Nina Simone's Gum

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UPC: 9780571365623
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Authors: Warren Ellis
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Faber & Faber (October 19, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0571365620
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0571365623

From award-winning musician and composer Warren Ellis comes the unexpected and inspiring story of a piece of chewing gum. Featuring an introduction from Nick Cave.

"Warren has turned this memento, snatched from his idol’s piano in a moment of rapture, into a genuine religious artefact." —Nick Cave

On Thursday 1 July, 1999, Dr Nina Simone gave a rare performance as part of Nick Cave’s Meltdown Festival. After the show, in a state of awe, Warren Ellis crept onto the stage, took Dr Simone’s piece of chewed gum from the piano, wrapped it in her stage towel and put it in a Tower Records bag. The gum remained with him for twenty years; a sacred totem, his creative muse, growing in significance with every passing year.

In 2019, Cave – his collaborator and great friend – asked Warren if there was anything he could contribute to display in his Stranger Than Kindness exhibition. Warren realized the time had come to release the gum. Together they agreed it should be housed in a glass case like a holy relic. Worrying the gum would be damaged or lost, Warren decided to first have it cast in silver and gold, sparking a chain of events that no one could have predicted, one that would take him back to his childhood and his relationship to found objects.

Nina Simone’s Gum is about how something so small can form beautiful connections between people. It is a story about the meaning we place on things, on experiences, and how they become imbued with spirituality. It is a celebration of artistic process, friendship, understanding and love.


"In praise of meaning-rich relics and magical things. Totally heartwarming project." ― Max Porter

"A unique study of a fan's devotion, of transcendence and of the artistic vocation - it's got depth and great warmth. It's a beautiful piece of work." ― Kevin Barry

"A moving, inspirational insight into a beautiful mind." ― Jim Jarmusch

"A warm homage and affecting memoir." ― Kirkus

"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...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...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." — Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

"Such a mad, happy book about art and music and obsession. I’m so glad I got to read it. It made the world feel lighter."  Neil Gaiman

"A joyous work full of love, connection, creativity and gratitude." — Spectator

"A sense of wonder comes through the page." — Spectrum Culture

"Warren tracks the journey of the purloined gum since he folded it in the towel and carried it backstage [...] In the book it becomes a metaphor for the creative life."  Writing Magazine

"A captivating, often moving memoir – a tribute to the power of great art wrapped in an exploration of the minutiae gathered in the itinerant life of the nomadic musician."  Buzz Magazine

"Unvarnished honesty coupled with a yearning interest in trying to understand the creative process [...] enormously entertaining."  Bookmunch

"There’s something satisfying in a piece of writing that uses a very small, very specific thing as a way to talk about, well, larger, more general things. In the case of this new work of nonfiction from Warren Ellis...the small, specific thing is a piece of gum: a piece of gum chewed by Nina Simone before her final London performance, in 1999, placed on a towel on top of a piano, and taken by Ellis after the show and kept for over two decades. The larger, more general thing that Nina Simone’s Gum explores is creativity, friendship, and the outsized emotional value we often place on physical objects."  AV Club

About the Author

Warren Ellis is an Australian multi-instrumentalist and composer, most famous for his work as collaborator and bandmate of Nick Cave, in both the Bad Seeds and Grinderman. Both solo and alongside Nick he is also a multi-awardwinning film composer whose soundtracks include The Proposition, The Road, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordMustang and most recently This Train I Ride. His own band Dirty Three have released eight studio albums since 1994 and he is an in-demand producer and writer, working with artists including Marianne Faithful, Jupiter and Okwess and Tinariwen.