INTERVIEW : NEIL GAIMAN
We had the absolute pleasure of interviewing one of the world’s most gentlemanly and well-spoken writers. Well, he’s more than a writer. He’s kind of a genre. Neil Gaiman, creator of The Sandman books, Coraline, and many other bits of magic, stayed at Ace Hotel New York recently with his fiancé, Amanda Palmer (we’ll post an interview with Amanda soon). This powerhouse of a pair have made their mark staying true to themselves in a world of commercialized artists. They use social media like it’s a basement punk show — their Twitter followers combined reach nearly two million, but each of them are treated to daily doses of irreverence and intimacy that laud a kind of accessibility rarely seen at these heights. Ladies and (less gentlemanly) gents, Neil Himself.
I heard you went off to go birthday shopping with your daughter this morning.
I did. She turns sixteen tomorrow, so the birthday shopping in question was actually test driving a couple of cars, and going to strange little secondhand car lots around the Midwest.
Is she getting an older car? When you said secondhand, I was envisioning like 1960—
Car lots with Model T Fords standing in them. I think that’d be awesome.
How did you like the hotel?
I thought it was an enormous amount of fun. My favorite bit was probably actually the working record playing and the disks. They were such—just enormously fun putting on records. And then at the end of fifteen minutes of music going, Why is it making that hissing noise? And then I’d go, Oh my god! and I’d get up and turn it over.
Yes, it’s a wonderful pain in the ass that we all miss.
I really enjoyed it, and Amanda loved it. Incredibly. And very seriously conveniently located. There were things I promised I would do next time I was in New York, and one of them was going and having an ice cream from the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. And they were only, like, four or five blocks from you guys. I’d walk downtown and…I planned to have one of their olive oil and sea salt ice creams, but actually, when they recognized me, they created a new concoction especially for me called an “American Glob.”
Yuck. Yum? What did it have in it?
I think it was mostly crushed fresh pretzels and chocolate, though there may have been other things, too.
Wish they could ship it across the country, it actually sounds really good.
It was quite wonderful. I think there should be Big Gay Ice Cream trucks everywhere.
We’ll try to get them to do a national tour. Maybe guest spots at all the Aces? They can just pull up outside.
And what were you doing in New York? Business or pleasure?
The trouble is that trips to New York sort of alternate now. The next trip to New York will be me at the New Yorker Book Festival in October. But that one, actually, I was in town for somebody else, which was: I was there just being the fiancé, as the lovely Amanda Palmer was doing an appearance—she was being interviewed by Public Radio New York’s wonderful Studio 360 show about her new album which is called something to the effect of Amanda Palmer Plays the Popular Hits…..Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukelele. And, so, they were doing an interview with her and she was ukelele-ing and piano-ing in the studio. And I was there as the boyfriend. Which was enormous fun, and was maybe more fun because I’d already done an interview with 360 and stuff, so I already knew those guys, and they actually ended up taking a bit of my interview and playing it during hers.
Did Amanda play her magical ukelele in your room when you guys were hanging out?
Um, no—I got to play the guitar! Very, very badly. Because there was a guitar in the hotel room!
I tried to play the guitar in my room, too, when I was there last time and it was reminding me how bad I am at the guitar.
There was a terrible sort of quality of: I’m incredibly bad at this. But she had fun with that because she got to take a photo of me playing the guitar, which she thought was hilarious. And, I think the strangest part of the hotel for me, which was just that sort of moment of….pure charm, was when we were taken by the photographer at the Ace Hotel—who was also, like, you know, also one of the porters, which I thought was cool.
Yes, Roberto—took us into the shop, so we’re sitting in the little store—which I wouldn’t have gone into—looking at the shelves while various photos are being taken and objects being placed in front of us, and I suddenly go, Oh my god, these are vibrating ducks. It’s not even that you can buy a rubber duck for your bath, should you want to buy a rubber duck for your bath, but they’re actually vibrating sex toy—secret sex toy—rubber ducks. And, there is a sense of charm and humor in the idea of anybody who would make sure that their hotel shop has vibrating secret sex toy rubber ducks.
Well, next you come back, we’ll make sure there’s on in your room, so you don’t even have to go down to the shop to get one.
Thank you. Well, then you have to start putting in little pools or something, so you can float your vibrating ducks.
Well, I want to ask you—everyone knows you from the Sandman comics and Coraline, which was, of course, a novel and then a film, and all sorts of other fantastic things—I’m curious about all the jobs you’ve had that no one knows about. For instance, I read that you used to write for Penthouse?
And, maybe you’ve even worked at…an ice cream truck? That seems to interest you a great deal.
Yeah. Let’s see, have I ever worked in an ice cream truck? No, I’ve never actually worked in an ice cream truck, although it’s the kind of thing that I would have loved to have done.
