Neil? Yes, Amanda? – Performances and Q&A with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
Show date: June 3, 2009
Venue: Housing Works Book Store Cafe
Guests: Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
d42 was having a fan girl fit. Neil Gaiman, best selling novelist, comic book writer, tireless blogger, as well as Amanda Palmer, singer, musician, icon, and recently deceased, were going to be under one roof at the Housing Works Book Store Café! These two beloved icons gathered with us this night to promote Who Killed Amanda Palmer Photo Book for which Gaiman provided the text. Kyle Cassidy, photographer (also in attendance, but on the sidelines), provided excellent pictures of Palmer bloodied and stuffed into a shopping cart, floating in a pond, as a gorgeous statue, and in various other poses, all having a lack of life in common.
All the money raised at this event went to the same cause the entire Housing Works organization created: helping homeless infected by HIV and AIDS virus. This event was one of the SPIN.com’s charity events, a second installation of “Liner Notes”, where writers and musicians are paired to see what the mix will bring (something wonderful, for sure).
A multitude of fans were packed into the spacious shop, populating the balconies and glancing jealously at the tops of bookcases where so many butts may have fit and so many feet could dangle. Beer and coffee and snacks were sold in the Café, by which I finally found d42.
Pushing my way over to the café should have been horrible, but everyone smiled and told me it was alright when I profusely apologized for being a jerk with a huge bag and raincoat. Amanda and Neil fans have a leisurely attitude to life in common. Not a single scornful look followed me, and the only instance of denouncement was at the end of the night when I was forced to push my way out again and Amanda Palmer yelled something hilarious at the bag, which I held high above my head this time, possibly blocking a projector exhibiting some of the photos from the not yet available book that brought us all together.
The night began with Neil reading of Amanda’s death. No one quite knew how it came about, but many claimed to have done it and children sang nursery rhymes killing Amanda over and over in rather gruesome ways, laughing and laughing about it each time. I have never heard Neil read before, and in fact am no longer in habit to be read to, but he caught my imagination quickly and I was carried away as Amanda accompanied him on keyboards. Amanda then played “Austronaut” with the intensity exhibited at her live performances to larger audiences. Last time I saw Amanda she was helping us bring in the new year in the wee hours of January. She was a maniac, and dildos were rampant. This performance saw a calm, happy Amanda, conversing and trading wit.
Neil read several of his haunting stories which were so intermingled with the equally haunting and magestic photos in the Photo Book. These photographs were projected for those lucky audiency members who didn’t have a pillar blocking everything. The picture of Amanda as an 8 Foot Bride, poised motionless outside a church, much like at one time she was poised in Harvard Square brought on a story of a living statue who fell in love called “Feminine Endings”. As Neil read, he played on our emotions as surely as a musician who is master of his instrument. We laughed, we sighed, and then we were filled with a dark satisfaction the creepy ending afforded.
Amanda followed with another song and told us of being such a statue. Of staying out there for hours, and thinking of what that accomplished really, of what she was becoming having have mastered the art of miniscule motion. Was she frozen in time as she was in space? Life went on, and she came here and stood so still. And she lived, but what is this life? Actually, “The Perfect Fit” may not have been about that, but that is where my thoughts turned, to my life, to the things I did and did not do with it. Was I doing everything in my power just to stay still?
Neil read and Amanda sang. I lost track of the order, but a beautiful picture of Amanda sitting very primly dressed for dinner, with eyes painted onto her eye lids brought on an interesting little poem, “We Dine Together Every Night.” Amanda was then nearly failed by a lack of a ukulele, but one was brought forth and quickly tuned. Amanda sang to us about a time when she only had this instrument at her disposal, and misjudged her mood at a hotel in London, where she hoped she would rest, but instead became restless. She heard her mother was selling their family home and wrote “Dear Old House” with lyrics half wistful, half satirical, which had a very satisfying ending. She later amused us further with “Google You.”
