There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. – Hunter S. Thompson
Aaron Lovelace was born the bastard son of Shane McLoughlin and “Ivy Lovelace” somewhere in the depths of South Jersey on October 13. 1977. The exact location is unknown, as the pair were traveling with a carnival and welcomed their new bundle of joy during a jump to Baltimore. Shane was an Irish immigrant who found work as a roustabout with various small circuses when he was around twelve, while Ivy is noted as being a burlesque performer, but little is recorded about her due to her sudden death following Aaron’s birth. He stayed close to his father and learned everything that he could while the two continued to work for whatever outfit they found. [His name changed to Jon due to the difficult of pronouncing Aaron in Carny Speak, while the surname was dropped in favor of his mother’s stage name, which he also took as part of his middle name.] When he was thirteen years old, Aaron witnessed the murder of his father, a crime that was never punished and an event that shaped a young mind into something dark and mysterious. The best assumption that can be made, considering he spoke rarely of the misfortune, is that someone felt they had been cheated at a game of chance and chose to vent their anger on Shane.
Aaron slipped into alcohol use and took up a life of dealing drugs in New York City. His ability for fast-talking helped him earn well, and in return he was kept from being homeless or dumped into the foster care system. When he wasn’t dealing he found himself picking pockets or hustling cards because it helped him use up spare time. On the anniversary of his father’s death, Aaron took to traveling with no destination in mind, using his street skills and what he learned from interactions with sideshow performers and magicians to entertain local crowds. After one particular show, two teenage boys approached him and expressed their appreciation for what he was doing. They offered him a place to crash for the evening, and by the next day, the primitive plans for Outlaw Cirkus had been outlined. Aaron was fourteen and still coping with the loss of his father, but the invention of a troupe that would offer live variety acts on an intimate level demanded his full attention. By the end of 1991, Outlaw Cirkus landed in South Jersey, consisting of Jon as the ringmaster, The Flying O’Reilly’s – trapeze and aerial arts – and Squeaky the Clown, oldest of the trio and a seasoned hobo with train hopping experience.
Throughout the Winter of ’91-’92, they built props, stitched costumes and rehearsed endlessly, hoping their efforts would gain them more than just spare change. They also wanted to hand out pamphlets to people during the performances, encouraging them to consider a life free of corporations and a defective government. Believing in the DIY spirit of American Circus, everything they had was gained by their own hard work, and slowly they gathered attention. Outlaw Cirkus had a brief tour in 1992 beginning May first and ending in August after the three added Psychopyromaniacs, Bolshevik Burlesque and the Fish Bottom Orchestra to their line up. Now they could offer fire arts, dancing girls along with comedic skits that often pitched commentary on current events and a rag-tag bunch of misfits with instruments such as a washboard, spoons, washtub bass, cigar box guitar and saw violin. Eventually the vaudeville acts branched off on their own as Hanky Panky and Black Jack, thus forming the final version of Outlaw Cirkus, which began touring the southern states in November 1992.
There were certainly a number of things that were happening in Aaron’s life, and perhaps the pressure of performing along with reaching out to the community to teach them about American Circus history finally got to him. Whatever the reason, he developed a coke habit and had a serious addiction by the time he was fifteen. The drug never effected his stage life but it put a strain on his heart, which was afflicted with coarctation of the Aorta and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – conditions that had been with him since birth. Neither one really flared up until Jon was eighteen, but the experience was shocking enough to convince him to slow down with drugs and alcohol for a while.
Outlaw Cirkus continued on with their mission of preserving variety entertainment as a certifiable culture and means of self-sufficient living, where one is employed by and works for oneself as well as within a unit to achieve a common goal. They were more than friends within a small nomadic community; they were a Family who trusted one another and would fight for each other no matter what. My introduction to these fabulous individuals came in March of 2000, but I was distracted with other things at the time and did not see the opportunity that I had. After spending some one-on-one time with Jon and developing a friendship, I began to pursue the idea of being a sideshow performer. The so-called initiation into Outlaw Cirkus occurred on May 1. 2001 and required a rite of passage that included a leap of faith into a pile of broken glass that was on fire. There were a few roles I filled, such as helping with set up, mending costumes and promotions. Our performances were mainly in the Pine Barrens or basements and backyards of South Jersey, with some members splintering off to do other events under the Nickel Empire banner such as Hillbilly Hoedown and the Miss Anti-Beauty Pageant.
