Friday, 30 September 2011

Shaman Showman - part 3

The Shaman-Showman's Obligation

Wikipedia tells us: Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. There is a lot of research done by anthropologists and religious historians like Mircea Eliade that explores this line of thought. Daniel Pinchbeck defines Shamanism as “A technology for exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness in order to accomplish specific purposes: healing, divination, and communication with the spirit realm.”
Personally I don’t believe there is any need to postulate a spiritual world as a separate realm of existence to explain phenomena in this world. I believe the answers to our questions and mysteries lies firmly rooted in reality. Explanations given along supernatural lines only complicates things and raises more questions then it answers. In my writings I am treating the shaman as a guide for an exploration of non-ordinary states of consciousness or an altered experience of reality. Lessons learnt in this state of mind does not teach us about the spirit world but about ourselves and our place in the real world.
I believe the shamanistic tradition and experience has been important for humans for the same reasons as religion. The beneficial traits of these traditions has worked to strengthen unity, binding communities, finding meaning in complex things by providing answers to unexplainable things, and it exists throughout the world, most likely because it’s positive effects are real, regardless of the ultimate veracity of the teachings. I will get back to these underlying positive effect in another post.
Blogger Tai Carmen describes the shamanistic state eloquently in a great post on her blog: “A systematized disorganization of the senses via trance states induced by intoxicants/hallucinogenics, music and/or dance, with the goal of personal transformation/liberation from social constraints, and communion with a divine or supernatural principal. ”
The tools of the trade seems to be drums, chanting, and also demonstrations of supernatural skill. All employed to bring the participants a state of ecstasy. A word whose original meaning came from the Greek word Ekstasis, which means ‘standing outside oneself.’ He who stands outside himself would be able to see himself from the outside.
The mindset of the participants is described as a trance, but perhaps for those that can’t or won’t reach the full ecstatic state themselves watches the shaman as a representation of themselves. They watch the shaman as they watch themselves. He becomes man’s representative, the symbolic human.

A Showman Shows Man - Man. For a Showman, the altered state is the mindset of the Crowd. Their minds connected watching time slowed down and controlled by the Showman as he draws them into a symbolic reality, and leads them into Ekstasis in its original meaning, standing outside oneself to be able to watch and understand oneself.

Shamans are keepers of secret knowledge, they explain unexplainable events and increase the odds of survival and the moral in the group. They are the mediators between the spiritual or altered experience of reality and the real world. In this symbolic world order they find hope of control over stochastic processes in the real world.
The shaman manifests our dreams and collective imagination. They give hope. Hope of healing, hope of direction when lost and so on. Through his role as an outsider, a wounded healer, someone who has suffered and learnt, one who have gone out on the ice and lived there alone for many months until he could finally hear the voice of the Universe, have certain obligations to fulfil.
From BBC's Human Planet
From the TV series Human Planet I learnt that on coral islands where it is possible to fish within a lagoon as well as out on the open sea, fishermen are more superstitious about fishing out at sea. This means there are more rituals connected to the open sea variant. This is because added risks. Random uncontrollable processes like bad weather and dangerous prey increase risk of injury and death. The open ocean is a treacherous place and the beasts pulled up can be dangerous. The more random the process, the easier it is for us to become superstitious. Situations of gravity, such as open-sea fishing, or big game hunting would all bring on a desire to control the outcome, to gain an advantage and security in a very uncertain situation.
BF Skinners superstitious pigeon
 In risky circumstances where randomness is unavoidable normal pattern recognition no longer suffice and as demonstrated nicely by B.F. Skinners famous superstitious pigeons, our minds makes sense of unrelated events and outcomes. The pigeons belived that their actions such as wing flapping and turning was an important part of receiving food. The fact was that the food was delivered completely at random with no reference to the pigeon’s actions. When food was delivered the pigeon remembered its last actions and attributed it to the food delivery. And hence persisted to repeat the half turn, the wing flap and so forth it had done immediately before the food arrived. The pigeons quickly developed a set of beliefs to make sense of the randomness.
Minds were made to make sense of things and it is so eager to do so it often makes sense out of things that have no sense at all. Mistaking events following each other in time for causality, that the first event is linked to the next. Like linking a successful and injury free hunt to correctly following a groups rituals. If the ritual was executed and the ensuing hunt was successful and injury free it would be attributed to the ritual. The tribe now have ‘proof’ that the ritual worked. Once this thought pattern occurs it can be very difficult to escape. To the point that if someone did die in the hunt, the question would not be whether the whole system was wrong, but what alterations must be done to the ritual, which bit was not done well enough, which part of it failed. In this way a simple superstition can become a complex set of instructions meaningful within the community’s belief system.
Minds makes sense of things that have no sense at all.
Superstition aside, as I mentionioned earlier the veracity of the beliefs seems to be unimportant. The benefits from following religious practices and rituals are all equally helpful. We have yet to find one type of prayer that gives 100% return of your prayers. All rituals and spiritual traditions has similar outcomes so the important thing about them is that something about them ‘works’ for us as humans.
The shamanistic ritual before the hunt becomes a time for focus and for unification of the hunters and through them the whole tribe. It changes the mindsets from I to We and in that there is immense power. We are social beings, together we are invincible, together we will prevail, and together we shall grow. This is the obligation of the Shaman Showman.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 44

