Tyler Fyre Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Tyler Fyre Interview


Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

- Robert Frost


If you have been to Coney Island’s Sideshow by the Seashore — and if you haven’t, you need to get your ass there — you have very likely born witness to the Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre. In fact, it may very well have been Tyler who enticed you into the show, because one of the many roles that Tyler plays there is that of outside talker (not barker). On the inside you can see him perform a multitude of modern miracles including feats of magic, escapes, the blockhead, sword swallowing, and, of course, fire manipulation. He is a tireless worker devoted to the show and even in those precious few moments he gets away from Coney Island he is always working a stage whether it be with the Bindlestiffs, the Brothers Grimm, or his own side project The Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow.

THE LIZARDMAN: Who are you?

TYLER FYRE: The Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre! Real name Tyler Fleet — I got my stage name at Silver Lake Waterpark in Raleigh, NC. The sign painter arrived and I had five minutes to think of a name for my show.

THE LIZARDMAN: What first drew you to the sideshow?

TYLER FYRE: You know, it’s a question that seems so easy but I’ve never had a good answer for it. I saw the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus Sideshow as a kid in 1982 at the Omni in Atlanta, GA. Like most kids I thought it was the coolest thing ever. There was also a book my grandparents had — Toby Tyler or 10 weeks with the Circus. Back then (unlike now) Tyler was an uncommon name so a kid in a book with the same name as me was pretty exciting, and he just happened to run away with the circus. I guess you could say those two things planted the seed.

I’ve always been an entertainer at heart — telling stories — doing tricks — and then I got into theater for a while. The thing I’ve come to love about sideshow is not only the amazement factor, but the fact that it appeals to the widest possible demographic. That is, people of all cultures and classes can enjoy the same show.

THE LIZARDMAN: How did you ‘break in’?

TYLER FYRE: This is kind of a funny “must be meant to be” kind of story. I was in college for playwriting and had already figured out that it wasn’t really for me. I took Hovey Burgess’s circus class and he taught me how to juggle, walk the tight-rope, do trapeze, and balance things. It was great — from there I met a guy who taught me the basics of fire eating. The next semester I took a street theater class and it just so happened that Jennifer Miller — the bearded lady and Todd Robbins were guest lecturers. Their stories about Coney Island were enthralling.

I made up an act and worked that summer at an amusement park in North Carolina — my first full time gig doing sideshow acts. With a heavy heart I left the south for NYC to finish my degree and once finished I was ready to leave NYC for good. However, I had this stack of tickets from riding my motorcycle like a madman. I went to the DMV in Coney Island to settle all the tickets and was told that my license had been suspended and I could resolve the matter in seven to ten months.

I went for a walk on the beach to calm down and walked past the sideshow. It was closed on weekdays, but the t-shirt vendor next door told me to knock on the door — and five minutes later — out comes Dick Zigun. I say, “I’m the Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre, I eat fire, pound nails into my head, juggle machetes, walk on stilts, and do magic!

He checks them off on his fingers like they’re nothing, telling me that all those positions are filled or not needed. “But we do need an outside talker,” he says.

So, I show up to check out the show in full operation, and Dick hands me the microphone and tells me to go to work. With no idea what I’m supposed to do, and having shown up just to check the show out, I take the microphone and they didn’t let me go until ten hours later. That was six years ago.

THE LIZARDMAN: What are your body modifications?

TYLER FYRE: I used to have piercings, and still have many of the holes, including the hole in my tongue that I enjoy putting toothpicks in (oh, and that vibrating tongue ring too), but I haven’t worn any jewelry in years. I used to pound a nail through the hole in my tongue, but one day a ten-year-old girl said, “you have a pierced tongue just like my sister,” and I never did the act again.

I’ve got some classic flash-style tattoos on my arms, but all the work is custom originals. I’ve got a pair of angel and devil girls on each upper arm done by Cammille who used to be our blade-box girl in Coney Island. She lives in Austin now, working with Larry Leopard. The angel girl is below my first tattoo of an apple for my hero Johnny Appleseed, with a four-leaf clover for luck. The apple and the angel girl with the snake wrapped around her ankle is my Garden of Eden arm. The right arm has a horseshoe for luck and the cloven-hoofed devil girl with hell-fire and flames. I’ve got a dragonfly from Dragonfly on one hip done at the tattoo convention with my pants down at Roseland. And most recently a firefly from Katzen on the other hip.

I tattooed my cock with “I Want To Rock”. That was a lot of fun actually — my Lucky Devil show was performing at the Forged in Ink tattoo convention in Wyomissing, PA and we all got tattooed on the last day — there I am at the convention getting my dick tattooed as people walk by and say “so, what is that?”

The big one is in fact the first tattoo I ever wanted, and I made myself wait ten years to get it, but I love it. I’ve got red evil eyes tattooed on the back of my head. One side is good, the other side is evil — you decide which is which.

There’s a lot of good and evil in my ink — but there’s a lot of good and evil in all of us.

THE LIZARDMAN: Do you use any of your modifications as part of your show (other than general appearance)?

TYLER FYRE: Every now and then I’ll make an eyes in the back of my head joke, but most of the time it’s never mentioned.

THE LIZARDMAN: Would you ever consider getting a modification for solely use onstage (“is this your card?” — and it’s tattooed on your arm)?

TYLER FYRE: You know, I would consider getting a tattoo for stage use… I like joke and optical illusion tattoos, like the dancing hula girls on muscles, Angelica’s [Insectivora at Coney Island and a member of the Lucky Devils] cock that hangs below her knee and that sort of thing, but really, I’m not the tattooed man in the show — and since there is a tattooed man or woman (or often both) at the shows I’m working on — calling attention to my tattoos just seems silly.

THE LIZARDMAN: You work closely and regularly with two heavily (including facially) tattooed people, Eak and Insectivora. What have you noticed about the difference between how people react to them (as audience members or in general) and how they react to you — you are all tattooed, but do they overlook your tattoos next to them, or perhaps act more accepting of your less extensive coverage?

TYLER FYRE: I spend a lot of time with facially and extensively tattooed people. Arty Flash was the first tattooed man I worked with in Coney Island. He was perhaps the nicest about it all — walking to the train after work he would be stopped every ten feet and asked the same questions, he always smiled and talked to everyone — I never saw it bother him. I just finished working with Katzen and The Enigma at the Brothers Grim Sideshow in Texas. We went to the rodeo one night and at the end of the night the cowboys came over and introduced themselves to us and asked us if we wanted to ride a little. It was a great sight to see Katzen and the Enigma up on rodeo horses shaking hands with the cowboys.

Now I work with Eak and Insectavora and we spend a lot of time together at the show, and outside of work too. I’m used to standing right next to them when sideshow fans recognize them from Coney Island and have no idea who I am while they talk about how great the show was. But it’s always funny to me when someone asks about my tattoos while I’m standing next to them. It’s nice to have my work recognized while standing next to such beautiful and extensive living canvases, but I sometimes wonder if it’s the white elephant and it’s just easier to break into the tattoo conversation by talking to me — the safe one.

THE LIZARDMAN: Ever want to go the heavily modified route yourself? Perhaps a full bodysuit of flames?

TYLER FYRE: I love tattoos and I have such admiration for my totally tattooed friends. I toyed with a couple ideas of the Slim Goodbody anatomical suit of bones and organs tattooed all over my body. And yes, flame patterns, but really that’s not me. I’m just happy to get to be a part of such a fascinating world.

THE LIZARDMAN: How have your modifications affected your career, if at all — have you gotten or lost gigs due to them?

TYLER FYRE: It’s funny, because I’ve learned a lot about life in the sideshow and working full time as an entertainer — there are certain things you think life will be like, but it’s often a little different. Today I had to get a fax machine and a five foot tall file cabinet. I’m a showman, but somehow I end up doing hours of show-related office work every day. Tattoos are the same way. I thought working in the sideshow I could be as crazy as I wanted — have bright red hair — tattoo full sleeves and anything else — but it’s just not true for me.

When I started at Coney Island I was the outside talker, who is really the go-between for the audience and the human oddities and performers. To do my job well and convince the people to come inside I have to be one of them, not one of the “freaks.” So I’m the one saying “hey, I’m like you, but look how weird this is, look how amazing it is, come inside, it’s safe and you’ll like it.”

In that role I can’t afford to distance myself from the rubes with the way I look. That character and idea helped my performance so much that I’ve never really dropped it. When I’m on stage inside the show I allow my personality to be a little wilder, but at the core of it, looking like the audience allows my acts to hit home harder — as if to say I may have been born just like you but look what happened to me since — and maybe it could happen to you!

I certainly get calls for gigs that I know I’ll have to wear a long sleeve shirt to. I have to think about which promo photos to send out whether they show my tattoos or not. But I’ve done bar mitzvahs in my vest with the naked girl tattoos out in the open — they want the sideshow guy to be “Crazy” but everyone draws that line somewhere differently. I’ve decided to hold off on the elbow and lower arm tattoos I had planned out and stick to less visible areas.

THE LIZARDMAN: I can empathize about buying filing cabinets and office work, do you find that you perhaps underestimated the ‘off stage duties’ that come with being in and running your own shows? Do you think most people realize those aspects of what you do in order to be successful in sideshow (or entertainment overall)?

TYLER FYRE: Working in the sideshow can be the best life in the world, but it is work. In Coney Island, we perform about fifteen shows a day over twelve hours, and anyone who’s worked for Ward Hall or Bobby Reynolds will tell you that they do fifty to seventy shows a day. Now, as much as that fifteenth sword of the day grinds into your throat while you’re looking out at an audience of twenty people (and often less), drunk, making out with their girlfriend, or trying to start a fight with you while you’re on stage — that’s the glamorous part of the sideshow.

After the show is over, you’ve got to pack up your props, take care of the animals, fix anything that broke, sweep and mop the theater, and take out the trash. Oh, you thought we had maids for those tasks right? No, the big stars go from signing breasts after the show to picking up broken beer bottles under the bleachers. Now after you’ve got all that done, and it’s three or four in the morning, then you can start working on that new act you’ve been wanting to put into the show. And like I said, we’ve got it easy in Coney Island — we’re in our own building.

Working under canvas on the mud route is a whole other kind of life. After a three-day spot, you finish the last show at 2 AM, pack up the show, pull the tent stakes, drop and fold the canvas, put it all in the truck, and drive overnight to the next town, sometimes a thousand miles away. And when you get there, you all get motel rooms with room service and jacuzzi’s right? No fucking way, you hop out of the truck, and start pounding tent stakes. Now, these aren’t like the ones for your backyard camping tent — one tent stake weighs twenty pounds and you’re about to pound fifty to a hundred of them into the dried-up, hard-as-a-rock mud, or, if you’re lucky enough to be working a fair on asphalt, then — that’s right — you’re working the jackhammer, and then pounding tent stakes. All so you can perform for three days — maybe ten days — Wow! And then pack it up again.

But for all that work we do in the summer, we all go to Florida and kick back for the winter, right? Myth #467 about the sideshow. Not true. I’m here at home now, surrounded by sideshow banners and props getting a fresh coat of paint. Over the winter it’s a full-time office job of running a business — hiring people for shows, getting props made or repaired, adding up all the receipts, coming up with the new master plan to make more money next year, and figuring out how to book two more shows into fairs you haven’t played before. The work never ends. So, is it Hell to work in the sideshow? No, it’s amazing — you work with the best people in the world, and you get to see places that no ordinary travels would ever take you. And the best part is it’s the most fun you could ever have.

THE LIZARDMAN: The Coney Island schedule can be grueling… I think it is important that people realize that not only are sideshow performers risking themselves with their acts but also through the sheer statistical weight of constant repetition. Do you do anything special in order to keep up with the grind of sword swallowing so many times or doing fire manipulation (slow poisoning) so often?

TYLER FYRE: Oh man, we do so many shows! I just got the stats from this season yesterday. We did almost six hundred shows this season — and that’s just the Coney Island Sideshow — I’m also doing other shows during the summer too — burlesque and rock and roll shows after the sideshow closes — Brothers Grimm and Bar Mitzvahs on my days off (and there are not many days off from the sideshow). Last year I counted and I did almost one thousand shows in a year. I’ll come close this year, but I won’t break a thousand, we had too much rain.