By now I honestly have shared much more information about Aaron than I ever did when he was alive, and I feel accomplished in doing so because in a way it immortalizes someone who did not think he was worth remembering. To say that he was a humble man would dispute the fact that he relished being in the spotlight and took pride in the ability to fool people with his skills. However, at the end of the day, Aaron never acted like he was better than anyone and took compliments to heart. He constantly gave back to the community by donating money to various charities, particularly those that funded the arts in schools, but did so anonymously.
As much as Aaron enjoyed being a public figure, it was something literally that put his life at risk. He believed that things he did when he was a teenager running the streets in NYC were going to come back and bite him in the ass, or that someone who had been wronged by Shane would seek revenge in him, and so he was always looking over his shoulder expecting a beating or perhaps even worse. This coupled with his drug and alcohol abuse is what fueled his paranoia and the distance that he created between us. No matter how close we got on a physical or emotional level, Aaron was afraid that his haunting past would affect me and our future together. However, we still remained friends and it seemed the bond that we shared grew stronger each year we celebrated having known each other.
When tragedy struck Outlaw Cirkus in 2003, Aaron and I suffered the loss together and in our own ways. With the majority of the troupe deceased, we reformed into a smaller show and continued to perform, but it always felt as though something was lacking. Bad luck came our way again October 2004 when Jon was severely injured following a crash on the Wall of Death. It seemed that after everything the Death Defying Daredevil had been through, this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Aaron retired from all aspects of show business, officially putting an end to Outalw Cirkus and Nickel Empire. His motivation was lost and so he sought escape in drugs, which had caused him to visit the hospital on more than one occasion, not to mention being clinically dead more than should be humanly possible.
What I have left of a beloved friend are assorted memories and a few tattoos that are a permanent reminder in some respect Aaron will always be with me. Just about every emotion one can possibly conceive has passed through me during the five years I have honored the life and death of the greatest Carny I ever knew. Of course his story is not some grandiose Hollywood portrayal of what life in the circus or carnival is really like. There are some really ugly facts that I have brought to surface because at this point I have no desire to hide anything. This has been proven by sharing details maybe no one really needs to know, but rather serve their purpose in paying tribute to someone who meant the world to me and helped shaped me into who I am.
Today would have been Aaron’s 34th birthday, and earlier this year I was hit with the realization that I was going to out live him like a daydreaming quarterback by an alert defensive lineman. The idea has yet to completely settle in, but the thoughts are stirring again now that I am aware of my own impending birthday. At times I wonder how I got to the position I am in, and then I come to this space to read my own archives in amazement that I have had so many wonderful adventures. Nothing will ever compare to what I had with Aaron and Outlaw Cirkus, but I am always working hard on continuing the legacy as best as possible. It is certainly not easy, especially when one feels as though people are not interested in my long history as a sideshow performer, or when you put forth the effort to bring live shows back to their DIY roots and no one comes. What is left to motivate when all past inspiration has been exhausted?
There are moments where I feel as though I am standing in Aaron’s shoes, viewing the world as a cynical Carny who doesn’t trust anyone and generally dislikes people. The individuals one does identify with are held dear and yet at a distance to keep them from seeing the real face, because others abused the privilege in the past and it’s not something you are willing to just hand out. Isolation is preferred to keep focused on the Self, writing, painting and creating whenever possible. Socializing is an event, for which one dresses accordingly to present status and representation of culture since everything else is a stupid hipster trend that needs to die in a fire. Music rules my world, nostalgic tunes of past eras bringing a soothing happiness and transporting the mind to somewhere else. It’s easy to forget about what’s happening outside when not paying attention to news and social mediums. Hours pass like minutes and whole days are lost to being caught up in imagination and productivity. This is what one must do in order to prevent succumbing to negative thoughts, especially when comparing yourself to your dead friend. However, getting lost in that downward spiral is not a place I even consider finding myself.
The great thing about inheriting Outlaw Cirkus was that its founding members had solid plans of what they envisioned for its future. Being at the helm of such an organization is no easy task, but I take the position seriously because it is on a path of becoming something real. Jon used to say: “We are a home to the homeless and a friend to the friendless. We embrace the misfits and miscreants, derelicts and deviants . We are a Family and fight together for a common purpose because we are enabling our rights to have our voices heard. We do this with hope of igniting a revolution against the media zombification of society and to encourage the evolution of creativity.” This is a heavy load to carry alone, but as I have stated since I first began performing, I do what I do because I love it and it’s my life. Nothing makes me beam with more pride or ache from happiness and I can honestly say that I don’t know a lot of people who can match this claim, so I consider myself to be quite fortunate.