Written Sept. 1, 1998 by Doug Higley-
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,
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 readers not familiar with Rose and his exploits,
do a Google search 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
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 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
While I expected to me "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
She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire
Who kills the brightest stars in her crown
And who will allow no private life to those who serve
Wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies,
Destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her
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
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
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
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.
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 errors 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
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 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
There will be another review crediting the excellent design and
art of Ashleigh Talbot as well as highlight some personal
observations and knowledge of the principles involved.
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" Cridland."
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, Seattle, WA. Hardbound w/photos and an excellent
bibliography (worth the price of admission). A signed deluxe
edition is available as well.
Update: march 3. 2005: Circus Of The Scars remains the best book
I ever read.
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