When a Showman understands the role of the audience, a new freedom will fill him. Exhibitionism withers away when the Showman sees the audience not as judges or censors or even as delighted friends but as a group with whom he is sharing an experience.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Beyond the Mat

This is an awesome documentary about wrestling; the sport, the craft, the risks, the wrestlers, the passion, and the spectacle. Wether you love wrestling or don't get it this story will interest you.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 43

The most important thing is that you know that you want to be there and
that you trust the Crowd wants to be there.
They are the audience you are the performer. Step up, be the Showman. Let them be the crowd. Guide them, they want to follow, but are afraid to come with you unless they feel safe with you as a guide.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Shaman Showman - Part 2

Mythopoeic nature of Wrestling
Wrestling and Shamans

(Read part 1 here.)

Perhaps shamanism is like Pro-wrestling? As a kid you think it’s real then at some point you learn the whole thing is a masquerade. It is theatre in a square ring.
All the spectators suspends their disbelief, pretending to watch sport, whilst it’s actually theatre, sports-themed theatre of the simplest sort. Very powerful stuff though.
When an older boy decides to expose the lie, or initiate you into the true knowledge concerning the reality of wrestling, I hope they do it gently. As the house of childlike beliefs shakes and falls, you want the insight broken to you in a way that allows you to transcend the broken reality by picking up the pieces and stack them back up into a new foundation. A foundation of understanding and rationality.
Wrestling isn’t real but it's still awsome and this teaches us that wheter its real or not is not the point, the point is the story, the action, the hotdogs and soft drinks, the girls in the skimpy outfits, and the massive warrior wrestlers.
Real or not it still speaks to thousands.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 42

It is necessary to become a part of the world around us and make it real by touching it, seeing it, and smelling it. This is valid for stage and life.

Shaman - Showman

Roald Amundsen and the Shaman

Roald Amundsen, polar explorer and hero.
One of Norway’s relatively unknown heros is Roald Amundsen. ”Who?” You probably think, and that’s my point.
Just so you all know, I’ll briefly introduce my childhood hero. On december 14 1911, Amundsen and his team were the first men to reach 90 degrees south - the geographic Southpole! To make the story even more exciting the quest for the Southpole had been a race against an English man called Captain Robert Falcon Scott. So if he won why don’t we know his name?
Captain Scott was quite a hopeless case. He brought horses and tractors to take him to the pole. The tractors never started and the horses died of exposure before the expedition set off towards the pole and Captain Scott’s team reached the pole finding a tent with a swaying Norwegian flag. In the tent was a guest book, with Roald Amundsen’s name first. With broken spirits Scott began the return journey but succumbed to fatigue, partly brought on by scurvy. The tragedy of Captain Scott ecclipsed Roald Amundsens acheivement.
Reaching the Southpole was not Amundsens first polar triumph. A few years earlier in 1903, and this brings me to the point I am making, Roald Amundsen set out on an expedition hoping to find the North West Passage. Which had been sought by the English for four hundred years. They sailed to Gjøahavn on King William Island and spent twenty three months there. During this time Amundsen studied Inuit way of life and collected etnographic material.
I found this quote on a blog about Amundsen’s encounter with an Inuit Shaman. This will be a perfect introduction to my thoughts and ramblings on shamans.

Amundsen and his men at the Southpole
”Roald Amundson passed the winter in the Arctic Circle among the Inuits.  He lived with the tribe’s shaman.  After months of watching the many sleights of hand and minor tricks the shaman used to hold the tribe’s attention with his magical power, Amundsen finally asked him: Didn’t it bother him that all his ‘magic powers’ were nothing but  cheap parlor games?  The shaman smiled. He replied, ‘My magic power is not in my tricks. My real power is that I have gone out on the ice and lived there alone for many months until I could finally hear the voice of the Universe. And the voice of the Universe is that of a mother calling after her beloved children. That is my real magic.”

Inuit Shaman. Look at those sweet hands.
This brings us to shamans and my interests in them as proto Showmen. Roald Amundsen experienced a shaman performing slight of hand. To his tribe the shaman was a powerful healer and communicator of secret understandings. What did the tribe see in their shaman’s prestidigitation? What can we learn about the Showman from studying the Shaman? What can we learn about his craft and the deep meaning presented in his performances that will benefit our own shows? How did it all start?

Whether because of his understanding of ice and polar knowledge taught to him by shamans or not, the expedition found and sailed through the North West Passage in 1906. Becoming the first ship in history to travel successfully through it. Adding another feather to my polar hero, Roald Amundsen’s hat.

