Suspensions & Me – Through the Modified Looking Glass

Suspensions & Me

Man must rise above the Earth -- to the top of the atmosphere and beyond -- for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.

- Socrates

It was about ten degrees cooler than on the ground and there was a nice gentle breeze. I could see the highway, the water of the Gulf, and the car show going on below us but it was pleasantly quiet except for our collective vocalizations of awe. I was one of six people a hundred and fifty feet up in the air — hanging from a crane by hooks pierced into the flesh of our backs. At the time, it was the farthest thing from my mind, but now it seems fairly obvious to ask, “How did you end up in such a situation?”

They say that hindsight is 20/20. In my experience hindsight is where people revise, jump to conclusions, and make assumptions about how things might have been or why they are as they are now. Keeping that in mind, this is my best account of how suspension has become part of my life.

The first recollection that I have of seeing a suspension or even knowing that people did this sort of thing is from my early childhood. I remember seeing on a television show (probably That’s Incredible or something similar) some footage of a man with many small hooks in his back from waist to shoulders hanging in what we now sometimes call a “superman” style suspension. He was reaching back with both hands, holding his ankles and then swinging forward and back like the swinging ship carnival rides. It seemed to be somewhere in Southeast Asia or possibly India — that general region of the world — and the explanation given was that the man was trying to insure better times for his family and himself in this and for future lives. I remember seeing a lot of things like this as a child (including many Sufi practices via newsreel footage). I now know that a lot of the coverage was heavily biased and just inaccurate, but still, I got to witness a lot of amazing things which I believe inspired me a great deal overall. However, at the time I felt nothing more than entertained by what I saw — no primal urge or empathy or need to be suspended myself.

My next brush with suspension is one familiar to many people about my age or a bit older — A Man Called Horse. I have often heard people reference this as their first time finding out about suspensions. No doubt many people today would be citing things like Ripley’s and the movie The Cell in the same manner. If nothing else, it shows that these things are hardly new to the media nor is our fascination with them. I have never seen the movie version of A Man called Horse but my parents had the book and I read it and the sequel. I was intrigued by the suspension, but again, not particularly inspired or drawn to it.

As I got older and began getting more involved with performance and body based art and developing my own ways and ideas of toying with my body I encountered the work of people like Stelarc. This is when I first really started to get excited about the idea of suspension. It was finally in a context which started to “speak to me”. However, I still wasn’t really thinking in terms of suspending myself. I was simply impressed with what he was doing artistically and the method (suspension) he had chosen to employ. Suspension as an experience to me was one that held some interest as something to do but wasn’t high in any terms of priority for me. I wasn’t actively seeking out information about it, just taking it as it came by me. To a large extent I perceived it as being tied up with rituals and “head-spaces” I wasn’t all that into and wasn’t going to push through just to get to hang by hooks.

Jump to 1998 — the year I met TSD. A release party for Dee Snider’s film Strangeland was being held in NYC at Webster Hall, entitled The Night of 1000 Scars. Keith Alexander (IAM:nootrope) had worked on the film and was organizing entertainment for the party. In a move I am still indebted to him for, he hired me to come down and do some fire manipulation and sideshow stunts for the event. Also on the bill, Traumatic Stress Discipline.

Before things got started that night there were numerous concerns about liability and safety, particularly concerning the suspensions and also with my fire show. That gave me a chance to hang out with the guys from TSD and collectively we made fun of lawyers and various naysayers — including the now infamous “We will absolutely guarantee there will be no more than a 5% mortality rate during the show” (it took the audience a minute to realize that mortality meant people would die, and another minute to realize we were joking). In the end, of course, it all went off quite well. The show that TSD put on that night was more of a kinetic living sculpture or exhibition than a story driven or theatre show (like the one I would drive to OKC to see later that year). Allen Falkner (IAM:Allen Falkner), Xeon (IAM:Xeon), and Pat Tidwell (IAM:Pat Tidwell) did a three man spinning beam with Pat on one end and Allen and Xeon on the other from an independently spinning beam of their own. I made sure that I was on the floor when they took the stage and went up. The performance energy was immediate and incredible. For the first time I saw something in suspension that directly spoke to me — I saw powerful audience impact and potential. It was amazing to behold and drew me to want to be part of it in much the same way that viewing masterpieces always makes me want to grab a brush and canvas.