It’s my goal to break a thousand — but it’s a dubious honor. I could be Ozzy Osbourne and do one show a night and be super rich — or I could work in the mud and the dust and try for a thousand. Oh Hell, I love it. But yes, it’s grueling on the body — this year in Coney I was the Human Blockhead, The Sword Swallower, I pitched the blade-box and the blow off, I eat fire, and I did the inverted escape act — tied up by an audience member in a straight jacket then cranked up by my ankles until my head is six feet above the stage. Actually this summer the crank that holds me up broke while I was upside down in a show — but Eak caught the rope! I love that guy.

Yes, it takes an incredible toll on the body. I do what I can to preserve myself for the future — but mostly I do what I can to preserve myself for the fifteen shows I have to do tomorrow. I have to take care of my voice, that’s the big one for me. I take vitamins, I go to the gym, I gargle salt water, and mostly I try and stay in tune with my body so I can fix problems before they get out of hand and make me miss work — because there are no sick days in the sideshow — even if your neon sword breaks in your throat during the first show of the day and cuts you open…

THE LIZARDMAN: Would you suggest the sideshow as a career option to others?

TYLER FYRE: Working in the sideshow is not just a job or even a career — it really is a way of life, and I wouldn’t know what else to do with mine. After the years of grueling training, after starving and selling your soul to learn the skills that may one day kill you, after hours of pounding tent stakes and sweeping the floor— if you make it — there are no days off, no sick days, and try explaining your promotion to the in-laws at the Christmas party. However, if it is the life for you — it’s the best life in the world. It’s about commitment. If you want to be in the sideshow go to the state fair or the carnival that comes through your town and get a job. There’s always work on the carnival.

That’s right, work. Doing “crazy” tricks with your friends at the rock club is not a sideshow. Sideshow is an American folk art rooted in the traveling circus and the carnival. You can’t do sideshow unless you understand how things work on a carnival. There are a lot of kids now who take up sideshow as a hobby and it’s great to see anyone with a love for the sideshow keeping this world alive. But there’s a difference between doing a couple of tricks and being an entertainer. That’s what sideshows are and have always have been — entertainment. Sideshows are not gross-out shows. Like the circus, you don’t have to speak English or read the Playbill to enjoy the sideshow. They’re entertainment for everyone.

THE LIZARDMAN: What does the word ‘freak’ mean to you?

TYLER FYRE: To me, the word freak is a specific descriptive job title. The word freak has changed meaning substantially since the first half of the 20th century, with the biggest change coming in the 1960’s when the counter-culture adapted “freak” into a badge of honor that separated them from mainstream society. The counter culture then went on to homogenize with the mainstream taking the word freak with it — really stripping the word freak of the strength it once had.

People come up to me after shows all the time and say, “Hey, I’m a freak too!” I know they mean it as a compliment, but it grinds at me every time I hear it. The word freak is a badge of honor to me — but one that’s hard won and often not chosen by those special enough to carry that title. Calling yourself a freak because you have pink hair this week or your mom doesn’t like the music you listen to is like me going into the hospital and saying, “Hey, I’m a doctor too, I put this band-aid on all by myself.”

The word freak describes a person who is visibly physically different than the standard-form human being. Physically deformed people like conjoined twins, bearded ladies, and dwarves are classic examples of freaks, though I believe that amputees and totally tattooed folks fit the category too. Freaks have always been the royalty of the sideshow. Freaks make more money, get better trailers, more press, and let’s face it, are harder to replace than the rest of the cast and crew. But freaks can’t “turn it off” when the work day is over (although in the carnival, it never feels like the work day is actually over).

I am not a freak and never will be. I am a working act. I’ve dedicated my life to learning skills that are amazing on stage — but when I walk out of the sideshow at night, I can put on a hat and be virtually unrecognizable. Freaks are jaw-dropping different not just when they’re on stage — but when they’re getting their morning coffee too. It takes tremendous strength of character to be a freak — and thus, some of the strongest and most interesting people I’ve been honored to know, have been interesting on the outside as well.


Be sure to visit www.tylerfyre.com and www.coneyisland.com.





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 © 2004 BMEZINE.COM. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published January 2nd, 2004 by BMEZINE.COM in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



SO YOU WANT TO BE A FREAK – Through the Modified Looking Glass


So you want to be a

FREAK


You wanna have big fame, let me explain
What happens to these stars and their big brains
First they get played like all damn day

Long as you sell everything will be ok
Then you get dissed by the media and fans
Things never stay the same way they began

- Cypress Hill, Rap Superstar

Ever been called a ‘freak’? Ever want to be a ‘freak’?

I think everyone should be a freak. In fact, I am working on a book that I think will re-define what it means to be a freak. To me, a freak is someone who embraces their individuality by engaging in an ongoing process of self-realization and self-definition.

However, that is not what this article is about.

This column is about being a professional freak. It is about making your living through a certain style of performance art. Perhaps it could have been more accurately titled ‘So you want to join the sideshow’, but that just doesn’t have the ‘grab factor’ you get from ‘So you want to be a freak’.

There are very few professional freaks in the world today. I have counted myself among their ranks for over a decade now and have made my living solely from touring and performing sideshow acts for about three years — prior to this I supplemented my performers’ income with part-time bartending, teaching, and other jobs. And while I am not using this space to attempt to add contortion to my repertoire by bending over backwards and kissing my own ass, I do think it is fair and reasonable to say that I am one of the better known and more successful of the modern sideshow performers.

The following are things I have learned or come to find common to those who have succeeded in this specialized subset of the entertainment industry. They are not absolutes or guarantees, but I do think that anyone considering a career as a professional freak could benefit from them. To supplement this, in future columns I will be interviewing a number of notable modern sideshow personalities and readers can compare and contrast what they have to say with what I offer here.

Consider and Re-consider your decision:

As cool as it may seem, make sure you aren’t just falling prey to ‘The grass is always greener’ syndrome. Being a professional freak is a big risk and takes a great deal of work. Becoming a children’s birthday party clown or even a mime would likely be a more sound business move with greater range and future potential. It is very unlikely you will ever become even moderately wealthy or famous. It takes a lot from you and gives back very little — unless, you truly love it. The only thing that will make it a worthwhile decision is if it means you will be getting to do what you love.

Get Your Life in Order:

The first thing you should consider doing is making sure that the rest of your affairs are as stabilized as possible. Embarking on a career as a performer is not an answer or a fix to any problems you may be experiencing. This is especially true if part of your plan is heavy public modification (like facial tattooing). If anything, it will be a de-stabilizing force as you deal with a host of new issues and find yourself in many uncertain positions. As a performer, you will very likely not be making much money to begin to with and it will come in spurts — not regular and consistent paychecks.

Before starting out, it is a good idea to get some savings in the bank to carry you through the inevitable thin times and to get secondary jobs that will allow you to perform and travel as needed — I found part time bar work to be ideal for this. Also, remember that there is much more to be done than just the onstage show. You are essentially starting a business here and you will need to take care of all the usual business drudgery — taxes, accounting, advertising, insurance, and so on and so on. Take some courses if possible and study other small businesses. You are attempting to build a career — getting things in order first is the equivalent of laying the foundation. Do it right.

Be Prepared to Work Long and Hard:

Most people who own and run their own businesses will tell you that a nine-to-five schedule would be like a luxury vacation to them. Well, as a performer, you will not only put in the extra hours associated with the business aspects of your show but you will also have the additional responsibility of developing and performing your show. In this respect, sideshow is much like starting your own band. After everything else is done (promotion, booking, and so on) you still have to write, rehearse, and perform. It’s like having two businesses. The difference being that in sideshow you will never score the record deal that means someone else will step in and do some of that other work.

At this point, hopefully, you begin to see how much effort this all takes. Maybe you are wondering how or why anyone would ever want to do this? Simple — because working at something you love isn’t working in the way that digging a ditch or clocking in at the factory is working. And while that is great for those of us who love sideshow and performing it also means another potential drawback: Don’t expect many people to appreciate that you actually work longer and harder than they do. People don’t tend to appreciate the work aspect of doing things that may be enjoyable. They miss they important difference between just doing something fun and doing it as your job. An analogy, playing the guitar can be fun but a professional musician devotes much of their life to practice, composition, and performance — and that is work, even though the musician enjoys it. You can expect people, even friends and family, to poke some fun at you for ‘not having a real job’, but in the end, even though you likely invest a great deal more of your life working than they ever will you have to learn to just shrug it off rather than let it anger or consume you. This gets easier if you realize the joke is on them for spending so much time doing things they don’t want to, while you get rewarded for doing things you do enjoy.

Do It Everyday:

This was once revealed as the greatest secret of the Illuminati and various magick orders. Repetition is indeed the key element to many things. If you are working on a new stunt or act there is no substitute for actually doing it. Stage presence is something that needs to be developed and only comes with time and a show is never at its best until it has been stage tested and refined. Great ideas often suffer and even fail because of a lack of proper rehearsal and development before being brought to the audience. I often tell myself that ‘every moment I am not onstage is a moment I don’t exist’. I use this to sum up the attitude I have seen in many successful performers — you have to live to be on stage and working. Any moment you are not performing must be justified. Whether it is rehearsing and practicing in your living room for your pets, hitting the local open mike, working a street corner, or whatever — you have to do it everyday and love to do it to get good.

Make it Your Own:

Sideshow acts go back centuries in their current form and history here in the West. Beyond that, many of the acts reach back to the earliest history and even pre-history of human civilization. Sword swallowing dates back to 2000 BC in India. So, even though you may be performing incredible acts — they are not new. Part of the challenge you will face as a performer is how to make these acts worth watching for your audience. Do not use other people’s material — stealing material is obviously wrong, but even if you have their permission, you will ultimately be better served by developing your own act. If you want to be memorable and successful, you have to make the act your own by putting your own twist to it. If you do this well enough, it will also make it impossible for others to steal from you. A great example of this from the world of magic is Penn & Teller. The tricks that they do are, for the most part, very basic, and known to the majority of stage magicians. However, they make the tricks their own through their unique characters, presentation style, and interpretations of them.

Respect Sideshow and Your Audience:

Another way to put this might be act professionally. It should be obvious, but for some people its not. Sideshow as an art form and industry are what will be providing you with a living and your audience is how it will do so — respect that. This means not only recognizing the long history and tradition of sideshow along with your place in that tradition but also extending a certain respect to others in that tradition. Be nice. It is a small community and it helps those who help it. Even if only out of enlightened self-interest, you should act respectful. I have gotten work and gotten several others work through referrals. Support the efforts of other performers — in most cases, if one person wins, you all win. Good press for someone else is good press for freaks in general and will create more for everyone to enjoy.

Run your show properly. Treat venues and their staff well and be sure to keep up on things like the local ordinances, necessary permits, and, of course, insurance. In many cases you are going to be seen as representing all of sideshow — if you open a door by doing a good job, others may benefit from your success but if you burn that bridge you are affecting others as well. Bad shows and poor attitudes affect everyone negatively. There are venues that will or won’t book you based on others previous actions and you will have an affect on future acts chances as well.

Also, when it comes to discussing or presenting acts and perhaps the inner workings or details always remember that you cannot expect anyone you are talking to or performing for to show any more respect for the act than you do. If you denigrate or dismiss the power and wonder of the sideshow, you denigrate and dismiss yourself.

You are always ‘on’:

This goes double or even triple if part of what you do involves public modification (facial tattooing) or displaying modifications (in my case, my split tongue even before my facial tattoos and implants). As many people with public mods already know, the general public will treat you as being on display for them. As a sideshow performer you face an added element; while most people don’t pester comedians off stage to tell jokes or ask illusionists to make their car levitate or disappear they will pester freaks to do something for them. Keeping in mind the above section, I often try to carry a few small things with me for suitable occasions. Also, remember that each such instance is a potential opportunity to win a new fan and perhaps more — you never know who the person you take the time to do something for might be or know. For those situations when it simply is not appropriate, do try and bow out gracefully.

You see the same people on the way down that you saw on the way up:

This is a classic from show business in general. Remember, clichés are true for a reason. This one goes hand in hand with what I mentioned above about respecting sideshow in general and other performers. The person you mistreat today could be the one you need the most tomorrow.

I have had the opportunity to work with a great number of people. The ones who have fallen from the peaks of their success are usually those who have forgotten this rule. They have little hope of ever succeeding again.

It wouldn’t take much tweaking to apply many of these concepts to any major decision or aspect of life. But, in the end, I simply hope that those of you who may have been contemplating the road of the freak as a profession found this to be helpful and that perhaps the rest of you have gained a new perspective or even appreciation for it.





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 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published December 13th, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



Lizardman Q & A – Part 5 – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Lizardman Q & A – Part 5


Hi! I’m Troy McLure. You may remember me from such medical films as “Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore,” and “Mommy, What’s Wrong With That Man’s Face?”

