October 1997
s m u g
net worth
by Leslie Harpold


Love Hurts

Try to put yourself in my shoes for a moment. How to begin to tell a tale which starts with the phrase "It all started at Lollapalooza"? However, for me, that's the truth, and no amount of clever phraseology will save me from the shame I need to endure to tell this story, a story which needs to be told.

It all started at Lollapalooza One. Some friends from Seattle urged us to go, if only to see the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Although I pestered them for details, the most they would say was: "Just go. You have to go." So I went. I admit I was hoping that there would be no clowns, because, to be honest, even at this advanced age clowns still freak me out. Balloons too, but more about that later.

There were no clowns. To say the experience was life changing is an understatement. Jim Rose and his 5 troupe members served up classic sideshow entertainment, a real live freak and geek show featuring things that had been considered entertainment for over 100 years, but took that long to get to my eyes. It had became unfashionable to shock and amaze people with stunts of self-mutilation in favor of Copperfield-esque "illusion" and, for some reason, the public had gotten sick of watching piano players eat bugs and girly boys hang large weights from their nipples and testicles.

Human dart boards who could also support the weight of 5 audience members while laying on a bed of nails and men who could use suction devices to force large quantities of liquids into their stomachs via nose tubes had simply fallen out of vogue. I know, I don't understand how that happened either, but a combination of the bored "Amaze me now!" Gen-Xers and the entrance of body modification into vogue and the tenacity of one man, Jim Rose, and his mighty band of sideshow attractions brought it all back to life.

I have a fairly strong stomach though, and a weird fascination with - well, things that nice girls generally aren't supposed to be fascinated by, so I made it A OK through the whole process until one of the guys started blowing up a hot water bottle like a balloon. Then I almost passed out. Between something I love - the Hoppity Hop, and something I fear - balloons, lies the water bottle. Needless to say, watching it expand petrified me. I drank some water and I was okay, which was good because what came next would change my life.

The Torture King. He walked on a ladder of knives, he swallowed swords, he ate fire, he put big needles through his cheeks and nipples. No blood, no trickery, the real deal. He didn't bleed, he didn't flinch and I was mesmerized. For the big finale, he removed his shirt to reveal 200 small needles poked through his chest with small Christmas tree type lights attached to them, held a conducting rod to a generator and illuminated the darkened stage as I have no idea how many watts of electricity coursed through his body.

About 20 minutes before that, I had decided I was a fan. As the Jim Rose sideshow toured, I went to all the shows I could. Which wasn't very many to be honest, about four total. Then they kind of disappeared. Now, while I found the whole thing very entertaining in a way that was fairly primal and bordered on dirty, it didn't obsess me in the Pam DeBarres I'm With the Band kind of way.

It was a swoony, love-like, endorphine rush to watch, and it always charged up my hormones, but not in the "Honey let's go home and poke large needles through our body and walk on knives" sort of way. That would just feel cheap anyway. No, wait, it wouldn't feel cheap, it would feel painful. Much as I love needles (you mean everyone doesn't?), the constant "Kids, don't try this at home" was more than sufficient warning for me to leave it to the professionals. After all, I hadn't spent years reading medical journals, studying with Fakir Mustafa, and reading up on Sufi rituals.

Fast forward a few years. My life has changed a lot in the last 5 years. Torture King's, I am pleased to report, has not. He left Jim Rose's ensemble (and assures us it was all amicable) so he could pursue his art solo. He now works with his super foxy and talented wife The Impervious Aziza so I imagine them to be the Kim and Thurston of the Sideshow set. She eats glass and does torture stuff too. What a cute couple.

I found the Torture King again recently, and of course, like everyone, he has a Web site. I was able to catch up on his doings over the last few years and be intensely comforted by the fact that he's still doing that thing he does. I can't believe none of the people came back from Burning Man talking about him. After all, he performed there, and I think I would have gotten more thrill from that than, say, taking off my clothes and trying to convince myself that my spongy midwestern milk-fed ass had found a "home."

For now, all the upcoming Torture King gigs are on the West Coast, and that's a shame, because that's not where I am. If you're not faint of heart, try to take in the show. If you are squeamish, you might want to go anyway, just to grow as a person. The least you can do is check out his Web site.



in the junk drawer:

September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997
January 1997

and such
and such

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