Sideshow Book Review

REVIEW “CIRCUS OF THE SCARS” Circus Report, Sept. 7, 1998 by Doug Higley-Mystery
World Shows

As I waited for the book to arrive (after sending in my $29 bucks by the way) I
was bugged by the notion that maybe I’m not the guy who should be reviewing
this thing.

I’m certainly no expert on self-infliction or the more ‘gross’ aspects of the
sideshow scene even. In fact, I’m the guy who extols the ‘family’ aspects of the
biz and to be honest find it hard to watch the pin cushions work. . . I never
wanted to be a human pin cushion, no one on the planet has more aversions to
needles than I, so I didn’t need to dream of them!

On the other hand, my favorite writer is Daniel Mannix and what the heck I’ve
seen enough ten-in-ones so I should be able to handle it . . .right?

I love the fire acts and the sword swallowing and, of course, the entire show
biz arena it flourishes in . . . and then there was the time I met Tim Cridland
(The Torture King), while I found it hard to watch his routine, I found him to
be a profoundly human . . . just a nice guy who happened to skewer himself under
hot lights.

But, this book wasn’t just about Tim, this was the story of the notorious “Jim
Rose Circus Sideshow,”: shock, revulsion, fainting and hurling for a degenerate
crowd of jaded rockers, right?

August 27 and the book is here. It’s big, too . . . hmmm. “The Circus of the
Scars”, Jan T. Gregor with Tim Cridland.

Note: For those Circus Report readers not familiar with Rose and his exploits,
we’ll attempt to cap it in a future issue if required-but after the huge
Lollapalooza rock tour, numerous TV and print appearances is there anyone
who hasn’t heard of Jim Rose?

Also, I understand the book is not authorized by Mr. Rose. It will be
interesting to see his reaction to the inside story being told in such a matter
of fact way, without the hoopla and the make-up.

In Jim Rose, we have a 90’s version of old P.T. with some Nitro thrown in the
mix (and isn’t the ‘tick, tick, tick’ all part of the excitement anyway?).

This is the story of a road trip and beyond. Of a troupe of skilled performers
and way beyond. Repulsive routines engineered to make the weak hearts faint and
vomit-not really true circus folks’ you may be thinking? Whoa-slow down says I!
. . .These folks out of Seattle deserve a slower take.

Here are assorted skills and egos all bottled up with lightning crackling at
every turn, yet each fits in to the whole with no one above the rest, a group of
space-age gypsies on a road of one-nighters, infrequent showers and the ever
present danger of risky demanding acts. Not real circus?

It is all detailed to the nth degree by one who was there for every step and
misstep. As the cover blurb says, it’s . . . ‘The true inside odyssey of a
modern circus sideshow’ . . . oh, yeah.

First off, let me let the author off the hook. The first 165 pages went by like
a pamphlet. I was at that mark before I even looked up to check the clock,
three hours.

“Circus of the Scars” took Mr. Gregor four years to get it all down, all 450
pages of it. As the road manager for the original Jim Rose troupe, somewhere
along that road, this guy learned how to write.

While I expected to be “shocked and appalled” I was “moved and enthralled.”
Between the lines this is the story of us all.

We who are dedicated and starry-eyed and filled with wonder. Though the stage
deeds are beyond my understanding (drinking ‘bile beer’ is particularly beyond
my reach) true love of the game is what moves us all to create a world away from
the world, under the Big Top.

Henry Ringling North is quoted on the frontispiece and if I may: The circus is a
jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks
your vitality as a vampire drinks blood- Who kills the brightest stars in her
crown And who will allow no private life to those who serve her. Wrecking their
homes, ruining their bodies, Destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her
insatiable demands. She is all of these things and yet, I love her as I love
nothing else on earth.

While we’re quoting here, let me throw in a few blurbs that are dust jacket
fodder-‘the money you spend you will never remember-what you read about inside
you will never forget.’

And then there is this: “The truth was stranger than any fiction. What you are
about to read is true. The names have not been changed; there are no innocents.”