(Read part 2 here)

Friday, 23 September 2011

Shanghai Circus School Doco

I went to a circus school in 1996. I paid for the three-month course with money I had made performing with Dad and doing street shows. Let me just say Circomedia was nothing like the Shanghai Circus School.
The kids in this PBS documentary are pushed to the edge and beyond. The results are extraordinary, pinnacles of human achievement in body control, but so I would hope, for the sacrifices and struggles are great. But in the end when you have mastered your craft, created your art and overcome the obstacles the triumph of the Showman makes it all worth it.
The documentary is hard to watch sometimes, but these kids are amazing. The kid in this picture fights hard, they push him, but man, the results are unbelievable.

Hope you all enjoy this glance of the work involved in becoming an Acrobat. 
Thanks to Circobat over at the Kicking Sawdust blog for putting me onto this.

Watch the documentary on youtube by clicking here.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 41

Everything that happens on stage is part of the show. The act, the mistakes, the random interactions from the crowd are all part of the Crowds experience. Each opportunity missed is a brick in the fourth wall. Sealing you off from the crowd, driving them out of the moment. Enjoy your mishaps, they make you more human, and the performance more real.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Showman's Guild?

I was disappointed with what I discovered when I began researching the Showman’s Guild. I very quickly found an organization with that exact name. It was all so easy, too easy... so mundane and plain. No secret symbols, no secret knowledge just a regular trade organization. 
In the National Fairground archives I got a good insight into the nature of the Showman’s Guild’s and it’s history.

The formation of ‘the United Kingdom showman and Van Dwellers' Protection Association’ in 1889 was and still is the decisive and important event in the history of travelling showpeople as a community.
In 1917 the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, as it became known, was recognised as the trade association of the travelling funfair business and acquired the right to stand as representatives for the business at both local and national levels; a position it still occupies to this day.
Although claims for earlier organisations can be found in the pages of the World's Fair and other publications, these were usually temperance or charitable foundations more concerned with the moral and spiritual salvation of the showpeople than their everyday business and way of life! The incentive for the start of the van dwellers association was the proposed legislation by George Smith, a self styled expert and evangelist from Coalsville. He believed that his mission was to reform and educate all members of the itinerant community in the United Kingdom, whom he referred to as:

“Dregs of society, that will one day put a stop to the work of civilisation, and bring to an end the advance in arts, science, law and commerce that have been making such rapid strides in the country.”

This no doubt had been an important organization, but it was far from what I had hoped to find. As I perused the available information I didn't want it to be true. I was after was a secret brotherhood of showmen which sat on powerful knowledge about the showman’s craft. Not an organization which lobbies politicians, and contests and gets showmen exempt from regulations. I had hoped to find a secret society that would have the key to make my performance as meaningful as I had found uncle Certini’s shows. This was when I was about 17 or 18, still in school and at that point I felt silly for having believed the ramblings of a mad old magician. I was disappointed and through that I realize how much I wished for it to be true. It turned out I had found a trade organization when I wanted a secret society. At that point I thought I gave up.  But little did I know, it would all come back to haunt me when I least expected it.

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 40

 The Crowd’s ever watching eye brings meaning to our craft.  You are there for them. Let them know how grateful you are for their attention.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Nepals Lost Circus Children + Mary Ellen Mark...

An investigation into the trafficking of Nepalese children to work in Indian circuses. A darker side of circus is exposed and explored by film maker Sky Neal. It follows the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation as they rescue children from circuses they have been sold to and taken to a refuge run by a woman called Shailaja CM. They are doing some great work to rid circuses of this archaic and abominable method of recruitment.

See the 25 minute documentary right here.

This is of course not the only side to Indian circus. My first exposure to Indian circus was through Photographer Mary Ellen Marks book 1989 called Indian Circus. I am lucky enough to have a copy I bought from Reg Bolton at a circus festival in Tasmania one year.
Mary Ellen Mark, ‘Twin Brothers Tulsi and Basant’ 

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 39

A Free Showman can Free the Crowd.

Whispers of the Showman’s Guild

The first time I heard about the Showman’s Guild was from my Dad’s uncle Certini. He was a Norwegian magician and the one who got my father into doing magic. As often happens the Apprentice became a very different magician to his Master. 
Certini was a manipulator. He made cards, coins, thimbles, and lots of cigarettes, appear and disappear at his finger tips. Dad was always more interested in the shows as events and happenings than in the practice of slight of hand. Dad worked miracles with mechanical marvels and electro engeneering from his own workshop rather than producing endless streams of coins. But the main difference seemed to be more of a feeling. As you watched Dad you got pure escapism, perfect entertainment, whilst with uncle Certini there was a different intent. Although he did standard gentleman magic, by his presence, poise and intense presentations each coin that materialized in his empty hands seemed symbolic. Like it was one thing but meant something much more significant.
On rare occasions when I visited uncle Certini he talked about a secret brotherhood of showmen, called the Showman’s Guild. He talked about how the Illuminated Showmen had a different mindset, and different goals to most magicians. This kind of talk didn’t seem so strange to me since I was also part of a secret brotherhood of magicians. I mean the Magic Circle of Norway wasn’t a secret society as such, but it certainly was a society with and about secrets. What made the Guild different was partly my father’s reaction to uncle Certini talking about it. Dad always tried to end the conversation and get onto more practical matters.
Life Death
Uncle Certini had bad nerves I was told. He sometimes had to travel to rest them at a sanatorium in the Fjordlands. Dad later told me that he believed there was a connection between uncle Certini needing to rest his nerves and his preoccupation with the Showmans Guild. I was never so certain.
A product of mental instabilities or over active imagination, this all piqued an interest and a life long research project into first of all trying to establish the reality of this obscure organization, which proves to be most difficult, then puzzle together the tenants of their teachings which they called the Way of the Showman.
Through snippets found, quotations interpreted, reviews found in old news papers and most of all the hand written notes from uncle Certini’s inheritance I’ve got a fair outline of the societiy’s secret history and the goings on in this most singular initiatory Guild.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman – 38

