It was just inside the new millennium. In year 2000. Out of nowhere,
I had decided I would be going to participate in a talent competition
for youth. Of course, being completely devoid of any proper talent, I decided
to pool all my assets together, towards a single performance arts piece.
The culmination of my stupidity, some would say. They were probably right.
This is a true story. However, it has been nearly three years since it happened, so this is as true a story as my memory allows. Which doesn't necessarily mean that what is written here is exactly what happened. Shouldn't be too far off though. If you were there, and remember differently, feel free to correct me.
In Norway, there is a state-sponsored institution called the Ungdommens
Kulturmønstring (UKM). Basically, this is a talent cavalcade for
aspiring artists. Every year, you get a share of bad dancers, bad
mime-artists and crap bands. Among the crud and worthless dribble
(which, regardless of how you look at it, still is a fairly large display
of bravery - after all, these are 14-19 year olds who are unlikely
to have been on stage before), there is an occational gem. A well-coreographed
short theatre piece. A band that is screaming for a record contract.
Or a painting that is so incredible that you want to marry the artist, regardless
of the artists' gender.
In 1999, I participated in the UKM, reading a selection of my poetry. If
you do a web search for "Haje Jan Kamps" and "poetry",
you might still find some out there. But don't. Be warned; In 1999, I was
very much part of group #1. The all-singing-all-dancing-crap of the world.
I wasn't performing my poetry, I was reading it off a badly stained and crumbled
piece of paper. I wasn't reciting my poetry, I was trying to whisper it. Pouring
out all the teenage angst that belongs in diaries and notepads,
but never out in the world. I was pouring my soul out, and people applauded
my shaking, dry voice and dismal stage appearance out of pity.
Determined not to repeat this, I started something completely different.
Between 1999 and 2000, I took my pyrotechnics licence. My poetry got (slightly)
better, and I got considerable stage and performance art experience when
I was touring with a youth culture group. I was gonna show those judges.
I teamed up with Magnus. Now, Magnus is your non-average high school kid.
He was the guitarist in the most popular band in the place where I lived.
He was one of those communist-to-the-bone type people. Like me, but arguably
slightly less reasonable. I would love to have called him my friend at the
time, but that would be lying. I knew of him. I got to know him.
And, one day, out of nowhere, I walked up to him and asked if he wanted to
participate in the UKM with me. To my surprise, he said "yes". Which
was how I ended up teamed up with one of the more popular guys in my school,
to do my thing.
We talked about practicing. We talked about it in October. We talked about
it in November. And in December. We met once in January, and talked it over.
In January, I suddenly realised that the UKM was less than a month away.
And despite having teamed up with Magnus, I still hadn't thought out what
Magnus could do for the performance. I had already gotten a permission
from the fire services to use pyro tech indoors, but what would Magnus do?
Then I thought about it; Magnus can do what he does best; Talking.
So I sat down with a dictionary, and started writing down words. Powerful
words. Words about revolutions. Words about torture. Names of
dictators. Words describing happiness. Words describing beauty. Words about
discrimination and horror. Biblical names. References to arcane television
shows. All of these words were unconnected. I put them on pieces of paper,
and picked them out of a bowl one by one. Then I added words to turn the random
words into sentences.
The result wasn't poetry. It was pretty damn horrible. But
the words were strong. And if everything went to plan, people would be more
than busy with looking, rather than listening. The words would be background
noise. The words, the random words that were a parody of my poetic sufferance
from the year before, would be nothing but noise. Powerful noise, but still
January went by. I had given Magnus the "poem", and he loved it.
He started practising to read it. But we never practiced together.
February 3. Four days until the UKM, and we still hadn't practiced. We met,
and had a talk. We goofed about, and he came up with the idea of shocking
as many people as possible. Going on stage naked, or something. I disliked
the idea, but said that we should just take things the way they wanted to
go. Let the show run itself.
Then I spent 5 minutes instructing him how to use my Pyrotechnics controller
and the angle grinder, and asked him kindly not to blow up any pyro while
I was standing anywhere near it, as it would reduce me to a howling pile of
skin and bones.
The Day of the Show
The day before the show, I was in Oslo, and had the presence of mind to
walk into a theatre shop. I purchased some white and black theatre make-up.
And I picked up a few thousand Norwegian Kroner worth of pyrotechnics devices.
The day of the show, it turned out that the fire alarm could not be turned
- No, there will be so many people that we cannot turn it off
- Bad plan, missus.
- No, I am serious, we cannot turn off the fire alarm
- But it will go off.
- Well, why don't we discuss this IF it goes off
- I am sorry to say that you obviously have no clue what you are talking
about. The room will be filled with smoke. As a matter of fact, we will
have to ask people with asthma, allergies or a weak heart to leave the room
- Eh.. You are #4 on the programme, right? The one right before the
break? The *reads* Poetry and Performance Arts? I am sure it will be okay. It is normal to be a little nervous.
So I told the lady to (gently and politely) shove it, and called the fire
department, explaining that the fire alarm would be going off in about
3 hours, but that there was nothing to worry about, and that it would be down
I met Magnus about 40 minutes before we were to go on stage, and we decided
to paint each other. He painted my face and upper body, and we slit the back
of my T-shirt, so it could be easily ripped off. He was dressed up in some
kind of Dracula outfit. Which seemed to fit nicely to the occation.
Before we knew of it, we were called to the stage. My heart went from 200
to 300 bpm, and adrenaline was seeping out through every pore in my body.
But.. We still hadn't practiced!!
We don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn
So, very unceremoniously, we walked on stage. I lit a single candle on
the front of the stage, while Magnus rigged up some sort of podium, and stood
behind it. I wired the last pyrotech things that we had unwired for safety
purposes, and the audience was getting uneasy.