- Troy Mclure, The Simpsons

The fifth Lizardman Q & A — I knew it had to go at least this far — The Law of Fives. The Law of Fives is great, the more you look for it, the more it appears. Take a look at your hands — five digits on each. Of course, if you are polydactyl you may be experiencing the law of sixes or sevens…

For more on the Law of Fives, and other fun mumbo jumbo, consult the Principia Discordia by Malclypse the Younger.

For the latest Lizardman Q & A, just keep reading.


J.T: I know with being famous you get all sorts of attention, but do things like being part of a tabloid article that pretty much cast a negative tone to you and your being bother you? Also, I have read in your diaries about a few times people have used your image without permission. What course of action do you take to either stop them or gain compensation? Do you live and let live or do you aggressively go after them?


The tabloid article referred to here is the recent piece in the Weekly World News. Let me first take this opportunity to once again deny my fame. I’m not famous — I am recognizable and I draw attention. I think there is a subtle difference. I don’t think the short blurb in the tabloid was all that negative. Yes, they portrayed me as a freak — but I always take that as a compliment regardless of intent. I have three issues with the piece overall.

One, they used my given name and not The Lizardman. My deal with press is to always use my stage name because that’s how I present myself publicly and make my living as a performer.

Two, they inaccurately described my modifications — ‘fish scales’?!

Three, the images used came from a photo-shoot that was done expressly for another magazine article.

The last one is what leads me to the second part of your question. As much as I would like to live and let live, I cannot. If I do so, I risk losing what thin rights and legal recourse I do have concerning my image. The law requires that I aggressively pursue and defend my trademarks in order to maintain them. I usually start out by tracking down the source used by the offending publication or entity as well as contacting them to demand they demonstrate their rights to use (i.e. produce a valid release). I do this anytime I do not feel someone has the right to be using my likeness or I disagree with the context of its use.

In one recent case I emailed a magazine editor off their website to complain since a photo designated for promotional use associated with a recent event I had done ended up in their ‘grab bag’ commentary pages with a disparaging caption (no mention of the event it was taken at). As a result, the person who put the pic and caption in was reprimanded and lost the column assignment and I got a nice complimentary article in the next issue. That may seem harsh but keep in mind that had the person simply looked at the back of the photo they would have seen it was clearly marked as to how it could and could not be used — a standard practice. In other cases, including some pending, I end up seeking monetary awards.


Gravedigger’s Daughter: If given the chance (and the money to do it), would you ever consider putting together a DVD of performances with other performers in the ‘freak show?’


It would depend entirely on the content for the DVD. I would certainly be willing to work with any number of other performers and I have worked with many in the past — I’d love to a ‘battle of the monsters’ or such with Enigma. The idea of putting out a video is less appealing though. I will say now that unless a huge sum of money is involved there will never be a Lizardman show DVD. I do not want my show out on video for a number of reasons. Mainly because it tends to negatively affect ticket sales (many people foolishly think that seeing it on video is a substitute for the live experience) and it makes theft or imitation of material that much easier.



Meghan: Four ferrets? What the hell were you thinking?!?


“That oughta shut her up for awhile” – Nelson Munce


serpents: When you were on the game show with Stalking Cat and Beki B and a contortionist, you fell down a trapdoor when you lost. Did you really, or was it a camera trick?


The trapdoor on Russian Roulette is real. You fall a few feet onto a crash pad and then crawl a short way out from under the stage. I didn’t so much lose as I got randomly eliminated, dammit.


serpents: Actually, another, more serious question. Given the recent events with The Great Orbax, have you reassessed any of the acts you perform, or been given pause as to what you will attempt?


I don’t know all the details about Orbax’s accident, so it’s hard for me to comment on it. I do know he is a solid performer and I am glad he healed so well and quickly. I read a couple reports and saw the damage he suffered. But, the thing about doing these sorts of acts is that an accident for another performer — at least for me — has no effect whatsoever on what I do or how I do it. For any act I do I have already considered and accepted all the risks involved and worked out how I will deal with them. If I hadn’t then I shouldn’t be doing the act. If something happens to another person and it makes you wake up and realize there is something else you missed then it should really be a wake up call to you to stop completely. Performers most often get hurt when they get too relaxed or complacent — you should always be in a state of alert and concern for your own safety and that of everyone else present.

[Ed. note: A fire stunt recently backfired while The Great Orbax was performing; when preparing to have a flaming cinder block smashed on his chest, he became engulfed in a kerosene fire and suffered serious burns to his face and had to spent a week in the burn ward. Luckily he is very strong and a good healer, but it could have gone far worse.]


Goat: Since I can never post a serious question… Ya ever bounce a quarter off someone’s ass?


Actually bounced? I don’t think so. However, along the lines of other classic tasteless jokes and stunts like ‘touch your elbows behind your back’, I and the rest of the bar staff at a place I used to work would do a thing about bouncing a quarter off someone’s ass that ended up with them just getting spanked very hard.

Anaesthetise: Do you feel obligated to stick out your tongue whilst having your photo taken?


Pretty much. It often takes a conscious effort for me not to do it now — I managed to keep it in for our wedding shots. Most photos I take are souvenirs for other people and they really want the tongue to be out, so it just becomes second nature.


Nullius: Do you have health insurance?


Starting with the New Year I will have health insurance through Meghan’s job — my lovely new bride. It will be the first time in about five years that I have been covered. However, while I may have been ‘working without a net’ as concerns my own health, my show has always been covered — either through policies I have taken out or by the venue or promoters. Event coverage is something I think is a must for any performer — risk yourself, not the audience or venue. It amazes me when I get contacted by promoters who want to undercut my price by saying something like ‘Well, Bob here in town said he’ll breathe fire for half that’, and when I ask if Bob has over a decade of experience, and if he is insured they don’t think it matters. Well, when Bob burns himself, your stage, and the entire front row and you’re in court for the rest of your life you will be wishing you spent that extra money on me and my insurance policies!


CT: What is the most bizarre assumption that someone has made about you simply because of your mods?


That might be a hard one to narrow down. How about that I am Irish or a Jets fan? Those two kind of caught me off guard at the time. I am pretty sure the people making them thought it was paint and not tattoo at the time though.


Girl: What is the worst reaction you have ever had from a random member of the public? How did you respond?


A very large biker once walked by me, paused, turned and said. ‘You make me want to punch you in the face.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You gotta do what you gotta do’. We stared at each other for a second or two, then chuckled, and he decided, quote — “You’re alright.

Since nothing actually bad happened (he just felt the need to ‘size me up’), I don’t know if that was the worst but it certainly had the potential to be far worse than anything else that has ever happened to me. He was not alone and I was.


The Eternal: I’ve heard you speak about student loans and why they’re not a good thing to get. I assume you had an awful experience with them in the past. What happened?


It’s a good thing this is online, because many forests could die supplying the necessary paper for me to list my grievances with the current university system in this country. But focusing on student loans:

When I decided to go for my doctorate in philosophy, I first tried to make it on savings and through tuition waivers and pay from teaching. That wasn’t nearly enough to cover the ‘mandatory’ costs, much less food and shelter. So, I took minimal subsidized loans to begin with. This still ended up with me having to go to my family for some support. So, the next year I took out larger loans (but still not the maximum they wanted to stick me in debt for). And so it went that in just six graduate semesters I had been effectively pushed into about $36,000 worth of debt, whereas I had entered with no debt at all. Keep in mind that I lived in horrid apartments for under $250 a month rent and kept my food budget around $100 a month so the rest of that money plus my teaching earnings all went to tuition, fees, books, and the like.

The current school pricing and loan system sets out to make people indentured servants to banks. In many cases it pushes people to get degrees and certifications that don’t hold a candle to real world experience but cost far in excess per school year of what the future job will pay annually. A better plan would be to work construction for two to three years at 18 and then use that money to get the degree you want — if you still think you need the degree after spending some time in the “real world”.

The only good thing I can say about my student loans is that they make me happy about the current poor state of the economy because the interests rates on them are staying low.



_Stigmata_: Are those really tattoos or do you have the wife paint them on the same exact way every time before you go out?


I only dignify this with a response because of the source, so: Same question right back to you Jon.


perk900: Say a small child drowns trying to emulate Spongebob Squarepants by trying to live under water in the backyard pool… Who do you blame??? The parents for not properly teaching their child to fear and respect that pool… Nickelodeon for not putting a proper warning before the show… or is the child just not fit enough to survive and this just a case of thinning the herd?


Some of this will depend on the age of the child but overall the parents need to be monitoring their child — especially around a pool or when there is access to the pool. If the kid is still trying to emulate cartoons in this manner after a certain age, then yeah — we probably didn’t lose a future NASA engineer. I wouldn’t blame Nickelodeon because a warning probably wouldn’t get through to a dumb or too young child and the parents wouldn’t act differently or probably even notice it anyway (not if they are the sort that lets their kid around the pool unsupervised). Also, I think some things are so basic as to defy the need for warnings and labels — if you can’t figure out fire=hot, then good riddance.


ServMe: Do you mentor other artists that are either working on a full body transformation, or want to make it in the same field as you have made it in? Would you consider teaching young people that are serious about it the “tricks of the trade” or give them guidelines in order to circumvent things you wished you’d have know in advance?


I don’t know about mentoring, but I have spoken with and given my advice as requested to many people. I do workshops with groups from time to time on various sideshow skills like fire manipulation and talk about different aspects of the business as it were. However, I am not at a point where I want that to be my focus and to do it right, it needs to be your primary focus. I try to be as open and helpful as I can, but in a responsible manner that won’t potentially hurt sideshow or the person interested.

My next non-interview column will actually be about things I have learned in the course of becoming a ‘professional freak’.


JuanKi: Were there any other “animals ideas” to turn yourself into before or competing with a “lizard”? Also, when will you be finishing your face ink? Finally, what does the Lizardman ride?


First, there were other ideas and concepts but not really other animals — gargoyle being the closest to an animal. The black markings on my back were originally designed as part of that concept and got held over into the reptilian theme.

On your second question, soon, I hope — as with the rest of my body. I’d really like to say in the next two years — but I keep getting busy with other things that make getting lots of sessions in difficult.

Finally, right now I’m driving a 1998 Geo Metro (sigh — good mileage and it gets me there). I could really use a nice Sportster or maybe a Buell, but other things come first.


kl3rk: Tongue splits — scalpel and suture or laser and suture?


Mine was done with laser and sutures but earlier this year I took a scalpel to it to remove a little scar tissue and add maybe an eighth of an inch to the depth.

Having now done minor scalpeling and looking at the results and experiences of others with a scalpel, I think that scalpeling may be a better alternative to the laser — if you don’t mind the blood. I do believe that sutures are very beneficial for shaping and for preventing re-growth. The problem being that suturing the tongue is very difficult and scalpel procedures are not often done by those who can do the proper suturing whereas laser surgery is almost exclusively done by doctors who can also offer the sutures.



ClashingDharma: I apologize if this question has already been asked but when you decided with what you were going to do with your body and such how did you approach your parents with it?


A very good question. A lot of people have asked how my parents reacted but your approach is much better and potentially informative. It took awhile before I really gave my parents the whole picture, but they did get to see it coming as things developed. I tattooed my hands with scales without letting them know until they saw them. While they were very supportive, there was also a little uneasiness. I was not positive how they would react to my facial tattooing. I told them in a phone message (or maybe email — I forget exactly) about what I was doing when I made that step and they came down to the tattoo shop. They got there after I was done with the session and in what is probably one of the best reassuring moments of my life they took it all in and told me they loved me.

That’s it for the Q & A for
awhile. In upcoming weeks and months I will be turning the tables and
asking the questions. So, in addition to my regular ramblings, you can
expect a number of surprise guest interviews.





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 December 13th, 2003 by BMEZINE.COM in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



Matt Gone Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Matt Gone Interview

I was born with birth defects and the tattoos both hide them and keep me from hating my body because of them. This project took fourteen years of my life and cost about $42,000 — $20,000 of which I earned as a dishwasher. If anyone says they cannot afford tattoos, they just are not serious.

- Matt Gone

I first found out about Matt Gone when he emailed me a friendly hello some time ago. Since then, he has made appearances on Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Rikki Lake show. And quite deservingly so — his tattoo work is extensive and inspired (including self done genital and anal tattooing), incorporating a central theme of checkerboards which he has taken beyond the surface of his body and onto the objects around him; including his home. You can see his work and learn more about him at www.mattgone.com.