I love it when I’m performing and someone in the crowd loose themselves in the moment. Uncontrollable laughter, childlike gasps, pantomime hands mimicking what they see on stage, or just sheer primal joy and excitement manifested in screaming, whistling, stomping and clapping. When a person no longer worry about anything and is just consumed by the power of the Craft.
In moments like this I see other spectators giving that person envious looks: I whish it was me.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 37

 Throughout your shows react to what happens around you. Be there with the Crowd, in the moment. Don’t just go through the motions.
Act without letting decisions pass through the filter of others' opinion. Then begin the work on freeing yourself from your own filters. Few things are more enjoyable to watch than a Showman reacting totally free.

Silent witness sometimes speaks loudest

Charlie Chan at the Circus.

Yes, there is a gorilla in the film...
A murder mystery set at a circus, starring a perfect stereotype of a Chinese American detective. Played by the Swedish actor Warner Oland this portrayal has been the subject of much debate as to whether the role is racist. Some critics can not see past the fine Detective’s broken English and never ending fortune cookie wisdom, like; "facts are like negatives from film, must be exposed before developing," and "not always best to jump on simplest solution, mind like parachute, best when open." Others compare Chang to the Chinese’s portrayal in contemporary films, which at the time were sinister and wicked. This last interpretation was the explicit aim of Earl Derr Briggers which was the creator of the books on which the Charlie Chan movie series was based.

Charlie Chan with Olive and George Brasno.
The film is cute, a real life married short stature couple Olive and George Brasno features quite a bit. Complete with George as a cigar smoking baby, reminiscent of Tod Brownings ‘the Unholy Three.’ As they are introduced in the film we get to see one of their acts, a fantastic dance number.
The film is definitely worth having a look at, and you can do so, for no added fee, right here. Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 36

The moments of spontaneity are most like life. No rehearsal only reactions. Once you can create this feeling with your practiced and prepared material you have mastered a very important Lesson.

Beauty is all about patterns

In a very interesting article for wired magazine, Jonah Lehrer suggests that our feelings of beauty are:
“A particularly potent and intense form of curiosity. It’s a learning signal urging us to keep on paying attention, an emotional reminder that there’s something here worth figuring out.”
Salvador Dali, the persistence of time.
He then thinks this peculiar variant of curiosity is hijacked by art. Experiencing beautiful art we get sucked in to the undulating tones of a Beethoven symphony or into Mona Lisa's smile. Great works seems to always imply something, to set up information in patterns that then keeps us waiting for their conclusion. The final line of a Bukowski poem becomes immensely beautiful since it has been so cleverly built up. The feeling of beauty tells us there is a pattern here, and that we have a chance of figuring it out.
“Put another way,” Lehrer says, “beauty is a motivational force that helps modulate conscious awareness. The problem beauty solves is the problem of trying to figure out which sensations are worth making sense of and which ones can be easily ignored.
Great art seems to contain promises of great patterns. The beginning of a symphony sets up a pattern and then the rest, more or less, is a tantalizing “flirtation with – but not submission to – our expectations of order.” 

