Review: Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer share tales of love, heartbreak at the Tampa Theatre in Tampa
“This is very serious,” said author Neil Gaiman, before he launched into a duet of Makin’ Whoopee with his rock star wife, Amanda Palmer.
The unlikely couple invited their crossover of fans to converge at the Tampa Theatre on Valentine’s Day for a one-night-only special occasion dubbed “Heartbreak Hotel,” where they shared their most heartbreaking stories from their repertoire, including personal anecdotes, songs, poems and book excerpts.
You may have heard of one, or both of them. Palmer is a former street performer, musician (Dresden Dolls), crowdfunding queen, social media guru, TED Talk alumna and most recently, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. She began dating Gaiman, 16 years her senior, in 2009. Gaiman is an English award-winning author of various comic books, science fiction, short stories and films. The pair unofficially married in 2010 (legally in 2011) and like any couple, have had their fair share of bad luck and good-intentioned romance gone awry, especially on important dates, like their wedding anniversary, but mainly on Valentine’s Day.
“Thanks for saving our marriage,” Palmer said jokingly to the sold-out crowd. Their history of Valentine’s mishaps inspired the show concept and provided a safe way to celebrate their love and avoid another disaster.
What transpired was a cross between theater, a concert, comedy and an author talk, infused with their personal stories and idiosyncrasies. Each took their turns in the spotlight -- Palmer on the piano, Gaiman at a podium.
As the spotlight shifted back and forth, the other watched adoringly from a makeshift living room. The cozy, '70s-inspired setup between the podium and piano consisted of two regal armchairs, a bookcase, a table, (lava) lamps, an old-fashioned radio and other homey vintage effects. Above, heart-shaped clouds filled Tampa Theatre’s twinkling night-sky ceiling.
Gaiman, clad in all black and sporting a beard and moustache, shared the spectrum of heartbreak, beginning with a previously unshared piece about guns versus ideas, which he said he was inspired to share following Saturday's fatal terrorist shooting in Copenhagen, Denmark. He followed with a handful of short stories and poems (Feminine Endings, The Day the Saucers Came), including several from his latest collection, Trigger Warning, and selections (about him) from Palmer’s book (that she chose). His cheeky side shined, and his words, so light on the page, grew heavy and formed new shapes beneath the weight of his voice. Oh, and he sang!
Palmer, with her red hair pinned up, donned a long-sleeved black and gold brocade dress accented with a black tulle tail. She performed her own songs (a writhing rendition of Ampersand, a gut-wrenching version of Delilah, The Bed Song and the beautifully manic Coin-Operated Boy) alongside covers (Momus’ I Want You But I Don’t Need You; Robyn Hitchcock’s I Used to Say I Love You), and a few duets with Gaiman (The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side by Stephin Merritt; I Google You by Gaiman, with her on the ukulele).
She read book excerpts and poems -- her own, Heartbreak Stew; and two submitted during the show as the most heartbreaking of all time from fans on Facebook not at the show, W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song (which turned into a sort of comedy, with Palmer commenting it was a Gaiman sort of poem, to which he replied, “Don’t kill yourself. I write stories instead”).
Palmer has this air, this in-your-face-I-do-what-I-want attitude, while still being totally genuine and loving. That dynamic dichotomy unfurled onstage, her humility resonating in aching altos against her theatrically tart (yet entirely true) squinches as she unleashed her most heartbreaking material into the ornate theatre.
There were two boxes in the lobby for fans to submit their Valentine’s Day horror stories or questions/calls for advice from the couple. The best were selected and the pair took turns reading aloud the stories or answering the questions/advice. There were questions on beekeeping (for Gaiman), their age difference, penises and some sadly hilarious horror stories.
Love isn’t funny, but it kind of is. Everything is about love, in a way. It’s why so much art is made about it, and why we were there in the first place, and why the show ended past midnight. The three and a half-hour communal catalog of their work, other’s work and the audience’s shared experiences within the heartbreak theme echoed one loud sentiment: You are not alone.
Palmer and Gaiman love each other and they love and trust their fans enough to show vulnerability, share their flaws, and open the proverbial door into their personal living room.
While they joked about their failures, the audience watched their successes unfold in subtly sweet nuances: Gaiman’s crooked neck to see Palmer sing from his seat; the softness and swiftness of her hand on his shoulder in passing; the way he teased her or she face palmed on another one of his “ideas.”
They breathed reality into the trials and errors of relationships, making them human, too, not some socially glorified untouchables who stay behind a screen, a book or a stage. What seemed to begin about heartbreak ended with inspiration and a potential annual solution to their Valentine’s Day dilemma.
“If you find love, you just do it,” said Gaiman.
-- Stephanie Bolling, tbt*