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VAIL ” It’s not the “how” The Human Marvels seek to answer, it’s the “why.” And when you see The Enigma and Katzen the Catwoman, you’ll understand.
He’s tattooed with blue jigsaw puzzle pieces from head-to-toe with implanted horns. She’s marked like a cat in ink with plastic whiskers pierced above her lips.
“In a magic show you wonder ‘how’ and in a sideshow you wonder ‘why,’ and I’m trying to tell you why through music,” said The Enigma.
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The astonishing duet’s rock ‘n’ roll sideshow rolls through town Wednesday night and stops at 8150 with songs that not only accentuate the act but reveal the philosophy behind the sideshow wonders. He plays guitar and she plays bass, all the while freaking the audience out with the help of swords, spikes, fire and much more.
Seem like the kind of act your grandparents would never have gone to see?
Not necessarily, said The Enigma.
“All of this is based in tradition. However, we try to give it a new twist.” The Enigma said. “A lot of peoples’ grandparents had seen this stuff when they were kids, but they’ll have never seen so much of it all in one tent. It’s a time capsule from the 1840s to the 1950s circus sideshows of America, and then the 1950s on to the current day. It’s totally something your grandparents would have seen when the circus came through town.”
Only The Human Marvels add some modern-day spectacles.
The Enigma swallows swords, pounds spikes into his head and does a balloon animal routine that’s not to be missed. Perhaps most enlightening, he inserts a light bulb that is plugged into his guitar in his nose and pulls it out through his mouth. He then puts a crystal ball in his mouth, which creates a spotlight onto the audience “showing who the real stars of the circus are,” he said.
The Catwoman takes a grinder to the head of her custom-made stunt guitar until it spews fire. She sticks her head deep into the sparks and lights a cigarette. And that’s just the beginning.
“It’s an hour-long human demolition spectacular, and we don’t disappoint,” The Enigma said.
The Human Marvels have seen all kinds of reactions to their whimsical act. In fact, it’s not uncommon for onlookers to faint.
“Yes, we call it a falling ovation,” The Enigma said. “A lot of people complain that it got hot in the building or they’ve been drinking too much, but mostly it’s because they’re finding out more about the human body than they ever thought of.”
The Enigma is used to people staring at him, whether he’s on stage or just walking down the street. Reactions, he said, come in three flavors.
“Ether they avoid me or they come up and thank me for existing or they come up and say, ‘You’ll regret that one day,'” he said. “I’ve taken the blue man with the horns out of the fiction section and put him in the reality section. I’ve been able to carve that niche where fantasy meets reality. There’s a lot of love.”
He said people react toward him how they feel about themselves.
“I’m kind of a like a blue reflection pool. You kind of see what you want to see. I pull the inside of you out through the top because it’s so disarming. If they’re happy with who they are, they’ll see me and feel happy. If they’re angry with themselves, they’ll be angry with me for having such freedom. I’ve broken laws they haven’t written yet. I’m kind of the symbol of American freedom.”
The Enigma said he never regrets the decision he made to tattoo his entire body; it was a conscious effort.
“That’d be like having a sex change and then thinking, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have.’ You have to really want it. I mean really want it. It takes a lot of energy,” he said.
Justin Martin, who has been a tattoo artist for four years, just opened the first parlor in the Vail Valley, The Eagle-Vail Ink Lounge. He recognized The Enigma instantly.
“He’s been in the tattoo magazines forever,” Martin said. “He was part of the Jim Rose Circus. That’s how I know him. I saw him with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson on the Downward Spiral tour in San Diego. You didn’t know if it’s a joke or part of the show.”
Martin said he would never tattoo his entire body, only because it’s not who he is. He compares a tattoo to an accessory, more like an earring.
“It’s a hell of a commitment, I think. I have a lot of respect for someone who made that kind of decision for commitment. Most people that get tattoos get them as an adornment and these people define who they are this way. It literally defines them. It’s an amazing accomplishment. And Enigma ” God knows how long it took. It’s not even a full body suit in terms of leaving the feet and hands. He’s got tattoos from top to bottom,” Martin said. “He’s an ambassador for the art form. Those people, Enigma, the cat lady, there’s even a cat man, personify the potential that tattooing has where it completely alters who they are. I don’t want to equate it with plastic surgery. It’s an enhanced human. It’s a way to make themselves into something more, not a way to cover up who they are.”
Katzen the Catwoman can attest. She’d aspired to bring her inner feline outward since she was a little girl. She would often draw pictures of herself as a cat.
“I started getting tattoos over 12 years ago, it was an inspiration of mine as a child,” she said. “People have said I have taken on cat-like mannerisms, like my penchant for being a loner. It’s done nothing but bring me success and helped me feel more empowered.”
The two, who dated for a time but are no longer together, met at Lollapalooza in 1992. The Enigma, a bona fide side-showman traveling the world, performing at rock concerts, wanted to take his act even further. The Catwoman, a tattoo artist herself, agreed to help by tattooing his entire body.
“At the time we were both blank slates. I told her my interest of tattooing my whole body blue and if I did the puzzle pieces I could just go piece by piece. She was down with it. She started tattooing the puzzles in January of 1993. It was a tough month, but we got through it.”
From there, The Human Marvels’ adventure began.
The Enigma has appeared in National Geographic twice in the last 10 years. The duo appeared on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” The act is always on the road performing, always pushing themselves further.
“It’s an adventure every night,” The Enigma said. “Every show is like a challenge. Every show I try to do newer and greater things.”
Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or firstname.lastname@example.org.