He quotes some interesting studies that suggests a particular area of the brain, specifically in the medial orbital-frontal cortex involved in our experience of beauty, regardless of whether its source is music, painting, weaving, reading or otherwise.
This  is one of the least understood parts of the brain. But what we do know is that it’s instrumental in sensory integration, it regulates how powerful our emotional responses are to stimuli, its also key in decision-making and expectation. In particular, the mOFC is thought to regulate planning behavior associated with sensitivity to reward and punishment. I guess it is then not so unexpected that our experience of beauty resides in this area already known as an important part of our pleasure spectrum.
Auguste Rodin, the Kiss.
“…That brain area has consistently been implicated in the recognition of delightful things, from the taste of an expensive wine to the luxurious touch of cashmere,” explains Lehrer.
As we begin to discover how our experience of beauty originates in the brain we can perhaps answer the philosophical question of what the common quality of Bach, Rodin, Dali, and ancient cave paintings all have in common.
The scientist behind the experiment which localized the beauty responses in the mOFC, “Ishizu and Zeki think that the “peculiar quality” lies not in works of art themselves (pieces of music included), but in the brains of their beholders.”
The objects of art are not so much beautiful in themselves as suggestive of patterns and emotions that stimulates a particular part of the brain. The work of art can in this sense be seen as a trigger for feelings of beauty. And a skilled artist might be said to have an understanding of how to form an object, music or perhaps any type of performance into an experience which triggers beauty trough setting up a pattern and holding off on its completion. Something a little mysterious that cries out to be understood and also gives off the hopeful feeling that you will be able to grasp it.
From the Chauvet caves in France, artist unknown...
In exploring aspects of life as diverse as hallucinatory drugs, meditation, dancing to repetitive music, partaking of religious ceremonies, and studying evolution many of us have had the sense that life and everything is riddled with patterns. I certainly have. Life itself, its origin and development is about order and patterns in seeming chaos. Most early Origin myths are about order from chaos. In fact our minds were made to create meaning from chaos. It is part of what makes us human.
So if beauty is akin to curiosity what exactly is curiosity?
“The first thing the scientists discovered is that curiosity obeys an inverted U-shaped curve, so that we’re most curious when we know a little about a subject (our curiosity has been piqued) but not too much (we’re still uncertain about the answer).”
When there is a gap between what we know and what we want to know we get something like a mental itch and desire to seek knowledge to bridge this gap. This seems to be a fundamental aspect of curiosity.
“The lesson is that our desire for more information – the cause of curiosity – begins as a dopaminergic craving, rooted in the same primal pathway that responds to sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
So the thing that keeps us interested is incompleteness, rather than perfection. A stray hair on a Japanese Zen painting, a gold tooth in a carny’s crooked smile makes something beautiful and interesting.
Researchers in Montreal discovered, through the use of fMRI machines and PET scans that our experience of beauty whilst listening to music is highest fifteen seconds before the climax. As themes, and threads are coming together and the promise of completion looms our experience of beauty is the strongest. We peak emotionally just before the climax.
“It is the suspenseful tension of music (arising out of our unfulfilled expectations) that is the source of the music’s beauty… ‘For the human mind,’ Meyer writes, ‘such states of doubt and confusion are abhorrent. When confronted with them, the mind attempts to resolve them into clarity and certainty.”
Beauty urges us to pay attention to keep looking. It hints at the mysterious, but also gives us hope that understanding is within grasp. It encourages us with its imperfections to want to know more, we want to know how it ends.
“We know just enough to know that we want to know more; there is something here, we just don’t know what. That’s why we call it beautiful.”


Perhaps this article can Illuminate aspects of the fundamental structure in our perception of beauty and through it help elevating Showmen’s creation’s as they journey along the Way of the Showman.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 35

Be completely committed to the path that you choose,
but be ready to turn off any time to peruse.
To be Spontaneous brings the reality of the moment into focus. A moment  of personal freedom for the Showman. The Crowd see you faced with reality, and how you explore it and act accordingly.

Monday, 12 September 2011

the Clown and the New World - part 4

Here it is dear readers, the next and final part of our old Clown's tribulations and explorations of the New world. For those of you that made it all the way through I hope you enjoyed the ride.
If you didn't, read from the beginning here, and follow the links from there.

Part 1 - Tragic beginnings and the Livid Storm
Part 2 - The Carnival is Dead
Part 3 - The Clown and Robert Johnson
Part 4 - The Angel and the Greatest Show on Earth 

Now all aboard the circus train its time to head back into the New World.

He wanders on as born anew
ruminating on what’s true.
“What is truly part of me and of my desires?
Do I still retain in me what my work requires?”
The road is long, the country vast
he travels slow and fast.
The road slowly eats his shoes.
He’s almost ready for a snooze
when some papers blow right past.
“It is two circus flyers.”
His heart starts pounding very fast.

And there it is so splendidly
standing in a field.
It’s trains and wagons all around,
a Big Top and Menagerie
so lavishly revealed.
It is the greatest show on earth,
finally, he’ll show his worth.
This is his perfect chance.
So happy is our little clown
He jigs a little dance.

It is the great big circus’ charity matiné,
he hears the proud ringmaster say.
‘Are all the kids from the Orphanage here?’
from the tent, a great big cheer.
‘How ‘bout the kids from the hospital?’
the response, not quite as capital.
Some kids too weak and others broken
but their smiles are their tokens,
they never could have loved it more.
It makes their spirits soar.

‘This is it, this is the day,
now can come whatever may.
No more masks.
The nose is gone.
I never willed
to be the best
I just wanted to be me.
I was stupid not to see
What is done comes not undone.
No longer will I run.
I’ll be doing this for them
For all those who remind me of
my only little love.

He sneaks inside the grand big top
looking like a hobo.
There’s no one there to tell him stop.
As he enters through the canvas flaps
his luck of luck it is
the clown brigade
is on his way to stop a fire’s fizz.
Stupid looking firemen in baggy pants and suits,
other grotesquely smiling clowns
dressed in giant boots,
are stomping on a fire.
Whilst they fall and run around
our hobo clown stands still
with tension and a zeist for life -
his dreams so soon fulfilled.

