Q. You have a lot of interest and knowledge about the sideshow industry, past and present, not as a performer, what is it that drives your interest? What motivates you?


A. I'd like to say it's all some altruistic, high-minded force of nature, but, in fact, it's simple fascination coupled with knowledge of posterity. I realized pretty early on in my interest in the business that fans of the show business were rabid about it and had very, very long memories, especially freak show fans. The math was simple after that: being involved in reporting on the business would guarantee the resultant books a half life of, oh, hundreds of years. At that altruistic level, though, I admire any showman who can accomplish what 99% of the writers on planet earth can only dream of: hold an audience and make them react in a major way. Can you see an audience for a typical poet or short story writer or novelist reacting the way a typical sideshow audience does at a show? That writer would never want to get off stage.

Q. Who else is involved in making "Shocked & Amazed!" magazine happen?


A. Although we've got a pretty standard line about all the show-people who make it possible, and although we've a number of people we bug on a regular basis (our artists being the hardest hit crowd), the lion's share of the project is mine and Kathleen Kotcher's. In all honesty, though, no Kathleen, no "Shocked & Amazed!" She started as production manager a decade ago, and she's now co-writer on the project. And that's above and beyond doing her own on-line newsletter, the NetFreakAlert. I might be the public face of "Shocked & Amazed!", but Kathleen does all the work

Q. What goes into putting together an issue?


A. You mean other than never having enough money? 
Oh, that's right, I'm supposed to tell you what goes "into" an issue. Seriously, so much of any issue is plotted and constructed so far ahead, we tend to "build" them almost last minute. Volume 6, for example, with the exception of the inevitable production glitches, could've been built in about a month; it's all mechanics. No, what goes "into" an issue is staying connected to the business 365 days a year, interviewing as regularly as I can (even if the interview might not see print for years) and acquiring as much text (books, articles, etc.) and as many images (original and copy-stand) as we can. Whether we make any money on this (and we don't: it's the book business for god sake) isn't the concern: if you don't handle the project as though it were a full-time job, you miss too much, and I don't owe that kind of performance to the fans of the business.

Q. Tell us a bit about the American Dime Museum.


A. For me, the museum is a natural outgrowth of the journal. If "Shocked & Amazed!" Documents the history of novelty and variety exhibition, then the museum shows it to you. Though it's very much a work in progress, my partner, Dick Horne, and I would very much like to expand on what's there now into galleries not just representing sideshow and the old-time dime museums but also galleries on vaudeville and burlesque and wax shows and world's fairs and wrestling and European music hall and wax shows and, well, you get the picture. All things in time, I suppose.

Q. Where would you like to see sideshow as an industry down the line?


A. Where I think it's going anyway: generally accepted by the public as a
significant part of a novelty & variety & spectacle arts industry, an industry that I think is in the midst of rather fitful renaissance at the moment. It seems to be happening in a huge way in burlesque, it happened a decade ago with the tattoo business, so I guess we'll just have to see where all this goes. Frankly, I'd like to see at least one house in every major city where, on a regular basis (no, not just once a month but maybe a couple nights a week), novelty & variety was a staple. For that town. That way, performers could roam the country making money in those venues in addition to all the others they cultivate currently. Sure would be nice to see people in the business make a living out of it.

Q. What was the first act you learned and performed?


A. First and only was the nail board which I assumed - rather stupidly - was just a gazoonie act, so how hard could it be for me to get it down and use it when necessary? Needless to say, I busted myself up some in the early work with it. Thanks to a couple of real pros - Harley Newman and Todd Robbins, specifically - I'm not nearly killing myself in the act. I've started doing the nail board sandwich, another stunt that has its moments (some pretty stupid ones on my part, I might add, such as the time I place the top board too far up my chest and got an instantaneous and unplanned blood tattoo; not smart). I walked the sword ladder in the American dime museum twice, and it was the most painful thing I've ever done willingly in my entire life; needn't do that again.

Q. Why is documenting the history of this industry important to you?


A. Above and beyond the reasons noted above (and that it's a hell of a lot of fun dealing with the people in this business), I think it's important to get the true word out on a business that prides itself on humbug. Not that I'm into being the secret magician revealing the man behind the curtain, mind you, but I think it's important to preserve the history of the people who make their lives out of this business, certainly as important as documenting anything that comes out of traditional theatre, Hollywood, etc.

Q. Who's been your most interesting interview thus far?
The one I'll do next.

Q. What are your most memorable moments since working on "Shocked & Amazed!"?


A. Jeez, there's almost too many to recount. And so many of them represent moments that'll never come again. I think my most memorable moments come whenever I can retell some jackpot for someone who's never heard it and watch the look on his or her face. It's as close as I'll ever get, I suppose, to what it must feel like for those showmen whose lives I try to document.

Q. What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?


A. I could be doing something other than this?

 

Interview By Charon Henning

 

For more information on James Taylor's Shocked & Amazed! visit www.shockedandamazed.com

 

Each month we will try and interview a new performer for the site.  Because of the logistics of it face to face interviews are tough to come by.  A good percentage of the interviews we will be doing will be via e-mail or telephone.  If you are interested in being interviewed for the site drop us a line.

 

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