While I have not had the pleasure of meeting Matt in person, we have a regular email correspondence and via this he was gracious enough to allow me to conduct an interview with him for BME.

  

Give us the quick biographical run down on yourself.

My name is Matt Gone. I’m thirty-three, was born in Manhattan, and have lived in five states since then. I grew up in a single parent home and have had no living relatives since I was sixteen.

You have embarked upon what might be called a “lifestyle aesthetic”, in that you have taken a design motif (the checkerboard) and integrated it into your life as part of not only items like your house but also onto your body — was this planned from the start or something that evolved?

This was planned. I got the idea from playing with graph paper that I was designing my tattoos on. This was in 1988 — I had been getting tattooed since 1984. 1988 was the year I decided I wanted to be fully covered.

What came first — the tattoos or ‘checkerboarding’ things around you?

The checkers came first. Things just grew after that.

On your website you refer to the checkerboard as the central concept of your tattoo work. This patterning is also sometimes referred to as chessboard by some. I would guess it is all a matter of perspective and which game is more relevant to the person speaking. Is either game or the symbolism of the boards significant to you?

I’m one of those old cranks that prefer checkers. I like the op-art look of checkers more. They give things a clean look.

You have undergone and incredible amount of time to achieve your bodysuit over the last fourteen years. Describe any particularly memorable sessions or milestones for you.

Sailor Moses tattooed me nine times for an average of eight hours each session just before he died in 1997. I would travel to Biloxi, Mississippi by Greyhound bus and get tattooed and make the last bus home. There would be no sleep for forty hours for me due to the travel and my work schedule. Moses was my favorite artist. I was never stronger.

My favorite tattoo memory was getting tattooed by Roy Boy Cooper in the Badlands of Gary, Indiana when I was sixteen. He did the skeleton rip on my right side. Roy
Boy is the most badass tattoo artist I ever met. He tattooed most of my early pieces (sixteen to eighteen years old). He is responsible for a lot of my enthusiasm for my bodysuit. Visit www.Royboys.net!

Your website includes a link to a site about Polands Syndrome and you also mention there that you were born with birth defects which the tattoos not only help to cover but also allow you ‘not to hate’ your body. Tell us about Polands Syndrome as it relates to you and the motivation for your body modification.

I am missing my left major pectoral and my left lower biceps. The combination gives me a weak left arm and side. I have curvature of the spine from the lack of muscle. The left shoulder area is always in pain and I am off balance a bit and walk kinda funny. Many people with my condition are embarrassed to take off their shirts in public or in private. The pain is both physical and mental. My left arm is a little shorter. Other complications from Polands syndrome are gastrointestinal distress of unknown types. Things may be missing or malformed internally and never properly diagnosed…

My guts HURT. Doctors only guess.

Polands was named after Sir Alfred Poland in the 1880’s and it usually involves the missing of a chest muscle and further defects of the arm on the same side. I was lucky — my fingers were fine. I’m just weak on one side. I cannot sleep on the same side of my defect because of the lack of padding. There are only six thousand people on the planet with Polands and no two are the same. We are all at risk for many other serious health problems. Life has a totally different perspective if you are born with defects. Polands is caused by an interruption of the blood supply to the fetus on the forty-sixth day of incubation. My mother was a hemophiliac and I think that’s what caused it for me.

To quote from your website, “This website is not intended to inspire people. It should make people realize how difficult it is to tattoo a whole body.”

Despite you not intending to do so, many people may very well be inspired by the extent of your dedication to tattooing and your use of tattooing to appreciate your body rather than hate it. What is your feeling or response towards people who say you are an inspiration?

Pay me. Ha. I have had a lot of handicapped people nearly in tears after seeing me on Ripley’s and it is beautiful. My “art” ain’t that great. It’s good, but it just ain’t all that. Whatever works to inspire people. My photos inspire a lot of people to masturbate also. A compliment is a compliment.

You have recently made appearances on Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Rikki Lake Show. How would you describe these experiences, have you enjoyed working with pop culture media? Do you feel that you were treated fairly and accurately portrayed?

I was underpaid by Ripley’s. That pissed me off. They manipulated some of the perspective of the segment by editing it down to a simpler viewpoint. Same with the Rikki Lake Show — she mainly asked me about my genital-anus tattoos and they cut that part out of the show.

I have been in over forty tattoo magazines, five newspapers, the 700 Club, Cheri magazine, some music videos, three commercials — one a major Southern Comfort ad campaign worldwide — and there is a small internet market in pictures of me. I like the publicity. It makes me money and gets me laid. My life would have sucked more without the attention it got me.

You are not a performer or a working professional in the body modification industry (piercer or tattoo artist) — the career paths many would assume are the only options for the heavily modified. How has your experience with the job market and society in general been affected by your tattooing?

I got lucky in my current job. I have been a chef in the French Quarter in New Orleans for ten years. I am in a dead end job and my future looks rather bleak economically. I want to tattoo my face — and would have, but I would lose my current job. The prospect of ever making any real money or having a less crappy job seems to be limited because of my tattooing. I am too old to be homeless and dependent on others. I have no real hope for the future anymore. The thing is, it probably has nothing to do with my tattoos. There are tens of millions of people with no tattoos who are stuck economically.

I noticed on your site that you have experimented with using markers for a temporary effect of facial tattooing. Given the potential repercussions, what is the allure of tattooing your face? Simply completing the design or is there more to it?

That the art of the design is so technically challenging to me is the reason behind my drive to
tattoo my face. Also, the artistic dilemma of doing something versus not doing something. The fact that I cannot do it makes me want to. I designed it to include my face eventually. I cannot do it because of employment and I have a technical issue of how the checkers will age. The corners will blow apart too. They have all over my body. That is a negative side effect of checker tattoos.

Would you recommend or encourage others to get tattooed to a similar degree?

Depends on the person, but I would never encourage anyone to get any tattoo, no matter what size, unless it was a special circumstance. I stay out of the encouragement game as much as possible. The thing is, you still have to face yourself after you do it and either you wear the bodysuit or you lie to yourself and it wears you. You have to live with this shit. The process is too much to get over mentally.

When you are done — even you are “in progress,” Erik — it takes time to get away and let your life heal and separate the experience and the art from the process. Ten to fifteen years of pain and poverty is too much for most people. It was simpler for me because I have birth defects and will spend 99% of my fucking life in pain. I mean, both mental and physical pain. I’m already dead. There was nothing to lose for me.

How do you feel about the word ‘freak’?

I’m Jewish, bald, and short too. It’s just a word to me.

Sound off on anything you would like.

Where are the women with bodysuits? Why won’t they return my phone calls? All people with completed or near completed bodysuits contact me! We will form a secret society!





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 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published Drcember 3rd, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



Self Definition and Body Modification & Ritual – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Self Definition and
Body Modification & Ritual

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

- Nietzsche

Everyone is a unique individual.

This is as close to an axiomatic truth as I have ever come to discover. It is very nearly a simple tautology, descriptive of the natural state of affairs. And while it is not a novel revelation, it is one of those simple facts that while readily agreed to by most is very often neglected in terms of consequence. It is also a source of great difficulty for systematic processes which seek to deal with people in the more general terms of categories and roles into which no one fits exactly because those categories and roles are purposely defined vaguely so as to encompass more than a single individual and in many cases to include as many individuals as possible in what is often a futile attempt to improve efficiency (I say futile because the de-individualizing of such efforts often resultsin redundancy, wasted effort, and even resentment which in turn negatively impacts overall operation). That is why these processes address sales clerks, employees, or citizens rather than Bob, John, Jane and Sue specifically. Unfortunately though, it is the systems that are far faster recognizing and adapting to the fact that everyone is an individual than individuals themselves.

One consequence — perhaps the primary consequence — of recognizing yourself as a unique individual is that of making a choice to either embrace or attempt to reject your unique individuality. To put it another way, you must decide whether or not you will define yourself or allow yourself to be defined.

To define yourself is not simply to be different. You are already different. Self-definition occurs through a process of consciously evaluating and choosing from among your options on the basis of your personally selected merits and values. It is not a one-time-only decision, but rather an ongoing process throughout your life. The expression of making such choices can be expressed in a great many ways — including but certainly not limited to (consider the decisions of those who choose to select their own names rather the ones which they are given at birth in order to better reflect and express who they are) body modification and ritual. Body modification and ritual can also be used as an aid to the decision making process.

Because body modification and ritual are not only powerful tools for self discovery and definition but also stand as strong and potentially influential statements to others thereof, they represent a significant threat to those who reject their uniqueness and the systems and processes that rely upon viewing people as members of a category or their designated job title. There are two basic responses to this threat. The first and most obvious are the attempts to restrict and deny body modification and ritual. These attacks range from social stigmatizing and discrimination to school bans and workplace dress codes all the way to legislative attacks such as the various anti-‘tongue splitting’ bills (see my article The [Modified] Body Politic for a discussion of how these bills are almost always patently unconstitutional in their bias and redundant at their best) which have been introduced around the US recently. These attacks are generally easy to spot and while very onerous in their nature, they represent the least of the threat.

Of greater concern is the more insidious response, whereby body modification and ritual are adopted as method and controlled by those who oppose the full realization of each our unique individual natures. The grossest example of this would probably the use of tattooing and similar techniques to mark slaves, criminals, and war prisoners. By doing so, the subjects were demoralized through the loss of control over their bodies and made readily recognizable and classified as a category or type.

However, such gross examples are in some ways less threatening because they are so bold and obvious. It is hard to imagine such actions being taken today without incurring serious resistance. That is, of course, if they are attempted in a sudden and immediate fashion. But the danger is still there, for those systems and organizations are quick to adapt and refine themselves. They realize that it can be far more beneficial and easier to gradually introduce and adapt people to accept their forms and goals for body modification and ritual. They may even promote it to the extent that they find their subjects will behave better if allowed some small (lesser) form of latitude. In time, they may even delude people so far as to willingly take on the roles and categories they are assigned while thinking that they are actually acting in a self-defining manner.

Consider the prevalence of body modifications such as tattooing and piercing in pop culture media and advertising. In advertising there is usually a twofold process of deception — each depends on blatant fallacy which is disguised by being introduced on the alleged (and false) assumption that they follow from the position of admitting that everyone is unique.

For example, a current car company (I will not do them the favor of advertising their name here) begins one of their ads with a voiceover saying things like ‘You are not like everyone else, so why should your car be like everyone else’s?’ and other descriptions of how you are an individual. From here they suggest that you can best express this through buying their car. Here are the two most blatant and obvious problems:

  1. Simple difference is not expressing or embracing your individuality; nor is it self-defining as mentioned above.

  2. The purchase of any mass-produced item will hardly differentiate you.

So, not only do they make a false claim that
you can define yourself through difference but then they fail to even
offer you something that would achieve that difference. Also, the thrust
of this sort of move on their part is to get you to identify yourself with
products rather than defining yourself and then expressing your identity
through your use and choice of products (customization often being a good
overt example). It can be a subtle difference to discern but it makes all
the difference in the world.

Advertisers will include the use of body modification and ritual in order to further the idea of difference and to provide powerfully impacting images. However, the modifications and rituals used will be carefully selected based upon those most likely to be accepted by the dominating social systems of the time and region (or selected marketing focus) and will thus promote those particular examples in much the same way as is done in the rest of the media.

Media, particularly pop culture media, is a double-edged sword when covering modification and ritual. Positive portrayal of these subjects is certainly something we can applaud. But, attention must be paid to how and what subjects are focused upon. Look closely at the coverage and you may very well see the systems at large playing a dangerous game. They are willing to risk promoting all such behavior in an effort to control it by using the media to show the positive sides of some instances (bonding rituals, memorial and fraternal tattooing, and so on) and negatively discussing others or leaving them unmentioned entirely. In so doing, they wager that the majority will end up channeling such urges in the accepted and promoted fashions. However, they also continue to characterize it as a fringe activity (despite its true prevalence and extent — consider my What is Body Mod column) in an effort to draw more within their grasp and retain those who may be moving towards resistance.

So, what is to be done?

To this point, I have primarily been
involved in a discussion of theory. Now I want to turn to a discussion of
practical application of theory.

Embrace your individuality:

The unexamined life is not worth living because it is at best a pale imitation of life. So, examine your life. Devote time and consideration to your motivations, decisions, and goals. Take hard looks at them all. Actively engage in the process of self-definition. Make a concerted effort in all things to assert and express yourself as an individual rather than as a category or role.