I still remember how amazed I was that after their show, they came down to the first floor stage where I was playing on a bed of nails and the like and complimented me on my fire show earlier. I was still overcome by the power of the performance they had given. We talked, drank, and generally bonded for the rest of the night and became quick friends. By the time I headed back north to Albany from Manhattan my mind was pretty much made up that I would be going to OKC to see their next show, Life Cycles.

As a number of my friends and anyone who has seen the road video will attest, the trip to see the Life Cycles show was an adventure with a great many tangents. The relevant part to this story though is that I made more friends and contacts and was once again greatly impressed and drawn to what TSD was doing. Life Cycles was a story driven show that illustrated the cycle of life through various suspensions. Over the course of the next year I would do a number of events with TSD — usually my own show leading up to a suspension by them. Then in the fall of ’99 I joined them onstage as part of one of their shows for the first time. For the Ball of Whacks in Chicago I participated in a four man pull and stage lift that was the beginning of their show at the event. It all happened kind of suddenly. I had only planned on attending the event but once there it came up that they had an opening for another body and invited me to be it. I had never done anything really like it before so there was some trepidation. However, having seen them work before and having gotten to know them all so well I was quickly won over by my desire to try the experience, be part of the show, and, of course, my confidence in their abilities. The pull went well and only furthered my desire to suspend. It was a good introduction to the feeling of having the hooks put in and playing around with them. However, it would still be a while before I actually I got to suspend. But not for lack of trying…

Soon after the Ball of Whacks I left to go on tour with Godsmack as part of The Jim Rose Circus. While on tour I tried to arrange for Allen and I to suspend as part of the Dallas show at the Bronco Bowl. Logistically, it was pretty much dead from the start and there was some resistance from the tour organizers and sponsors. But shortly after in 2000 I took a trip down to stay with Allen and Masuimi (IAM:Masuimi) and things were arranged so that I could suspend at the TSD warehouse while visiting.

For my first suspension I went up on four hooks in my back suicide style. I was nervous beforehand but it’s hard to get too worked up with people like Allen Falkner and Pat Tidwell cracking jokes at you. It also helped that Meghan (IAM:Meghan) had made the trip up from Austin to Dallas to be there as well. Once I was pierced and rigged, Brion Thompson (IAM:Brion) gradually worked the chain hoist to lift me off the ground. Once my feet were off the floor I slowly pulled my legs up into something of a lotus position and there was a quiet pause in the room. Brion said, “is he smiling?” and Allen leaned in to look at my face before responding “oh yeah, he’s smiling.”

For the next twenty minutes or so I swung back and forth, twirled and just generally enjoyed the sensation of flying by the hooks. Once I felt warmed up, Brion grabbed my legs and hung off me for a second or two and then I came down. Later that same evening I went back up on the spinning beam with Mark Rose (IAM:roxtard).

That is how it started. Later that year I would be suspended at Modcon II by Allen and Ron Garza (IAM:Sicklove). In 2001, Ron would suspend me again for the Travel Channel in Austin. Allen would then suspend me for the Jagermeister Tour in 2003 after a prolonged break. In that time I would also attend and help out at a number of suspension shows and events and contribute to the BME suspension FAQ.

It was barely a couple months ago when Ron IM’d me about the eight man mobile and the crane. My love for suspending and belief in its power and potential for performance has only increased. So when he mentioned a two hundred foot crane I was only further enticed by my love of heights and immediately volunteered myself if they needed another body. Fortunately for me, they were ready to oblige and send me to the top. So, on August 17th, 2003, Meghan and I drove to Corpus Christi, Texas. Once there we met up with Xeon and grabbed some breakfast before heading to the car show where we would be performing. Within moments of arriving I was laying on a table and Chris (IAM:Jethro) and Richard (IAM:nocturnalhookboy) were putting two six gauge hooks in my back. After that it was a few interviews and little pumping up of the crowd before we all got rigged onto mobile and lifted by the crane. Then it was fun time as we started spinning, running, and jumping. After playing a bit like that, we all got safety lines, made some adjustments to the mobile, and we taken up approximately a hundred and fifty feet. It was glorious.

And that is how I ended up swinging from two hooks in my back from a crane.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2003 BMEZINE.COM. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published September 9th, 2003 by BMEZINE.COM in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.

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