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March 11, 2015

Book Notes - Nicelle Davis and Cheryl Gross "In the Circus of You"

In the Circus of You

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, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

In the Circus of You is an amazing and surreal novel-in-poems written by Nicelle Davis and illustrated by Cheryl Gross.

Douglas Kearney wrote of the book:

"Accompanied by Cheryl Gross' illustrations of stretched flesh and biomechanical anatomies, In the Circus of You writhes in a fever dream of divorce, depression, and an undercurrent of poverty. Nicelle Davis directs a cast of disfigured pigs, desiccated pigeons, and circus freaks in poems whose forms are often cinched with wasp-waisted girdles or filed into jagged angles. Never simple oddities, these afflicted characters and musical poems amount to a harrowing account of loss and how one has to fracture herself in private to appear unbroken in public. Don’t miss Davis’ acts of lurching grace and terrible beauty."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In their own words, here is Nicelle Davis and Cheryl Gross' Book Notes music playlist for the illustrated poetry collection In the Circus of You:


In the Circus of You is a deliciously distorted fun house of poetry and art by Nicelle Davis and Cheryl Gross. The universe of this book is one in which dead pigeons talk, clowns hide in the chambers of the heart, and the human body turns itself inside out to be born again as a purely sensory creature. This grotesquely gorgeous peep-show opens the velvet curtains on the beautiful complications of life. Such “life complication” requires friendship—music is the ultimate friend.

Creating a collaborative musical top 10 list is a task that Cheryl and Nicelle take very seriously.

Every mixed tape is a sacred relic: it captures process and it shows love. As friends and collaborators, they decided to split the effort of picking songs. They shared their choices and then responding to each track in turn. Like any collaboration, this process has revealed new truths between friends and pushed play on the soundtrack to making a circus.

Cheryl's Top Five

1. "Here and After" by Jun Miyake (Pina Soundtrack)

Cheryl: I chose this one because it fits the mood of the book.
Nicelle: This song has the feeling of walking through stage curtains—a place where one hears what they shouldn't—my favorite place to be.

2)-"Shake it" by Thom Hanreich (Pina Soundtrack)

Cheryl: Has a whimsical carnival feel to it.
Nicelle: Yes! I think our book lives in this sound—where just being feels like dancing.  

3. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" by The Beatles - (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

Cheryl: It falls into the basic rhythm of the book. The lyrics were taken from of one of those old sideshow posters that no longer exist, that John Lennon had found and set to music.
Nicelle: “And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz”—of course we need dancing a horse!

4. "Barbwire" By Nora Dean (The Very Best Of Reggae)

Cheryl: Reminds me of my drawing of Rubber Boy.
Nicelle: Joyful. Anything with underpants is joyful—I think our book is full of underpants.  (Yes, I agree with Cheryl—this is the perfect song for Rubber Boy.)

5. "Viva Las Vegas" by The Dead Kennedys (Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables)

Cheryl: The Dead Kennedys took this Elvis tune and made it cheap and sleazy. It reminds me of some of the drawings in the book.
Nicelle: Off-strip Vegas, yeah I guess that sums up In the Circus of You.


Nicelle's Top Five

1)-"Black Coffee" by Sarah Vaughan

Nicelle: Truth told the whole book was written while Sarah Vaughan sang in the background- Black Coffee on repeat. Insomnia is a theme for life and writing—the writing.
Cheryl: A woman whose love seemed to have been shattered by the reality. Loneliness-in-the-gut and nothing lasts forever. As depressing as it may seem, the best we can do is describe life metaphorically which Circus most certainly does.

2. "Every Single Night" by Fiona Apple

Nicelle: The last line of this song is what I hoped the book captures. I think the music video has elements of Cheryl's ability to translate dreams into images.
Cheryl: A song of coming to terms and accepting oneself. Trying to tackle the task to stop caring about what others may think or say. Acceptance of being different is the hardest pill to swallow. Leaving those of us who are inflicted by being different (freakish) feeling lonely. The struggle is huge and sounds like a very bad marriage. But there is a ray of hope when one can rise above it all and create great art.

3.  "I Want to Be Bad" by Annette Hanshaw

Nicelle: Annette Hanshaw is on all my playlists. She was (I'd say is) "The Personality Girl," the original party girl. She ends every record in a small voice saying, "That's all"—and something in that cheeky farewell makes my heart ache for more. Isn't that the job of every circus—to make us want more.
Cheryl: I love this song. I think I first heard it sung by Betty Boop. Fits the circus side show theme perfectly.

4. "At the Same Time" by Hindi Zahra

Nicelle: This song is made of pulse—you can't help from feeling it when you hear it. I hope In the Circus of You has something like a natural throb to it.
Cheryl: Reminiscent of the hopes of love. The mistake to surrender oneself only to discover later on this doesn't work.

5. "'Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk & Gerry Mulligan

Nicelle: I think Monk invented a sound for hope—it is weary and labored music yet it rises up again and again. Monk makes music from the noise of everyday life. I can only dream of doing something similar, that In the Circus of You lends itself to hope.
Cheryl: BTW my brush with greatness: Thelonious Monk's son and I go to the same dentist. Avery sentimental song. Have you listened to the Amy Winehouse version? Her interpretation is more literal of love-gone south. It's what Circus is all about, being different and not fitting into the box designed for us to climb into.


What We Learned from Each Other's Playlist:

Cheryl: Nicelle is so unique, perceptive and sensitive. I think her vision may seem chilling but it is the basis of reality we all must face at some point in our lives. And we all do like it or not. There are demons in every closet. She has the gift of putting it down on paper.
Nicelle: This just confirmed what I already knew—Cheryl is the cool one in our collaboration.


Nicelle Davis, Cheryl Gross and In the Circus of You links:

Cheryl Gross's website
Nicelle Davis's website
video trailer for the book
excerpt from the book

Nancy Chen Long interview with Nicelle Davis

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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