Embrace the individuality of others:
Do not refer to or treat others in a generic fashion or in terms of a role or category. Everyone is a unique individual, just as you are, and thus offers you a singular experience in your interaction with them. By sharing expressions of your own self-definition and treating them as individuals you can stand as an example to them and help them embrace their own individuality.

 

Disrupt and exploit the inherent weakness of systems that do not identify and respect individuality:
You do this at its simplest by doing the above — embracing your own individuality and that of others. However, with a little concerted effort you turn these into powerful and self-beneficial tools. In my column on
rights and responsibility, I wrote:
Many
people have asked me how I deal with answering the same
questions over and over again on a daily basis. The
answer is that I don’t — the questions are not the same
because they come from different people, each asking and
reacting in their own way and for the first time for
them.

“The other option is to get enough people to deny the government’s position and claim to one’s body — to create a herd revolt. On an individual level, making such a denial could be very precarious and anyone choosing to do so should remember that a government is a system rather than a single entity and successfully navigating it on such a dangerous course is dependent upon breaking down and recognizing the individual components and people which make it up and exploiting them directly on that individual basis to the greatest possible extent.”

Upon consideration I suspect that this is actually the only option given the nature and structure of government as we know it and has always existed. Government may come to allow body modification and ritual to a great extent in enlightened self-interest but in its current and past forms would never relinquish the claim to the citizenry as property. So, just as one should always recognize one’s self and others as individuals, one should never make that mistake of a system. Rather, recognize that the system is made up of individuals and identify and address them as such. No matter how strongly they have been conditioned or come to think of themselves as secretary or cop — they are individuals and by embracing their individuality you show them the path towards embracing it themselves. You also stand a much better chance of successfully navigating the system. This is the chink in the armor of the system — it depends on its components to function as that which they are not. Exploit this but not the individuals.

This can be as simple as addressing people by their names rather than titles or utilizing their personal interests in order to establish a connection that will make them less likely to treat you as a category or type but rather as an individual yourself. For practical techniques, I suggest that everyone look to texts like How to Win Friends and Influence People or The Golden Rule of Schmoozing (a personal favorite and written by a friend of mine) and employ them with the added intent of aiding those who do not fully embrace their uniqueness. Doing so not only increases personal gain but can help to break others out of the conditioning to reject their individuality by treating them as individuals and rewarding them for acting as such.





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 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published November 14thth, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



Lizardman Q & A, Round IV – Through the Modified Looking Glas


Lizardman Q & A – Round IV

A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open.

- Francis Bacon

For this fourth installment of The Lizardman Q&A, I took the questions offered up in my IAM forum and then went to the vault — pulling out questions I had passed over in previous columns. It seems that material may be starting to wear a little thin. However, I am not yet willing to declare the Q & A dead. What I will be doing is switching things around a bit. I have been lining up a number of interviewees and very soon you should start to see what sort of questions I ask of other sideshow personalities, performers, and heavily modified people*.


*
If you have a suggestion for someone you would like to see me interview, please send it along to me.

But for now, here’s the Q&A…



ScabBoy: Do you believe in an afterlife?

If it wasn’t obvious from my spirituality column or some of my answers in the last couple Q&A columns — No, I don’t believe in an afterlife. Nothing I have experienced nor any credible experiences of others leads me to believe that there is anything more than this life, which I am currently living to the fullest extent that I can. I will not rule it out as a possibility but under the current circumstances I cannot rely upon it or make it a consideration in my decision making process as it would represent a bottomless pit of ‘what if’ predication.

(If you are still alive) Do you see yourself still performing in 30,40+ years?

Not only still performing but very likely having to perform. I am a self-employed freak. I don’t have a 401k and I don’t have the sort of income that makes it easy to amass savings for future retirement. This is something anyone looking to go into a similar sort of career should seriously consider. I plan on doing a future column detailing and describing the various pitfalls and concerns one should address before thinking of embarking on a career as a freak in which I will discuss this further.

The likelihood is very high that I will perform until my death not only because I want to and I love it (beyond the fact that given what I do I will probably die onstage) but also because it will be a real world necessity for me in terms of supporting myself. The nice thing being that many of those before me have shown that you can have a successful run swallowing swords, eating fire, and the like well into your eighties.

big lobed freak: What is Thanksgiving dinner with your family like?

It’s a dinner. My family (mom, dad, sister, and myself) was never really a big Thanksgiving family. It was just a day we all had off to be together and have a nice meal. Sometimes other relatives would come by, but it’s mainly just that core nuclear group.

lilfunky1: How long was your longest tattooing session? And approximately what area of the body?

The majority of my body thus far has been done in six to eight hour sessions. The longest single session I have done was about eleven hours — that involved outlining and filling in the black designs on my ribs and abdomen. That also became the most tattooing I have had done in a twenty-four hour period since after a short break when the artist (Mad Pup) did a small piece on another person, we started up again for a total of thirteen hours in one day.

ServMe: Is there one question or topic that you’d really like to comment on or talk about in your Q&A column, but has so far not yet been touched on by anyone? What would that be?

I really approach the Q&A with no expectations or goals other than answering the questions that come — hopefully in a fun and informative manner. If I have something I that really want to tackle, then I either do it as a column itself or wait for the opportunity to tangent into it off another question. Very often, the reverse happens — that is, I will get asked about a topic I hadn’t thought much about before or that leads me to something else and that becomes the topic for a column.

Lord_Abortion: Do you plan on going further into your study on martial arts? Like maybe some mixed-martial arts styles like Brazilian Ju-Jitsu or something.

Probably not — at least not open hand styles. I would love to go on, if I could find a dojo that really fit me again. My interest now is shifting more towards weapons. I would like to find a good kobudo club or get back into fencing or kendo. I’m also thinking of going more modern — I grew up with a dad in the military and in an area where hunting was always popular so I grew up with lots of guns around me. However, while I am into fine rifles and shotguns, my handgun knowledge and experience is less than I would like. So, I am thinking of getting my permit and finding a good range in Austin.

Gravedigger’s Daughter: You’ve done so many shows and been so many places. Is there one place you’ve enjoyed visiting/performing in the most? Would you ever consider moving there if given the chance?

There is a big difference between enjoying visiting and performing somewhere and wanting to move there. About the only place I can think of that I really love performing in and would consider as a place to live besides Austin right now would be Las Vegas. As a purely practical matter, it would probably be a very good career decision for me to move to LA but I don’t really want that. Where I live is more a matter of the concerns and desires of those important to me — being that I travel so much, where I hang my hat is not a big deal for me. Meghan likes Austin, I like Meghan, and thus we live in Austin.

serpents: If you could go back and do a full-body transformation into Shawn Porter instead of a lizard, would you?

Can’t have a Q&A without at least one Shawn Porter reference. Hmmm, the no-lube butt-love does make it an appealing prospect, but I have to say no. (and you can’t mention Shawn without referencing no-lube butt-love).

Meghan: Of the four categories in Cranium (Creative Cat, Word Worm, Star Performer, Data Head), which one is your favorite, and why?

I barely remember what they all mean — I like the drawing and backwards spelling challenges, because I’m good at them.

Cayne: Thinking of trying to insert any other power tools into your head via your nose?

Always, and other orifices. The thing about me going into a hardware store, or any other store, is that I am always thinking about the show. I pick up all sorts of stuff and wonder if I can balance it, or swallow it, or fit it up my nose. I wonder how it might look onstage or what else it could be used for in the show. On tour you can often find me juggling toilet plungers in dollar stores or doing impromptu demonstrations in home depot for the sales clerks.

Many of the funnier bits and more unusual objects in my repertoire come from these improv moments and demos. The fork I currently put my nose as part of my blockhead routine comes from the Orlando alehouse. It was last year at Horror Nights in Universal when one night after finishing up we went over there for a couple beers and someone asked about show. As more and more people got involved, a few of them expressed disbelief and were convinced I was putting them on. So, I took a fork off the table and worked it into my skull to prove that the blockhead is real.

wldfire_1: Do you think the average person who sees you the first time, thinks you are a dumb person, not for doing what you have done to yourself, but in general. As no person with any brains would do that to themselves…

Given the context (performing onstage or on TV) that most people first see me, I think most of them realize that I have to be reasonably intelligent and have developed myself consciously to this point. They might not respect or like what I do, but I think they have to recognize it takes some work and brains. I really don’t get much of that sort of response — it is more that they ask ‘Why?’ as opposed to thinking I am just dumb.

After asking ‘why?’ most people tend be obsessed with finding out how much I make for performing or being on a certain show — which just goes to show the misplaced sense of priority that is so pervasive in our culture. The thought that something can make money outweighs any consideration of personal enjoyment, risk, or non-financial consequence.

e_: If you could instantly have and heal any mod, what would it be? (I remember Shannon saying that he would get a fully functional and independent third arm, so the sky’s the limit on this one.)

Hmm, there are lots of wonderful possibilities… It’s very hard to choose. I would love some wings or a serious tail (crocodile-like but more prehensile). Venom glands and spitting cobra fangs are tempting too — I have actually worked on designs for the dental implant equivalents a little bit. Overall though, if I can have a fantasy body mod it is going to be something more subtle and practical like accelerated self-regenerating tissues.

Nullius: What do your friends call you? Erik? Lizard Man? Some other nickname? Do random people you run into on the street know your real name? Or even your stage name? Or do you get a lot of “hey, it’s lizard dude!”

I don’t put a lot of stock in names — I probably use Erik and Lizardman the most in terms of introducing myself, but I also accompany that with the disclaimer that I don’t care what I am called outside of the media, where I want The Lizardman name to be used primarily for business reasons. Other than that, you can yell ‘hey asshole’ and it works well enough to get my attention. Lots of people seem to know my names — it comes with media exposure but I don’t think you ever quite get completely adjusted to people knowing your name and so much about you even though you are just meeting them for the first time. There are still many people who use some of my old nicknames for me like ‘satan’ and ‘freak’ or ‘freakshow’.

Glider: From a marketing point of view, what are the advantages/disadvantages of choosing a name that can’t really be used in conversation (i.e. The Lizardman implies that you also have a “real” name), versus a moniker that “becomes” your own (i.e. Amago)? Or are you slowly shifting from “Erik” being your identity to “The Lizardman”?

I think there is an advantage in marketing to having a name like ‘The Lizardman’ because it implies a singular or premiere nature via the ‘The’ and by being an obviously assumed name it communicates that there is a character involved, which can help create interest. The only real disadvantage, and its not one that I think is serious, is that some people begin to see your real name as a sort of prize or secret and will use it instead of the stage name in situations where it would be more appropriate to call me The Lizardman. It creates a false importance for my given name. There is no difference in the identity of The Lizardman versus Erik Sprague — so there is no need to shift.

How does sideshow culture improve the world?

I plan to address this in more detail in a future column, but here’s the short(er) answer. It primarily provides entertainment — and I think that is often greatly underrated. Additionally, it provides a platform and outlet for the sorts of activities that can inspire along the lines I discussed in my first guest column About Records. It also helps to relieve us of one of the silliest stigmas in modern culture by providing an atmosphere that actually encourages staring and exploring things that we find unusual and even scary.

Adults entering a sideshow temporarily become children again — they are wide-eyed and honestly curious about their surroundings. When you avert your eyes or avoid a subject you learn nothing. Sideshow encourages a sort of direct confrontation that can lead to better understanding and acceptance. We should remember that much of early sideshow was the traveling exhibition that also forms the foundation of the modern museum.

metalheart: Have you ever been offered a role in any movies? If you were would you do it if it was the right part?

I was up for a role in a Jodi Foster movie that has since been indefinitely shelved. Other than that, a screenwriter and independent filmmaker I met doing Ricki Lake has told me he is writing a part for me in his next film. I would love to get into movies — at this point, the right part is pretty much the one I can get cast in. In the late nineties I did shoot and sell some footage of myself for stock use doing things like breathing fire and the human pincushion. To my knowledge it has yet to be used — it was in Universal Soldier 2 (on a TV in the background of one shot) but then the scene got cut.

[Editor's Note: The Lizardman also appears in the upcoming film SAVED]

Just wondering also if you had any pre or post show rituals you do?

