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Social Climes / Time Out : Life, a Circus? That's Ridiculous

June 04, 1995|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We catch up with Chicken John (real name John Joseph James Rinaldi) at BoZonia, the Nehi-purple Craftsman structure he and a few other beyond-the-fringe roommates and a Queensland blue heeler named Dammit the Amazing Wonderdog call home.

The 27-year-old punk-rock impresario and slacker Svengali is rarely at repose. On June 15, Circus Ridiculous, the bizarre rock 'n' roll circus-on-a-shoestring he put together, kicks off its first nationwide tour. And there is still so much to do.

"The entire circus is like a gigantic square peg," he says, amid the near-constant ringing of BoZonia's four telephone lines. "And the world is this gigantic round hole and it's my job to fit it in. Every single thing we come up to is a gigantic obstacle." For instance, the DMV balked at registering his circus van because of the gigantic fiberglass sphinx welded on top.

Then there was the problem of trying to fit taps onto the combat boots worn by his speed metal tap-dancing twins. There are props to buy for the three-card-monte clown, talking mime troupe and the temporary tattooed man. Each detail requires more of what he calls "hustling and piracy."

"We're just losers, with not as much talent as we have stamina and enthusiasm and comedic illogic, and we're doing this without any money," he explains. "You try to hook up with somebody who does that thing you need for you for free--be it silk-screening or fixing the transmission on a van--or find someone who's willing to take a chance booking you, stuff like that."

Right now, he's expecting an influx of troupe members from San Francisco and New York. He'll put them up at BoZonia for two weeks, send them out to work as movie extras and make sure they put in a few rehearsals, as well.

Their gear already clutters up the house--a place festooned with all kinds of circus detritus such as a clown Lite Brite, Barnum & Bailey curtains and a 1940s red-and-white calliope that Rinaldi uses to open and close the show.

"Kill a clown/kill a clown/all the world hates a clown," he sings, by way of demonstration, coaxing a tune out of the wheezing machine that more people associate with the lyrics "Be a clown/be a clown . . ."

Like the weekly low-rent versions of popular game shows that he's been putting on for years back in his native New York City and more recently at the Onyx/Sequel Coffeehouse/Gallery in Los Feliz, he doesn't expect any of this to net him much money.

"I do it as part of my NA vows," he says, only half-jokingly referring to Narcotics Anonymous. Although he does recount a 10-year history of drug abuse, in typical fashion, he calls the 12-step program a venue for free therapy that can be cheaply exploited when he's depressed or out of sorts.

"Anyway, at one meeting, a very wise man said, 'You got to stop thinking about things you don't want. You have to sit down and think about what you do want and get it down to three things and work toward them,' " Rinaldi says.

"When I was done, the piece of paper said three things: 'I want to travel with purpose, be surrounded by my friends and rock every night.' "

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