SongWriter

Season 5, Episode 2
Neil Gaiman + FourPlay

Neil Gaiman & FourPlay

Photo by Chris Frape

“It was probably the Dr. Who theme that did it,” Neil Gaiman says. “Listening to a string quartet take apart the Dr. Who theme, I’m like, ‘I don’t know who you are, but we will get along just fine.’”

Neil had been introduced to the music of FourPlay in preparation for a collaborative performance with the group at the Sydney Opera House. This led to a worldwide tour, and eventually to an album called “Signs of Life.”

For their part, the members of FourPlay find working with Neil both intimidating and deeply satisfying.

“Each time Neil’s brought us something there’s been this moment of sheer terror, of ‘Wow, that’s incredibly intense. How do we work out what to do musically with that?’”” says Tim Hollo, who plays viola and violin for the group.

The song that the artists share in this episode is a case in point: “The Wreckers” is based on a letter Neil wrote to a friend who had recently gone through a painful series of miscarriages. Together, the artists created a sparse, delicate threnody to accompany Neil’s reading.

“There is something so incredibly collaborative about Neil, just this kind of open, inviting way,” says Lara Goodridge, who handles both violin and vocals in FourPlay.

The resulting song grapples with our sense of helplessness in the face of suffering, and offers a deceptively simple prescription: Just being there, bearing witness to pain, is enough.

In the episode Neil Gaiman divulges that, eighteen years after he wrote that letter to his friend, he and his wife also suffered a miscarriage. Horribly, at the time Neil was thousands of miles away in London, and he couldn’t get immediately back to his wife’s side.

“I was incredibly lucky in that some friends from New York were staying in the hotel I happened to be staying at,” Neil says. “We walked through darkened London, and they’d hug me. And we shopped for little Christmas presents, and they’d be there. And it helped. It helped in a way that was hard to explain. And I think that’s what this song is about.”

Asked what makes him so willing to take creative risks and unfamiliar artistic paths like collaborating with FourPlay, Neil produced a characteristically rich metaphor.

“I feel like a kid who got locked in one of those old-fashioned candy stores overnight. And somebody’s going to come in the morning and they’re going to throw me out,” Neil says. “So before that happens, I want to get my fist into every jar.”

All music in this episode is by, and courtesy of, FourPlay.

SUBSCRIBE ANYWHERE YOU GET PODCASTS