Nina Simone’s Gum

Warren Ellis. Faber & Faber, $27.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-571-36562-3
Musician and composer Ellis debuts with an enchanting story of how his life was changed by a seemingly insignificant object: a piece of gum chewed by Nina Simone. A close friend and bandmate of Nick Cave, Ellis traveled to London to hear Simone perform at Cave’s 1999 Meltdown Festival. This late in her career, Ellis recounts, the fiery Simone was slowed by health problems, but after performing her first song, “something shifted... [as] her voice railed in defiance against her body.... To watch her transformation was a religious experience.” Overwhelmed by the moment, Ellis took a piece of chewed gum that Simone had left on her piano. For 20 years, Ellis protected it like a religious relic, until Cave asked him to contribute it to a 2019 art exhibition he was curating. From here, Ellis’s fascinating relationship with the artifact took an intriguing turn—which he details with whimsy and admiration—as the gum’s “unique transmission of creative energy” connected him to a number of artists entranced by its power (and a few of who even painstakingly created molds to preserve it). When Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester, for instance, encountered the gum, “it made her stomach tie itself in knots... [and] moved her beyond understanding.” Readers will find this heartfelt tribute to have a similar effect. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 09/13/2021
Release date: 10/19/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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