The king and queen of darkness — a night with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman

A paean to heartbreak on Valentine's night from one of entertainment's most iconic couples.

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman Present Heartbreak Hotel
Sat., Feb. 14, 8 p.m.
Tampa Theatre, $40, $50, tampatheatre.org

Theirs is a fairy tale romance grounded in the real world, despite some arguably surreal trappings: He, 54, a renowned British author of fantasy/macabre fiction, poetry and illustrated novels; she, 38, a notorious and revered punk-cabaret musician, writer, performance artist and expert crowdfunder/social networker.

Married for four years, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are known for being staunchly independent and having an open relationship. They go weeks apart but will reunite to be snuggly and nest-y — and sometimes perform intimate, evening cabarets that include Palmer’s music and Gaiman’s poetry and prose.

The couple will headline “Heartbreak Hotel,” a one-night-only performance at Tampa Theatre Valentine’s Day evening. The show — similar to their “Evening with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman” tour two years ago — will feature readings by Gaiman and songs by Amanda (and perhaps both of them) aided only by a piano and ukulele onstage.


CL caught up with Palmer by phone while she was preparing for the show. Just off a tour promoting her bestseller, The Art of Asking, the Bostonian said she was happy to be playing piano again and revisiting her entire catalog, including tunes by the Dresden Dolls (her duo with Brian Viglione), music from her solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, and various other collaborations and unrecorded material.

Why did they choose Tampa for their Valentine’s night? “Neil has these phenomenal cousins in Sarasota, Helen and Sidney, who are respectively 97 and 93. We love them dearly and don’t like to let too much time go by without visiting them.”

Gaiman and Palmer carved out some time for a visit and realized that Valentine’s Day landed on the same weekend. The coincidence, for Tampa, is a happy one, though not all past Valentines were as fortuitous for the couple. “We have had nothing but disaster on Valentine’s Day!” Palmer said. “Instead of playing by the general rules of couplehood — which has not worked for us in any way, shape or form fucking anyway — we decided to deal with life the way we know how to deal with life, which is to book a show. This means we both have to be productive, happy and working, and somehow making art and working through our collective traumas together [laughs]. As soon as I got the idea to do it — both of us being the king and queen of darkness — I had the idea that it should be the theme of heartbreak, and the Tampa Theatre was the obvious choice for a venue.”

Palmer met Gaiman while putting together the songs and promo material for her 2008 debut solo album. Since the album riffed on Twin Peaks’ “Who Killed Laura Palmer?,” it required a companion book of photographic pulp fiction. Referred by a fellow musician, collaborator Jason Webley, Gaiman signed on to work on the book with Palmer. “It was the first time I fell in love with a woman after seeing photos of her dead and naked,” the amiable Brit has quipped in talk show interviews.

With drawn-on eyebrows depicting her famous art deco “A,” Palmer has been a maven of the anachronistically outrageous and bizarre since first stepping foot on a stage — or should we say, a sidewalk. During her college years, she performed as a living statue of a bride, engaging passersby with lovelorn and plaintive stares.

One college misadventure, recounted with a self-deprecating, if nostalgic, laugh, details one of many of Palmer’s disastrous Valentine’s Days: “I have a song that I wrote in college after I had a really horrific Valentine’s Day dance ... where I ran a kissing booth the entire night, because no one would sleep with me. I wrote this maudlin, sort of fantasy song about walking through the street of the night before the hangover morning. It was too depressing to even put on an album. I was about as shameless and exhibitionistic as in college as I am now, and I had the idea of doing a full-on kissing booth at our Valentine’s Day Party. I belonged to the society at Wesleyan called the Eclectic Society, and we were known for our crazy, high-alcohol, high drug-content fashion. So, I put on a dominatrix-y outfit and ran a kissing booth with a few other volunteers. Basically I got very drunk and made out with everybody, but then I got really depressed that I went to bed alone, un-cuddled and unloved.”

Such flashbacks will be mined for their show Saturday night. “We will both basically stay onstage the whole time, and swap the spotlight back and forth, trying to amuse each other,” Palmer shared. “Because the Tampa show is going to be a special occasion one-off, and we’ve never done anything like this, I think we’ll up our game, and we’ll try to write new material, and we’ll try to sing some songs together we’ve never tried before, and really just save everyone from having an awkward, irritating, overpriced romantic dinner.” 

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