The Musical Carnival

by Ruben De Somer


Sideshows, freaks and oddities has been covered extensively in the movies and the resulting literature cf. Jack Hunter in his  “Inside Terradome”. The subject has also been covered in music but barely any literature exist in book or article form.  The sideshow and freakshow aspect first came to my attention when the American band “Eels” issued a cd called beautiful freak including the title track “Beautifull Freak”, showing a deformed picture of a young girl on the cover. Another musician covering the whole carnival atmosphere is of course Alice Cooper. One classic album,  which seems to be permeated by sideshow entertainment is “Welcome to my nightmare “   and its follow up album, “The last temptation”, which doesn’t really come as a surprise since Vincent Fournier (Alice Cooper) has always been dragging along a whole carnival on stage. Often joined by a snake which harkens back to the snake charmers of days long gone. Interestingly enough “The last temptation” was released together with a comic, covering the story from the “Last Temptation” with hauntingly beautiful art of Michael Zulli.


However a couple of years earlier “The residents” released a comic and a cd called Freakshow. This was born out of a vague and uncomfortable childhood memory of a mule faced lady at the Lousiana State Fair, The Freak Show album, originally released in 1990, is the story of a collection of freaks, each with their own all-too human failings and each with a haunting theme song worming its way into the listener's brain. Meet Harry The Head, Herman The Human Mole, Wanda The Worm Woman, Mickey The Mumbling Midget and Jello Jack The Boneless Boy. "Come in", say The Residents, "and make your mundane lives look like the kiss of bliss". This being The Residents, once the album was released, things weren't quite over... Whilst travelling in England they met with comic artists Brian Bolland (visual creator of Judge Dread and the "Dark Knight" Batman) and Edwin "Savage Pencil" Pouncey. Quickly the idea of a graphic novel based on the Freak Show characters took shape and ten artists including Brian Bolland, Savage Pencil and Kyle Baker came together for the Dark Horse Comics published graphic novel which followed in 1992.[1]

The Australian band Silverchair also released an album called “Freakshow” which had the song “Freak”. Despite the fact that the album was adorned by a banners featuring Grady Styles, the abusive lobsterboy, very little info could be found in the lyrics of the track as well as in the other tracks. According to one source the album was named that one because the band compared touring with a travelling sideshow. Interestingly additional research uncovered that one of the band members suffered from anorexia.


Nick Cave once devoted a track to the theme when recording “The Carny” on his Your Funeral My Trial. The lyrics depict the disappearance of the carny who just seems to have vanished into oblivion. As the story unfolds a whole slew of human oddities turns up to form the story. Among them are Dog-boy, Atlas, Mandrake, the Geeks, The bird-girl. If we have a closer at the aforementioned personae, Atlas is clearly the strongman of the circus, Dog boy clearly references to the many dog or lion faced people suffering from hirsuitisme, Mandrake can either refer to the magical plant or to mandrake the magician, the geek is the term referred to a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken, bat, snake or bugs[2]. The birdgirl clearly refers to a girl with microcephaly, which is also enhanced by the quote in the text The bird-girl flapping and squarking around”[3]

However while I may forgot many other bands we thought it would be interesting to have a look at the “human oddities” that made/ make music. One of the best known performers is Baby Dee.


Baby Dee as a novelty freak show worked in a Coney Island circus sideshow as a bilateral hermaphrodite  as a youth. [4] She also worked in circuses, like the Bindlestiff circus [and] the Kamikaze Freak Show."[5]

One of the more recent sideshow troupes which combines music and a slew of attractions is the 999 eyes show with That damned band[6]. One of their performers Jackie, a half lady joins the band in a sultry song.[7]However “The enigma” a former member of the original Jim Rose troupe,[8] now tours under the moniker “Showdevils” performing live music while doing various acts[9]


I know there are many more bands out there that have used the sideshow as a source of inspiration but for the time being this article should be an interesting introduction.



1 - Album covers

2 - The Australian band Silverchair album cover “Freakshow”

3 - Koo-Koo the Bird Girl

4 - 999 Eyes




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