Gaiman, Palmer not so odd
If recently wed alternative power couple Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer were looking for public affirmation of their unconventional troth, they got it: to the sum of $133,341. That’s how much money the gothic author and indie-cabaret musician raised at Kickstarter.com to fund recording of their five-date West Coast tour together. The sold-out trek launches Monday at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.
“This was meant to be us doing a gentle road trip, having a chance to be together,” Gaiman says. “We love each other, and the nature of our lives right now is that we are apart as much as we are together. So it seemed like a glorious excuse, working and also having a holiday in each other’s company.”
Their gentle date is now the hot ticket for a hipster Halloween. The writer of “Coraline” will read; the singer of the Dresden Dolls will play ukulele. They’ll perform together and apart. Costumes encouraged. (Enter Sandman?) For the newlyweds, this will be a rare chance to spend some quality time together -- in front of their “family” of fans.
“I’m the happiest when I’m performing and hanging out with big groups of people,” Palmer says. “The tour’s kind of a product of trying to figure out how Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman have a relationship without stopping their lives and cutting off their identities. We get to morph our superpowers.”
The charming and conversational couple spoke in successive phone calls. But Gaiman, 50, was at home in Wisconsin, where the English native has lived for many years; Palmer, 35, who lives in Boston, was in New York, working working working. About 1,000 miles separate the twain, who shocked and delighted their rabid fan bases when they officially merged forces at the start of this year. They’re unusual people in an unlikely alliance.
Gaiman is an award-winning, bestselling scribe. He created the groundbreaking comic “Sandman,” which added intellectual and literary heft to the readings of teenage boys. He’s written acclaimed horror and fantasy books for youths, including “The Graveyard Book” and “Odd and the Frost Giants,” and adult novels, such as “American Gods,” which was recently republished in an expanded version.
Palmer is a sort of underground Lady Gaga: an uncompromising and gifted musical artist who has gained a devoted following with her piano-driven confessionals and sometimes macabre themes. One of the workaholic’s many projects is the duo Evelyn Evelyn, who spin a twisted tale of conjoined twins on their 2010 eponymous CD and in a recently released book.
The pair met through Palmer’s collaborator in Evelyn Evelyn, Jason Webley. She emailed the author to see if he would write captions for the art book accompanying her 2008 solo debut, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.”
“He wrote back saying, ‘You know, no one has ever asked me to write captions for a book of one girl standing naked in 100 different poses,’ ” she says.
They corresponded; he wrote liner notes for her album; they met a few times. Then one day Gaiman told Palmer he was in love. Palmer says it took a while for her to reciprocate.
“I had not been planning on dating Neil Gaiman,” she remarks. “I had been dating someone younger than me, and all of a sudden here’s this guy who’s nice, and rich, and 15 years older than me, and British. After the first few times we met, I realized how much we had in common in terms of how we attacked work and art, and what we thought about things. And then it just kind of evolved organically.”
It was an unusual courtship, and now a strange marriage. Gaiman and Palmer don’t even live in the same part of the country. He has older kids from a previous marriage. She refers to the fans with whom she constantly communicates via social media as “family.”
“I realized one of the deal sealers with Neil was that he was absolutely willing to have a relationship that didn’t look like any other relationship,” she says. “I looked at his life and his situation and his job and my job and who we are and what we value and what we do, and we both said, ‘Whoa, whatever we figure out and whatever we decide to do, it’s not going to be like anything people would even understand.’ To this day we struggle with space and time and attention and energy. But every couple does. So I never think of us as special.”
Despite their demographic differences, the pair share more fundamental qualities, particularly archly imaginative, outsider sensibilities as well as embracing technological tools. Palmer, who favors sort of punk-Victorian outfits, could easily be a character in one of Gaiman’s fractured fairy tales. “You don’t have to make me up,” she said in their wedding vows, according to an Armistead Maupin tweet. The dapper Gaiman is a sort of rock star among the literati.
Not surprisingly for a couple whose relationship was in part made possible by technology, they have used social media to cultivate their audience. He has more than 1.6 million Twitter followers; she has half a million. They both write blogs, although they admit that she lives much more publicly than he.
“You draw huge lines in the sand,” Gaiman says. “And the weirdness of our relationship is my lines in the sand and her lines in the sand are completely different places. Sometimes she goes, ‘Normally I would blog about this, but I’m not going to,’ because it would make me uncomfortable. Whereas I find myself sometimes blogging probably more personally.”
They’re both figuring out how to survive as creatives in industries rocked by digital change. That’s why they turned to Kickstarter. Supporters could pledge $500 for a VIP experience or $1 for a digital download. The initial goal was $20,000.
“The truth is the glorious shambles that we wanted to do is by its nature becoming slightly more formal,” Gaiman says. “There is still a feeling that we’re playing hooky together. Even if it’s playing hooky in front of 6,000 people.”
The author points out that in the 19th century, Charles Dickens came to America and drew huge crowds to public readings. It was his way of making money in a territory where he didn’t receive royalties for sales of his hugely popular novels, because the U.S. did not honor English copyright. Gaiman draws parallels to the current climate for writers. He’s learning from his partner about going mobile.
“It may well be that in four or five years time, I go, ‘Good, I’m going to take six months of my life that I might’ve spent doing a TV series or writing a novel, and I’m actually going to go on the road,’ ” he says.
For her part, the ever-tweeting Palmer claims to be making it up as she goes, adopting new platforms to her own purposes. She warns about falling into the black hole of social media obsession -- even as her army of followers makes her artistic independence possible (she separated from her label).
“Am I literally supposed to spend my time and energy as an artist sitting with friends on Facebook?” she wonders. “We lost something central, which was imagination and boredom.”