Out of necessity before any show that involves the gavage I have to fast for about eight to ten hours depending on what I have eaten. This clears my system so that the pump works more smoothly. I try to avoid superstitions or behavioral ruts that don’t actually add anything tangible. I stretch out before taking the stage and right before the show starts I take a set list and confirm that all props and materials are present. After a show I always feel a bit hectic until I get the chance to clean and pack everything (especially the gavage tube) — again out of necessity since it can get nasty if left to sit. Once all the relevant business is done I get a beer and some food (preferably pizza)… if possible I take hot shower and stretch in it while drinking the beer.

madscientist: Of all the people you would count as friends or acquaintances, what percentage of them are modified?

Well, given my broad view of what constitutes modification (see my columns What is Body Modification? and What is Body Modification, part two) I would say that all of them are modified. However, looking at the more common view of atypical mods being those that make one modified, then I would say that almost all of them have something or other but not necessarily heavy or extreme mods. There are notable exceptions like one of my oldest and best friends who has not even a simple lobe piercing.

A person’s modifications mean next to nothing to me in terms of my opinion or connection to them. I look at actions and attitude. Having mods is not an indicator that I will necessarily have anything in common with a person or want to spend time with them and not having them certainly doesn’t preclude me from wanting to know them.

inkstaingirl: How much would you say you have spent on body modifications?

I guesstimate my total at around eleven or twelve thousand dollars for tattooing, surgeries, implants, and so on. However, that total does not include things like travel costs and the time incurred for procedures and healing. I personally feel that the monetary cost or alleged value of a mod is a very poor rating scale. It isn’t about money.

LilBlueFunk: Do you ever get pre-show jitters?

I sometimes get anxious in the planning and negotiating stages of setting up a gig — where I often have the least control. Once it is set up, I tend to get excited rather than anxious — especially for things that I know are big and have a lot riding on them. When I get ready to step on the stage, I just slip into a relaxed fun state and enjoy it.

Jasonthe29th: What has affected you more as a person, your mods or people’s reactions to them?

In terms of who I am as a person the mods are a reflection or expression. People’s reactions to them mainly tell me about those people. I’m not sure I answered that question…?

Saram: You regularly stick a snake up your nose and perform the gavage. Is there anything that turns your stomach?

I have often suggested to people that the queasy feeling they get when I’m pumping my stomach or working with Cricket the Wonder Snake is not unlike the one I get when I look at so called ‘normality’. The truth is that while I find plenty of things personally distasteful they do not affect me in such a physical manner. Not that I am desensitized, but rather I have excellent coping skills — just as I have learned to accept skewers and stomach pumps and I can also sit through most disturbing images, smells, and the like.

How often do people think that you’re really trying to become a snake, not a lizard?

I don’t know really, it’s not that big a deal to me. What does sometimes get me are the people who think that they are fish scales or even a spider web. I wonder about their ability to recognize patterns and wholes.

Moof: How important to you, if at all, is the shock value of your appearance?

It is not something that I find necessary but rather something that I find useful at times. If the world and people change around me such that my appearance isn’t shocking anymore I won’t be bothered at all.





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 © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published October 29th, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



Body Modification: Rights & Responsibilities – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Body Modification:
Rights & Responsibilities

The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.

- H. L. Mencken

They are not out to get you. They already have you.

You have no rights. Rights are nothing more than political contrivances, pure fictions of the system. To believe you have rights is to fall prey to the deception that freedom is derived from government when in fact government exists only to curtail freedom. What rights are provided in a political system may very well be reflective of certain core beliefs or fundamental values of the systems creators put in place to prevent or restrict the system’s regulation of certain areas of activity but those rights exist only as creations of the system. To be truly free one must exist outside of and beyond the reach of any governmental system. Whether or not the current state of the world even allows for this as a possibility is highly debatable. Regardless, very few people are prepared for or even interested in such an existence. To be so free is to be in a very precarious position — it is an existence without the benefits of government in terms of security and infrastructure and one of perceived outcast. So precarious, in fact, that most people upon consideration would prefer to take a degree of security in trade for giving up all but those rights delineated by a government. Would you rather be utterly on your own and completely free or do you prefer having laws and police and hospitals and various agencies for regulation and certification? Could you accept a world where other people do just what they want regardless of your ethical disdain or distaste?

Rights are never absolute. As they are created by a system that system will always allow for (in practice) the restriction of those rights. There is no conceptual ideal so great as to stop the actual workings of the machine. Go ask any protester in the holding cell if his constitutional right to free speech kept the police from shackling him and dragging him downtown. It may, however, be what eventually gets him out of the cell via the judicial process. Of course, it may not as well. Many times the actual practice of exercising ones rights is strictly limited to an arguably responsible manner. The classic example for free speech is yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. Furthermore, many systems will deny or further restrict the rights of those with a history of ‘irresponsible’ behavior such as convicted felons being denied voting rights or gun ownership.

So what about body modification? Is it a right? Can it be construed so as to be covered by an existing right in our system of government? Under what pretense does the government regulate and restrict our complete freedom to do what we want with our bodies?

Freedom of speech, via the First Amendment, is probably the most obvious route towards addressing body modification in a political context — at least in the United States. The First Amendment states:


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Through practice and interpretation “speech” has come to be seen in a broad context encompassing not just simple speech but also expression. Some have further decided to pro-actively interpret the intent of this amendment as a directive to the government not only to respect the free expression of the people but also to encourage a climate in which the people feel free to express themselves. It is through such policies that we can see the development of a common misconception about the First Amendment. It is meant only to ensure your right to make your speech and not to ensure that you will not be offended by the speech of others. However, in the aggressive efforts of government to satiate ‘squeaky wheels’ we can see them attempting to walk the fine line of restricting the speech of some in order to encourage the speech of others. Very often this is tied to issues of religion, with the dissenting non-believers demanding that all appearance of religious icons and expression be removed from public spaces and forums. I myself am not a believer in any religion and I do find the near constant bombardment I receive from many sources to be offensive. However, in the case of non-state funded or mandated expressions I am far happier putting up with the annoyance of their free speech than I would be attempting to walk on the border of hypocrisy by restricting their religious expressions in order to make me more comfortable in my expressions of non-belief*.

 
* I would like to note here though that so called ‘moments of silence’ or ‘silent meditation’ are complete bullshit. One need simply ask; ‘On what basis and authority is my speech being restricted to silence in favor of those around me who want to engage in silent prayer? Why am I not allowed to sing or dance or chatter per my want?’ If John wants to have a silent prayer beside me that is his right but it is not his right to have me forcibly silenced.

In terms of body modification, I think, it is important to realize that if you view your modifications as expressions to be covered by this ‘right’ then you must almost certainly also recognize the right of the person who calls you names to make their expressions of disapproval. And those voicing disapproval should keep in mind that voicing that disapproval comes at the cost of allowing the expression. Surely the ideal of creating an environment in which everyone can make personal expressions without fear or hostility or disapproval is a fine and noble goal but it is also one that fails the test of practicality in a world that contains diverse and often contradictory viewpoints. Furthermore, it should not be viewed as sufficient cause for the restriction of free speech as protected by the First Amendment. But this cuts both ways — just as you should not demand that your expressions through modification not be mocked under the First Amendment, those who disapprove should not be able to restrict your expressions simply because they find them distasteful.

And, in fact, this is not the traditional justification for such restrictions. The classic example, mentioned above, of screaming fire in a crowded theater is used to illustrate a situation in which the exercise of an individual’s right to free speech deserves to be restricted in that it creates and clear and present danger to the rest of the theatre goers who may be trampled or crushed in a rush to escape the fictitious fire. So, if body modification is a form of expression or speech as covered by the First Amendment then how can it be that the government can restrict or prohibit it via policies and legislation such as school piercing bans and the anti-tongue splitting bills popping up in many states.

Fifty-one percent of a nation can establish a totalitarian regime, suppress minorities and still remain democratic.

- Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

In the case of school bans the argument is often made that students, who are often minors, do not enjoy the full rights and benefits of a normal citizen because as such they do have the same responsibilities. As they are not legal adults there are many instances in which they are not held to the same standards, one example would be contract law, as would an adult and since they cannot incur the same penalties for violations, they are not allowed the benefits. Another position is that the school environment represents a context within which there are greater needs at play which supercede those rights. I believe that Shannon more than adequately illustrated how patently false this claim is in his article on school policies. As for the former position, I think it is worth considering the vast difference between something like free expression and things like driving and gun ownership in terms of the needs and benefits of restricting the youth.

As for legislation such as the anti-tongue splitting bills, I think that as I pointed out in my column on the then pending Illinois legislation, such bills can often be traced to prejudiced politicians attempting to make clearly unconstitutional laws to enforce their prejudices upon others while also doing some self-aggrandizing soap box politics. They look to exploit a sure media draw in the form of body modification in order to further their careers at the expense of the rights of their constituencies.

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

- Henry David Thoreau

Now let us get a little bit crazy.

The majority of modification related legislation has little to do with speech or expression in its content or intent. Along with many school level bans it is claimed that the motivation is one of public health and safety. And while many people, modified and not, will support such measures as requiring autoclave testing, gloves, courses in cross contamination and the like it remains to be shown that it is the responsibility and province of the government to put such regulations into place. Such regulations can make the process of getting tattoos or piercings safer but they are also very often used to promote the interests of certain parties or views (i.e. manufacturers of certain products being mandated into use, requiring certifications and memberships from specific associations, or effectively banning tattooing by requiring it be done by a doctor or with a doctor in attendance).

The government is not concerned with your health and well being as a matter of altruism. It is only concerned with your condition to the extent that a cattle rancher cares about the health of any individual or group of cows within his herd. And much like the rancher, the government takes action to regulate the procedures and hazards to which you are exposed because it owns you and feels that it is simply maintaining and protecting its property.

You are government property. They have laid claim to you as possession and currency. The slogans may read ‘Hearts and Minds’ but it is the ass they’re really after.

This is one of the fundamental aspects of the political world. People are resources just like metal deposits, forests, and so on. And similarly, governments lay claims based on their borders or historical precedent (the happenstance of the geography of your birth or your parents citizenship). If anything, people as citizens are the primary operating resource of competing governments. Look at the role of China in international politics over the last century and India’s increased presence — primarily based upon their large populations.

As such, governments are committed to the management and exploitation of this resource. Some may do so in a more caring way while others may use a Draconian efficiency. However, none will abide the population willfully making its own decisions on matters that affect their value as a resource. Think of the rancher analogy and imagine what steps would be taken towards cattle that display self-destructive or herd disruptive behavior. Now consider government attitudes and actions towards suicide, euthanasia, and to a lesser extent public declarations of self-ownership like many ritual body practices and body modification. Look at the abortion debates, the bottom line has always been one of the government is going to decide what women can legally do with their bodies. The argument of whether or not a procedure is allowed only logically follows after it is conceded that the government gets to make that choice and they get to make that choice because they are the ones that own the bodies.

I can only hope that this is as offensive to others as it is to me.

I see two basic ways of dealing with the situation as it stands.

  1. In order to gain more rights and freedom regarding our bodies and body modification it must impressed upon the system the value of allowing such freedom. If it can be shown that body modification can be beneficial then it would behoove the system to allow, if not promote it.
  2. The other option is to get enough people to deny the government’s position and claim to one’s body — to create a herd revolt. On an individual level, making such a denial could be very precarious and anyone choosing to do so should remember that a government is a system rather than a single entity and successfully navigating it on such a dangerous course is dependent upon breaking down and recognizing the individual components and people which make it up and exploiting them directly on that individual basis to the greatest possible extent.

As always, thank you for hanging in there with my rambling and making it to the end.

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 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published October 8th, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.


Lizardman Q & A, Round III – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Lizardman Q & A – Round III

A lot of people here have been asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September. It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean, how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.

- Holden Caulfield
from The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Third time’s the charm right? Once again, you have provided me with a wealth of material to shoot my mouth off about. And in that spirit, I have added a bonus rant to this edition of the Q & A.

B O N U S   R A N T



Everyday some random fool has to ask me: ‘WHY?’

Why? You want to know why? Well, ok then, let us pretend just for a second that I actually owe you some kind of explanation. That for some reason I am actually beholden to a poorly evolved chimp like yourself for some sort of acceptance or approval. No, in fact, fuck that – I don’t owe you a damn thing. If you want an explanation, then earn it. How about you tell me ‘why’ or better yet you tell me what. That’s right – what. What about your mundane, restrained, carbon copy existence is so incredibly compelling that you could not possibly risk it for a fulfilled life of self expression by doing something for yourself?

I know your cognitive powers are already being strained in an attempt to process the fact that someone has actually not adhered to your rules of appearance and behavior but try to consider that some people actually enjoy and embrace their individuality instead of trying to beat it into submission everyday with a mallet of normality.