Then the clowns they notice him.
“Is that hobo clown a bum?”
The Clown Captain runs across
to evict him from the ring
but our hobo clown plays dumb
he doesn’t care about a thing.
Then the crowd all notice him
he goes out on a limb.
As the Clown Captain grabs his neck
our clown he wrestles loose
and gives the Captain’s cheek a peck.
Then he falls down to the ground
in the most surprising manner
he rolls and squirms just like a snake
towards the circus banner.
The children laugh at the funny man.
That makes the other clowns get mad.
‘Who is this guy stealing laughs and joy?
Who makes all the gags we can employ
seem tiresome and old.
Let’s get the intruder out of here.
When we get our funny hands on him
he wont be so bold.
But as they do the best they can
to grab the clumsy man
he falls or drops or spins around
to the music of the band.
His tricks miraculously saves him
from the fury of the clowns.
Which makes them chase him harder,
sawdust flying from the grounds.

The Ringmaster did shout:
“Who is this guy I want him out
he is ruining the show.”
The mighty swarm of clowns
is closing on our funny man,
his chances they look slim,
but it doesn’t seem to bother him.
He jumps inside the centre ring
where the tiger cage is set.
He runs inside and quickly stops,
kicking sawdust and some bottle tops,
then all the clowns gets in the cage
with sinister looking props.
But just before they jump on him
comes the most surprising stunt.
He jumps out through safety gap,
so tight it makes him grunt.
And snaps the lock down shut.

Then he stands alone.
The only in the ring.
For a moment there he thinks
he hears the angels sing.
He is the only one not in a cage.
The clowns all are looking
like lions in their rage.
The thunderous applause
and the loud appreciation,
so powerful that it shook
the entire nation

The ringmaster says:
“Who is this guy?
I need to know
I want him in the show.”

Everyone inside the tent,
there is more than
ten thousand
stands up in their ovation.
Which is quite unusual
for a clowns creation.
“I have never witnessed this
and I have been around,”
said the stirred Ringmaster,
he was breathing ever faster.
“He doesn’t wear a painted face.
No red nose sits in place.
It’s just a man.
The applause it has become so wild
it’s drowning out the band.”

All the crowd is clapping
Except one little girl.
Warily the girl stands up
and strokes away a curl
Eyes locked at the hobo
She walkes out in the ring.

For the first in the longest time
the old clown is happy.
Forgotten is the strife and grime.
He’s feeling rather sappy.
Then he sees the little girl
and her long blond hair.
Like an angel, she’s so fair.
She looks just like his little girl.
So beautiful she can’t be
of this retched world.
The crowd’s noise,
so loud it makes him dizzy.
His little brain is way too busy.
‘It cannot be.
Was I not free?
Why come this apparition now to me?’
His heart is pounding in his chest
Almost bursting from his breast.
‘Now, I am possessed.’
He holds on to his breaking heart.
‘This is it.
She has come to take me home.
My heart has broken.
Thank you lord for letting me
make them laugh again.
Smiles abound so nice to see.
Just one more time before I died.
Thank you and amen.’
He holds his arms out to the side
towards his angle girl
Now let us fly. Take us home
up through the circus dome.
Let eternity unfurl.
If my mind is playing tricks on me,
if this all is a dream,
then dear God let me please
just sleep and sleep and sleep.
His eyes are now so filled with tears.
He he can not see her face
The girl holds out her hands
into empty space.
And the crowd quiets down a bit
Some in the front now sit.
His tears makes him strain his eyes
makes the spotlights shine like stars.
Then he sees the necklace
on her neck so slight.
It fills him fast as fright:
A picture of that night.
The Necklace that he knows so well,
the ship of holy writ.
The very recreation.
The very Noah’s ark
he gave to her before the swell
ate her like a shark.

Now she comes on over
and whispers out his name.
And after that our old clown
never was the same.
The old man buckles and falls down to his knees
She puts her arms around her dad.
‘Please now father don’t be sad
You promised me: ‘it won’t be bad.’
And now I know its true.
I have so much to tell to you
I clung so long to the broken mast
But please now father
hold me fast
and never let me go.
They said that you would never come
but I always told them no.’
The father cried and cried and cried
He couldn’t make it stop.
No matter how he tried
He flung his arms around his girl.
‘My precious little pearl.
The miracle of miracles,
It finally came through.
Standing real before me now
it is really you.
It really is my gorgeous dove
my only little love.’

Thank to all those of you who found time for the full experience.