Mr. Gregor, I beg to differ. This ragtag bunch, striving for recognition,
bleeding (literally) and clawing for adoration and respect, enduring the
road trips from hell and above all, above all, delivering the goods to the
audience as all true performers should, are eventually shown to be naught
but innocents!

In “Circus of the Scars” we read about some pretty outrageous behavior but most
of that has to do with the lengths these artists have to go through to entertain
a modern, burned-out audience.

In the hands of Jan T. Gregor, the most bizarre practices after a few chapters
seem-uh, normal? We soon travel with the troupe as buddies on the long ride to
fame and a ‘wheelbarrow of gold.’

The Slug-Mr. Lifto-‘Torch’ (Cridland’s nickname, derived from Torture
King)-Bebe-Dolly-Matt the Tube and, of course, the driving force of nature, an
ubiquitous explosion of energy (and genius?) Jim Rose.

I’m not going to tell you about the story points or about how these circus
people made their living, or what they had to experience to become
world-renowned. In a way it’s our story too, some of us have been there, we know
what these words mean and portray.

I suppose my job here as I see it is to rid any notions this is just another
book about freaks and pitch card prose. And I ask you to drop any trepidations
you may have in wanting to read about folks who turn themselves into man-made
freaks and take piercing into a new dimension among other creepy things-but Jan
Gregor has the skill, the understanding of other sensibilities to write for
‘us’ too, not just the reader after the cheap thrill. It’s a circus story,
though a circus like no other, still an age-old tale of comrades in arms-with
it and for it.

I had intended to write a complete review in the normal fashion of such
things-read the book-do some quotes-reveal the story-praise the prose-blah,
blah, blah. But I think in this case my opinion of the goings-on between these
covers wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans.

“Circus of the Scars” will hit each one of you differently-on a personal level.
Some will be repelled and not give it time to work a little magic-others will
revel in gossipy details, ect. Me? I’m taking away from this book some insight
into the workings of friendship under duress-just folks, caught up in the
whirlwind of life and circus.

There are big laughs and interrupting terrors and enough lunatic shenanigans to
fill three books. There is rare personal peeking going on here and in the case
of this group of characters definitely worth the peak.

These are not the usual shallow, brain-dead celebrities we are daily exposed to
out in Hollywood and in the tabs-here, we look underneath and find the true
passion of true performers willing to lay it on the line for their craft.

So, you’re just gonna have to order it and enjoy it for yourself and experience
the joys and horrors of the modern road show.

Warning: For some of the more sensitive Circus Report readers there are words
and photos that will shock some of you, but this is no kids’ book either and Jan
Gregor’s easy style tends to sooth and smooth the rough spots.

In some future piece for CR I’ll credit the excellent design and art of Ashleigh
Talbot as well as highlight some personal observations and knowledge of the
principles involved. I’d like to save that for another day.

Since this is a limited press run I suggest you get yours a.s.a.p. it’s always
nice to have a first edition.

One more thing: the author credits Tim Cridland’s participation thus, “with the
shared memories, research and insight of Tim “Zamora the Torture King”

No book (or video for that matter) will ever convey Cridland’s act to the
uninitiated. He remains (to steal a term from pro wrestling) “the best there
is-the best there was-the best there ever will be.”

I understand from my friend Chuck Burnes that Tim will be performing a version
of his incredible act during Knott’s Scary Farm bash this October. I mention
this because sometimes after a performance Tim likes to cut up jackpots in his
own very quiet way. If you read the book, you’ll have more to talk about.

“Circus of the Scars” is published by Brennan Dalsgard Publishers, P.O. Box
85781, Seattle, WA. 98145-1781. First edition price is $26 plus $3 p&h.
Hardbound w/photos and an excellent bibliography (worth the price of admission).
Signed deluxe edition $50 plus p&h.

Comments always welcome. Doug Higley, 111 Via Solaro, Encinitas, CA. 92024.

Click here to find out more about Circus of
the Scars.

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