Let’s face it – the clown thing has been done. As has the carnival, the evil circus, etc. I spent years when I was younger mourning this fact because of course artists, musicians, often try, consciously or not, to emulate what they love, and Mr. Bungle’s self-titled debut album, combined with years of hanging around in a haunted and dilapidated trailer park made me obsessed with Clowns and The Circus. And yet as much as I wanted to write something, music or prose, to express that obsession I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, as it’d already been done. You have Bungle, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and Tod Browning’s Freaks and most everything else was somehow just a reiteration*.
However, as I’ve gotten older every once and a while someone pops up with something new to add to the Twisted Circus Mythos. HBO’s Carnivale was one such amazing addition until it was prematurely canceled**. Now I’ve found that Australian author Will Elliot’s 2006 novel THE PILO FAMILY CIRCUS is another such addition.
On the jacket some of Elliot’s influences that are listed are Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk and H.P.Lovecraft. In the ‘About the Author’ we learn that Elliot began working on the book at the age of nineteen, when he dropped out of law school after being diagnosed with Schizophrenia. In the ‘About this Book’ blurb on the next page it is stated
that Mr. Elliot wrote large chunks of the novel while experimenting
with sleep deprivation – often staying awake in excess of 48 hours at a
time and churning out 10k words plus in those sittings, using the subsequent feelings of ‘cabin fever’ as a source of ideas and a way in which to slow down the effects of his anti psychotic medication. If this sounds elaborate it is, and at 105 pages into Pilo I can tell you, the feelings of boisterous and slap-happy madness one can anticipate from the above statements do indeed saturate the book, giving lead character Jamie (later J.J. once the nefarious white face paint goes on after he is abducted by clowns) a hallucinatory descent into the madness of Kurt and George Pilo’s underground circus world.
The first thing I noticed about Pilo upon opening it and leafing through its pages was that the book begins with a quote from the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds track The Carney – itself a sizable offering into the Dark Carnival mythos. Intrigued by this cross reference I went on to discover several chapters begin with quotes from Mr. Bungle’s track Carousel, itself from the aforementioned masterpiece Mr. Bungle. Now, although these are intriguing cross-references they are not to be taken lightly and in and of themselves most certainly do not guarantee the work referencing them would be good – quite the contrary. It is a definite tactic of those who artistically can do nothing original, instead squandering talent and time retreading already covered ground over and over again to openly cite the influences they covet. Here however that is most definitely not the case.
That first Bungle album is here though – it’s as if Mr. Elliot has been obsessed with it as I have: knowing every line, every sample, every nuance, to the point that the spooky and slightly sickening cartoon world of inebriation, confused sex and depraved clown violence congealed in his head and begat a totally original take on the Carnival/Clown agenda, giving us something that feels a bit like Travolta/Carousel/Dead Goon and the tracks in between, but stands as a totally original story. This is of course good news, because when a source of horror is as ripe as what lays beneath the twinkling lights of the big top, you never really want the output to stop. You just don’t want to swim in the same tired circles over and over again either.
Thanks Will Elliot – I can’t wait for whatever you write next!!!
* Not everything, I’m just blanking on other notable works in the circus sub genre.
** And thanks for that movie to tie things up guys… Poor Michael Anderson. First Twin Peaks and then Carnivale.
Because I love you guys, enjoy: