This has been said in many ways in various spaces around the world wide web, but I feel that it should be documented here for posterity along with everything else that I have been archiving over the past few months. Even tho updates have been few lately, I do plan to continue sharing the events that have occurred in my life which revolve around sideshow and everything that I am fortunate to have experienced because of it.
Anyone who knows me well or has taken the time to read this blog should know that May is a rough month for me due to remembering the loss of my amazing friend Jon. While I have certainly put forth the effort over the last three years to honor his memory thru the written word, I felt that this year I wanted to do something different. All of my thoughts, feelings and emotions concerning Jon’s life and death can be found here, and there is no doubt that he was on my mind during the last week of May. However, it was quite difficult for me to say anything more than what has already been poured out in previous memorandums.
Instead, I wanted to pay tribute to the Family that was lost in a devastating fire in 2003. While I have covered this subject briefly, I felt that it was time to relay the incident as best as I can considering my memory is not that great. The story has remained largely untold, mostly because I spent so many years being afraid that one day whomever decided to destroy the members of Outlaw Cirkus, and subsequently Jon as well, would not be fully satisfied until every last affiliate was wiped from the earth. Considering the amount of times I received death threats, these were not just paranoid thoughts to be swept under the carpet. Obviously I am still alive and will continue to preserve the name as well as everything we once stood for.
On a hot Summer evening in June 2003, the Outlaw Cirkus crew was assembled in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey, as was routine when we were setting up for a weekend show. There were a couple of caravans parked in the shade of towering pine trees, with several groups of sweaty tattooed Carnies putting the finishing touches on crude stages. We built these each and every time we did a show, and while we lacked the canvas that most sideshows of olden times have performed under, we did what we could to create an atmosphere of fantasy. The stages were nothing more than a few slabs of plywood erected onto cinder blocks that only raised them up about half a foot from the dirt and debris that littered the selected area, but it was enough to separate us from the audience.
Various props were being unloaded from the caravans and placed behind curtains made of patchwork fabric that served as both a dressing room and back stage area. We had done this so many times that the process ran like a finely tuned machine. This would be the first performance since Summer officially began, which was something we always got excited for. At that time, Outlaw Cirkus did not exist on the Internet. We passed out fliers and relied on word-of-mouth to generate interest and lure in curious spectators. The only way one could learn the exact location of performances would be to inquire about the information from one of our members. Suffice to say that we did not publicly disclose such things, mostly due to the fact that a handful of the Carnies also squatted in the woods, and you don’t exactly draw a map for strangers to find your home.
As the sun began to descend, creating multitudes of shadows upon the finished effort of our labor, brilliant colors leaking across the bits of sky that could be seen thru the towering trees, I was plagued by a vicious migraine. Usually there was a party celebrating the completion of set up that involved a bonfire, delicious foods, moonshine and numerous blunts being passed around as we toasted good fortune for the upcoming season. However, the pain inside my head demanded that I needed absolute silence and darkness, so Jon decided to take me back to his house and we parted ways with the rest of the troupe.
When we returned the next morning, on what should have been the day we held our first Summer performance, we were greeted not by the smiling face of our friends, but rather by the most gruesome thing I believe I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The smell of burning was prominent in the air, both of wood and flesh, the latter which has been imprinted in my mind for all of these years after. To say we were stunned is a severe understatement, and I am sure that we stood there gawking at the scene for a good five minutes, trying to take it all in. The caravans had been literally sealed shut, trapping the Carnies inside with no means of escape; they had slowly suffered until being burnt to death. The stages, props and several trees also bore signs of fire, which seemed to have been concentrated on one area considering the radius of damage. Everything Outlaw Cirkus had created since its inception in 1991 had been completely destroyed.
There were three other people besides Jon and myself who had survived this fire, which we were convinced had been very intentional. This is not something you go to the police with, considering our performances certainly were not licensed or certified in any way. None of the Carnies wanted to be known either, and by that I mean they lived off the grid of regular society for as long as they could remember. They did not have dental records or relatives to be notified; those of us that did not perish were the only Family any of them had. We all openly wept while burying ashes in the depths of the soil we had performed on so many times before, and by now the area has repaired itself, so no one would even know these events had taken place.
What happened to the other survivors I cannot say for sure. Jon was murdered in 2004, and the Carny who conducted his service was the only other member of Outlaw Cirkus present aside from myself. There is no way of knowing whether or not any of them are still alive, and the question of who wanted us dead or why has echoed in my mind for the past decade.
The fact that I am the last of the original troupe is one I have carried with pride during my years as a sideshow performer. While I have picked up partners here and there, nothing can compare to the Family I once had. We were more than just friends and there is certainly no replacement for something like that. Ten long years have passed since the incident, and this is the first time I have ever shared the details with such a large audience. It is not sympathy that I am looking for, but understanding that this was certainly a premeditated action. Someone had such negative feelings towards the members of Outlaw Cirkus that they sought to destroy us all.
The reason I want to make this known is that I get really irritated when people treat sideshow like another hobby, or use it as a tool to gain monetary compensation and fame. While I have respect for other artists, I can guarantee that very few of you have ever literally been in danger of losing your life for your art. This is not something that I feel makes me better than anyone, but I want you all to know the obstacles I have overcome in pursuit of preserving everything Outlaw Cirkus worked so hard to achieve. Personally, I feel this deserves recognition, because we have always literally put forth blood, sweat and tears in order to present the best variety entertainment the underground has ever seen. We prided ourselves on being infamous instead of an easily recognized name, because our purpose was to enlighten audiences to the trials and tribulations that came with being a DIY entity. It is an attitude that many perpetuate, along with the notion that they are performing ‘for the love of the art’, which frankly is a load of bullshit every single time they put their hand out to accept money. Obviously every artist gains a sense of accomplishment when receiving compensation for their work, but there is great hypocrisy in saying one thing while simultaneously doing the opposite.
For the first time in ten years, our name is on a flier that has been distributed in a major city, which is something that puts a huge smile on my face. Every time I get on stage, it is knowing that I deserve to be there because I have worked hard and use my talents instead of my assets to bring entertainment to a variety of audiences. In the past, I have been told that my opinions can be read in the wrong way; that they can come across as jealousy and anger. Considering everything I have been thru, along with the fact that other people have used me for their own personal gain, I am willing to wager they are well justified. If what I say offends someone, perhaps it is because they know I am speaking the truth, which is something I have always done and will continue to do as loudly and obnoxiously as possible.
Being a Carny isn’t something I do part-time or a character I play when on stage or to impress others. It is a full-time lifestyle I have been dedicated to for the past ten years and will be with me until my last breath. There is no other way I can say this, and I will repeat it as many times as needed so that people understand there is at least one person in this world who reserves their time to maintain a legacy that existed in one small corner of a place called New Jersey. You have not spent one moment walking in my shoes, and until you do, I suggest that you reserve your judgment.
There is not much glory in being an honest Carny, considering the sideshow was built on bullshit and providing illusion so that Carnies could make enough money to sustain themselves. However, that does not mean the art needs to continue on this path. As someone once told me, the whole reason people do not take sideshow seriously is because there are plenty of performers who have made it into a complete joke. Things do not have to be this way, and even if the new dawn of Outlaw Cirkus is the only troupe that truly represents the art as such, purely for the love of doing so, I am proud to know that I am part of it.