Yours truly
Captain Frodo

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Saved by Sideshow - Rasmus Nielsen

A Carny Hero
On 8th of July, 1946, two days after the worst circus catastrophe in recorded history, the Hartford circus fire, a local paper called the Hartford Tribune, ran the headline reading:
Underneath was a picture of a short stout woman with a young boy of about six, both holding up their unused tickets to the fateful matinee-show where 169 patrons of the Greatest show on Earth was burnt to death.
‘I had bought tickets to the circus and took Frankie Jr down early so he could experience the midway.’ Frieda was quoted as saying.
At one of the Sideshow stages they stopped to watch the ballyhoo presentation of the sensational Scandinavian muscle man Rasmus Nielsen. I have had an interest in this unique sideshow performer for some time so reading this article thrilled me, to the point of creating a routine as an homage to him  back in 2003, but I digress. This veteran showman with the Ringling Brothers Sideshow was no ordinary strongman. His body was covered crown to heal in tattoos. Two fat steel rings pierced his nipples, like bones through a savage nose. His feat of strength and endurance consisted of clamping his nipple and chest flesh between two metal bars attached to a chain wrapped around an anvil! The wing nut screws tightened around his flesh hard enough to allow him to lift the 250 pound blacksmith tool off the ground. As he struggled he let out a stream of offensive guttural sounds.
‘To transcend the pain,’ the sideshow talker had explained. His noises and screams invigorated the crowd but, according to the article, it scared Frieda’s boy witless.
‘I was mesmerized by this barbaric performance, when Frankie Jr. tugged at my skirt. Looking at him I saw horror in his eyes. I got no idea what scared him so much but he was terrified and no amount of mollycoddling was going to stop it. Actually it just got worse and worse, until he screamed louder than the strongman himself. It was embarrassing, so I grabbed his arm and we left.’ Frieda said.
Her boy was so gripped by fright removing him from the strongman’s display didn’t calm him. His piercing screams, like “from a beaten dog,” became an ominous augury of the looming arson havoc.
The Gentle Strongman
After about half an hour of fruitless coercion with everything from treats to threats Frieda took little Frank home, hoping to be able to use her unused tickets for the evenings performance.
‘It gives me goose bumps to think about. Now I just want to thank Rasmus Nielson, the Scandinavian Strongman for saving our lives.’ Frieda finished.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Clown and the New World - Part 3

How deep does the jester sink? All the way to Hell?
We are back again with our wandering, wondering, clown serching for the Way.
It is adviced that you read part one and two before you read this.

Part 1 - Tragic beginnings and the Livid Storm
Part 2 - The Carnival is Dead
Part 3 - The Clown and Robert Johnson
Part 4 - The Angel and the Greatest Show on Earth 

Relax your mind for it is time to journey back to the New World.

He’s stranded now without a job
in a one horse town.
He takes a stroll to look around.
then sets his course for the only bar
to swamp his feelings with a drink.
Anything to stop him think.
But as he nears the door he hears
sweet sounds from a guitar.
He’s never heard such sounds before.
It grabs his hurting heart and tear
and tear and tear, but not apart,
rather piercing like a dart.
Picking strings
while he sings
it sounds as sweet as art.
Like the very hand of God
had sprouted from a man,
for only the divine it can
turn soul straight into sound
as coarse and harsh and primitive
as from this coloured fellow,
that sits in the darkened corner
Looking  rather mellow.
Strumming, picking, plucking
the soul from his guitar.

The guitarist was hardly old enough
to be called a man.
“He’s but a boy how can it be?
I need to know how it began.
Can there be enough inside of him
of life both sweet and grim?
Heaven, earth and all between
from the time before the very day
when God him self would say:
let there be time and space and life
and death and all between
and all the way until it ends
in eternity.
How comes it that this young man can
so easily convey
all this just through his play”

When the music stops
the jester goes
over with a drink.
‘Those sounds
they sure are sweet.
They really make me think,
that never in my time I’ve heard
their like before, my friend.
The lacerations through my soul that loss
of love from life it tore,
your music seems to mend.’

“I’m glad it makes you feel like this.
For the price to play so sweet a tune
was my soul to the abyss
on Beelzebub’s harpoon.
Satan showed me how to croon
and play this old guitar
He promised me I’d be a star.
But in return I had to give
The Evil One control
Of my immortal soul.”

The Merrier he drank his drink
And gave it all a good old think.
“I’ll ask the devil to make of me
the funniest man on earth.
Make my mother the only one
to ever have given birth
to such a man of mirth.
I see no further down from here
so tell me, if you can,
where can I meet this devil man?
I’d like of him to make it so
each time I do a show
I’m always met with laughter
never met with frowns.
I want him to make of me
the ultimate King of clowns.

‘You must be sure
that’s what you want.
For the price you’ll have to pay
is that you must sign away
your own immortal soul.’

“Oh I don’t care about my look
my empty gut or smell.
I have hurt too much to care
I now want to excel.”
But in his heart he hoped
that he would to find a way
to keep Beelzebub at bay.

then I’ll tell you all you need,
all you need to know.
You have to get a crucifix
one that’s made of birch.
I know there is just such a cross
You can steal from that little church.
Then go to the crossroads
on the other side of town.
Just past the hallowed ground
where the gallows tree
stands black and dead.
You have to remember what I said
Nothin’ will work instead.
Then place your hands around the cross
so it is upside down.
You got to stick it in the ground
so the Lord’s whole head is in.
If you put it right way round, you see,
your luck’ll be runnin’ thin.
You must be sure his head is Buried,
burried in the dirt.
This is a fact I must assert
the Lord
must be made inert.
His ears must be covered
so he can’t hear.
His eyes must be blind
so he can’t see.
You’ll have to spit,
you’ll have to swear.
and carve a skull
and dead-man’s bones
deep into a tree.
Then you got to be waitin’,
the Devil don’t come right away.
When he comes, you got to pray
you know just what to say.
The Devil wont be waitin’
for you to make up your mind.
If you meet him
with your mind unmade
the Devil don’t care to be kind.”

