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Freak Like Me: Inside the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow

By Jack Boulware

On the first Lollapalooza concert tour back in 1992, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden challenged each other to a gentleman's duel: who could drink the most stomach bile. Not just anybody's bile, either, but sickening, green foamy beer bile pumped from the stomach and out through the nose of Matt the Tube, a member of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, also performing on the tour. The disgusting contest continued all summer long, until eventually Vedder won.

Congratulations, I guess.

Like its older grunge rock brothers, the Jim Rose Circus also spawned from the damp, espresso-fueled confines of Seattle to infect the world with their shocking blend of traditional sideshow and "modern primitive" spectacle. Freak Like Me documents the evolution of this masochistic bunch, who went from performing at a small Portland book reading by Geek Love author Katherine Dunn, all the way up to a recent world tour with Nine Inch Nails. Readers also trace the life of its founder Jim Rose, who survived a cross-eyed Arizona childhood, honed his storytelling skills as a car salesman and bug exterminator, and found his calling as a sideshow performer on the boardwalk in Venice, California.

Rose makes no claim to creating literature here, but his often-hilarious circus barker voice makes a seamless transition to the page, referring to fainting audience members as "falling ovations," or introducing Mr. Lifto's pierced penis as the "part of him that's most a mister."

"It's a strange way to make a living," Rose admits, "and my dentist has made me cut down on eating light bulbs, but I'm never bored."

If all else fails, he can move to Florida and write for the tabloids.

Freak Like Me: Inside the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow
Jim Rose with Melissa Rossi
200 pages, US$13.95
Dell, 1995


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