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Interview with Sir Pinkerton Xyloma of Milwaukee's Dead Man's Carnival
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Sir Pinkerton Xyloma Interview Part I

By on December 5, 2011

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Life is full of surreal experiences that’ll stay with you for the rest of your life. I recently enjoyed one when I sat down with the Dead Man’s Carnival’s Sir Pinkerton Xyloma. Since labels are often a necessity in journalism, Pinkerton is what I’d call an alternative renaissance man: a jazz musician, break dancer, magician, even a human blockhead capable of driving an icepick through his own nostril. I sat in a down town West Bend café. A hot cup of apple cider sat cooling beside me. Christmas was a mere three weeks away and Bing Crosby crooned out sentimental holiday tunes as we discussed Milwaukee’s underground art scene, the revival of Vaudeville Variety Shows and rooms being evacuated due to the smell of burnt pubic hair.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] Your website describes your act as a “Circus Inspired Vaudeville Variety Show”, what should people expect from a DMC show?

[dcs_img width=”200″ height=”180″ thumb=”true” framed=”black” author=”Photo by Brian Dell” desc=”Sir Pinkerton Xyloma of Milwaukee’s Dead Man’s Carnival” lightbox=”true” title=”Sir Pinkerton Xyloma” pos=”right” mleft=”15″]http://www.wisconsinsickness.thementalshed.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/sir-pinkerton-xyloma.jpg[/dcs_img]

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] We perform in a very versatile fashion. We have an ambitious scale; a full huge Cab Calloway style band stand for our 8 piece house band. We have huge theatrical sets. We have 10’ x 8’ hand painted circus side show banners. We have a cast of 30 people doing a wide array of variety acts. You’ll see one or two burlesque performances, a contortionist, a sword swallower, a yodeling yo-yo’er. We have a handful of human oddities—midgets, tattooed strongmen.

Someone like myself, I do a lot of freaky things but I’m someone who would be historically referred to as a “working act.” I wasn’t born a freak I’m just someone who’s learned to do something freaky as opposed to someone who’s born with no lower torso on their body. Whether they decide to perform or not attention will also be projected upon them. Naturally people will always be curious about something so drastically different from what they presume is the only way a human body can look.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] So exactly how does a unique troop like DMC form? How did all of you get together?

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] Well huh; there certainly is a different vibration people have to live under to understand it. It’s much more of a lifestyle than a hobby for most [troop members].

To me that sort of question can be interpreted in two ways. Where does the inspiration for that sort of aesthetic come from, or the more literal “where did you guys meet?” I’ll answer both.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] Okay

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] I come from the same school of thought in performance theory as Martha Graham or Picasso and many, many other artists who had this idea that you are a vessel the creativity works through. It’s not something you personally manufacture. It’s something you’re born with and sort of have the drive for. You couldn’t not be doing it if you wanted to. It’s stronger than you. It controls you like some sort of voodoo doll. I feel for a lot of people in the group, beyond logic, beyond reason, beyond any form of human intelligence, that they should have quit but they didn’t and as a result now they’re successful.

We met through another group that pre-existed us called “Karnalville”—people who were doing a Goth-electro night at Club Anything [in Milwaukee]. They were very much Burning Man-inspired. They wanted to bring in visual stimulus. They wanted to bring in some of that Burning Man spirit. That very sort of bohemian, steam-punk, Vaudeville aesthetic but they were not performers themselves. They were DJs. So they sought out a handful of people. We did these shows for a while until [the DJs] developed other interests, moved on to different things in their lives. And we as variety performers took what we liked best about performing in this format and wanted to improve upon it and that’s where the Dead Man’s Carnival came from; doing a more traditional Vaudeville performance, something that has live music. Not doing something that has some kind of weird modern twist, like “oh let’s put house music behind it” or whatever. It’s kind of more about how art was better back then and continuing that legacy instead of having some kind of weird malformed hybrid.

Most of us lived in the River West neighborhood as street performers, circus artists, magicians, whatever, for a handful of years and we eventually found ourselves in the same room because of this DJ group. I wish I had a cooler story, like we all met in lock-up or something [laughs].

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] Well the truth is the truth and that’s what I’m certain people are interested to know. The fact that there’s a lifestyle out there that lets enough of you come together to form a troop like DMC is interesting in-and-of itself. I didn’t know there was this type of performance going on in Milwaukee when I lived there.