The Clown gets a wooden cross and
plants it upside down,
in the centre of the crossing roads
the call to hell is sown.

The Armenian merry-man
stood waiting in the sun.
He put his round, red clown nose on
transformation had begun.
The fool inside crept out from sleep,
funny enough to make grown men weep.

But the hours came and went away,
it is hard to clown around all day.
He reached into his jacket lining
and fished out a flask of rum.
It didn’t even touch his mind
That to drink might just be dumb.
Don’t dance with the Devil drunk, they say,
you just won’t get your way.
He’ll say he’ll fix your every need
As long as he gets to lead.

Shuffling ‘round in the wilted grass
He spotted a thing that shone like brass
In the yellow straw by the dusty road,
a little lantern gone astray
had become the castle for a toad.
And he fell on his face to pray.
Then he shook the cane toad king
from the throne where he tried to cling.

To find a little light
to illuminate the dark
was just what he did need.
If the devil came upon him
after the sun‘d gone down.
He was sure a simple clown
would in the darkness drown.
Unless there was a way he could
create a little spark
and with it plant a burning seed.
It is best to see your steps
if the devil’s in the lead.

The hours ticked past
with lead-footed pace
Soon the scare crow suited clown sat
staring into space.
Far away he saw some sheep
And before long he fell asleep.

He wakes up to the sound of steps
coming up the road.
His heart it hammers,
his breath is short
and long gone is his toad.
There’s no fire in his lantern
But he holds it non-the less.
He checks his round red nose is straight,
that the crucifix is desecrate.
He is ready to transgress.
The sound of steps from hobnail boots
on the feet of a Hobo man.
“The times they must be hard
he thought,
when the Devil walks the land.
Are you the one called Beelzebub
who comes out from the dark?”
The hobo laughed and said he was
called by many names,
but Beelzebub was stark.
‘Well, then Devil, I’ll ask you this:
Can you make of me the king of fools?
The funniest of every man
who don’t have to follow rules.’

The Hobo he stood quiet now,
they felt the warm wind blow,
the hobo’s eyes was staring at
the red nose of a clown.
‘You don’t look like you are bound
by rules and regulations.
No, to me it seems you should
perform at celebrations.’

“That’s exactly what I want.
I want to be the best.
The one that’s so uproarious
he’s different from the rest.”

 “Well, if you’re sure you think that’s true
that all of that is truly you,
that’s just what you should do.”

“If you’ll do me this
I’ll give to you my immortal soul.
I assume that’s what you want.
The hobo looked bewildered now
and stood there like a cow.

‘I thought you asked just in jest
to get something of your chest.
But actually you think I am the evil king of pest.
I tell you clown:
I am not different from the rest.
And my advice to you is this
If you harbor such desires,
to really be a king
or any kind of fool
I believe just as a rule,
you must do it for yourself.
There will be no help from Lucifer
or God on heavens shelf.
If your desire lies in art
just listen to your heart.
If deep in there, you know you want
to be an idiot savant
That fills good folks with laugh and joy
Bring happiness to girl and boy,
You must listen to yourself
With your heart as a compass on your way
you will never go astray.’
With this the Hobo walked away
down the dusty road
with no delay.

The jester stood alone
to kick the dust and groan.
He hadn’t dared to look inside
deep inside himself,
for there he knew what would reside.
A hole so deep and black and dark
It would eat him like a shark.
With this inside it wasn’t strange
That people didn’t laugh.
The sorrow grown from loosing her
wrecked his fate in all mankind.
It tore his heart and soul and mind
Until his art was so confined
It spoke to none,
not even him.

‘So long my only want has been,
I want her back.
This has been my nightly plea,
my poor minds only track.
Why did you take her from me Lord?
Why did you not take me?
How many nights’ been spent like these
With grief devouring me like disease,
my heart refusing to let it go
the image of her drowned below.
If I am to stay around
on this retched earth
I must make my life have worth.
I must release her from my heart and mind
To let what’s happened be behind
and let my soul appease.

The Merrier stood abruptly up
And grabbed the crucifix.
‘I’m hanging up this call to hell
I no longer wish to sell
my very soul for tricks.’

Then in the dark he took the cross
and dug a little grave.
To come to terms with loss
and her that he still crave
he decides that he must bury
the only thing that’s left from home.
He dropped the old red clowny nose
into the little grave
the carefully covered it with moss
then threw away the cross.

The end of the day is nothing but a new beginning. Our clown has begun anew standing naked in a new world.  As your friend, let me tell you the conclusion to the epic tale will be all that you could hope. The final chapter is upon us, check it out, you owe it to yourself to discover how it ends in part four

Yours truly
Captain Frodo