How we met: Tori Amos and Neil Gaiman


James McNair
Sunday 10 October 1999 00:00 BST

The singer Tori Amos was born in North Carolina but she now lives in Cornwall. A Grammy nominee four times, she has recently completed a tour of the US with Alanis Morrisette. In 1992 she wrote the song 'Me And A Gun', about her experience of rape, and has founded a rape and abuse charity, RAINN

The graphic-novelist Neil Gaiman grew up in Croydon but moved to Minneapolis. His career breakthrough came with 'Sandman', a phenomenally successful cartoon-strip published by DC Comics. Gaiman's celebrity fans include Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino. In his novel 'Stardust' he cast Tori Amos as a talking tree

Tori Amos

In 1990 I had this friend, Rantz, and when he went to Parsons Art School in LA he crashed at my apartment for a while. It was this tiny single behind the Methodist Church on Highland Avenue.

Rantz left a copy of Neil's book The Dolls House lying around. I picked it up, and found myself drawn to it over the next couple of weeks. Then I wrote this song called "Tear In Your Hand", which made reference to Neil, although it wasn't about him. I get inspired by different writers.

In January, 1991, I split to London, but Rantz had a tape of what I'd been doing, and he took it to a comic convention in San Diego to pass to Neil. He'd put my number on the tape. I had no idea, so when Neil called I was shocked. He said, "Are you thinking of doing this as something other than a hobby,because it's pretty good?" I said, "That's a relief, because Little Earthquakes is being released in a couple of weeks."

We met when Neil came to one of my early gigs at the Canal Brasserie in London. My first impression was that his Dream King character was an extension of himself, but even Neil's female characters are like extensions of himself with good silicon. We met at a time when celebrity hadn't made us guarded about people. Also, there was never any confusion that it was going to be a romance, and there's a sacredness to having a male friendship where that doesn't come into it. You can have a creative affair, though, and that can be tricky.

As thing started to get busier, Neil would fax me stories all over the world. I might wake up in Australia to a 50-page fax. He knows I have nightmares and I can't sleep sometimes, so he'll call and say, "Right, I'm going to read you a bedtime story." It'll be a horror story, of course, but in a strange way that appeals to me. It's like that saying: "If it's too loud, turn it up."

Amazingly, we've never fallen out, maybe because we get to pick and choose when we see each other. Neil's been there through all sorts of difficult things, though, and I hope I've been there for him. A few years ago I was going through a rough patch. It was on my Under The Pink tour, and my relationship was falling apart. I was on the rebound; in what I call 'vampire-chick state'. My incisors were sharp and I needed to drink.

I walked into my hotel room in Chicago and the phone was ringing. I answered it, and Neil goes, "Don't do what I think you're about to do." I said, "What in the world are you referring to?" He said "I feel you're about to make a move that'll lead to a downward spiral." I went ahead and did what I was going to anyway, but it amazed me that he knew. Sometimes you need someone to say, "You don't want to hear this, but..."

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Neil and I don't just show up for the party, we live life together. His little girl is five now, and I'm one of her fairy godmothers. And Neil was there for me when I miscarried. He came to see me when he was writing Stardust, and he read me the first chapter on the beach. The wind was blowing and he held my hand. It was a time when very few words could bring comfort.

I think when you're at the crossroads there are some friends who just toddle off, and that's OK, because that's not their strength. Neil's different. He's never been shy about being at the crossroads.

Neil Gaiman

In the summer of 1991, I was at a convention in San Diego. I was signing comics and I had a line of 40 to 50 people waiting. A guy got to the front and said, "This is a tape by a friend of mine." There was a phone number on the back of it, and I said thanks. He said "She sings about you on one of the songs - don't sue her."

When I put on the tape, instead of it being somebody playing the harmonium in their bedroom, it was Tori doing 50 per cent of the songs that ended up on Little Earthquakes. One of them was "Tear In Your Hand", where she sings about "me and Neil hanging-out with the Dream King." The music was great and I thought, "I've got to ring her." I called and we became telephone pals for a couple of months. One of the things I said which gained me a reputation as someone with deep prophetic gifts for her was that the album was going to be huge. I didn't have any doubts.

The first gig of hers I saw was about a month later at the Canal Brasserie near Notting Hill. When I walked in she figured it had to be me and waved. This is less impressive when I tell you that the audience consisted of the publicity lady from East West, one journalist, and a roadie. After a great gig, we wandered off together. We walked down to Notting Hill station and she stood on the platform acting out the entire video for "Silent All These Years". I was thinking, "This is one of the coolest people I've ever met."

Tori seemed like a fairy to me. She was this little red-headed imp who reminded me of Delirium, a character in one of my comics. Delirium always says exactly what's in her head, relevant or not, but she ends up saying very true and important things. Very Tori.

One of the misconceptions about her is that she's barking mad. She's funny, and she tends to concretise metaphors very colourfully, but if she's talking about being wet like a mango it's worth understanding that this is a figure of speech. She's one of the most level-headed people I know. I think in every relationship somebody has to be the balloon, and somebody has to hold the string. Tori's the one who gets to bob and coruscate, but that's quite a relief to me, because in most of my other relationships I'm the balloon.

These days, I get these young girls at book signings who'll say "Do you really know Tori ? What's she like?" I tell them she's lovely, and she is. It's a bit like having a sister that you accumulated somewhere along the way.

Tori Amos's latest album, 'To Venus and Back', has just been released. On 29 October she will perform a solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall (0171960 4242)

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