Dead Man's Carnival

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] We were born without a doubt from the D.I.Y. punk rock community; this secret society. A cult-like existence that’s both incredibly incestuous but also unfortunately strangely exclusive. A majority of the group comes from this sort of punk rock anarchistic background. Not everyone in the troop necessarily subscribes to an anarchist political viewpoint, but definitely we’re exposed to the ideas of mutual-aid and contributing to a community because it’s good for everyone without a self-centered “well when do I get paid” sort of Van Halen rockstar attitude. Basically you get a bunch of people sitting around saying “God, [Milwaukee] SUCKS! If we could be doing anything right now, what would we be doing? Well, let’s do that!” Then figuring out how to accomplish it through a gruelingly painful, slow process.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] Exactly. You want to get out there and do what you want to do but you have to figure how to do it while promoting yourself. It’s a lot more interesting that way though than if it’s some sort of manufactured thing.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] The largest lesson I’ve learned from running the troop and learning as we go—you know, we didn’t understudy for it, we didn’t go to school for it, we basically taught ourselves everything with a very true, do-it-yourself attitude—is there’s an amazing distortion between your artistic vision and the actualization of it. I’ve become less interested in writing or coming up with this really great idea because I feel like every person I meet has this really cool idea but the x-factor that’s hard to define is the wisdom to facilitate it being born. That’s sort of become my focus over the last couple of years. To help people take an idea—using my coaching and wisdom and production experience—to get it where they want it to be within a reasonable period of time. The idea can be solid from the get go but the ability to get everyone else on the same page can be a hard-to-teach skill set.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] You have to develop that intangible that will execute the idea properly.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] The most important emphasis of what we’ve been trying to accomplish is creating a place and a time for things that aren’t allowed to exist because they’re displaced. Like traditional circus acts, like you know, why don’t people do a wider array of expression? There is nowhere for [it] to exist. When people go to a punk show, or a metal show, or a country-bluegrass/streetgrass show, they emulate what they see. When people cease to see something it becomes more and more rare. That’s why I like what the burlesque girls are doing because they’ve inspired a few different waves of people to say “you know I’ve found that idea interesting but why bother getting into it, because where the hell would I do it?”

[EDITOR INTERRUPTION: For a homegrown example check out the Brew City Bombshells].

They’re inspiring people. They’re opening the stage. You know they didn’t go to school and take six years of jazz and do this and this and that. They’re not showgirls and burlesque dancers in the traditional sense. It’s post-feministic, do-it-yourself. To me it’s very similar to punk rock bands. You’re not going [to the show] because you’re going to see the most amazing tap dancer you’ve ever seen. You’re going there to see someone with the Flamenco spirit; in-the-moment real. Someone who’s not ripping off someone else’s dance moves, it’s something they’re coming up with themselves and it has this really humanistic quality as a result.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]JNC:[/dcs_hightlight] And it provides an alternative from just going down to a rock concert or going to the bar. Milwaukee seems a much more interesting place with all this burlesque and Vaudevillian stuff going on.

[dcs_hightlight rounded=”0″]SPX:[/dcs_hightlight] Certainly, certainly. In the same sense we’re really interested in progressing the art; writing the next page in Milwaukee and the Midwest’s contribution to the variety show and the circus. We’re not like the renaissance fair where we’re sort of stuck in a bubble. We’re not trying to make a weird mutant that’s stuck between what’s [the past] and what’s happening currently. We’re not pigeon holed into that. What I was saying earlier, one of the major downfalls for me in the underground art scene and the underground shows is they’re completely inaccessible. A part of what we try to do is break down that barrier that exists in shows. In the theater world it’s called the “fourth wall”. That wall between the crowd and the actor. We want to completely obliterate that wall. And in the same sense the concept of a circus group; people want to own it. They want to own it and no one else is allowed to be interested in it. I’ve worked in a handful of groups over the years that would prefer to play to 15 or 16 of their peers than perform at Lollapalooza like Jim Rose is doing. I don’t really subscribe to that mindset.


***In part two of the Pinkerton interview we discuss testicles catching on fire on stage and the future of the troop.***

Check out Dead Man’s Carnival here: www.deadmanscarnival.com

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J. Nathan Couch

About J. Nathan Couch

J. Nathan Couch is an author and paranormal investigator. He is part of the Wisconsin-based Paranormal Investigation and Research Society, and guides ghost walks and bus tours in support of Washington County Paranormal. His new book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? is available now.


  1. Chuk

    December 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    There’s nothing like the promise of flaming testicles. You rock, Nate!

    Great read. Hope to finally catch a Dead Man’s Carnival soon or get them at a Wisconsin Sickness show!

    • J. Nathan Couch

      December 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks! Though I think we should save the praise until part two is posted. They weren’t my testicles on fire. I just wrote it down.

      I too would like to see them at a Sickness show, or any show for that matter. I’m putting it on the “things to do very soon” list.

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