Amanda Palmer Talks Neil Gaiman Collaboration
The Dresden Dolls singer tells SPIN.com about working with the best-selling author, her upcoming SPIN event, and turkey hash.
Amanda Palmer is a sharer. The Dresden Doll/solo musician’s life as an artist is an open book. Check out the “short” history she’s posted about the making of her 2008 album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. It’s epic, divulging every last detail, from the moment she nailed certain songs to photos of places she slept, or made tea. And now, she’s letting an audience into an even darker, more personal place: her own death.
A photo book companion to Palmer’s album, also titled Who Killed Amanda Palmer, features photographs of the singer in various imaginative death scenes. But Palmer invited another artist to compile a written accompaniment for these images: best-selling author Neil Gaiman, best known for the fantasy work, Coraline.
On June 3, Palmer and Gaiman — who met through a mutual friend — will bring that collaboration to life, in person, at New York City’s Housing Works Bookstore Cafe for SPIN’s second installment of Liner Notes, a special sold-out night of literature and music that raises funds to support New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.
We chatted with Palmer about how she and Gaiman began working together and what they have planned (or, rather, don’t have planned) for their performance.
How did the two of you get the idea to collaborate on the photo book?
When I started working on the artwork for [2008's solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer], I was told by my label that I had no packaging budget. Instead of complaining, I just decided to do a book instead — that way I could make it as long as I wanted.As I was thinking about how to do the book, I wanted to get some text involved, and Neil struck me like a lightening bolt one day, like, “Oh, fucking obvious, ask Neil.” Never expecting him to say yes, and he did, which floored me, because he’s so busy. I had assumed that I would just send Neil some of the photos and he would type some stuff up and send it back to me, but we had actually grown to like each other so much over email that we wanted to hang out and work on it together. Neil came to my place in Boston, and we just started piecing together parts of the book — he’d sit around and write stories and come with us to photo shoots, and bit by bit it started to look like a book.
What did you learn from spending time together?
Neil and I found that we had a lot in common. We felt like a lost brother and sister. I had a really rough year while this book was being pieced together, and Neil was a calm undercurrent who was there to help and lend his expertise — but he didn’t meddle too much. I love how and where he finds inspiration — it’s something I can understand.
Any inspiring moments you can share?
We had this diner that we really loved down the street from me. They have signs for their award winning turkey hash. By the end of breakfast one morning, we had covertly set up a small photo shoot that we hoped wouldn’t make the diner people mad. It involved everyone at the table looking suspicious, with me face-planted in the turkey hash, and Neil just ever so slightly in the photo, backed out of frame. It’s really beautiful.
What interested you about bringing your collaboration to a live audience?
I was watching footage [from the first Spin Liner Notes show] with Tegan [Quin] and Augusten Burroughs, and I realized I’d feel more at home in a bookstore than a rock club. It just seemed obvious that [Neil and I] would do some stuff like this, and the fact that we got approached for this was just perfect.
What have you and Neil been working on for the event?
We’re trying to get a projector so we can show huge versions of the photos from the book. But Neil and I are unfortunately really similar in the way that we don’t plan, so we’re really good at winging it. We both love doing Q&A, so I think probably there’ll be a handful of songs, and Neil will read a handful of stories, and then we’ll just take questions. And I want tocover one of the songs that Tegan played at the last event.
It’s a secret! I can send her the footage and it’ll be like a little love note back to her.