Rest in peace, Evelyn Evelyn.
The conjoined twins, who shared a pair of legs, a torso, a set of arms and a life marked by tragedy and loss, died earlier this year, around the time they released their self-titled debut album, which doubles as a musical autobiography. It’s a fitting memorial: The album recounts their tragic lives in a series of spoken-word radio plays and witty songs spanning country, vaudeville, ’80s power balladry and a Joy Division cover on ukulele.
Following their fateful birth in 1985, Evelyn Evelyn spent most of their childhood cooped up on a chicken ranch, but were kidnapped and sold to a brothel. After the death of their only friend, Sandy Fishnets, they escaped and joined a circus, where they befriended an elephant they named Elephant Elephant. After their musical act was a hit, they launched a career in the music business, writing songs based on old show tunes and Guns N’ Roses.
If that sounds a bit too macabre to be true — a bit too Edward Gorey, a bit too Lemony Snicket — that’s because it is. In reality, Evelyn Evelyn are Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls and Seattle-based solo musician Jason Webley, who met 10 years ago as street performers in Adelaide, Australia. Webley was a busker; Palmer a living statue. That part is true.
Friends ever since, they dreamed up Evelyn Evelyn a few years ago and concocted an elaborate backstory for them. Eventually, the sisters took on a life of their own, as Palmer and Webley began referring to them in third person and conducting interviews as either Evelyn or Evelyn.
Says Webley: “We loved the idea of talking about them as an alter ego, always referring to them as ‘the twins’ and not talking about it as something we do. We felt like it would be this fun game where everyone can play along, hopefully even the media.”
During this period, the twins existed in a state somewhere between fictional creations and flesh-and-blood characters. However, Palmer and Webley eventually had to disjoin themselves from the sisters — a tragic act of twinocide. “When we first started out, our plan was to never drop the joke,” Palmer says. “But people got really upset. Some people were upset over the nature of the project, which they thought was tasteless, and some people were upset because they thought they were being messed with.”
“It is a bit sad,” Webley noted. “Before we started doing a lot of publicity, when it was just a thing between us and the diehard fans, it was a fun pretense to keep up, and I think the project lost a bit of steam after that.”
However, Palmer adds: “Jason and I are both so close with our fan bases and we spend a lot of time with our fans, so when there’s a disruption in the force, we both really feel like it’s something that needs to be taken care of and not ignored.”
Each night of the current Evelyn Evelyn tour, however, is a kind of seance, with Palmer and Webley channeling the twins onstage. To contact their spirits, the two real musicians strap themselves together, don a dress, and play instruments together — piano, guitar, accordion, ukulele and drums.”
Says Webley: “We have a little shadow puppet show that we do, and we have a bunch of extra gags and bits. The album and the show are pretty different things.”
It’s an unusual performance, but it’s only the first part of a long evening. After a brief intermission, Palmer and Webley perform their own solo sets. “The twins are contained within their characters, but Amanda and I are used to this cathartic energy with the audience. That’s hard to get with them,” says Webley.
So perhaps the twins aren’t really dead, at least not any more than they were ever alive. “They live onstage,” says Webley. “They hang out in the dressing room, too,” says Palmer, “but nobody ever sees that.”
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Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner
Photo courtesy Getty Images