they had sex the girl was always punished—an unplanned preg­nan­cy, a hasty trip to a rel­a­tive in anoth­er state, a gris­ly abor­tion (ille­gal in the U.S. until the 1970’s), some­times even death. Lies. Secrets. At least one life ruined. Girls in these books had no sex­u­al feel­ings and boys had no feel­ings oth­er than sex­u­al. Nei­ther took respon­si­bil­i­ty for their actions. I want­ed to present anoth­er kind of story—one in which two seniors in high school fall in love, decide togeth­er to have sex, and act respon­si­bly.

The heart­felt lyrics of Aman­da Palmer’s recent paean to Blume, who turned 80 this week, con­firm that the singer-song­writer was among the legions of young girls for whom this author made a dif­fer­ence.

In her essay, “Why Judy Blume Mat­ters,” Palmer recalls com­ing up with a list of influ­ences to sat­is­fy the sort of ques­tion a ris­ing indie musi­cian is fre­quent­ly asked in inter­views. It was a “care­ful­ly curat­ed” assort­ment of rock and roll pedi­gree and obscu­ri­ties, and she lat­er real­ized, almost exclu­sive­ly male.

This song, which name checks so many beloved char­ac­ters, is a pas­sion­ate attempt to cor­rect this over­sight:

Per­haps the biggest com­pli­ment you could give a writer ― or a writer of youth fic­tion ― is that they’re so indeli­ble they van­ish into mem­o­ry, the way a dream slips away upon wak­ing because it’s so deeply knit­ted into the fab­ric of your sub­con­scious. The expe­ri­ences of her teenage char­ac­ters ― Dee­nie, Dav­ey, Tony, Jill, Mar­garet ― are so thor­ough­ly enmeshed with my own mem­o­ries that the line between fact and fic­tion is deli­cious­ly thin. My mem­o­ries of these char­ac­ters, though I’d pre­fer to call them “peo­ple” ― of Dee­nie get­ting felt up in the dark lock­er room dur­ing the school dance; of Dav­ey list­less­ly mak­ing and stir­ring a cup of tea that she has no inten­tion of drink­ing; of Jill watch­ing Lin­da, the fat girl in her class, being tor­ment­ed by gig­gling bul­lies ― are all as vivid, if not more so, as my own mem­o­ries…

Palmer’s hus­band, Neil Gaiman, puts in a cameo in the video’s final moments as one of many read­ers immersed in Blume’s oeu­vre.

Read­ers, did a spe­cial book cov­er from your ado­les­cence put in an appear­ance?

For more on Judy Blume’s approach to char­ac­ter and sto­ry, con­sid­er sign­ing up for her $90 online Mas­ter Class.

Name your own price to down­load Judy Blume by Aman­da Palmer here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Judy Blume Now Teach­ing an Online Course on Writ­ing

Hear Aman­da Palmer’s Cov­er of “Pur­ple Rain,” a Gor­geous Stringfelt Send-Off to Prince

Aman­da Palmer Ani­mates & Nar­rates Hus­band Neil Gaiman’s Uncon­scious Mus­ings

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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