It’s never too late.
It really isn’t—you know, the Big Gay Ice Cream guys, I felt enchanted by them. I thought, This must be just the coolest job in the world. But, yes, when I was a young journalist, very young, and I was just starting out, I was writing for magazines in England, and one of the first two articles I did was incredibly respectable, and it was for a woman’s magazine. It was an article on Anglo Saxons, or something. And they paid me £80, which would have been—I don’t know—$160, or whatever, and they never published it! The next article—and this is just coincidence, in terms of, you know, I was just starting in journalism and willing to sell to anybody who was there—the next thing I did was an interview with Douglas Adams—no it wasn’t, Douglas Adams came second. The first one was Robert Silverberg, the fiction writer, which sold to Penthouse, and they paid £300, which would have been about $600, and they printed it in the next issue. And I thought, Oh! This is brilliant! So, the next two or three years I was pretty much kept alive—you know, I was writing books and I was doing all sorts of things—but you know, I was actually being kept alive by my discovery that soft-core porn magazines wanted respectable words to be published between the pictures of naked ladies. And their attitude was: that people were actually buying the magazine for pictures of naked ladies, so they could actually print whatever they wanted!
I had a wonderful time working for about four or five different ones, and I got to interview everybody I’d ever wanted to interview, which included people like Douglas Adams, a lot of writers, a lot of filmmakers, some actors, some comedians—just people who I thought were interesting. Poets, even. You know, one of my favorite poets was an English performance artist poet named John Cooper Clarke, who is completely unknown in America and is pretty much unknown in England, unless you’re more or less exactly my age and have my interests. But, I got to do a 3,000 word interview with John Cooper Clarke.
So, that was enormously fun. And then slowly I found that I was getting very bored of that, ‘cause I’d done it for—you know, by the end of it I’d been interviewing people for probably about four or five years. And, I wandered into the mainstream for a little bit and did some mainstream journalism and then didn’t like mainstream journalism even more than I didn’t like interviewing. I quite liked the magazine interviews because I had 3,000 words and nobody would ever mess with what I wrote. I’d just write it, and they’d print it. And in newspapers, I’d go out and do an interview with somebody and think this person was really cool! And write an interview that said: This person is really cool! And when the interview was published it would sort of come out with a headline, you know, “The Most Boring Man in the World,” and the copyeditors would have gone, No, we need to jazz this up, or whatever, and I’d suddenly be going, I didn’t say that shit about those people. It was so weird.
And that happened to coincide with this sort of very gentle increase in the—you know, I’d really wanted to do comics at that point. I thought comics were just sort of the most interesting thing in the world, and the place in the world where the least amount of cool stuff had been done compared to the potential of what could have been done. I think my idea was very much that, you know, if I wrote a novel I’d be going on a shelf with 4,000 years of people writing novels. You know, you’re on the same shelf, you’re competing with Jane Austen and [James] Carroll, and you’re not really much competition. But, in comics, the medium had only been around 100 years, and, yes, there had been some amazing stuff, but there was so much stuff nobody had done. And I was completely free to just go off and have adventures, and that really was where Sandman came from.
And now you are completely and totally free to go off and have adventures.
I really am! It’s kind of wonderful. I can do…anything I want!
I’m curious whether you and Amanda have any plans to do projects together. I happened to run across the Double Rainbow cover song that you were helping her with… Any more collaborations on the horizon?
Ha! Yes, things like that, or, you know, occasional things where I’ll just write a song and give it to her, if she likes it she’ll do it, which happened with a song called “I Google You” early in our friendship. I just went, Here’s a song, and she went, Alright! And was doing it three days later. That was amazing. But I don’t think that there are any plans to a giant project together. Mostly because it’s really nice to sort of get home from work and not be working together. I mean, I made a film last year, a short film called “Statuesque” which starred Bill Nighy, the English actor, and Amanda, and it was fun. But, mostly, it’s so much more fun to come home from work and have someone you can talk to about what’s been goin’ on. And, you know, she’s right now doing Cabaret, the show she’s playing the MC in—Cabaret in Boston—and it’s very exciting, and the show is selling out and stuff like that. But it’s really fun for me being out in Boston and her coming home or getting back from a rehearsal and escaping that, as opposed to us both going off, doing the work, and coming back together.
So, will we ever do more work together? Yeah, we probably will, but I think it’s going to be very much in the minority, ‘cause it’s part of the fun, working together—part of the fun of working is stopping working.
That’s a fitting sentiment for today, which is a Friday.
Well, happy birthday to your daughter tomorrow.
Thank you so very much.
I just saw the photos from Roberto, too. They’re fantastic.
He was having much too much fun taking them, and Amanda was having much too much fun getting into them, and I was having much too much fun being the straight man.
Photos by Roberto Machado