If you ever do manage to de-contort your head out of your ass, feel free to look around and notice how different we all are despite the efforts towards social cloning by you and the rest of the automatons. But, since I’m feeling generous I will tell you why – and I’ll even do it near monosyllabically so you will have a chance to understand:


“Because I am not like you. Because I am a freak and damn proud of it.”

Please note: The above is simply a rant and not meant to be taken too seriously (or too lightly for that matter) I am big fan of ranting (part of what drew me to the Subgenius were their terrific rants). People who don’t fit nicely into pre-defined categories, especially when it comes to appearance and mods, take a lot of crap from other people everyday, this is just a small venting, a taste of how nice it might be to let go at those people with both barrels from time to time.

Some quickies first. Black licorice is my favorite candy (Sparkle And Fade) and my favorite smell is fresh popcorn (Vasquez). I have worn green lipstick — and a few other colors (Choice). While I don’t have a heat rock, I think I might like one (Abaddon), and I have no plans to perform The Nutcracker as a modded ballet, starring myself (Anti-Climatic). I have worked with real lizards in photoshoots (lilfunky1), and if I could be a form of money, I’d be the YEN — because I like the double meaning in English (Turbodog). I have chased people around waving my penis (Goat), and if I had to fight The Lizard (Dr. Conner from the Spiderman series), I’d definitely recommend betting on me (Jef). I play dirty.

If I found a genie in a lamp on the beach, who says to me, “I’m going to take away all your mods, but you can have one wish”, I’d think it was great — it would mean I could do it all over again, bigger and better (jasonthe29th). If I just got to choose between “immortal and grounded” or “mortal with the power of flight”, I’d definitely choose immortal (Theoriginalpope). Death is game over and I am having fun playing… If I was limited to the choice of a superhero power, I’d choose invulnerability (Darkelvis).

Oh, and I’m pretty sure that if you’re going to spell candy with two letters it would be “BJ” (MACHINE29).


Do you ever buy magazines that have articles about you in them and go up to people and show them saying, “Look, it’s me!”? (Nick)

Nope, but when I used to model for a lot of art classes and the like I would go to the gallery shows and stand by paintings and drawings of me and smile at people as they checked them out. This was especially fun when it had been a nude modeling session.

Ever scare the absolute shit out of Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come knocking? (serpents)

I believe I have shocked a few door to door evangelists in my time. Once while I was living in Albany (above a bar) a woman came knocking to hand out pamphlets and was greeted by me in just a towel (fresh from a shower) and obviously not happy at having run down the stairs to meet her. She was pretty taken aback but still managed to stammer out a god bless you or something like that and handed me the pamphlet.

Do you mind being the butt of a joke (re: Russ Meneve on Jay Leno)? (Quinnnchick)

Not at all – but I’d prefer it be a good joke. I missed the Leno bit, but as it has been recounted to me, it sounds like little more than a cheap shot without much substance. However, since a comic rarely achieves greatness without drawing from his own experiences it is probably best for Russ that he is focusing in on jokes about masturbation and not having dates.

Do you see yourself having a kid any time soon, and what would you say to those people who would call you an unfit parent because you are heavily modified? (ScabBoy and postmodgirl)

I don’t plan on having kids soon or ever in the future. It is not a responsibility I am willing or interested in undertaking. The fact that I am modified has nothing to do with it nor would it have any bearing on my ability to parent. Parenting is not at all dependent on one’s appearance – if anything, having an unusual parent would probably be an advantage to a child in the long run.

Love your work back in the Barnum days. Anyhoo, have you ever had homosexual contact? Perhaps with Jesus? (shawn.spc)

Nope, no homosexual contacts with Jesus (an old nickname for my assistant and business partner for those who don’t know). I haven’t had any real homosexual experiences to speak of (not my thing) but I do get propositioned a fair amount, which is flattering in its own way.

Can we expect a tail being added to your body any time soon? Are there any advances in prosthetics that would let me get a tail? (spotmonster)

If I knew of a way to really have a tail then I would have one but alas it is some time away in the future. I will say that some of the animatronic prosthetics being used in the furry communities are pretty cool though, but they don’t meet my criteria.

What’s the worst you’ve hurt you self performing/practicing for a performance? (NipplePlay)

A few years back I got second degree burns over most of my face fire breathing at AMJAM – the wind turned a fireball around on me and it engulfed my head. Unpleasant, and on video it looks like I was probably dead since you lose sight of me from the shoulders up. Other than that I have deeply sliced my foot jumping on broken glass.

What is the best comic book (and book) you have read lately? (FindtheRiver92)

I do read comics from time to time – I used to read a lot when I worked for Diamond Comics. I loved Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Scud: The Disposable Assassin (from which I took one of my old names: Spidergod5) In terms of Marvel, I am big Sabertooth fan. The best non-comic book I have read lately would be The Golden Rule of Schmoozing by Aye Jaye.

I seem to remember on your big BME debut interview, you mentioned fingernail modification. I was wondering; have you continued modifying your nails? (Raze)

Not much to report there. I have experimented a bit and managed to thicken my nails to a point but I never kept with it enough to get the sort of results reported in the BME FAQ and galleries for extreme thickening – which is what interested me.

Has anyone ever accused you of “stepping on sacred ground” by glorifying heavy body modification? (bullgod2481)

Not per se – I have gotten the standard flack about desecrating the body on several occasions. My response is usually to deny their premise. I am not a believer so to me I’m not desecrating. There are also those who talk about how good I looked before or how much better I would look without my mods. To them I simply say that I think my mods make me look even better.

Why did you not continue with your doctoral studies? To the same end, is it easier (artistically, academically, politically) outside the system than inside it? (Volatile)

Continuing my doctorate would have meant going deeper into a system and structure I didn’t agree with or particularly care for. Also, financially it was the best decision to stop spending money and start making it. There are benefits both inside and out, which is better depends on your personal preferences and goals.

Ever have anyone come up to you out of the blue knowing exactly who you were and asking for an autograph? How do you feel in general about your “celebrity status”? Oh… and want to come hang out with me some time? I figure if I hang out with you, people will be forever less scared of me! (Hotpiercedguy)

I get recognized all the time and sometimes they do ask for autographs – it’s a very nice feeling; it makes you feel appreciated in a way. Recently, while I was at the Gravity Games for Sobe I was signing posters and doing short shows in their Lizard Lounge area when a woman approached me on one of the couches and asked me who I was. When I replied that I was The Lizardman she was not impressed and immediately went on to ask why she should know me, why I was there, was I an athlete at the games, and stuff like that. As I tried to formulate a response to this a family came into the tent, including a little boy who immediately recognized me and got very excited. They were all fans of Ripleys and had also seen many of the Discovery Channel and TLC shows. They saved me by regaling the woman with stories about my TV appearances and more. In the end, she asked for a picture and an autograph as well – very gratifying.

Hanging out with me may just make them more scared…

If you had the opportunity to meet your Higher Power or God, what would you say to them? (INGUSWETRUST)

The same thing I say every time I look in a mirror – ‘You again?’ Seriously, no god or higher power for me. See the spirituality article.

Do you have any fetishes? (Serpents)

Oh yeah – if it’s vaguely sexual it gets my attention. Physically, I am a legs and ass man with a preference towards redheads. Not surprisingly I also like piercings and tattoos. When it comes to action I am dominant with a taste for spanking and restraining. And, big surprise given the tongue and teeth, I have an oral thing going. I also dig blood.

If someone wants to be a performer like you, obviously getting “the look” is just a matter of plunking down the money to pay for the procedures… But that doesn’t make one a superstar. How can someone best learn the sideshow acts, and become more comfortable on stage and develop a winning stage persona? (Glider)

A look is not a show. A look can compliment a show but it will not substitute for content. Also, your look can hinder your work – it can typecast you or remove you from consideration for many roles and opportunities. Before I was heavily tattooed I made very good money being filmed for stock footage doing fire-breathing and the like. I no longer get those jobs because of my unique look. It can also influence the audience — many performers use a normal look in order to make their acts all the more amazing or shocking. With my look, people tend to expect the extreme right from the start. In my opinion, you should develop your look after your show in order to compliment it and if your look is going to involve permanent modification then it should be done only for personal satisfaction and not any perceived benefit to the show – you still have to live with it offstage.

As far as learning acts, there is no substitute for direct instruction from a qualified professional. I could have saved myself years and a great deal of discomfort if I had had resources like Coney Island’s sideshow school (WWW link) available to me back when I was teaching myself. The school is run by Todd Robbins who is one the modern greats.

But simply learning to do the acts is not necessarily learning to perform (though Todd can help you with that as well). Anyone who wants to perform sideshow or any other form of live entertainment should study theater, improv, stand up and the like. And that study should be active – there is no substitute for doing. Practice makes perfect, or at least improvement.

Has anyone attending (watching, not participating) your performances left the scene early because of sickness, vomiting or something like that? (ServMe)

It happens all the time and it all depends on how I am pitching the show. Most often it is something like the stomach pump but I can get that reaction whenever I want by tweaking out the presentation. I have had people come up to me after shows and say ‘You made me puke! That was so cool!’ It is an interesting reaction that I bet few other shows can get.

Have you ever been forbidden to perform in a certain town or community by officials, without prior warning? Has the show ever been shut down? (ServMe)

I haven’t been shut down but I did lose a promotional appearance (for a live bug supply company) after the strongly Christian wife of the owner saw my website and decided he shouldn’t be doing business with the likes of me. Another time on tour, we pulled into the venue in Salt Lake City and found that a local officer was waiting for us with the venue manager. They were there to make sure, among other things, that I would not have any nudity in my show – apparently the description of my Mr. Lifto-like liftings in earlier press had them scared I would whip out my penis onstage and hook something to it (not unheard of, but also not planned for this show). They also suggested that there should be no profanity and that sexual references kept to an absolute minimum… but given that the bands on the bill would not be censoring their lyrics we didn’t cut the cursing from our show.

Has there ever been a point when you wanted to go back to being less visibly modified? (The Fog)

Not seriously, no.

What do you think of the recent RIAA lawsuits, and the downloading of MP3s in general? (Powerviolence)

I think the lawsuits are a very bad approach to the situation and they are more than deserving of backlash from it. As for downloading, I do see it as theft of property and self-destructive for those who are fans of an artist. The artists can only take time to produce when doing so provides the means for their needs. Sure, some artists are grossly wealthy but that doesn’t make it right in principle. I see the major problem being with the labels for continuing to expect high prices for less product.

What do you think comes next in the spectacle of life? After you die… what happens? (Raze)

I think you die, I have no evidence or feelings that lead me to believe you get anything more afterwards, so enjoy it now.

Is there any one single person in the world that you would like to get in a fight with?

Due to my martial arts training I define some terms a bit differently than many – to me fighting is an all or nothing, kill or be killed affair. As such, I don’t really want to fight anyone but if I have to I want a pushover opponent. On the other hand, there is sparring which is a cooperative exercise whereby each participant is trying to better the other. I would gladly spar with most anyone – it’s fun. Maybe Jackie Chan or Jet Li.

Many people (at least in the body modification world) see you as a larger-than-life celebrity… are you?

I see myself more as being recognizable than famous or a celebrity.

Do you feel that you have done a better job during a show where audience members have adverse reactions like puking, passing out, crying, or even cringing?

Only if that is what I was going for. It often amazes me at how positively crowds can react to being pushed in those directions. I have watched people puke over the barricade and then cheer even louder. Fainters have been picked up by their friends and applauded as they were carried off to the first aid station.

When you were a small child, what did you want to be when you grew up? (Eliz)

Marine biologist, scuba diver, mountaineer, scientist, stock broker, explorer — lots of things.

Erik, what is good in life? (Jackalgod)

To hear the lamentations of your enemy’s women.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? (Snitty)

I really don’t know – I guess that means nothing has been too horrible.

“Free Will vs. Destiny”… Can free will and a predetermined path co-exist?? Is it valid to believe that one can have free will and destiny at the same time??? (perk900)

You can define out the terms in such a way to make it possible for both but I prefer my concepts a little cleaner than that. So my feeling is no – make a choice dammit! It’s either free will or predetermination.

How would you like to be remembered when it’s all said and done? (INDESTRUCTIBLE)

With a laugh and a smile.





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 © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published September 25th, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.



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.



Lizardman Q & A, Round II – Through the Modified Looking Glass


Lizardman Q & A
Round II

The soul, which to a reptile had been changed,
  Along the valley hissing takes to flight,
  And after him the other speaking sputters.

