MaximumRockNRoll Review

James Taylor’s Shocked and Amazed! On & Off the Midway

MaximumRockNRoll review by Trent Reinsmith

You wouldn’t know it on the East Coast due to all the rain, but summer is upon us. School’s out, the days are longer, the nights are hotter, the beer goes down a little easier and in some parts of the country the fairs and carnivals are starting to roll through town. The fairs and carnivals of today are filled with shaky rides, artery clogging concessions, grifted games and not much else. Maybe you’ll be graced by the occasional handpainted sideshow banner or, if you’re lucky, perhaps you will come across an animal curiosity act, but the days of the old shows are long gone. The days of the ten in one, the talker working the tip, the days of THE SHOW have passed us by. The midway today is dominated by Bobo the Clown taunting passersby from his perch in the dunk tank. And while Bobo is a good show, he’ll never replace the “good old days.” Thankfully James Taylor and Kathleen Kotcher have been documenting the days of yore in the journal “Shocked and Amazed: On and Off the Midway” since 1995, and thankfully Lyon’s Press has graced us with what is basically a Best of “Shocked and Amazed.”

Lyons Press has included 21 pieces that they deemed most representative of the six earlier issues of the “Shocked and Amazed” journal and placed them together to form the bulk of this book. However, this book should not be looked at as simply a reprint of the journals of the past. Lyons, Taylor and Kotcher have added a number of never before seen photos, an introduction and an index, as well as updated some of the interviews to create a classic of sideshow lore and legend.

Included in this volume are pieces on the three legged man, the Human Blockhead, a sideshow fat man, the Monkey Girl and her husband the Alligator Skin Man, the Half Girl and her husband the American Giant, the Human Fountain, the Man with Three Eyes among others. Also included are pieces on P.T Barnum, Ward Hall, known as King of the Sideshows, Girl Shows, and Bobby Reynolds, the self proclaimed “greatest showman in the world.”

There are other books that cover these topics on the shelves of your local mega bookstore/Starbucks, but “Shocked and Amazed” has one distinct advantage over those titles: it treats its subjects with respect and as people, and that comes through in the interviews. When reading this book you never get the feeling that Taylor is there to exploit his subject. Instead you get the feeling that Taylor has a genuine affection for, and interest in these people and is just there to document their stories and histories. The interviews are all very well done and offer the reader a candid look into the lives of these people and performers. Taylor does an outstanding job in this book of letting his readers get a candid and revealing glimpse into the world of the sideshow.

If you decide that this is a book that you should read (and it is!), then set aside a day in which to read it, because once you open it up you’ll be hard pressed to put it down until you have devoured every piece of information contained in its pages. “Shocked and Amazed!” is a must have book for anyone interested in the lore, legend and myth of the sideshow.