Please, may I have your attention. Whatever happens to me on stage
will not affect you. I am a trained professional, and I have practised
this type of shows many times. We would, however, like you to take note
of the safety exits. Please note that there are three members of the audience
who are sitting with fire extinguishing equipment. These people are trained
to do their job, but if anything should happen, please do not obstruct them.
If we turn on the lights in the room, that means you will need to leave
the hall in a calm and orderly fashion.
Anyone with asthma or allergies to smoke, and anyone with
a weak heart would be well advised to go drink coffee in the lobby
right about now.
You are about to see the show of a lifetime.
I tossed the note with my safety announcement aside, and was smiling as I
noticed that, rather than moving away or leaving the room, people were moving
Suddenly, Magnus started reading the first line of the poem.
The Pain of Grueling Fires of Doom
The single strands of Hitler's Beard
He wasn't reading the poem. He was proclaiming it. The
words flowing from his mouth as if he meant every word of it. Trying to convince
the audience. Trying to evangelise its message.
Feeling proud, I bent forward to light my torches in the candle.
While reading the poem, Magnus turned towards me, and started walking. I
remember being thoroughly surprised at him obviously having learned the poem
by heart. Then I noticed him saying words I definitely didn't write. He was
ad-libbing seamlessly between my poetry and whatever showed up in
his mind there and then, something he did several times during the show. Reaching
for me with his right hand, he nodded towards the bottle of petrol standing
on the floor. I understood, and threw a splash of petrol on my shirt.
Then, gently touching my shirt with my torch, I set myself on fire.
With the sound of a small dog barking, my whole shirt went up in flames.
Magnus grabbed it at my chest, which was also where the flames were strongest.
He continued ad-libbing the poem as he ripped the shirt right off my back,
and held the black, burning piece of fabric above his head, as I was screaming
off the top of my lungs, pretending to be hurt.
At the end of the scream, we both looked over at each other. And the show
Hysterically screaming each line of the poem, Magnus started setting off
pyrotech effects. He had forgotten which effect was where,
and just fired them at random. The first effect blasted off three feet away
from my leg, while I was juggling with three burning torches. And the poem
kept droning on.
I dipped my hand in petrol, and set my hand on fire. I breathed
fire off my burning hand, as Magnus started sending burning shreds of metal
all over the stage with the angle grinder. Burning sparks of metal were
bouncing off my body (and, I discovered, burning their way into my skin, but
I was too high on adrenaline to notice), as the odd word from the poem sifted
through the noise.
After ripping the angle grinder from Magnus' hands, I did the same thing
to him. Then, as if we had practised it, we stopped, and straightened up from
our fighting stances. Letting the angle grinder spin down, the room was filled
with an eerie silence. The soft flapping sound of the flames of the torches
could be heard. Suddenly, he stuck out his tongue, and we bowed forward, touching
his tongue with mine, for everybody to see. Marilyn Manson style. Gene Simmons
We noticed a photographer from the local newspaper line up to take a picture
of us. Magnus nodded at one of our major pyro effects, and I nodded back.
Standing spread-eagled on the edge of the stage, holding a torch in each
hand, I felt, more than heard or saw, the blast from the pyrotech device behind
me go off. The scolding heat behind me nearly pushed me off the stage. Already
off balance, I decided to jump.
Diving face-first off a stage is not something that is generally recommended.
Especially not when you are holding firebreathing liquid in your mouth, and
if you are holding two brightly-burning juggling torches.
Magnus, cuing the CD player connected to the concert-grade PA system,
had Coal Chamber's Sway ("The Roof.. The roof.. The roof is on
fire", a cover of the Bloodhound Gang song.) blasting at a disgustingly
loud volume. I was crashing towards the floor in front of the stage, in
the 3 meter wide gap between the stage and the judges table, almost flattening
the photographer that was kneeling to get her best shot. On the floor, I breathed
fire in the general direction of the judges, before sinking together in
a big pile, and climbing, with much bravado, back on stage.
On stage, I curled to a ball, with burning torches splayed
around me. My hair was on fire. I lay there, breathing heavily, while Magnus
set off our last few pyro props (fireballs). Then, I held my breath, while
Magnus bowed and took the applause from the audience. It
seemed to go on and on and on. The curtain was drawn, and I got up.
Show is over.
"We liked your performance. It was very powerful, but badly planned;
It was very difficult to hear the words at times, and the fire alarm going
off was quite disturbing. It also seemed awfully dangerous. So dangerous,
in fact, that we are not going to send you on to the next round. Please never
come back to the UKM"*
My hair grew back after about a month.The scars on my arms from the pyrotechnics
blowing up too close to me, and the painful elbow from my dive down from the
stage subsided slowly. It only took me a few days to pick out the scraps of
metal that had embedded themselves, glowing red, into my skin. Everybody we
spoke to after the show was offended that we didn't win the competition. Even
the winners of the competition expressed some sort of confusion what they
were doing with the first prize.
We made the first page of the local newspaper (the picture? Me diving down
while breathing fire. You can see the flames lick the roof, and you can see
from the motion blur that I am crashing straight towards the photographer)
and the second page of the regional newspaper.
The regional television asked us if we would be willing to do the show
again, on camera. Magnus and myself looked at each other, shook our heads,
and decided that we'd had enough of this for a while.
My girlfriend of the time almost broke up with me for kissing a guy on
stage. My parents never commented on that part of the show.
And my sister still thinks I am the coolest person in the
*) This is not literally what they said, of course, but that is what they said.
If you know what I mean.
I would love to write the whole poem here, but I won't, for several reason. The primary reason ("Yeh, keep telling yourself that, SharQ", "shut up") is that it was never meant to be heard. The real reason is that I lost it ages ago.