- Dante's Inferno, Canto XXV

People seemed to enjoy the first Q & A — or at the very least they were inspired to come up with questions of their own. I got more than five times as many questions when I asked for submissions this time around. I went through and answered every one of them and then selected the ones I liked best at the moment — that moment being sometime late Sunday night wanting to finish up and watch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network (Aqua Teen Hunger Force!). If you asked a question and it isn’t here, don’t fear. I have it, and my response, saved for future use.

Let the games begin!


wldfire_1: What future modifications other than finishing the tattooing do you have planned in your transformation?

Finishing the tattooing is currently my main priority and other than that, some additional stretching of my piercings is the only definite plan left to be completed at this point. That said, I have a number of things under consideration and being researched, and I am always looking for future possibilities as they become available.

glider: When you sent me this email over four years ago (on the 11th of March, 1998), did you have any idea of the sheer immensity of what you’d help start?



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: another tongue

Don't know if you knew but there will be another split tongue very soon. I will be taking Essie (of r.a.b.) in to Dr. Busino to have her tongue split on Friday morning. The ball keeps rolling and gathering momentum...

Erik

I didn’t have clue it would go as far as it has gone and continues to go. I was still very much joking about armies of forked tongued people then while happily getting to show others a way towards enacting their desires.

Clearly you are a role model for children, being bright and articulate, as well as unique, engaging, and funny to them. Children tend to want to emulate their idols; having pursued a university education yourself, is this something you would recommend? Has being “the academic freak” been helpful?

The last thing I want to be is anyone’s idol. Influence is acceptable but idol is too much. Being ‘the academic freak’ has had some advantages. Primarily it provides me with a ‘degree’ (pun intended) of credibility in the eyes of many people who might otherwise simply dismiss me as a nut, loser, or whatever. It also makes for a nice media hook.

My own feelings towards academia or more specifically the educational system in the US are fairly mixed. I think it suffers from a lot of fundamental problems and that in many cases people are better off getting away from it as much as possible. I come from a family of educators and while I respect their efforts they often seem like Sisyphus.

If someone were to ask me if they should go to college or beyond I would have to say that it depends very heavily on what they really want to do and how much of a burden it will be — student loans should not be taken lightly. On the other hand, if you get a free ride (I got a full academic scholarship for my BA; my decision to take loans for graduate school was a mistake), take it and enjoy the experience.

Why haven’t you worked more aggressively to complete the tattooing on your face? I think if it was me, I’d have completed my face before anything else since that’s what the public sees.

Oddly enough it’s the “being seen” aspect that has slowed it down at times. Knowing that I would be in public would often tend to motivate me to not work on my face so as not to be putting a healing tattoo on display and be unshaven due to the healing process. I have tried to have the work done in a pattern in public areas in order to be a bit less piecemeal in appearance. Also, for awhile I was thinking of not tattooing my scalp and going with dyed hair but ultimately I did and that created a whole new area that needed to be done.


What made you decide on the bluish green, versus a bright yellow-green like the background of your IAM page?

Thanks to my tattooing I have become acutely aware of color perception variances and the impact of lighting — especially in photography. I chose a darker green because I liked the shade. It often appears a bit bluish in photos. One of the more common comments I get when people see me in person is that I am greener than they expected.

nootrope: Don’t you wish you were a blue lizard, man?

Nope.

Cork: Do you ever hope to authenticate your appearance by going into further details with the scales, making them more realistic, and less of just a simple representation?

Potentially, but I will be happy to get just the basic two tone coverage completed and then work from there.

juniper: What types of foods spark nostalgia for you? Songs? Images? Smells?

I am not a particularly nostalgic person but I know that part of my fondness for soft pretzels comes from pleasant childhood associations — the same for gummi bears and James Bond movies.

Chan: Which modification has been your favorite/most successful, aesthetically and spiritually?

Spiritually? Someone didn’t read my last column. As for the rest? Tongue splitting.

ServMe: Is there a certain lizard characteristic that you have decided not to pursue due to the danger involved, or because you wouldn’t like the outcome? In other words, will you try to reflect a lizard as much as possible, or only use those parts that are of interest to you?

I am only dealing with what interests me. It is a reptilian motif but obviously stylized a great deal.

Mars: Having walked around with you in London, it appears to me that people seem more accepting and less fearful of you than some one with maybe only 25% tattoo coverage and a few facial piercings. Why do you think that is?

It’s all in the presentation. Today it is a bit easier to attribute it to things like recognition but things today aren’t much different than before I became the media whore I am now. I have always said that the key is how you present yourself. Nine times out of ten when people treat you like a jerk it is not because you have modifications, it is because you are acting like jerk — walking around with some chip on your shoulder and not giving them the chance to be decent to you.

Another theory I have is that it is easier for people to look at my project as just that — a project. It has an obvious theme and that reflects a certain amount of consideration. Even though this is the case for many other people, it is not as obvious to the casual observer and so instead of thinking ‘creative person with an overall goal’ they think ‘punk’ or ‘thug’ who doesn’t give a damn.

Goblin: Say you’re given the opportunity to be a guest speaker at an elementary school. Can you sum up what your presentation would cover?

I should probably mention that my Mom is an elementary school teacher and I have friends with kids in this age group, so it isn’t horribly uncommon for me to visit an elementary school. To answer your question, there are lots of subjects I could address, but given free range to choose for myself I would very likely do something along the lines of appreciating differences. I used to teach swimming for three year olds and up, and kid’s classes at my old dojo. I really enjoy working with kids under the right circumstances and have received a good deal of praise for my work.

shawn.spc: I really enjoyed you on X-files. So, here’s my question &mdas; Next time you come to Philly, I want you to get naked and run through Chinatown on a rampage, Godzilla style. Will you do it?

This is why I love Shawn — he’s a bastard (I wasn’t on the X-files).

I’ll do it if you run in front of me naked screaming ‘here lizard’ like that Taco Bell dog. Oh yeah, you pay the legal costs too.

saram: What words of advice would you have for someone interested in attempting a full-body transformation through body modification?

Get the rest of your life together first because the transformation will consume you otherwise. Plan, consider, revise, repeat. Find support before you begin. Think twice. Have a life besides the transformation project, in as much as it can take over your life at times the project itself is not a life or a solution.

jasonthe29th: How do you think you would feel mentally if you did not have the modifications you have today and how would your everyday life be different.

I think I would be able to find other ways to channel my ideas and drives since my modifications are not compulsive behaviors themselves but rather expressions of myself… Much like a painter who could no longer paint might turn to sculpting or composing. It is one thing to deny a particular method and another to deny the motivation. Probably the most significant change for me in daily life would be the lack of head turning, staring, and so on. Then again, I might get that anyway for doing something else that was bizarre!

Athena: What is the biggest way your philosophical background affects your outlook on life, both as a modified man and as “just Erik”?

I take philosophy very literally — love of wisdom. Wisdom for me is the practical interpretation and application of knowledge and experience. The experience of life, while an end in and of itself to me, can be further enhanced through the practice of philosophy.

volatile: When will you be done? How will you know?

I don’t know when, but when I am, I will know. I suspect it will be much like knowing when to walk away from a painting or a drawing.

Sparkle And Fade: What did you dress up as for Halloween as a child?

Something different every year. The one that stands out in my memory right now is Q-bert (with a big homemade paper-mache head).

Vanilla: If you weren’t “The Lizardman” what do you believe you would be doing right now (employment and career wise)?

I would probably still be trying to make it as an artist or performer of some sort even without the transformation. If that wasn’t making it, I would likely have gone back to night shifts at a warehouse — that gave me time and resources to do whatever I wanted.

bullgod2481: If you could, would you take anything back/change anything/done anything different?

Nothing significant.

wave: Read any good books lately? What’s on your want-to-read list?

I’m much less of a bookworm than I used to be — much of what I read now is reference or of a much shorter form (magazine articles, online essays, and so on). The books on my ‘to get to’ list are mainly instructional. The last thing I read (re-read actually) for pure pleasure was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

lacerazor: What’s your middle name?

Michael.

quinnnchick: Will the Chicago Cubs win the World Series in our lifetime?

I wouldn’t mind seeing baseball abolished, thus negating this question. I don’t like the game.

anokfreak: What are your feelings towards, or opinions about people with very little modifications? For example the average person on the street with an eyebrow, or navel?

I wrote a whole column about them last month. You can’t really judge someone by the amount or type of modification they choose — develop hunches maybe, at best. It takes far more information and interaction for me to hold any real convictions or opinions about them.

Goat: If you were a rich man, would you biddy biddy biddy biddy biddy biddy biddy bum?

Probably not — but then again, maybe once just to see.

RenoSucks: This has nothing to do with the green, the tongue, or anything else really. I’d just like to know if you’re content with your life…maybe even happy?

I’d say I’m happy. And, quite frankly, that is what matters.

Meghan: When did you stop wearing underwear on a regular basis?

Between 1992 and 1993.

Nullius: Have you read the part in Dante’s Inferno (Canto XXV) where people are turned into reptiles and vice versa? When I read it I thought of you.

I’ve read it but more or less forgotten about that part. Just goes to show how classic I am. Heh.

Tammy: How do you feel when you see yourself on television? Do you even bother to watch the shows when they come on?

I generally watch to see how the finished product came out — you really can’t tell at all during the filming. I am hypercritical of myself in such situations and often more pre-occupied with how ‘useful’ I think the piece was than thinking about being on TV as something cool. Any nitwit can get on TV (most do — just watch your local news, RealTV, whatever) but to have it actually mean something in terms of being entertaining or informative is a challenge.

glider (again… heh): Along those lines, how do you feel being presented alongside furries? And how do furries respond to you?

I have no problem being presented alongside them. I just don’t want myself or them misrepresented for our respective ideas and beliefs. Most furries I have met have been very enthusiastic about my work and incredibly nice.

moof: Do you still want to finish your PhD at some point?

Not really. I don’t need or particularly desire someone else to ‘certify’ my work in that way. I’d take an honorary degree (I’ll take pretty much anything free) or I’d at least seriously consider finishing if they waived the costs.

Flat Stanley: Why is your girlfriend so damn cute?

‘Cause I know how to pick’em!

Char the magicalest gnome: Why is my cat looking at me like I’m food?

You are food.

Fidget: At what age do you think it’s appropriate to let kids start major body modifications; the ones that are not easily reversible like standard lobe piercings?

The real answer is that it varies from individual to individual. The socially practical answer is to set an arbitrary age which will be good enough for most. In order to avoid unnecessary hassles, I suggest people wait till at least eighteen but I have met a lot of people who weren’t close to ready in my opinion at thirty and some that were ahead of the game at fourteen.

Anomis: How do you feel about binary gender identification? Do you feel people can be both, none or a third gender?

To me gender is simply a matter of classification for convenience based on genetic make up — XX verus XY (versus XYY, etc). Anything beyond that is relative BS (that’s bullshit, not Bachelor of Science). The identification you are describing, I think, is not identifying with gender but with ascribed gender roles and possibly genital structure. To that I say — act as you want and change around your genitals as much as you like, and science will allow for. People can be whatever they want since it’s people that make up these things in the first place. To indelicately rip off Zen Buddism,

Q: Who makes the grass green?

A: You do.

robert: What inspired you to become what you are today?

Everything I have experienced up to this point. Seriously, I think looking for causation and singular causation in particular is very often a fruitless and often harmful process.

sheduma: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood that woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I love that rhyme.

Also, how can I get my puppy to stop farting at night?

Butt plug? Or maybe a change in diet.

Pabloferreira: So far I’ve only heard about full body transformations similar to yours in the US. I know that there are some individuals who do take their body modifications pretty far in other regions but so far nothing like you or the Enigma. Do you know if there are similar individuals outside North America?

There are people outside of North America doing extreme modifications and extensive transformations. I think the main reason you may not being seeing them is that the US is pretty much the media spotlight of the world. We, collectively, send out our stories all over the world but intake very few others and even then we re-package them as our own. It is just far easier to get high level (world wide) coverage in the States.

eliz: What are your favorite season, favorite food, favorite TV show, favorite movie, and favorite book?

Depends on geography but most places it will be fall, pizza, The Simpsons, it varies with mood, and The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

rwwarren_01: Who is your favorite musician, band, or musical group?

It’s dependent on mood, but I can almost always listen to anything by Rob Zombie, Tori Amos, Depeche Mode, Ministry, or Bach — and The Overture of 1812.





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 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published August 26th, 2003 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.