Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fledgling Circus

Personnel:

Colorblind James: acoustic guitar and vocals
Bernie Heveron: upright bass
Jimmy Mac: drums
Phil Marshall: electric guitar

Yet another of the post-G. Elwyn recordings. While G. Elwyn's departure was sad, many fans found the change exhilarating. As a four-piece, we agreed to concentrate on Chuck's songs exclusively. While this brought the band into a much sharper focus, that exclusivity eventually led to Bernie's leaving and, years later, Ken and me signing off.

Fledgling Circus is a great example of Chuck turning his usual song approach on its head. The key to circus rock is this: tragi-comic lyrics over an insanely upbeat and extremely fast polka-beat. Having written well over 100 fast two-beats, here comes this ultra-slow, Dylanesque tale of a guy who may or may not have had something to do with the untimely deaths of a number of circus performers.

In the narrator's tangle with the 'strong man', he beats him so severely that the man commits suicide. How completely crushing and demoralizing for a circus srong man to be pummeled. How could he show his face again?

The lion tamer is eaten by a hungry lion. Apparently the singer was responsible for feeding the beast. With the tragic deaths of the trapeze family, the narrator even laments that it was "all so sad and unnecessary". Why? Because he'd forgotten to mend the nets!

The narrator never sounds honestly malicious and even a little bewildered that fingers may be pointing at him. He's a shlubb with responsibilities and his failure to meet those responsibilities causes 'accidents' to happen. This is real tragic/comedy stuff.

There's an existential streak that runs through Chuck's best material. Existential in terms of Sartre or Camus? I think Chuck would deny it emphatically writing them off as pompous intellectuals. Then again, I could be wrong.

Some points of interest: Chuck was sitting on a drummer's throne while strumming his big Guild acoustic. Listen closely and you can hear his seat squeeking!

On our first European tour, we were accompanied by a young English band called Yeah, Jazz! Kev, the band's lead singer and songwriter, was completely mad about Fledgling Circus. He asked Chuck to show him the chords. After that, any time he had to just sit around and play guitar, he was heard playing the chords to Fledgling Circus.

Fledgling Circus
Words and music © Chuck Cuminale

Woah, cum’on and fight my battles
Woah, cum’on and plead my case
Woah, cum’on, do something to show me
I’m not alone in this place

Fortune has not smiled upon me
It’s not even bothered to learn my name
Should never have joined this Fledgling Circus
When it fell they singled me for blame

One night I picked a fight with the strong man
I beat him within an inch of his life
He borrowed a rope from a tight rope walker
When home and hung himself that night

Next it was the lion tamer
Lost his head in the lion’s jaws
They say that beast was extra hungry
Coz I’d last fed him three days before

An entire famous trapeze family
Last week all plunged to their deaths
It was all so sad and unnecessary
Coz I’d forgot to mend the nets

Instrumental

I got a date with the woman with two heads
She’s the only left who’ll talk to me
At dinner she makes good conversation
One head talks while the other one eats

Woah, cum’on and fight my battles
Woah, cum’on and plead my case
Woah, cum’on, do something to show me
I’m not alone in this place

4 comments:

david d. mcintire said...

This was probably the one song from the first album that I most loved to play. I tired of others at times, but never this one. It wasn't because of any display of musicianship on my part; Joe (or John) and I usually just played sustained chord tones for the whole song, simulating (we hoped) a run-down circus calliope. I love the lyrics, simple as that. Chuck's brilliance for me is beautifully encapsulated in the phrase "an entire famous trapeze family." Not one word can be altered or eliminated without ruining the effect. Try it. And few songwriters have ever obtained such a perfect union of tragedy, pathos, and comic hilarity.

Chris said...

Amazing Blog! Thank you for posting your memories - It would be wonderous to someday have a Colorblind James Experience songbook containing chords and lyrics from all the commercial releases - however I'd settle for the first LP, Why Should I? and strange sounds. I'd love to play these songs around the fire!

Stuart said...

Hello Phil, I was the bass player in Yeah Jazz and remember the gigs we did with you very fondly.
There's one song from that era that really sticks in my memory, I think it was an encore from one of the London gigs - I can picture it now. I can't remember the name of your sound man, but a couple of times he slipped a cassette into the mixing desk and taped the gig for me. The sound quality is exactly what you would expect from a 20 year old cassette recorded off a mixing desk at a live gig in the 80's and replayed frequently - but I love the song about a king visiting a diamond mine. There was a beautiful lilting guitar intro over a walking bass, great trombone and the trademark vocals and lyrics. It's still one of my all-time favourite songs, which I replay more than any other from the CBJE. It has always been a mystery to me why you never released it as a record.
It would be great to read the story of that song, if you remember it...

Anonymous said...

wow this song still destroys me : i have the record from back then ... having been a john peel fan and learning guitar pretty much the only song i could get was fledgling circus .. loved the experience but it was this song always killed me it was so oddly sad ... now ... im a harp player , figure that one !