Hive Five: The Almost Music Career of Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer in New York City, June 2009. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Sure, to most of the world Neil Gaiman is the guy who gave us the graphic-novel series The Sandman and such freaky but finely wrought fantasy novels as Stardust and Coraline, among his many other accomplishments. Over the years, Gaiman’s engagingly off-kilter sensibilities have also been applied to journalism, screenwriting, and yes, blogging. But today, on the occasion of his 51st birthday, it seems like a good time to remember the ways in which the spooky, sardonic, multitalented Brit has made music a part of his wonderfully weird world.

1. The Amanda Palmer Connection

In one of the greatest examples in recent memory of a modern-day Gomez Addams finally finding his Morticia, Gaiman wed former Dresden Dolls frontwoman/current creepy ukelele troubadour Amanda Palmer in January of 2011. The pair has been involved in an appropriately eccentric array of musical side projects, the most recent of which found hubby contributing comically sparse toy piano accompaniment to a supergroup of Palmer, Moby, and the Magnetic Fields‘ Stephin Merritt on a live TV performance of – what else – “Science Fiction/Double Feature” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

2. The Tribute Album

There aren’t many writers who rate — let alone receive — their own tribute album, but guess which sultan of sci-fi made that exceedingly short list back in 2006? A gaggle of Gaiman-loving artists got together to honor the author’s work by contributing tunes to an album called Where’s Neil When You Need Him? Thea Gilmore, Stephin Merritt’s Future Bible Heroes, Rasputina and Tori Amos – more on her later – were among the musicians who turned up with tracks inspired by different works from Gaiman’s bibliography, giving his otherworldly visions the one thing they’d been lacking – a groove.

3. The Duran Duran Book

Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and in 1984, when Gaiman was a struggling, 22-year-old scribe, he accepted a gig authoring a biography of Duran Duran, who were at the peak of their popularity at the time. According to Gaiman, he ended up documenting DD’s rise to fame simply because he was given the unenviable choice of writing about either Barry Manilow, Def Leppard, or the New Romantic heartthrobs. Ironically, the book was an instant success due to the Duranmania of the day, but a quarter-century later, Gaiman, who currently owns the copyright, takes great pleasure in refusing publishers the right to reissue the once-timely tome.

4. Matching Wits With Josh Ritter

Hampshire-born Gaiman happily makes his home in Minneapolis these days, where he resides in what he affectionately calls an “Addams Family house.” Just a few months ago, he appeared on the Minnesota Public Radio program Wits, which is recorded live from the city’s Fitzgerald Theater and brings together artists from all across the creative spectrum. Before all was said and done, Gaiman had taken the stage of the Fitzgerald alongside neo-folk songsmith Josh Ritter to sing the former’s own tongue-in-cheek tune, “The Problem With Saints.”

5. The Tori Amos Angle

Gaiman and Tori Amos have had a full-blown mutual admiration society going on for some time now, bouncing acts of homage back and forth for the better part of two decades. Gaiman is name-checked in a hefty batch of Tori’s tunes, including “Space Dog,” “Horses,” and “Sweet Dreams,” among others. Gaiman in turn has crafted characters based on the redheaded piano-pounder, such as a talking tree in 1998’s Stardust, and his prose has graced several of Amos’s tour books. So, what is it about Gaiman that makes him a magnet for macabre-minded troubadours like Amos and Palmer, anyway? Oh, right …

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