The next portion of the night consisted of a Q&A between Neil and Amanda. They interviewed each other using questions on sticky notes filled out by audience members and collected earlier in the night by two very pink-haired girls. The chemistry between them became evident during this portion as they obviously enjoyed the process as much as we did. Here are some of the questions and answers given:
Why does Amanda Palmer so enjoy taking off her clothes, someone wondered. Well, she isn’t sure really. Because it is a great deal of fun and a good way to accrue a collection of gorgeous sexy pictures perhaps? Amanda and Neil were actually just interviewed together in a bathtub; Amanda nude, and Neil in a suit, because he is British. They considered adding a delicate tea service to the whole affair, because, well, Neil is British, but ended up stopping with the suit. Interesting story about that suit. Apparently simply black suits with white shirts just aren’t really made anymore, and this most fitting set was finally acquired for $40 from a drunken man on the street. Unfortunately, there was no time to clean the suit in any way, and so, as suit became more wet, it also became more obviously ripe. The whole bath smelled like a drunk, eventually.
Another fan wondered if Amanda would ever make music based on pictures, rather than take photos based on her songs. Amanda assured us that she would sing about absolutely anything (as evidenced by her song about Google). And while we were on the subject of living statues in love, Amanda offered her actual experience as one to answer the question. So do living statues fall in love? Well, all the time. What else can they do but gorge on the sights around them? And do people fall in love with the statues, well sure. Strange, but often good looking guys spend inordinate amounts of time watching Amanda from afar (doesn’t sound strange to me), finally leaving her odd offerings. Here Neil began to wonder if maybe there were statue watchers much like there are bird watchers, and laughingly they began to expand on the idea with Neil suddenly GETTING AN IDEA. So, here is a rare shot of an author mid idea:
Where does Neil get his ideas anyway? This is a cult question at this point which, for many years, he would answer in a number of inventive ways. Today he came clean. Where does he get them? “I make them up. Out of my own head.” Ah, now we know!
An aspiring comic book writer asked if one could still write comics if such a thing as drawing a stick figure seriously challenged him. Neil admitted that it is important to consider what the comic would look like, and sketching out something is useful because it grounds the writer a bit. Some poor bastard out there is going to have to draw whatever you write. So, if you have to draw something too, it’s doubtful you will write something like “The entire Apache nation swarmed over the hill.”
To continue with questions about the writing profession, someone wanted to know if Neil preferred to plan a story or to be surprised by how it all turns out. Neil admitted to seriously planning a story out only once. He did not enjoy writing that one as it felt like a connect the dots exercise. He has a general idea, like that he wants to write a love letter, and a living statue should be involved. He takes it from there and sees which creepy road the will choose for itself.
Both Amanda and Neil agree that creativity is helped, not hampered, but structure, restrictions, and formats. Both work best when involved in a project. Such as this project of putting together a book of photos to accompany Amanda’s album, by the same name.
The readings Neil did for us came primarily from the Photo Book, which is currently available only for preorder (at least in countries with copyright laws) and this very same volume was to be auctioned off. The auction began at $50 with the price rising quickly as 2 extra pictures of naked Amanda, as well as a pair of old stripy stockings was thrown in (I’m sure this only fueled the fire for any stalker Amanda already has. Then again, she is lucky in fans who aren’t really fanatics). Both promised to scribble and doodle all over the book, and Amanda saying she will drool on the book drove the price even higher. Where did the madness finally stop? At 1,300 dollars, ladies and gentlemen! All the proceeds were to go to Housing Works.
The night finished up with another story and another song, but I already had to push my way out and be harassed by (possibly) one of the homeless men whom this event benefited on my way to Port Authority. Neil and Amanda were a great pairing, as they seem to enjoy each other’s company and have much in common (they even announced they were dating when hassled about being in a bath together. I guess I’m behind on married life gossip). So, long live Spin.com’s Liner Notes, and here is to hoping for many more such events!
SPIN articles about the event with great pictures and videos:
- Watch: Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman Live in NYC – Videos, including one of Neil Gaiman reading
- Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman — Live from New York City – short overview and some pics
- Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman Perform Together in NYC – Lots of pics
Event Related Links
- Who Killed Amanda Palmer Photo Book with text by Neil Gaiman and photos by Kyle Cassidy & Co.
- Kyle Cassidy’s Blog, Portfolio, etc
- Housing Works
Neil Gaiman Links
- Mouse Circus – for young readers
- Short stories by Neil Gaiman (I particularly like “I Cthulu”)
- Neil’s Journal
Amanda Palmer Links