Agent: Rip Thrillby
Agent Number: 27
Birthplace: Mile marker 43, Highway 72, Northern Alabama
Eyes: Green Hair: Brown
Ht: 70" Wt: 170
Specialties: Lead guitar, communications, bladed weapons
Strengths: Fluid thinking and adaptability, cool under pressure, unstoppable force of will when motivated
Known weaknesses: Fluidity can translate into evasiveness, tends to be lazy and non-committal in the absence of deadlines or imminent action
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION -- CHILDHOOD
Geeks, Freaks, and Thrillbys
The smells of cotton candy and elephant dung -- to most people, they mean the big top. To Rip Thrillby, they meant home. Rip grew up in the world of showbiz, the son of legendary circus performers Lex and Lana, The Amazing Thrillbys. Lex, the Human Cannonball, and Lana, the Cutlery Queen, lived on the road 50 weeks a year in the GTO Traveling Circus and Freak Review, now defunct. Lana, an expert knife thrower, could split a gnat’s hair from 20 feet with any of her collection of knives, hatchets and machetes, while Lex shot himself 150 feet from a cannon every night to the wonder of crowds around the world.
Lana briefly retired to give birth to Rip, who was welcomed with open arms into the vagabond community of daredevils, lion tamers, trapeze artists, midgets, pinheads, jugglers, clowns and geeks. Rip tottered around the big top, picking up a number of skills from various performers that would prove very useful down the road -- the most important of which was supreme confidence in one’s abilities. By age three, Rip was part of the family act, standing blindfolded as his mother threw knives and axes at him as he held various fruits, vegetables and balloons before awe-struck crowds. But as Rip was growing, his father Lex was in decline.
“The Human Cannonball/Arrow/Boomerang/Boulder”
As best that Southern Surf Syndicate sources can tell, it all began when Lex learned a performer for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus had begun firing himself from a puny (in Lex’s view) 15-foot cannon. Lex knew his 30-foot cannon and act were far superior, and could never forgive himself for not having the foresight to trademark the title “human cannonball.” (The GTO Circus had been hit with a trademark infringement cease-and-desist order preventing them from billing themselves as “The Greatest Show on PLANET Earth” years earlier. The rival circuses became sworn enemies from then on.) Lex became obsessed with finding a new death-defying stunt, and several failed experiments followed.
He filed trademark applications (still on file with the U.S. Patent Office) to protect his act and titles, and soon billed himself as several different “The Human (projectile)” variations. As “The Human Arrow,” Lex constructed a giant crossbow and fired himself at a 10' bullseye on the other side of the ring. Following the first performance, Lex spent the next nine months in traction planning his next act: “The Human Boomerang.” The aerodynamics of human boomerang flight proved to be a challenge he could not overcome however, for instead of spinning through the air on a return parabolic trajectory, Lex simply flew in a straight line.
It was an unfortunate moment for the Mighty Tight Midgetmobile, packed with 20 midgets and dwarves, to be entering the ring for their act, as Lex met the car head-on at approximately 120 miles per hour. Lex spent the next 11 months in traction, sharing the same ward with the 14 surviving (and very foul-tempered) midgets. It was a dark time for the Thrillby family, and the beginning of the end for the GTO Circus.
Cat Guts and Gypsies
Meanwhile, Rip began hanging out with the performers in the circus band, learning to play a variety of stringed instruments, including the guitar, mandolin, balalaika, and lute under the tutelage of Saavo Javonia, the “The Gypsy Guitar King,” and leader of the band. Rip’s interest in music suited his mother Lana fine; for years the metal plates in Lex’s head would turn him into a babbling halfwit if he stood too near telephone wires, electric generators or radio transmitters. Lex was prone to bouts of paranoia and megalomania more and more frequently. She worried about what young Rip’s career choice might be -- one flying Thrillby in the family was enough for her.
Rip picked up many of the hallmarks of his style of playing from Saavo, including rapid-fire double-picking and a tendency towards minor keys. As young Rip’s proficiency grew, he would go to the hospital and play songs for Lex and the midgets to cheer them up. Rip’s energetic, melodic music was about the only thing that would make his father and roommates smile (besides watching nurse Gigi Thermophrenzy, who moonlighted as a go-go dancer, practice her moves in the ward). The sad scene always injected a winsome undercurrent into Rip’s playing that remains to this today. It should also be noted that the many instances of seeing Gigi, in her white miniskirt uniform and crepe-soled go-go boots wiggle to his guitar playing had an effect on young Rip’s developing taste in women which can not be overstated.
Lex Thrillby (Briefly) Returns
Lex was finally released from the hospital, and was ready to debut his new act. As “The Human Boulder,” Lex planned to fling himself from a catapult across the tent, through hoops of fire, and into a pool on the other side of the ring. Lana begged him not to do it, but Lex was a man with a mission, and was brave to a fault. That fateful premiere night, thousands of people packed themselves into the tent to see “The Return of Lex Thrillby, The Human Cannonball/Arrow/ Boomerang/Boulder,” as well as applaud the return of the repaired Mighty Tight Midgetmobile, back in action with six rookie dwarves on board, rumored to be fresh from shooting the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Lex climbed into the catapult as the snaredrum rolled. He kissed Lana, and gave seven year-old Rip a wink and a hug. It was the last time the boy was to see his daddy alive. Lex cut the tether, and the catapult sprung to life, hurling Lex Thrillby through the air like a missile. He tore through the roof of the tent like a bullet through a paper towel and flew over 400 feet through the air, finally colliding with a V-8 tomato juice billboard, to the horror of passing motorists.
Rip never forgot the day he lost his daredevil father. Years later, The Penetrators would immortalize Lex Thrillby in Last of the V-8 Interceptors, a tune which had its beginnings in that hospital ward amidst the plaster, go-go boots and midgets. Sometimes a tear will roll down Rip’s cheek as they perform it live, and Rip has never been back to a circus performance.
Lions and Tigers and Taxidermy, Oh My!
The negative publicity in the aftermath of the tragedy was enough to shut the circus down. All the props, equipment and animals went up for auction on a day which was to be a turning point for Rip. An unusual-looking gentleman sat in the front row, bidding fiercely for the tigers (mostly toothless) and lions (relatively healthy). The bidder managed to secure purchase of all but one of the cats, a tiger with a manatee’s fin surgically grafted onto its ribcage for an ill-conceived “Animal Oddities” exhibit a year or two earlier. (The animal is rumored to currently live at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Southern California. )
The gentleman bidding on the Kings of the Jungle turned out to be none other than the King of the Surf Guitar himself, Dick Dale. Overhearing Rip practicing a mournful tune near the auction as the circus’ collection of animals dwindled, Dale asked, “Wanna see how Dick Dale plays guitar?” and showed Rip an incredible series of runs before breaking the low E string. Dale apologized and said something about how Dick Dale guitar playing punishes guitar strings, before walking over to his Rolls Royce parked nearby. He returned with a new string and a copy of Surfer’s Choice, an album which would change young Rip’s life. (Rip later confided to friends that he did not realize that the man actually WAS Dick Dale until he saw the photo on the album cover -- Dale referred to himself in the third person so often Rip, who’s vision is not the greatest anyway, thought he was talking about someone else.)
Lana left showbiz for good, opening a taxidermy shop in Waterloo, Alabama. Rip spent the rest of his childhood rather uneventfully, playing guitar and skinning deer. But, adolescence lay around the corner like a Mack truck on a one-lane road.
TO BE CONTINUED