This year, musician Amanda Palmer and her husband, author Neil Gaiman, decided to spend Valentine’s Day with over one thousand fans at the Tampa Theatre for a one-night-only engagement entitled, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Palmer makes up one-half of the dark cabaret duo, The Dresden Dolls, and broke the Kickstarter record for highest-funding music project, a crowdfunding campaign for the production of her solo album, “Theatre is Evil,” back in 2012 with a whopping $1.2 million. Most recently, her viral TED Talk, “The Art of Asking,” went on to inspire her New York Times bestseller, “The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.” Gaiman is the bestselling and award-winning author of “Coraline,” “American Gods,” “Good Omens” and the “Sandman” comic book series. In 2011, the power couple toured the west coast with An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer, a three hour event which consisted of stories, songs, poems, and Q&A’s. They married shortly after.
For the Valentine’s Day edition of An Evening With, the couple stayed up past midnight to share their most heartbreaking work. The show started off on a lighter note with a ukulele cover of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Makin’ Whoopee” sung as a duet. Palmer wore a black and gold floral dress, while Gaiman donned his usual all-black attire. A makeshift living room was set between Gaiman’s podium and Palmer’s piano, complete with two armchairs, floor lamps, a bookshelf and a vintage radio. The intimate setting allowed the audience to feel like personal guests at the couple’s home, rather than patrons at a show.
At the podium, Gaiman began with a response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, inspired to do so by the recent terrorist attack at the debate on freedom of speech in Denmark. He followed with “Feminine Endings,” a love letter from the perspective of a street performer (which he had emailed Palmer when they first met after learning Amanda had worked as a human statue dubbed “The Eight-Foot Bride”) and went onto read several poems, short stories, selections from his new book, Trigger Warning, and two excerpts from Palmer’s book—both of which were about his life with Palmer. The first excerpt told the comical, yet true tale of his rather insistent proposal to Palmer. “’If we get married, will we be able to sleep with other people?’ ‘Yep,’ he said. ‘Will you marry me?’ ‘I probably don’t want kids. That’s fine, I already have three. They’re great. Will you marry me?’” The second reading, one of the most touching moments of the night, centered on the couple’s first wedding anniversary, in which Palmer had to teach her distant husband how to care for her when she was hurt or sick.
At the piano, Palmer covered the sardonic “I Want You But Don’t Need You,” by Momus, and the more somber, “I Used to Say I Love You,” by Robyn Hitchcock as well as her own songs, “Ampersand,” a powerful rendition of “Delilah” (voted in by fans online as Palmer’s “most heartbreaking song”), “Coin-Operated Boy,” and two duets with Gaiman, “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” by Stephen Merrit, and Gaiman’s own torch song, “I Google You.” “I Google you, late at night when I don’t know what to do,” Gaiman sang as Palmer accompanied on ukulele. The song generated roaring laughter and applause from the audience; some sang along and others stood in shock, unaware that the author could actually sing in key.
She read excerpts from The Art of Asking and some poetry, including W.H Auden’s “Funeral Blues” and Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love song,” which were voted in on Palmer’s Facebook as the most heartbreaking poems of all time. Palmer commented that “Mad Girl’s Love Song” was a very Gaiman poem, and joked, “Don’t kill yourself.” “I never do,” replied Gaiman. “I write stories instead. It’s more fun.”
The pair also did a Q&A in which the audience asked about marriage, age-difference, beekeeping (Gaiman’s former profession), and sent in Valentine’s Day horror stories. One story was about a man who bought tickets for himself and his girlfriend, who dumped him the night before—and ended up coming to the show with his mom. The best story of the night was about a woman who had gotten a full body wax before putting on a cashmere sweater dress. When her date took off her dress, her entire body was covered in fuzzy black stripes. Gaiman and Palmer shared two of their horror stories, one in which Gaiman mistakenly sent a pair of wannabe-burlesque dancers to perform for Amanda at a dinner full of elderly gentleman, the other in which Neil asked his tumblr followers to go up to her at the bar and give her a kiss.
After three and half hours of laughter and tears, Valentine’s Day no longer seemed like an overdone, Hallmark production—but a celebration of love, as imperfect and unpredictable as it may be. “Don’t dwell in the frightening, unknown future,” Palmer told the crowd. “If you fall in love…do it.”
Lauren Milici can be reached at Lauren.Milici@spartans.ut.edu