Tangled Up in Circus Boy Blue

Crafted by Leslie Blodgett & David Leigh Abts
Photo by: Matt White

The Emerald-City mystique of New Orleans gets two thumb picks up in Joyce Raskin’s literary musical The Fall and Rise of Circus Boy Blue, a beautifully crafted journey into the world of music and heartache.


Joyce Raskin is a Boston-based Renaissance artist. Her Young Adult novel incorporates songs by her band Scarce and her gestural illustrations bounce around the pages. In the mid-90s Scarce hit single “All Sideways” was on heavy radio rotation and on MTV’s 120 Minutes playlist. Just after touring with Hole, Chick Graning was debilitated by a stroke, forcing the band into hiatus. After many moons Joyce and Graning began making music again thanks to the Guardian Angel assigned to Our Nation’s Treasured Artists. Fewer than 5% of strokes like his are survived, but the hip-swinging, toe-tapping alternative post-grunge band is now in its third decade.
Circus Boy Blue came to life when Joyce and Graning worked with James Czeiner and Krystyana Chelminski at Gramercy Recordings in New York City. “Krystyana added violin, mandolin and accordion giving the songs a timeless soundtrack feeling,” Joyce told us. “As we worked, I drew in my sketchbook, not only inspired by the sounds and lyrics, but the story that was unfolding as I listened.”

Another influence was Tom Waits: “[His] songs cross between poetry, music, soundtrack, and life.”
If you are someone who would choose Fast Food Nation over Uncle Tom’s Cabin the events experienced by the central character, an orphan raised at a circus, may make you uncomfortable but in a good goosebumpy way. He deals with bullies and unrequited love like most kids, but instead of shooting marbles around the corner from Mom and Pop, his life is the circus followed by the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Joyce mentioned her favorite musical incorporation is the song “Scorpion Tray.” The scene illuminates the character Jacqueline, our hero’s unrequited love and tragic foil. “Lose my soul to the lowest bid while we’re sitting still all day/And it’s raining like a fool/Leave my hands in the scorpion tray” . . . Yep the guitar is wailing.

Another highlight is “Break Your Heart,” a scene about dealing with loss – slash – a splash of grittily balanced vocal play.

Joyce said, “I chose New Orleans as the backdrop because that is where Chick lived for a while and where most of the songs were written. New Orleans has a magical quality to it as well as a timeless feeling mixing old and new. I also liked the idea that New Orleans has always had folklore of vampires, cemeteries, hauntings and fortunetellers, all things that make a story dreamy and titillating.”

Baby boomers and Gen-Xers alike will feast on this book. Let’s say you live in a tent on the desert plains and your children need a respite after the evening hunt. If I were you, I would read sections of Circus Boy Blue to them by the campfire and then hold hands while you sing along.

The Fall and Rise of Circus Boy Blue, the book:
The Fall and Rise of Circus Boy Blue, the music:

Other books by Joyce Raskin:
Aching To Be: A Girl’s True Rock and Roll Story, http://www.amazon.com/Aching-To-Be-Joyce-Raskin/dp/0615172210
My Misadventures as a Teenage Rockstar, http://www.amazon.com/My-Misadventures-Teenage-Rock-Star/dp/0547393113

Other music projects by Joyce Raskin:
Reindeer, http://reindeer1.bandcamp.com
Speedy Consuela, http://fortknoxfive.bandcamp.com/track/speedy-consuela-number-one-fan

This review is brought to you by Mother’s Day Orphans Productions: www.mothersdaystories.com

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