a prelude to “The Clowning of America”

Clowns take time and space.

One’s head is stuck in a vice.

“Motions aren’t in the shape emotions are.” Cocteau Twins reveal the clown is a contortionist of emotion in “Fifty-Fifty Clown.”

The clown twists the physical expression of emotion out of shape from expected experience. Clowns heighten the somatic component of all they experience. A clown is wound.

Applied to clowns, a clap is apt.

A series of angles contained in a circle.

David Lynch accesses clown temporality in “Crazy Clown Time” from his album of the same name. One has to understand not just that this is a clown’s time, but a crazy clown’s time and how one engages that knowledge is how one enters the song. Additionally, the details of the song—as reinforced by the Lynch-directed video—describe a modified mundane cast of characters, meaning that clown temporality can be accessed by any of us, at any time.

One finds the question mark askew, broken into bits.

Picking up where Lynch left off, Elvis Costello sings warning to us of what to expect when “Clowntime is Over.” Again, clown temporality has constraints. One must “take cover” and “watch where the others don’t walk” to “make lover’s lane safe again for lovers,” the clown as guardian angel. Here, the clown’s celibacy comes into question—has the clown made a chaste vow so others may find love?

One finds the lump and thinks the C.

Within the milieu of a non-specific fascist regime, the video for Emeli Sandé’s clownsong draws on the visual palette of Dreyer’s silent touchstone The Passion of Joan of Arc. This comparative of silent film and the often silent work of clowns broadens the field of clowning. By this transposition, even Joan of Arc could be considered a clown, her passion and conviction demonstrative to ludicrous proportion by close framing of the face. Perhaps Joan is only fifty-fifty clown.
One has an aim. Claim the aim, and one is amplified, appreciative, in awe. One owns each lump one claims. One locks a lover up. “I am law and lap, and lean and a lone,” one claims.

"It's a real sad place to hang around, inside the pocket of a clown," Dwight Yoakam croons.

One is made to understand two things: the pocket of a clown holds the clown’s sadness, and it contains one’s own sadness amplified by one’s distance from the happiness of the clown.

One longs to belowng.

In “Clowne Towne,” Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart reveals a community built on near absurd levels of turmoil. The pity engendered in only a few lyrics is of a parodic sort, as though a clown version of reality for loners. The town is not a place with shops and stop and now entering signs. It is a place between people that resonates with discord between them.


The clown underbelly, or inner lining, established by Dwight Yoakam and extended by Xiu Xiu, finds its darkest coordinate in Sufjan Stevens’ somber “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

Stevens makes a comparison between the serial murderer’s public face and private acts, and we can see how the clown persona exacerbates the situation. The heightened cheer of the clown is meant to mask the dark urge to kill and violate.
Snaps for pearls. Pearl snap shirt.

A cover of a clownsong.

One person who wants to access clown temporality is John Wesley Harding in order to become “Cathy’s New Clown.” There is a certain ambivalence in Harding’s awareness of being treated as a fool but not desiring another option. By taking on the mantle of clown, Harding’s actions can be forgiven as appropriate for the temporal constraints, even if he is extending the time endlessly.

But can we talk about Cathy’s new clown without discussing the old?

In The Everly Brothers’ original “Cathy’s Clown,” a clown is defined as a socially emasculated man; a metaphoric metaphor, straining the literal definitions of both clowning and emasculation. Is celibacy the clown’s domain?


Clowns take time and space.

Let’s return to the clown outside performance. “Leather Clown” by King Missile examines the space of the clown within the mundane; a boy shares his sexual fantasies of a clown to a friend but claims them as a sort of reality. A clown doesn’t quite disappear in pockets we sew into the everyday to hide weirdness.

Listen to the full clownsongs playlist here ︎