December 11, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Will Davis's novel The Trapeze Artist compellingly illustrates the story of a circus performer at three points in his life, successfully leaving (and leading) the reader to fill in the gaps.
Edmund White wrote of the book:
"An extraordinary tale of tragedy and failure in love, told with great panache."
My novel The Trapeze Artist is about an unnamed forty-year-old gay man who tries to escape his lonely world by running away with the circus. When that doesn't work out, he attempts to bring the circus home to his small town by erecting a trapeze rig in his kitchen, much to the chagrin of his neighbours. The book is told in three phases – past, present and future, which merge together to form a portrait of the protagonist's life.
Circus is a massive part of my own life: I've been performing aerial (that is, rope, silks and static trapeze) myself for five years now, and it provides me with a good respite from the very solitary process of writing. But while I require silence in order to write, I always train and perform to music, and with a book featuring so much circus, it's very interesting for me to imagine what tracks would accompany the journey of my tragic but determined protagonist…
"My Boy Builds Coffins" by Florence and the Machine (acoustic version)
When the protagonist first follows after the circus he stumbles on them after they have set up camp in a field, smoking and drinking around a fire while a woman sings to the guitar: it is one of many temporary homes they would have set up for themselves on the road. The gorgeous acoustic version of this song, with its wry blackly humorous lyrics about a boyfriend who makes boxes to bury people in, is very much the sort of thing I imagine the circus crew entertaining themselves with.
"Firework" by Katy Perry
The protagonist becomes smitten with 'The amazing vampire Vlad' after seeing his performance on the swinging trapeze. Vlad's act would doubtless be set to a piece of pop – something big, trashy and insanely catchy. He's an aerialist from Romania who's worked in traditional circuses all his life. For him circus is showmanship. It's also one gruelling performance after another, a way of life as opposed to the art form it's increasingly becoming in the European circus scene. You do your tricks, you get your applause and you keep your audience entertained. This is exactly the sort of music Vlad would be swooping back and forward to in the upper reaches of the big top.
"Circus Apocalypse" by Vermilion Lies
When the protagonist is finally given a job in the circus, the attitudes of the circus crew range from haughtily dismissive to outright hostile. But even cleaning toilets he is still drawn to the romance of this newfound showbiz world. The magic of the circus takes place as much in the minds of the audience as in what they see before them – spectacle and illusion of circus has to be allowed in for it to work on us. This sexy and compellingly creepy track perfectly captures the eerie glamour of circus life.
"Santa Maria" by Gotan Project
When this song came out it made the soundtrack of practically every contemporary circus show around. There's something about its uber-hip and playful baseline that sent circus artists wild for setting their acts to it. Big Pete, the ringmaster in my novel, has put together a modern show, trying to keep up with the times – but for a traditional circus, his ideas are out of place and the plan is backfiring badly. This track is definitely one he would use.
"To Build a Home" by The Cinematic Orchestra
The Cinematic Orchestra's music is another one contemporary circus performers simply cannot get enough of. "To Build a Home" is possibly the loveliest of all their tracks, with its haunting lyrics about creating a place in the world set to a rising and falling piano. For me the theme of home and what that really means is a big part of the book, and I can easily hear this piece playing over sections set in the future, while the protagonist devotes himself to training on the trapeze rig he has built with his own hands.
"Because the Night" by Patti Smith
As a teenager the protagonist meets Edward, a smart but disenfranchised boy who challenges the world around them. Edward introduces him to mind-opening alternatives to the sort of things his classmates are reading, watching and listening to. In the eighties, this would have included Culture Club, Morrissey and above all else Patti Smith. The concept of the night belonging to us might well play over the section in which Edward takes the protagonist out on midnight walk, where they share their first sexual experience together.
"Oompa Radar" by Goldfrapp
Jethro, the clown, is an embittered alcoholic who scorns the rest of the circus and hates the protagonist with a passion. Gradually though, they come to understand one another, and even form a deep bond. This twisted, nightmarish melody is exactly the sort of theme tune I imagine my clown to have.
"Disappear" by C N Lester
The protagonist is traumatised by an event in his past, which sets him on a course of life he has never been able to break free from. This simple and beautiful music by transgender singer CN Lester for me embodies that trickling sense of despair and self-imposed tragedy.
I performed my own silks act to this music at the launch party of The Trapeze Artist, and I was thinking of the book's closing sequence when I chose it, in which the protagonist finally puts into practise the trapeze skills he has been training for the duration of the novel. It's an extravaganza of an orchestral piece and it's got everything – sonorous violins, racing fiddles and swooping cellos. It's beautiful, pulse-racing and completely over the top – all the things my character has never allowed himself to be and is finally, in this one act of death-defying aerial acrobatics, getting to present to the world.
Will Davis and The Trapeze Artist links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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